November 15, 2023
At a Glance
- AI credited with cutting 3,900 jobs in May.
- Demand for AI developers has led to salaries as high as $900,000.
- After exploring and piloting generative AI solutions in 2023, 2024 expected to be year of AI deployment.
The tech world is abuzz with the possibilities and the perils of artificial intelligence. Among the myriad questions being asked: What does this technology mean for the IT workforce? With AI’s growing capabilities, there is concern that the answer to that question is lost jobs. Why pay a person when an AI system could do the same job faster and for far less money?
That fear is not entirely unfounded. In May, AI was credited with cutting 3,900 jobs, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
That statistic, while startling, doesn’t necessarily portend a long-term trend, a future in which IT jobs are swallowed whole by the inevitable forward march of AI systems. New technology also creates the demand for new skills and new roles.
“The job you have today in IT might not be the same job you have tomorrow in IT. But I don't think we've ever seen a shift in human technology where at the far side of it there was just less work to do,” Neil Katz, co-founder and COO of EyeLevel.ai, which helps companies to build LLM-powered applications, tells InformationWeek.
So, how will AI change IT jobs? What functions could it take over for humans, and what roles will humans be stepping into as AI evolves?
Job Functions Ripe for an AI Takeover
Simple, repetitive tasks are first in line for the application of AI. Basic data entry and processing functions are likely candidates. Likewise, entry level IT helpdesk and support roles, hardly strangers to automation, could be further shifted away from human workers to AI.
“I know that we're actually looking at things like that right now within our workplace of where are the places that we can automate, where we're not going to need a customer support individual,” shares Kristin Hales, vice president of people operations at Impartner, a channel management solution provider.
Entry-level jobs aren’t the only ones that will be changed by the increasing adoption of AI. Software developers may find that some of their common tasks become the purview of AI.
“Things that are going to be replaced are basically all the things a computer science student in university is told to do but hates to do. The documenting of the code, writing unit tests, debugging,” says Alexander De Ridder, co-founder and CTO of Smyth OS, an AI operating system.
AI could eventually take over writing simple code, changing what it means to be a junior engineer or developer. “I do not believe that means there's less code to write. I just think there's different code to write,” says Katz.
While AI is expected to take on more tasks, the people previously doing those tasks are not necessarily rendered irrelevant. But they will be expected to fill new roles.
“It doesn't necessarily replace the people. It changes the things that they do. They handle more complex or more unique scenarios,” says Christine Livingston, managing director and head of artificial intelligence and internet of things practices at management consulting company Protiviti.
Jobs and Skills Blooming in Response to AI
In July, Netflix made headlines with a job posting for an AI product manager. The salary? Up to $900,000. Not every role that calls for AI talent will come with that kind of pay, but there will be more jobs needed to keep up with this technology.
Dennis Perpetua, vice president and CTO of digital workplace services at Kyndryl, an IT infrastructure services company, points out that new technology often comes with a hype cycle. “Generative AI is new; AI is not new,” he explains. “When AI was starting to be introduced at scale there was a strong push to say, ‘Well this is going to solve all my problems.’”
While generative AI will be able to solve a lot of problems, the job market is going to see a lot of demand for what Perpetua refers to as the “brilliant basics.” “AI is not a panacea for bad information design, for bad data structures in the enterprises,” he says.
Knowledge base managers and data scientists will be essential roles for enterprises as more and more data is fed into large language models (LLMs). “It's still a garbage in, garbage out problem, and if AI will now do more of our work, what we feed them is more important than ever,” says Katz.
De Ridder expects to see prompt engineering to emerge as an important skill in the IT field rather than a distinct job. He describes new jobs that could come of the AI boom: agent and multiagent engineers.
Agent engineers would maintain and adjust the AI agent processes, while multi-agent system engineers would function as project managers overseeing the complex processes and outcomes supported by multiple AI agents. These jobs will have myriad specializations tied to different fields, according to De Ridder.
As more and more AI use cases emerge, IT workers could increasingly be looked at as AI co-pilots. How will they work alongside this technology to improve productivity, and how will they oversee AI capabilities to ensure the desired outcomes?
“I don't see AI taking a human out of the loop anytime soon. So, what that does in the marketplace, is it basically takes the top percentile in every industry of humans and equips them to be way more efficient than they ever were and so it does not replace the entire job,” De Ridder argues. “It replaces the people who are weak at that job.”
The need to keep humans in the loop will likely generate jobs specific to AI outcomes. Katz describes the possibility of AI performance monitoring jobs. “What are these language models actually doing? What's happening inside of them? I feel latent space researcher is going to be a phenomenal new area,” he says.
While many companies can and will hire and cultivate in-house AI talent, there will also be space for third-party support in this space. “I could see roles like AI consultants, people providing guidance on how to leverage AI in their business, how to solve specific problems or improve those processes,” says Hales.
Ethical development and use is a big talking point in the AI conversation. Hales predicts a growing need for professionals who focus on issues like bias. Companies could seek to fill roles with a title like AI compliance officer, particularly if and when more regulation comes to fruition.
How the IT Workforce Can Prepare
This year has marked a period of exploring and piloting generative AI solutions, according to Livingston. “If you follow the typical trail, that would mean 2024 will likely be the year of deployment,” she says. “You will certainly need resources at a different scale that can support and sustain that.”
The IT workforce can ready itself as that demand for resources accelerates. Right now, many employers are asking their current IT workers to upskill.
“I think people are taking the … current engineers they have and asking them to upskill and learn as quickly as they can what the LLMs and new technology can do, and that will I think eventually need lead to new specializations that don't exist today,” says Katz.
IT is a technical field that has always required its workers to continue learning, and AI is the next frontier. People have the opportunity to try out the AI tools that are readily available, like GitHub Copilot, Google Bard, and ChatGPT.
“Play around with the technology. Understand how it works. Think of ways that you can optimize your own day-to-day leveraging this technology, and there's nothing that will replace that true hands-on experience,” says Livingston.
While adding to their technical skill sets is vital, Hales urges IT workers also to remember the importance of soft skills. “Those are going to continue to be important: communication, teamwork, leadership. Those things are things that AI cannot demonstrate, but humans can continue to do so,” she explains.
Learning on the job while the field of generative AI is still new, and changing so quickly, is challenging. There isn’t the option yet to go back to school for formal, structured training. But in some ways that challenge creates a more even playing field for the people working in IT.
“The starting gun is now. I feel anybody can make a new jump or change or transformation in their career,” says Katz.
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