Collaboration and Soft Skills: The Secret Sauce for IoT Careers

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Organizations like Coro  and Service Year exist to create cadres of socially minded, collaborative leaders to lead us into the future. Big brands like Starbucks, LinkedIn, and Airbnb are also investing in similar initiatives.

Today’s high school and middle school students are drawn to such programs and organizations. Many of them seek to be high achievers – accomplished athletes as well as student government leaders. Unfortunately, however, groups like chess club and the robotics team have less social standing. There is a record demand for STEM skills in the workforce today, so it’s curious to see such a disconnect between what the market deems valuable and what we perceive to be valuable.

Even more peculiar is the surprising dearth of programs targeted toward students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers. Girls Who Code is launching a series of books, which is a good start, but certainly not enough in itself.

Communication Is Key for Succeeding in Tech

Northeastern University-Silicon Valley recently conducted a survey  of approximately 600 members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). According to these respondents, communication – that is, the ability to explain concepts clearly and effectively – is the skill that can make or break a career in the internet of things (IoT), the new frontier of the tech industry.

It makes sense: Mobile devices have changed the way everyone lives. Most of our daily tasks can more easily be accomplished through the use of some sort of technology. However, working with such technology is about more than just the technology itself; it is about communication, collaboration, and creating things for people.

Technology Creates More Jobs Than It Destroys

Today, unfortunately, many graduating college students face uncertainty. All around them, headlines shout about the threat automation taking their jobs.

We’ve seen this movie before. In a 2015 study, Deloitte economists looked at the impact of technology on the economy between 1871 and 2011. The research found that technology has broadly been a “job-creating machine,” with each development creating new jobs as it replaced humans in old ones. The study concluded that many industries have indeed lost jobs, most notably agriculture. More recently, jobs such as typists, secretaries, and weavers have come under fire from automation. However, the study also found that other industries have experienced huge growth, enough to compensate for the loss of jobs elsewhere at every stage.

As the regional dean and CEO of Northeastern University’s Silicon Valley campus, I’m often asked what these disruptions mean for career planning. Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. Have your “T” and drink it, too: Become more “T-shaped”: know a little bit about a lot of things and specialize in one area. Just don’t become too highly specialized.
  2. Hone your people skills: Learn how to listen and learn how to talk. Understand that networking is important.
  3. History tends to repeat itself: With each technological change, jobs have disappeared. However, many more jobs have replaced them. In the new age of automation, we can expect that same phenomenon. Think about it: Just a few decades ago, no one could have imagined there would be one million jobs in video game design.

PK Agarwal is CEO and regional dean of Northeastern University-Silicon Valley and former CTO for California under Governor Schwartzenegger.

By PK Agarwal