Outside the Box: Coding skills won’t save your job — but the humanities will

Coding boot camps are becoming almost as popular as college degrees: Code schools graduated more than 22,000 students in 2017 alone.

The bet for many is that coding and computer programming will save their jobs from automation, and there’s a resulting wave of emphasis on STEM skills. But while a basic understanding of computer science may always be valuable, it is not a future-proof skill. If people want a skill set that can adapt and ride the wave of workplace automation, they should look to — the humanities.

Here’s why: There’s a whole new skill emerging around having a deep understanding of what drives human behavior and how humans interact with technology. Having knowledge of human culture and history allows us to shape the direction of how technology is developed, identifying what problems it should solve and what real-world concerns should be considered throughout the process.

Studying subjects like psychology and history provide an understanding of human behavior and how certain events throughout history have shaped the way we act, giving us insight into how we will likely act in the future. While we still need people with the technical skills to code the product, people that have these soft skills help bring the concept to life, and are ultimately the ones driving technology into the future.

Read: To be a better investor, read more good novels

To automate or not to automate

In a world where we can order a meal, book an entire vacation and travel without interacting with another human, it’s easy to wonder why everything isn’t automated. Given the technology we already have, there are many job functions that could be performed by robots, yet aren’t.

Baristas are a great example, as making coffee is a function that can be easily automated and is generally a position with high turnover and low pay. However, there are still 33,000 coffee shops across the U.S., and most of them are staffed by someone ready to make your morning cup of Joe. Why? Humans want the ceremony of a highly skilled human worker coaxing bespoke hearts into their cappuccinos. They want human interaction.

Banking is another example. ATM machines are old news, but when we have a large or complex transaction, we still feel more comfortable working with a human. Having that face-to-face interaction allows for explanation and understanding, giving us comfort that our money is in good hands when we leave the bank.

The lesson is that at the end of the day, as long as humans are the consumer, humans will be involved in certain transactional, personal processes. What companies — from Facebook to your local neighborhood bookstore — need are workers who understand what their customers are looking for and what makes them tick.

Read: There’s a $39,000 difference in earnings between highest- and lowest-paying college majors

The humanities will save humanity

Even our most successful tech companies, such as Google parent Alphabet GOOG, +0.24% GOOGL, -0.07%  and Apple AAPL, +0.93% are more than software engineers and STEM graduates. They employ highly paid product managers, marketing directors and human resources professionals, many of whom majored in the humanities.

The reality is that a lot more goes into creating software than just writing code. People first think through which problems need to be solved, how technology can solve those problems, how people would interact with this technology, and only then direct the creation of the product. So companies need people with the skills to determine what to create, what to automate, and what still needs a human touch. These skills are taught through studying history and economics and psychology, having the ability to deeply understand the end user of these products. Knowing what problems people want solved, how they integrate technology into their lives and what makes them scared for the future can help inform what products we make today.

Read: Wisconsin college wants to cut English, history — and 11 other liberal arts majors

With studies predicting that more than 375 million jobs will potentially be automated by 2030, it’s only natural that people are searching for the next AI-proof skill.

Read: Why one-third of American working-age men could be displaced by robots

Should people ignore software engineering altogether? Of course not; a lot of value lies in understanding how technology works. However, will coding be the most valuable skill in 15 years, when computers get smart enough to build code for you? No. Building complex software is getting easier every day. Software that required a room full of Ph.D.-level computer scientists to build 15 years ago, is easy and free today thanks to offerings from tech giants like Google and Amazon.com AMZN, +0.71%

Though better, smarter software and robotics may make the building and coding of things less cumbersome, deciding what to build, what to automate and how to keep that connection with your consumers will be the core of the hottest job over the next couple of decades. Product managers and user-experience designers will be in high demand.

Those who have skills that combine human understanding with knowledge of how technology works will not only survive workplace automation, but will thrive in it.

Shon Burton is the founder & CEO of HiringSolved, an artificial intelligence and machine learning platform that improves the speed and quality of talent acquisition.

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