When I was a kid, I never told my parents, “When I grow up, I want to be a Ruby on Rails fullstack developer.”
Nor did I dream of being a Python engineer, UX designer, back-end architect, or front-end manager.
There is a reason for this. These software jobs did not exist. There was no such thing as the Internet as we know it, nor the spectacular range of jobs like these that it spawned.
On US job boards last week, salaries of up to $175,000 were offered to those who knew Python and Ruby are computer programming languages, and UX stands for user experience, as in the experience of using a website.
Equally large salaries were available for those who became experts in a website’s front-end – what you see when you shop online – and the back-end, the bit in the background that makes operate the site.
There are other advantages. A person can start a self-help business once they master these software skills. They can run it from their laptop near the beach in a nice remote workplace with other digital nomads.
As enjoyable as all of this is, there’s something unsettling about the speed at which the online revolution has spawned a new generation of workers who do jobs that underpin much of modern life – but are completely baffling. The foreigners.
For starters, what does a parent do when a teenager comes home and asks if it’s worth getting into Python engineering? It would be one thing if the parents had done such work themselves, but the young age of many tech workers makes that unlikely.
A global survey of more than 30,000 software developers last year showed that 59% were not yet 30 years old. It’s no wonder research in England this year found that parents aged 11 to 18 feel overwhelmed by the idea of giving career advice. Almost two-thirds of them had a child who had shown an interest in a career they knew nothing about, according to the Talking Futures careers campaign which commissioned the study.
The tech industry’s abysmal use of jargon doesn’t help. This prevents job seekers from applying for roles that employers struggle to explain, a separate UK study by tech company Babble showed last week.
Then there’s the larger issue of the digitally excluded, people who flounder when they suddenly have to use an app to park their car or a website to check their bank balance.
When my colleague Andrew Hill wrote in February that he was trying to help elderly parents deal with requests for online passwords and uploaded documents at banks, insurers and pension funds, he was inundated sympathetic messages from companions in misfortune. The same thing happened last month when another reporter, Pete Paphides, wrote about her late father who received a parking fine because he couldn’t pay electronically.
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The story prompted campaigner Esther Rantzen to tell the BBC that “very often decisions are made by people in their 40s who literally don’t understand that older people should feel differently about the decision they are making”.
Even younger, tech-savvy people can be confused. “I got frustrated on some mobile apps,” a 35-year-old American named Biron Clark told me last week.
He used to be a tech recruiter in New York, but now runs his own job search advice website, Career Sidekick – from Panama City. He doesn’t think younger software developers are necessarily to blame for creating apps that vex older users. As he says, their bosses should make sure life online is easy to navigate for everyone.
And after learning everything he needed to build his website, Clark has some encouraging words for those worried the digital revolution is leaving too many people behind. “I only feel positive about it,” he says. “There are just more opportunities every year for those who pay attention.”
I’m sure he’s right, but if everyone who took advantage of these opportunities paid more attention to the needs of all users and used a language that everyone can understand, the inexorably online world would also be much better than it is today.