When you have high-profile tech roles in the Silicon Valley and have worked at Tesla, it is safe to say you have more than a fair idea of where the world of technology is headed. So when we spoke to Jay Vijayan, the founder and CEO of Tekion, we spoke of technology (obviously!), disruption, ethics and new roles that the world of technology is opening up. The insights of Vijayan, a former chief information officer of Tesla for over four years, both on technology and human behaviour are valuable, especially, where he believes that the Future of Work depends on each individual and not the vicissitudes of technology.
Tekion is a Silicon Valley startup that is disrupting and transforming the business applications and automotive retail experience via its cloud platform. Tekion’s investors include Index Ventures, Storm Ventures, BMW iVentures, Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance Ventures and Airbus. In his role at Tesla, Vijayan reported to Elon Musk, chairman and CEO. Vijayan and his team built and led the transformation of Tesla's digital and information systems, fueling the company’s hyper-growth phase.
What is the Future of Work, according to you?
The Future of Work in my view is one that is constantly evolving. The way I see it, over a period of time, there are different aspects that have evolved. In recent times, the focus has been specifically on technological advancements. The important aspect of the future of work is for people to internalise and think ‘what it means to them’. Experts can predict, but at the end of the day it comes down to what it means to the individual. The way each person finds satisfaction in work is different.
In my view, it is more about people’s mind-set changing about what work means to them. Over decades micro level changes have happened with internet (connectivity) and more automation but on a macro level not much has changed. People go to work on a day to day basis; we go to a different type of offices, in factories parts of the work is automated by machines. Based on the job types, certain people used to work remote or take their work to home to complete in the past. The capability for that has significantly increased with higher level of connectivity. Now, people can collaborate from different parts of the world and work together more seamlessly. The last part, of course, is automation that has been increasing with the advancement of technology/ computing and processing power and capability of machines. There are reports, like the one from McKinesy that say about 15-30% of jobs will be lost by 2030 as automation comes to play. Only the future will tell what the exact number will be. There have been revolutions in the past from agricultural to industrial to now information revolution. Jobs have not been totally lost all the time, they transform from one to another. What that means is, at the end of the day it comes down to the individual and their definition of what work means to them, what they think their future of work is and based on that they make key decisions to unlearn, learn, re-tool themselves and train themselves and their next generation.
Where do you think the world is heading from a perspective of technological innovation?
There has been a lot of discussion around AI and machine learning which leads to discussions around self-driving, robotics and many other use-cases. The way I see it, things are evolving significantly faster than the past decades and there are three factors that impact human life from technology advancements and technological innovation:
1) Advanced technology itself: Here I mean evolution of new techniques, new languages combined with computing power that has massively increased, from the time Charles Babagge created his first automated mechanical calculating machine “difference engine” to now a smart phone (let alone super and quantum computers) having unimagined exponential growth in computing power.
2) Data: Capability of storing, processing and retrieving massive amount of data in fraction of a second. This is super powerful.
3) Quick turnaround of innovation to practical and commercial implementation leading to further advancements: The moment there is a glimpse of hope that an innovation has bigger practical application and commercial scope then investment pours in. Investments helps fuel further advancements and the healthy cycle continues.
Explained with an example of the movie series ‘Back to the Future’. There were three movies, the first was released in the 1985, then 1989 and 1990. In the movie, Steven Spielberg predicts several technological advancements, In the 1989 movie, the future was shown as 2015 (26 years from the time), when starting from video call/conference for personal use, flying cars, smart/adaptable shoes to hover boards are in practical use. There are a few things he predicted that did come to life, like video call/conferencing, smart shoes etc, few things did not – example: flying cars. We are in 2019 and that has not advanced since there was not good clarity in practical application and commercial scope yet. Where I am going with this is, when investors and corporates see commercial value in a particular technology innovation, they invest in it. That in turn, will attract smart talent and the loop continues. In that sense, AI, self-driving cars are attracting massive investments from large companies like Tesla, Google, Uber, General Motors, BMW and the list goes on. Imagine the kind of brains and talent working on these technologies which only means that they will come to life soon.
Will this fast paced evolution of technology impact jobs?
In context, any technological advancement will always impact jobs. It happened during industrialisation and continues to do so. Not all the time jobs are lost, but are transformed. Unfortunately, whether people like it or not, advancements in technology will happen. The biggest thing anyone can do, is to embrace the change and see what it means to them. How can we as individuals quickly adapt to or be a part of it or at least be prepared? The added onus is on leaders to think and providing a platform to people to make that transformation easier. It is more like a social responsibility for those in positions of power and influence.
Coming back to the discussion on AI, there are two things to make note of - massive benefits, but there could potentially be a massive negative impact as well - if we don’t put enough checks and balances, compliance and ethics in place. That is where we need more emphasis.
So, how should ethics and compliance be applied to technology and who should the guardians be?
Usually, Governments come in late. We just don’t want that to be too late.
There are many deep thinkers and smart minds in the technology space itself. People who are developing these technologies and there are those who are thinking about checks and balances as they are developing these technologies. When basic controls, ethics, checks and balances comes in as an afterthought, it gets much more complicated. So, it has to be part and parcel of developing the technology. The encouraging part is that there are a few influential people including Stephen Hawkings, Elon Musk have spoken out and are already actively thinking about it and contributing capital to support bringing in controls and balances in AI (reference to OpenAI - a non-profit AI research company).
Forming a consortium with like-minded people/companies to implement standards that become a norm is what is going to be helpful to guard these. Visionaries, leaders in tech, thinkers, tech giants who are already creating AI, should take the initiative and form a consortium. We need more people to join in and there should be more widely published guidelines. Today’s world is all about open source and when more powerful people back this, there will be deeper conversations and then practical implementation. Anyone who works within the realms of AI should have a set protocol and adopt the same standards that are shared as open source.
What are the top skills people should prepare to have and what could be some unique job profiles that could come up?
From the next generation perspective, everything, in some way will be related to software. I recommend to my own kids to have some basic understanding of technology and software programming, irrespective of whichever field they choose for their carrier. Almost anything and everything is and will be software defined in the future. All hardware/IoT/Robotics are run by software.
For the most part, for next generation kids, I would encourage them to learn programming. Today, it is not expensive, easily available and accessible. There are a lot of open websites where kids can get themselves acquainted with coding (example: Code.org, Codeacademy, GitHub and many others).Our next generation has to be really prepared and ready from a mind set and skillset perspective. My view on skillset is that it has to start very early.
An interesting profile I think could come up is an AI Security Administrator - this is someone who deeply understands AI and works to deploy security controls in the implementation of AI.
Does that make engineering the most important degree to have?
Engineering today, has expanded extensively. The world is changing in such a way that anything and everything to some degree will be impacted by technology. In order to not be left out, our next generation should understand the basics of technology. That does not mean that they have to be engineers. They just have to understand the basics of technology and software. Whether it is manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture or any other related filed, all the operations and algorithms are being developed in software. Therefore, they should be informed of the underlying working of the software and from there they can chose what they want to specialise in.
Parents have to be much more open to allowing kids to pursue what they are most passionate about.
What could the workplace of the future look like?
It will not be very concentrated, it will be much more distributed and global. It is important to have a workplace. It is important to bring people together, so we will have pods of collaborative workplaces, which is already happening.
Lastly, what was it like to work at Tesla?
It was a great experience. Tesla is a very innovative company with super innovative and transformative products. I learned a lot from Elon and Tesla and was able to actively contribute to its success.
Talking about the future of work, the one big difference I saw at Tesla, is that innovation is intertwined in the culture and day today working. Traditionally, in companies there are R&D departments that take up a lot of funding, process and time. The cycle of idea to implementation or discarding is very long. The difference in Tesla is that innovation is part of the job and the cycles of adoption are much faster. It has a ‘fail fast and learn fast’ culture. Innovation and great ideas comes to life very quickly or do not exist.
To conclude, disruption is happening faster than we can imagine. The only way to keep pace is to accept it and know where you want to head as a professional or entrepreneur. Ultimately, ‘Future of Work’ boils down to the individual and not the technology driving it. Therefore, be aware of your choices and their repercussions at every step you take.
Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.
Published Date: Apr 02, 2019 11:04 AM | Updated Date: Apr 02, 2019 11:04 AM IST