Career advice: your expert guide to choosing a career in the world of technology

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With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, job seekers need to be comfortable working online. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)
With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, job seekers need to be comfortable working online. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)

Although it feels as if there was never a time without technology, in just a few years the world of tech has seen dramatic growth. It’s hard to imagine but just 20 years ago some of the biggest tech innovations didn’t even exist.

The first iPhone and smart TV were invented only 15 years ago. It was also around then that Netflix started to stream its video content. The first Fitbit health tracker was released 13 years ago and the race is still on to get the first self-driving car for consumers on the road.

The growth in the use of robotics has also exploded in the past two decades. Robots are being used in everything from intricate medical surgery to checking in guests and delivering room service in hotels.

But it’s not just those major movements that have changed our lives. These days we do online banking instead of speaking to a teller, we interact with chatbots when we use call centres and you can shop online for medicine, furniture, food, clothes – anything, really – without ever having to speak to a human being.

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We’re now experiencing the fourth industrial revolution – also known as 4IR (see box for more) – which means there are opportunities aplenty if you’re willing to acquire the skills you need.

“Digitisation could result in demand for an additional 1,7 million employees with higher education by 2030,” according to a 2019 report by management-­consulting firm McKinsey titled The Future of Work in South Africa: Digitisation, Productivity and Job Creation.

“Unless a higher percentage of South Africa’s graduates take technology-­related jobs, much of that demand will go unmet – resulting in a serious skills shortfall across the economy.”

The number of jobs available in the tech industry will just increase by the day, experts say – and they’re there for the taking if you have the education and skills. These include jobs such as app developer, drone ­monitor, cybersecurity specialist, bot manager and virtual-reality experience designer.

Virtual-reality ­designers need to be highly skilled at coding. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)

“South Africans who focus on these job skills will have a huge advantage over the rest of the job market as they’re skills in short supply, and demand will continually increase,” says Arthur Goldstuck, a technology analyst and founder of World Wide Worx.

People who have excellent maths skills, IT experience or ­design ability stand a good chance of nabbing plum jobs. And as some jobs are made redundant – bank tellers or call-centre agents – others are on the rise.

“The demand is nuanced,” Goldstuck says. “For example, the financial sector will have massive demand for technical skills but will shed far more jobs as fewer frontline workers are required. Health and education will see similar nuanced demand as the needed skills evolve.

“Regardless of the career or direction chosen, anyone looking to be employable must ensure they have computer skills and be comfortable working online.”

Upgrade your skills

Even if you’re not that interested in having a job that requires a deep understanding of technology, it will become more and more important for you to be skilled enough to remain competitive in the job market.

“Technology moves fast,” says Bronwyn Williams, a futurist, economist, business-trends analyst and partner at Flux Trends. “Skills are comparable through the devices and software we use.”

If you don’t know how to use online collaboration tools, for example, you’ll be at a disadvantage when compared with someone who’s comfortable with them, especially as many companies adopt ­hybrid work policies.

One of the best ways for those in the workforce to upskill themselves is to do online courses. Thanks to the rise of remote working, you’re competing with people all over the world for jobs. In some cases, the more educated you are, the more employable you’ll be.

“Online short courses are key to keeping up to date with a skill or industry,” Goldstuck says. “However, foundational learning in coding, mathematics and language provides the building blocks on which one builds new technology skills and learning. That won’t change as long as the foundational teaching remains up to date.”

That means that if you’re serious about a career in tech, you must learn coding and be good at maths.

“Almost any job behind a computer can be enhanced with some coding knowledge,” Goldstuck says.

If you have good maths skills or IT experience you stand a good job of landing a plum job. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)

The jobs to look out for

If you’re interested in highly technical jobs, there are many interesting options. In the past few years new types of jobs have been created as the world becomes increasingly digital. As new devices and software are released, there’s a subsequent demand for jobs related to them.

We take a look at just some of the jobs typical of the fourth industrial revolution.

Virtual-reality designer People qualified for this job will become even more sought-after thanks to the rise of the metaverse. Earlier this year Facebook changed its name to Meta, with founder Mark Zuckerberg predicting that the metaverse – a virtual online community populated by avatars of people – will be the next wave of online usage. In other words, more people will join online worlds as characters instead of being on social-media platforms such as Facebook using only text, videos and images.

Virtual-reality designers will create those online worlds as they already do in video games. You need to be highly skilled at coding and software development, but also talented in creative areas. You need to be able to do digital modelling and 3D computer-aided design and be able to design a world that ordinary consumers will find appealing and can relate to.

This job requires tertiary study in the areas of computer programming and design. Depending on your level of skill, you can easily earn more than R1 million a year. The best in the industry can earn more than R2m a year.

Technology has greatly improved over the various industrial revolutions. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)

Software engineer They’re in high demand across the globe and companies are desperate to employ skilled developers as the world becomes increasingly digitised.

There are many variations and specialisations in the software-engineering field and usually engineers learn to specialise in a particular type of coding language such as Python, SQL, Java or R. They typically create websites and apps, develop machine-learning programs and create software used in a variety of settings. It’s preferable to study at either a university or a university of techno­logy to get the required skills, although some engineers are self-taught or have done short courses to upskill themselves.

Depending on what you specialise in, you can earn upward of R850 000 a year – many earn far more.

Data scientist and data analyst These specialists are highly sought-­after because pretty much every company in the world needs someone to make sense of the vast volumes of data generated every day.

In both roles you need to be a critical thinker, understand mathematics and logic problems, see patterns, be good at analysis – especially of statistics – and have a deep understanding of which  data is good and which can be discarded.

You also need to have excellent presentation skills because it doesn’t help any­one if you’ve decoded the data but you’re unable to share it with them in a meaningful way.

You must have a tertiary qualification in data science or a related field. Data analysts need information-­management or business-information-systems skills as well as mathematics and economics as subjects.

Data scientists in South Africa can earn between R223 000 and R700 000 a year, according to job sites Indeed and Payscale. Data analysts can earn between R200 000 and R504 000 a year, depending on what level of data they have to interpret.

Cybersecurity expert If you can do this job you’ll be in hot demand thanks to the rise of cybercrime in the financial, health and e-commerce industries.

Governments around the world are also increasingly becoming targets and seeking out cybersecurity experts to keep their systems safe.

You could be hired as a permanent employee or become a consultant. It would be your job to protect the interests of the business for which you work from hackers who are constantly trying to steal confidential data to sell to others or demanding a ransom from the affected firm.

Artificial intelligence has been designed to think like humans. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images)

Cybersecurity is a huge field with varying levels of skill requirements. You could start with a certificate in the IT field or do higher levels of work by studying computer science or related fields at a tertiary institution.

The more experience you have, the more you’re likely to earn. You must have a good grasp of maths and computer systems and you need to be able to spot threats before they’re big, so you need to stay on top of what’s happening in the world of cybercrime. 

You also need to convey complicated concepts to ordinary people in a way that’s easy to understand. The same goes for communicating with the executives of organisations – and you need to be calm when they start to panic about sensitive information being stolen.

Payscale puts the annual salary of a cybersecurity expert at between R87 000 and R527 000, although highly experienced experts can earn far more.

The four big disruptions

It’s a term used often these days but many people don’t know what 4IR stands for. Simply put, it’s the latest period that marks a disruption leading to significant change in the way the world works – in other words, a revolution of various types of industries. In recent history we’ve had three industrial revolutions.

The first industrial ­revolution came in the 1700s in Europe and America through steam engines. With the introduction of steam engines, people, goods and services could be transported much faster. At the time many people lived in rural areas and worked in farming. With the introduction of the steam engine, more people moved to urban areas.

The second industrial revolution took place in the 1800s in Europe, America and Asia. It was driven by the invention of electricity and the improvement of assembly lines in factories. These changes made it possible for mass production of goods such as cars.

The third industrial revolution, also known as the digital revolution, saw the introduction in the 1970s of electronics and computers and later the arrival of the internet.

The fourth industrial revolution is still taking place, developing what happened in the third but taking it further. Key in this one are the introduction of robotics, automation, 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering, quantum computing and much more. A lot of these technologies are quite ­intelligent and don’t need humans to operate them.

The term 4IR was coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in an article he wrote in 2015. “Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translates or invests,” he wrote.

“Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests.”

The 4IR, he continued, is “characterised by a fusion of technologies that’s blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres”.

Tech jobs if you don’t have a degree

There will continue to be a flow of new smartphones, smartwatches, laptops and TVs – and this means a need for people who can fix them when they break or don’t work properly.

“As more products be­come digital, people who continually upskill themselves in their areas of expertise will find those skills can also migrate into the digital arena,” says technology analyst Arthur Goldstuck.

“As homes become more complex in terms of smart appliances and connectivity, technicians will be more in demand to get it all working together.”

Technicians can be self-taught and will have to look into doing online courses on an ongoing basis to help them keep up with the needs of tech users.

Two key terms

Artificial intelligence This is when machines or programs can perform tasks that are usually done by human beings.

In simpler terms, AI was designed to think like humans.

Examples of artificial intelligence include smart assistants such as Apple’s Siri and self-driving cars. Robots that can assist with surgery or serve human beings, and computers that can beat humans at games are also examples, as is the global positioning system (GPS) you use on your phone or in your car and the software that recognises your facial features to unlock your smart devices.

Machine learning The term refers to an element of artificial intelligence in which a machine learns through processing data over time to automatically improve its knowledge base without human intervention. As tech journalist Nick Heath puts it, “At a high level, machine learning is the process of teaching a computer system how to make accurate predictions when fed data.”

Examples are when ­you use YouTube and it gives you recommendations based on things you’ve liked or when Netflix suggests what you should view next based on what you’ve watched in the past.

All social-media platforms rely on machine learning to give you what they think you want to consume on their platform.

All these roles require technical skills to some extent – but also mastery of soft skills. “The most important soft skills necessary for the 4IR are emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thinking and people skills,” says Madeleine Pretorius, an industrial psychologist and life coach based in Cape Town.

“Other important soft skills include adaptability, negotiating skills, good judgment and decision-making and coordinating with others.”

Engaging with others will always be key. “One thing that technology can’t take away is the human interaction and personal touch that will always be needed in the workplace and by customers,” Williams says.


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