Automation is generally considered a positive—it saves time and money and can provide dramatic enhancements in efficiency and productivity, as government IT workers no longer need to focus on many basic tasks. That said, some extremely pessimistic views suggest that artificial intelligence (AI) may actually advance to the point where it replaces IT workers.
We strongly believe that IT professionals need not be fearful of this bleak scenario. It is far more likely that the AI revolution will transpire much in the same way as past seismic technology shifts, which maintained—even spurred—the need for more people and new skills that enable even more meaningful and higher-paying work. A fitting correlation would be the famed Industrial Revolution, which did not take away jobs as anticipated, but created the need for new skills and positions.
Likewise, the rise of AI will require federal IT managers to learn new skills, particularly as AI tools and capabilities are increasingly used to manage and improve security and maintenance. Those will include jobs that only humans can perform, such as determining the variables that comprise an ideal security environment, or developing code or programs that actually govern AI and machine learning.
The Need for Both Human and Technical Skills
Like a person using both the left and right sides of their brain, to succeed in an AI-focused environment, managers will need to cultivate a combination of “technical” and “human” skills.
Machines will be used to manage security and network operations, but someone will still need to manage the machines. As such, IT workers must focus on developing a core set of technical skills, including programming, coding, and a basic understanding of the algorithms that govern AI and machine learning functionality.
The development of so-called “human skills” will be equally important. Human skills include adaptability, flexibility, and innovation; critical and analytical thinking; and the ability to facilitate good teamwork and communication.
AI does not easily accommodate changing requirements or changing needs, nor is it able to provide new, innovative solutions to meet those changing needs. Those are human skills. Federal IT pros would be wise to hone their ability to be flexible and adaptable; be ready, willing, and able to change as needs and requirements change, and capable of coming up with innovative ideas to meet new demands.
Extrapolating conclusions from data—and making critical decisions based on those conclusions—is also a human skill. Despite the wide availability of business intelligence tools, human skills are required to make the ultimate decisions. What does the data mean? What information is the visualization tool providing that can help improve IT processes? Computers provide information; humans extract and convey knowledge from that information.
Conveying that knowledge is another uniquely human skill. Specifically, anything relating to your federal IT team—building the team, guiding the team, communicating to and within the team, and resolving conflicts within the team—are all increasingly important skills for the federal IT pro.
Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach
Nurturing a combination of skills—taking a multidisciplinary approach—will be of critical importance within an AI-focused IT environment. As discussed earlier, automation specializes in doing one task, or one series of tasks, quickly and efficiently. A federal IT pro understanding the details of their position and their business impacts is far more valuable to the agency in the long run.
Take, for example, a cybersecurity professional. While technology may form the baseline of that person’s skillset, understanding privacy—and the risks associated with privacy breaches—is a critical component underpinning the importance of having a strong security posture. For example, only managers can program machines to determine if something “predictive” could become “prescriptive.” Managers also bring an understanding of the potential financial or business impact of a breach and the skills to make decisions based on that understanding
Securing the Necessary Skills
As required skillsets change, so too will the ways to develop those skills. One way is through an in-person approach. For example, attending college in person provides the interpersonal skills that will become increasingly important. This environment teaches the student how to ask questions, how to work with others in a group setting, and how to handle new situations. Students can also learn technical skills, such as coding, directly from their teachers or peers through hands-on workshops or courses. Of course, there are also in-person, hands-on leadership programs, including temporary duty assignments, which can be highly valuable in gaining a myriad of skills that cannot be learned in schools.
Conversely, online training can be far more efficient, less time consuming, and more affordable. It can include coursework to obtain vendor certifications, but it can also stretch to include learning and information sharing via online communities. There are many good resources available, from SolarWinds’ own THWACK® community to the various Windows® IT communities and beyond.
Finally, there are apprenticeships. Unlike classroom work or online training, apprenticeships provide the perfect combination of on-the-job technical and interpersonal training.
The prospect of an AI-centric environment is not one to be feared, but celebrated. More automation will create more opportunities for federal workers. Taking advantage of these opportunities will require workers to shore up their technical and human skillsets. Fortunately, there are many resources they can use today to do just that, and prepare for an automated future.