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Congratulations, graduates. Now begin your lifetime of learning

To thrive in today's changing economy, you'll need to always add to your skills. Here's what Technical.ly's CEO told new IT Works graduates.

This is the transcript of the commencement address Technical.ly CEO Christopher Wink gave to the graduates of the spring 2019 cohort of the IT Works program from Tech Impact.
Curiosity might be the most important quality for thriving in the future.

A few thousand years ago or so, speakers of an old language near present day Ukraine would have used a pair of words roughly translated to “babe child” to refer to a newborn. Over time, that second word was said so often that its sound eroded and became a simple suffix, forming the word “baby” we know so well today. That’s why the blanket your toddler has is called “blankey” and why your childhood friend “Timmy” would much prefer to be called “Tim” now in adulthood. Horsey from horse, piggie and pig.

It’s also why sometimes people new or uncomfortable with technology will refer to more experienced people as “techies.” I think it’s a contemptible little word, because it’s said with otherness. As if technology is something to be scared of and avoided or left to children entirely.

Graduates of IT Works, you are now certified technologists. That’s a far sturdier word with a better pedigree — or at least so says this journalist. Wear that title of technologist with pride, and so recognize what comes with it. Being a technologist means embracing change, learning and adapting quickly. It means being curious.

Thankfully, those are also the exact qualities we need in the future.

Because for most, economic mobility is a dangerous lie we tell ourselves. Most Americans who are born into poverty will stay there. Most who are born into wealth will stay there.

Over the last 50 years, middle income careers have faded away. Rising automation and changing global economic patterns are leaving us with three broad categories of jobs, as urbanist Richard Florida characterizes it. We have lingering working class jobs, like the building trades, and we have a growing services sector, often low-paying with few benefits. Then we have the so-called knowledge economy, full both of professional services and white-collar jobs but also the newest and fastest-changing roles. That’s where technology jobs are. That’s where you’re starting today.

But as anyone here who has ever had a conversation with someone a lot older or younger can report, what is considered technology changes. In the Technical.ly newsroom, we joke that technology is everything that was created after you were born.

The truth in that little joke is just how subjective any definition of technology is. A technologist, therefore, has to be someone primed to pursue and master every new generation of technologies. To remain ever curious about where their work and their world can take them.

So I am here to tell you that you’re not done.

If you get a help desk job, learn whatever systems and software you need to learn. Then ask the question: what is going to replace these systems and software I have learned? Then master them faster than you can become obsolete.

If you’re interested in artificial intelligence, go watch every YouTube video you can find on the topic. Search for blog posts and articles. Stop rewatching Game of Thrones and instead take a Coursera course. If there’s a technical language or a technical job you want to learn more about, find a local meetup group here in Wilmington or in Philadelphia and attend. Ask questions. My email address is chris@technical.ly: email me and tell me if there’s something you want to learn and I’ll point you in the right direction if I can.

But you’re going to need to do this on your own. My message is clear: build the habit of advancing your professional skillset for the rest of your career or face peril.

Because this is the change that has happened in our economy over the last half century. There was a time when you could learn how to operate a machine and do pretty well over a career. The machines are changing faster now — so fast that they’ll replace all of us that are just in charge of giving answers. But the thing we can’t seem to get machines to do well is to ask really great questions.

Machines are insatiable in their niche. But they aren’t very curious.

Alexa isn’t tinkering with Arduino or homebrew or whatever her weakness is. You can, though. Your future is in your own hands. You must be a lifetime learner. If you are, you will thrive. Technology is an onramp to social justice and the economic mobility we so often tout. But that work is ceaseless. Now that you’ve gotten an in, you need to speed up, not get comfortable.

IT Works, from Tech Impact, is an important way Delaware is ensuring more kinds of people can access that change. To you instructors and partners, you should all be proud to be a part of the work trying to be done here.

To you employers, I say this: if your job descriptions require a college degree, check again. Do those jobs need a college degree? Surgeon yes. Lawyer, yes. But software engineer? Product manager? Scrum master? System admin? Sales or marketing? Maybe not. Consider an apprenticeship program, or paid internships. Because those and many other knowledge worker jobs really just need the passionate ones, the humane ones, the curious ones.

Finally, to these impressive new 18 technologists, graduates of IT Works, thank you. Be proud. But remember, you’ve only just begun a lifetime of self-motivated, self-directed learning on the pathway of personal and professional enlightenment. I promise you, it’s lots of fun. Thank you.

Companies: Capital One / Tech Impact / Technical.ly
Series: Career Trajectory Month 2019

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