The Unbundling of the Career

“I didn’t go to school.” My friend (and RadReader) was briefly taken aback. He was interviewing for a senior role as Creative Director at a Product Development shop and this answer didn’t fit into his world view. But this designer was the most qualified candidate for the role.

In this RadReads issue alone, you’ll find that (a) contract between employer and employee, (b) what one could/should/can’t learn in college, (c) what comprises a salary, and (d) the power of algos (for non-engineers) are called into question seven times.

It feels like the career as we know it is being unbundled.

Credentialing (the Hahhh-vard MBA) still matters as it makes for easy signaling. But at some point experience trumps credentials (or as the case at my alma matter Yale, credentials can’t keep up with the pace of innovation).Does a one page resume still accurately capture the breadth of one’s experience? Does anyone know where Ben Thompson went to college or where he worked before Stratechery? (I just looked him up on LinkedIn.)

Credentialing and side projects have a unique (and inverse) relationship. That throwaway side project you listed at the very bottom might be the springboard to nail the interview (and land the job). At many large companies side projects used to operate in complete secrecy (shh, don’t tell — it may mean you have one foot out the door) but now the reverse is true — take the Invest Like the Best Podcast or The Infatuation — both projects made their creators more valuable to their employers. And never has it been easier tocreate lightweight, functional side projects. Not only are these tools coding-free, they also cost virtually zero.

We’re moving to a world of a portfolio of careers. There will probably still be an “anchor tenant,” but it will be supplemented by micro-consulting, freelancing, blogging, gifts, advertising/affiliates — paid in the form of cash, equity, barter, and tokens.

And thus traditional rules of economics will be called into question. Open-source software, blogging and Wikipedia already show that passion for one’s craft can trump financial incentives. The gift economy is growing rapidly (35 creators on Patreon earn over $150k annually). Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired) speculated in 2008 that all you needed to generate $100k was 1,000 True FansAnd though it’s probably years away, corporations will realign incentives through decentralized business models.

What are the key stills to thrive in this new paradigm? First, “hacker sensibility” — the ability to understand technology’s capabilities and apply them to a variety of real world problems. It’s amazing that tech is becoming so modularized (you can build an SMS bot using a Google spreadsheetand the key skill is being Above the APIwhere you are telling a machine what to do(vs. you being told what to do via a machine.)

Next, there’s storytelling and the ability to write well — if you can’t cut through the noise with traditional credentials, you’re going to have to be able to tell a compelling story (while being parsimonious — since, you know, limited attention spans). Then, there’s design — whether it’s a presentation, a blog, or an MVP, knowing how to make the experience aesthetically pleasurable for the recipient will enable your work to stand out.

And then there’s self-management. This is a big one an unbundled career could be a volatile career. Self-management ranges from functional (e.g. how to combat distraction), risk mitigation (e.g. is 6 months the right rainy day fund), and identity (e.g. how to define one’s self in a world where labels stop mattering).

If (and that’s a huge if) this trend is accurate, there are tremendous implications for our social institutions. Health insurance, retirement savings, urban planning, and citizenship/taxation are a few that come to mind.

You should take everything I’ve just written with a shaker’s worth of salt and skepticism. But do look around — and within —do you see any signs of unbundling?

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