One of the first movies that really left a mark on me was WarGames. It was the summer of 1983. I was 8 years old and was already what can probably best be described as “an optimism fundamentalist”. So instead of focusing on the dystopian reality that the threat of nuclear holocaust was going to be a permanent cloud over society for the rest of my life, what struck me was the exciting realization that computers were going to play a far bigger role in people’s lives than simply making it easier for them to delete misspelled words in a document.
Even though I was still a decade away from thinking about things like careers and life-callings, I realized then that if I stayed close to technology I would have opportunities to do interesting things in my life.
Across my personal circle of influence, and across the nation writ large, millions of kids were being inspired and directed like me. It would pick up steam in the 90’s as the internet became mainstream, and for the next 3 decades, the constant theme of advice was that anyone who was interested in technology should consider being an engineer. As communications moved onto computing platforms, the people capable of helping that advancement would never want for work.
In the 80’s, there were only a handful of software engineers in the US. But by 2002, that number had grown to 677,000. By 2013 there were over 1 million. And that figure is expected to continue growing at a rapid pace, with 22% annual growth expected over the next decade. The folks who predicted during my youth that engineers would have a rosy future pretty much nailed it. But labor markets will always evolve, and while many new jobs are being created, others are being eliminated. So my question is this: can we learn from the rise of computer technology and the associated growth in software engineering jobs in order to predict future areas of the economy poised for similarly explosive growth? I believe the answer is yes.
Today, the medium of communication is shifting once again. For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors communicated verbally. Sure, there were markings and early writings, but the primary thrust of communication was the spoken word. This changed with the advent of print thanks to Gutenberg, and for over 550 years, text and static imagery have dominated human communication.
It was a good run. But it’s coming to an end.
Everywhere you look, you see screens. Screens at the gas station pump. Screens at the dentist office. Screens in the back of taxi cabs. And, most importantly, screens in your pocket. Increasingly, if a company has something to say, they’re going to say it in video.
How significant is this shift? Well, think of it this way – at the beginning of 2015, there were 50 million companies using Facebook pages. By September 2016, that number had climbed to over 60 million. That’s 60 million companies choosing to use a platform to communicate with their customers – a platform that is very publicly transitioning to a video network. And as communications, in general, migrate from static means (text and imagery) to moving imagery (video, AR and VR), those 60 million companies won’t just need a small handful of video advertisements per year. This may have been the case a decade ago for the Fortune 500, but it doesn’t hold anymore. No, they each will need hundreds, if not thousands of videos per year. Remember, it’s not just advertising that’s changing. It is all communications.
But here’s the kicker as it relates to job creation in this field. We are simultaneously shifting from a world where scarcity ruled in video content to an era of abundance. It wasn’t long ago that distribution was choked, and where it was available, it came with costs. Channels were relatively finite, and as a result, quality demands were forgiving. If you had distribution, you basically just needed to fill the pipe. Today, video exists in abundance. Distribution is effectively free and infinitely scalable. Now, more than ever, quality matters when it comes to video communications.
If you’ve ever read a script created by an algorithm or watched editorial pieces made by any of the myriad algorithmic editing tools, you’ll realize that we’re still a very long way away from having emotive communications created by anything other than a human being. So, if the communications have to be good in order to be effective, and to do so means that they have to be made by people, just how many jobs are we talking about creating?
Between advertising, hiring, internal communications, and general social marketing, I’m going to assume that the average company will need 10 videos per year. Keep in mind that many companies will need literally thousands of pieces of video content, and it’s also worth noting that social advertising is quickly evolving to a model where a company should never create a single ad. Instead, they should create many ads and test them all (more on this in another post soon). But if you assume 10 as a well-blended average, that means 600 million pieces of video content will need to be created per year in the near future. If the average creative can make 5 pieces of quality video content per week, that means over 2.3 million editors will be needed to service this coming demand, just from the companies that are currently on Facebook. You can quibble with me over the exact numbers, but not the scope and scale of the coming video revolution.
As with coding, there will be a wide range of job types and compensation structures that come along with this era of scaled video production. But make no mistake about it, in an environment of abundant video, the folks who can create emotionally resonant moving communications will be in high demand, and they will be well-paid by any standard.
Does this mean that engineers won’t be needed in the future? Of course not. All of the key disciplines associated with creating and maintaining the technology that forms such an important part of our personal and professional lives will remain attractive careers for many.
But when you hear people complain that technology is taking away all of our jobs, know that this is no truer today than it was when the same fear was voiced during the Industrial Revolution, or in the early days of the computer age for that matter.
The need for people who can create quality video communications will grow dramatically in the next few decades. Guidance counselors of today can still push certain kids into considering engineering paths. But for countless others who thrive on creativity, who understand communication at its root level, and who have a knack for visual storytelling, a huge new window of opportunity is about to open up. And when we say we’re out to create a million jobs, you better believe we mean it.