How to beat the layoff blues

This article first appeared in DNA India on May 18th 2017.

My last column asked freshers to make an informed choice, early on in their careers between high-paying but “low-learning” jobs in large organisations and low paying but “high-learning” jobs in start-ups. A couple of days after that article, news of over 2 lakh job cuts in the IT sector over the next 2-3 years hit the world. The job cuts were to primarily hit jobs in the area of manual testing, technical support and system administration since rapid automation and AI-based systems are making these jobs redundant.

Most of those at the receiving end are those who have settled down to routine jobs without making any efforts to enhance their skill sets. The IT industry is prone to these churns every three-five years since the pace of technological changes in this industry follows the same time cycle. I have personally known people who have been carrying out manual testing in large organisations for a considerable amount of time without making any efforts to look at where their careers were heading. What’s more, this isn’t limited to just freshers or people with limited work experience. Even folks in middle and upper management settle into their comfort zones without asking themselves if “what got us here was enough to get us there in future”?

The well known Dunning-Kruger (DK) effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals assess their competence as much higher than it really is. I would aver that all of us suffer from the DK effect as we move up the corporate ladder or move ahead in our careers. As we rise through the ranks, we tend to believe more and more in our own infallibility with the effect that we tend to stop trying to learn new things because “Hey! I made it here because I am brilliant, ain’t I”? Unfortunately, I believe that this also contributes to the Peter Principle which states that people get promoted to their level of incompetence.

So what should one do to ensure that he/she doesn’t fall prey to the DK effect? For starters, humility is a great virtue to cultivate, since it keeps us grounded. The thought that there are others who are way smarter than us not only enables us to not overestimate our own abilities but also awakens in us the keenness to keep learning. Ultimately, the only way to ensure that we don’t become redundant is to keep learning. One needs to keep learning something new every day. Want to learn about the latest in AI? Don’t know what TensorFlow is? Well, there are a bunch of online courses on offer. So go ahead and spend a few weekends learning about this new technology. Make use of the advantages offered by our digital age so that you are never the first in line to the guillotine. That could help you in becoming a Scarlet Pimpernel and not another Sidney Carton.