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“Forget Everything You Know”

You may have heard that when you took a new job. Ten years ago it probably meant that the work you will be doing now is quite different from studying. “Welcome to the real world, Neo”. But today this phrase has a new meaning. The world moves faster every year. We must run as fast as we can just to stay in place. Well-paid skills from the past can become unwanted tomorrow.

There was a well-known story in England when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher`s government finally decided to close the country’s money-losing coal mines. Thousands of miners found their experience and skills unneeded. Not all of them were able to find a new career. That is just one example. In the future we’ll see how driverless vehicles and vessels will make obsolete the professions of driver and seaman. A week ago I read a news story about an experimental field in the USA where all phases of agriculture were done by robots. It promises great benefits, but also great troubles. Skills you studied ten years ago can become useless now. If you want to be specialist, you must never stop learning.

Before becoming a software engineer I had work experience in an area far from IT. I was a shipping agent. I was the specialist who helps the ship’s captain pass port operations, including documents, supply, loading, discharging and others. It was an interesting job but, as I saw later, very specific and limiting. Then one day our port was closed and trade ships stopped coming. My job experience became unwanted. I decided to start learning Ruby on Rails.

It was very hard to leave my previous life and to learn new skills from the beginning. You may ask: “How did you decide to forget your experience and start from the beginning?” Let me tell you the story about a wizard named Giro.

Many years ago, I read this story in Gianni Rodari`s “Tales with three ends”. Giro was a skilled magician. His spells allowed him to light a house, to hear someone far away, and to see events occurring on other continents. People willingly paid for his services. But one day everything changed. People invented electricity, phones and TV and no longer needed Giro`s magic. He was left without work. What did the wizard do? This tale has three endings and everyone can choose their favorite:

  1. Giro went to poor countries, where people had no possibility to buy this technology and continued to be a magician.
  2. Giro was offended and used his magic to break their appliances but soon was arrested and jailed.
  3. Giro understood that there is no sense living in the past and decided to study engineering. The last thing Giro did was throw away his unnecessary spellbook and began his new life.

When I was a child I didn’t like the third ending. I could not understand it. How could Giro dismiss all of his previous experience and start a new life? Now I understand that it was the right ending. In reality it was not the end but just the beginning.

Yesterday I read the article of an HR manager from a famous company. She wrote that developers who can only code are not in as much demand as 10 years ago. Today developers must also have skills in English, agile, communication, and understand the marketing and management of projects. This article received a lot of comments. Not everyone was in agreement with it, not everyone was ready to leave their habits and study something new. In such cases I always remember the wizard from my old book.

P.S.After writing this post I found another variant of this story. Giro opened a store and started to sell these new electric lamps and newest appliances, using his magic for marketing. Maybe it shows that there are more answers than we think!


Alex Ost is a Speed & Functions intern.  Alex has worked in many professions: genetics, beekeeping, building, teaching anatomy, and maritime agency service. He is now a Ruby on Rails developer studying to become a highly qualified specialist.