Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top ten careers to avoid

Moore’s Law states: The number of components that can be placed onto an integrated circuit board at a minimal cost doubles every two years. It was first introduced in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel is his article entitled “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits.”

That formula has proven to be remarkably accurate, not only as applied to components/transistors on circuit boards, but also to hard disk capacity, network capacity, pixels per dollar, and processor speed.

What does this have to do with careers to avoid? Moore’s Law predicts the pace of advances in hardware technology that are necessary for software developers to create ever more sophisticated applications and networks.

Right from the beginning, software programmers looked for tasks that could be more efficiently handled by computer programs. One of the first mass distributed programs came inside electronic calculators. The Texas Instruments SR-50, introduced in 1973, sent the slide rule to take its place next to the abacus in the Museum of Antiquated Calculating Devices.

No one ever had a career as a slide rule operator, so the advance of technology didn’t appear too threatening to anyone’s livelihood. In fact, it seemed destined only to enhance productivity.

All was well with job security until the 1990’s when a little known experimental communications network left the confines of the government and academic worlds and entered the commercial market. Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn had coined this network “the Internet” back in the 70’s, probably not anticipating that one day we’d be speaking with customer services reps in India to troubleshoot our GPS gadgets.

Moore’s Law, as applied to network capacity (aka bandwidth), proved to be quite accurate in the fifteen or so years since the Internet gained widespread commercial use. The Internet has provided a platform on which complex applications reside and huge amounts of data are stored and shared. It is now possible to relocate certain types of jobs and completely replace others through the power of the programs and “data pipes” that the Internet brings to us.

Here is my list of ten jobs already threatened or soon to be threatened by globalization created by the Internet and its ability to process and move information from one point to another.

Travel agent

Just about any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is subject to being replaced by computer programs and robots. Travel agents are a dying breed and those agencies that still exist in their traditional format will disappear as their clientele ages. Younger people don’t think twice about making reservations online. Some travel agents may survive to serve a few wealthy clients, but as a career, it’s all but gone.

Telephone operator/Receptionist

The few telephone operators that are left mainly deal with 4-1-1 calls. Automated systems using voice recognition will soon replace the last of them. Most telephone answering receptionists have already been replaced with the dreaded “automated attendant.” The rest of them, whose physical presence is necessary to greet customers, will be required to carry a full load of other secretarial and professional tasks.

Movie rental store franchisee

Blockbuster announced last week that they’re closing 960 stores and replacing them with about 10,000 movie rental kiosks. Don’t think that a franchise based on owning and restocking video rental kiosks is the next big thing, however. Bandwidth sufficient for delivering movies via the Internet and television cable systems exists today. The kiosks will quickly end up in a junkyard next to the Space Invaders arcade machines.


One word: ebay.

TV news cameraperson

Dwindling advertising revenues are forcing the news arms of national and local television stations to take a critical look at their business models. One area of cost savings already being implemented by news directors is reconfiguring news crews. WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, DC, has replaced most of its news crews with a single reporter responsible for setting up the camera shot, rolling the tape (actually a hard disk recorder), reporting the story, editing the video, and uploading it to the newsroom.

Customer service rep

Which country has the greatest number of English speaking citizens? India. Enough said.

Executive recruiter

Any job that involves matching a need to a solution is subject to automation. Travel agents are a good example. So are relationship matchmakers (see Recruiting freelance nurses for temporary hospital positions has been automated by using an approach modeled on airline reservation systems and the positive/negative feedback feature of ebay and other auctions sites. and several other major job sites have proven effective at marrying the demand and supply of job makers and job hunters. There will continue to be positions within human resources departments to wade through the résumés generated by these websites, but independent recruiters’ ranks will shrink to a paltry few serving those in highly specialized careers.

Insurance agent

This one is a little farther out on the timeline, partly because of the complexities of the insurance industry and partly because of some states’ laws that prohibit consumers from acquiring insurance directly. Nonetheless, like several previous examples, it is a job that can be reduced to a set of rules, however complex, and therefore will eventually be replaced with automated applications.

Court reporter/Medical records transcriber

Voice recognition software is getting better all the time. Still not up to Arthur C. Clark’s and Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the computer HAL 9000 (a one-letter alphabetical shift from IBM) in 2001: A Space Odyssey, advances in computing power are critical to allow these massive voice imaging applications to run on everyday computers. Given another decade or so, the jobs of court reporting and medical records transcribing will be as rare as hens’ teeth.


This last job is really motherhood and apple pie which, unfortunately, doesn’t make it immune from a technology takeover. Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, is replacing its traditional 20,000-book library with a network of digital flat panel displays, Kindle readers, and laptop applications, all with access via the Internet to millions of books, articles and research “papers.” To further modernize the library, James Tracy, headmaster, is adding a $50,000 coffee shop, complete with a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

WANTED: Librarian for prestigious New England prep school. No Dewey Decimal System knowledge required. Candidates with experience repairing printed circuit boards and espresso machines preferred.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

1 comment:

  1. I received your comments, Anonymous. Are you sure you're not referring to the Brewster police officer who urinated on someone/equipment at a Metallica concert and, after being thrown out, tried to get back in by flashing his badge?

    I will follow up.


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