How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

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VictoriaF
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Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 7:27 am
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Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by VictoriaF » Tue Feb 12, 2019 9:17 am

I highly recommend Cal Newport's book "Deep Work."

Newport makes a strong argument that as the workplace becomes more globalized and more connected, employers have increasingly easy access to the best performers around the world. The gap between highly-sought high performers and everybody else is growing. The book discusses how to become a top performer.

Another Newport's book "So good they can't ignore you" guides you how to get your ideal job without sacrificing your current job and financial stability. He makes strong arguments against following your passion, and for pursuing excellence.

The most recent Newport's book "Digital Minimalism" has just been published. I have not read it. The book teaches how to minimize use of gadgets and social media, which I am already doing.

Victoria
WINNER of the 2015 Boglehead Contest. | Every joke has a bit of a joke. ... The rest is the truth. (Marat F)

thx1138
Posts: 1111
Joined: Fri Jul 12, 2013 2:14 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by thx1138 » Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:13 am

These topics come up frequently. Usually tech focused but the solution is independent of the technology sector. I think the problem is focused on the tech sector because it is easy for tech employees to fall into the "update your skills" trap.

The bog standard advice is "keep up to date". No that isn't a solution at all. It is a prerequisite in many cases but it isn't remotely a solution. Why on earth would any sane person pay an older more expensive employee to do work that a younger cheaper employee can also do? Keeping "up to date" with the new employees isn't giving you any competitive advantage.

People talk of "age discrimination" and being "shown the door". Regardless of your age you are being shown the door because you have no competitive advantage against your peers. Old people make more money usually so the young often have a competitive advantage of being cheaper for the same work.

An older employee's advantage is their experience. An older experienced employee's competitive advantage is that if they have developed and demonstrated the right experience they literally can do jobs that it is impossible for a younger employee to do. At this point the salary difference is irrelevant to the decision makers - the cheaper person simply can not do the job.

So if you want to stay "relevant" as your age and salary increase what you really need to do is be gaining relevant and useful experience that someone can only obtain by actually doing work rather than just going to school or reading books. That is the competitive advantage of an older worker - they have had exposure to the relevant work environment and learned from it and no one else younger has had the opportunity to be exposed to that environment for as long.

The problem is that of course not all work experience builds competitive advantage. Being the fastest person to fill out a TPS report is not particularly relevant as it isn't a transferable skill, it is a skill anyone else can learn quickly and it is essentially trivial. On the other hand working with large integrated systems, business processes or even deep experience with a community or customer organization are things that actually take time to learn, are usually reasonably transferable and it is usually of great value to a business.

I work in an extremely technical field and we are typically desperate to keep the old folks in the building. We of course are also constantly hiring young talent and developing it. But the old folks as it were are extremely valuable - valuable *technically*. And their value isn't because they "kept up to date" getting certifications or learning the most recent flavor of the month language or tool. It is because as their careers went on they grew in experience and responsibility that was only accessible to them on the job and they can clearly do things the less experienced simply can't do. After they retire we are frequently bugging them to come back part time.

So to stay "relevant" my advice is to think about how what you do day to day in your job is giving you a competitive advantage by giving you access to experiences and learning that no one else can really get unless they are the one actually doing the job. For sure you'll need to do some "book learning" along the way because things change around us all the time and we need to be able to use new tools but that kind of learning is not giving you a competitive advantage. You want to use your direct work experience as a barrier to entry for any competition.

Now a big problem is not all companies actually need people with this kind of long experience. And therein lies the insidious trap. If you work at a company just full of rooms of code monkeys churning out the latest web garbage well even if you like doing that it simply isn't a sustainable career path. You will never get the experience you need to be competitive in such an environment long term. It may be a great environment for someone young with little experience but they should move on in a few years most likely.

Where you want to be is in a company and a wider industry in which you can see people in senior positions that can't be displaced not because of networking or personal connections but simply because no one younger can even do their job. Then make sure the kind of work your are doing is giving you the experience necessary to fill those senior jobs. If the company if you are at doesn't have such a position then start looking for a new job. If the career path you are currently on (e.g. "Senior" Java Developer) doesn't have such a position across industry start figuring out how to pivot into a career path that does have such things that you'll still enjoy doing.

The harsh truth is if you think "I love coding user interfaces" and want to do that for the rest of your career you are going to have a short career. You are no different than the manufacturing worker who has at best a few years competitive advantage in training on a cheaper and younger replacement. Worse if you are in tech you don't have a union to protect you either.

And as already mentioned by others - make sure the competitive advantage you develop is transferable! Don't bet your advantage on the particular idiosyncrasies of a particular company.

I've seen people mentioning Cal Newport a few times. I haven't ever read him but I've seen some sample chapters, reviews and outlines and he seems to be roughly on the right track with some of this.

RollTide31457
Posts: 259
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2017 8:06 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by RollTide31457 » Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:17 am

Dress a bit nicer than your peers. Also, walk around with a concerned look on your face, always interject in meetings and don’t disclose any undocumented processes and procedures.

SrGrumpy
Posts: 1193
Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:21 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by SrGrumpy » Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:49 am

RollTide31457 wrote:
Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:17 am
Dress a bit nicer than your peers. Also, walk around with a concerned look on your face, always interject in meetings and don’t disclose any undocumented processes and procedures.
The meeting interjection advice could generate concerned faces on all your colleagues, thus eliminating your facial advantage.

1TheGame
Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Apr 20, 2018 10:38 am

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by 1TheGame » Tue Feb 12, 2019 12:25 pm

thx1138 wrote:
Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:13 am
These topics come up frequently. Usually tech focused but the solution is independent of the technology sector. I think the problem is focused on the tech sector because it is easy for tech employees to fall into the "update your skills" trap.

The bog standard advice is "keep up to date". No that isn't a solution at all. It is a prerequisite in many cases but it isn't remotely a solution. Why on earth would any sane person pay an older more expensive employee to do work that a younger cheaper employee can also do? Keeping "up to date" with the new employees isn't giving you any competitive advantage.

People talk of "age discrimination" and being "shown the door". Regardless of your age you are being shown the door because you have no competitive advantage against your peers. Old people make more money usually so the young often have a competitive advantage of being cheaper for the same work.

An older employee's advantage is their experience. An older experienced employee's competitive advantage is that if they have developed and demonstrated the right experience they literally can do jobs that it is impossible for a younger employee to do. At this point the salary difference is irrelevant to the decision makers - the cheaper person simply can not do the job.

So if you want to stay "relevant" as your age and salary increase what you really need to do is be gaining relevant and useful experience that someone can only obtain by actually doing work rather than just going to school or reading books. That is the competitive advantage of an older worker - they have had exposure to the relevant work environment and learned from it and no one else younger has had the opportunity to be exposed to that environment for as long.

The problem is that of course not all work experience builds competitive advantage. Being the fastest person to fill out a TPS report is not particularly relevant as it isn't a transferable skill, it is a skill anyone else can learn quickly and it is essentially trivial. On the other hand working with large integrated systems, business processes or even deep experience with a community or customer organization are things that actually take time to learn, are usually reasonably transferable and it is usually of great value to a business.

I work in an extremely technical field and we are typically desperate to keep the old folks in the building. We of course are also constantly hiring young talent and developing it. But the old folks as it were are extremely valuable - valuable *technically*. And their value isn't because they "kept up to date" getting certifications or learning the most recent flavor of the month language or tool. It is because as their careers went on they grew in experience and responsibility that was only accessible to them on the job and they can clearly do things the less experienced simply can't do. After they retire we are frequently bugging them to come back part time.

So to stay "relevant" my advice is to think about how what you do day to day in your job is giving you a competitive advantage by giving you access to experiences and learning that no one else can really get unless they are the one actually doing the job. For sure you'll need to do some "book learning" along the way because things change around us all the time and we need to be able to use new tools but that kind of learning is not giving you a competitive advantage. You want to use your direct work experience as a barrier to entry for any competition.

Now a big problem is not all companies actually need people with this kind of long experience. And therein lies the insidious trap. If you work at a company just full of rooms of code monkeys churning out the latest web garbage well even if you like doing that it simply isn't a sustainable career path. You will never get the experience you need to be competitive in such an environment long term. It may be a great environment for someone young with little experience but they should move on in a few years most likely.

Where you want to be is in a company and a wider industry in which you can see people in senior positions that can't be displaced not because of networking or personal connections but simply because no one younger can even do their job. Then make sure the kind of work your are doing is giving you the experience necessary to fill those senior jobs. If the company if you are at doesn't have such a position then start looking for a new job. If the career path you are currently on (e.g. "Senior" Java Developer) doesn't have such a position across industry start figuring out how to pivot into a career path that does have such things that you'll still enjoy doing.

The harsh truth is if you think "I love coding user interfaces" and want to do that for the rest of your career you are going to have a short career. You are no different than the manufacturing worker who has at best a few years competitive advantage in training on a cheaper and younger replacement. Worse if you are in tech you don't have a union to protect you either.

And as already mentioned by others - make sure the competitive advantage you develop is transferable! Don't bet your advantage on the particular idiosyncrasies of a particular company.

I've seen people mentioning Cal Newport a few times. I haven't ever read him but I've seen some sample chapters, reviews and outlines and he seems to be roughly on the right track with some of this.
I think this is excellent advice. I used a very similar strategy in my career (as an electrical engineer). Instead of trying to enhance/update my skills in something that could be readily done by a newly graduated EE or junior engineer, I instead leveraged the deep knowledge I had for higher levels of system development. I became a recognized, nearly one-of-a-kind expert that was always in demand. I retired last year and still work a day or so a month (mainly from home) but have been asked a few times to come back on an either PT or FT basis. I greatly enjoyed my career, but no thanks!

mattyslice
Posts: 18
Joined: Sun Feb 10, 2019 2:41 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by mattyslice » Wed Feb 13, 2019 11:31 am

All good advice. I have had the same concerns and I am 36. I love working and want to walk away on my own terms but most of the time people in my position are told when to leave. I just hope I save enough before I unwillingly have that conversation :)

nimo956
Posts: 773
Joined: Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:07 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by nimo956 » Wed Feb 13, 2019 2:26 pm

When I was early in my career, my company had to appoint an interim CEO. My manager was scheduled to sit down with him to provide an overview of what our team does, but he was unexpectedly sick, so I had to step in. Our work was related to new business development.

I started to walk through our modeling techniques and how we accounted for risk when he stops me. He asks, "Once we onboard the clients, how are we ensuring our sales team is properly incentivized to hit these targets?" I had no clue how to answer, and I thought to myself, "not my department, I don't set compensation for the sales people, I'm just in charge of bringing in the business."

As the meeting progressed, it became apparent that the CEO didn't care at all about the specifics of our jobs, or how we got particular numbers in a spreadsheet. All of his questions were focused on whether we had the right processes in place and the right people/departments working together so that nothing fell through the cracks.

I was only thinking about my little silo, while he was thinking about whether the organization was structured appropriately.

It was quite an eye-opening experience, and one I've tried to take to heart throughout my career. No matter what your job is, you need to try to branch out of your department to understand how the wider company fits together. It is only once you do this, that you can notice inefficiencies or roadblocks, and come up with plans to correct them.

Such a person who can identify and solve these types of problems will always be invaluable.
50% VTI / 50% VXUS

StandingRock
Posts: 344
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 6:54 pm

Re: How do I keep from becoming irrelevant

Post by StandingRock » Wed Feb 13, 2019 2:41 pm

Barsoom wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2019 4:14 pm
justsomeguy2018 wrote:
Sun Feb 10, 2019 10:03 pm
I worry as I start to near my late 40s/50s/60s, I will face age discrimination in the workplace. I am talking about layoffs or issues finding new employment.
I may have a minority opinion here, but take a look at slide 26 in this JP Morgan quarterly analysis. The slide is on workforce participation. https://am.jpmorgan.com/blob-gim/138340 ... cale=en_US

There is a huge population of "boomers" who are retiring and leaving the workforce and leaving a vacuum behind. I don't know if the past perceptions of age discrimination in older workers will be the same when you reach that age, simply because the workforce is projected to be smaller and you will have an even smaller class behind you.

"Global" workforce may be more of a threat to you than "aging" workforce when you reach 50.

-B
That is a threat at any age. The whole H1B debacle has stunted salary growth in the IT field.

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