Jobs of the Future

Ten careers you'll see in the want ads over the next 15 to 20 years.

Pittsburgh is on the verge of reclaiming its status as the original Silicon Valley of 19th-century fame and renown. The social, technical and manufacturing discoveries occurring in Pittsburgh at present will redefine labor, employment and entire career paths for today’s young people. As a result, identifying the 10 hottest jobs in Pittsburgh in the next 15 to 20 years isn’t all that difficult. Given the region’s preeminence in creating fields, disciplines and industries that will determine the future here and in the world, this compilation is meant to provide important signposts and indicators regarding where the jobs will be in the near and not-too-distant future.

Among the more developed of these future professions are the following:

1.  Cyber-Security Specialist. Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab is the largest university-based cyber-security research and education institute in the United States, and is rapidly expanding. It is doing so because threats to our cyber existence continue to grow. As a result, so will the need for trained cyber-security specialists. People with interests in information networking, information security and information technology would find this a most rewarding and potentially lucrative career.

2.  Nanotechnologists. The study of matter on an atomic and molecular scale has the potential to create many new materials and devices with wide-ranging applications, especially in medicine, electronics and energy production. In this area, too, Pittsburgh is a leader. However, there are now more questions than answers in this field, so nanotechnologists will have a very full plate of research and development charges for the foreseeable future.

3.  Roboticists. Many influential publications have already renamed the city "RoboBurgh" in recognition of the largest collection of robotic researchers in any one American location. As a result, the use and application of robots in various fields remain Pittsburgh’s forte. It is a field enticing to anyone interested in mechanical engineering, computer visions, lasers, applied physics and math. The great thing about robotics is that it makes these potentially esoteric disciplines concrete and practical.

4.  Energy Analyst. It won’t be long before Pittsburgh’s focus on green energy competes with robotics for top ranking among new industries resident in the area. It seems only fitting that a town once referred to as "Hell With the Lid Off" should re-invent itself as a center for clean-energy research and development. Pittsburgh stands to become a leader in educating a new breed of public-utility experts intent on creating an energy renaissance stretching beyond the three rivers to encompass the world.

5.  Data-Simulation Experts. We live in an age of too much information and stimulation. We have terabytes of data begging to be sorted, mined and visualized. Oddly enough, we have the tools and technology to do this. Eventually the twain shall meet! Individuals who enjoy mapping, chart- and graph-making, and all manner of data visualization will find employ in this field, which combines cognitive psychology, information architecture, data modeling and creation of user interfaces.

6.  Geek-Squad Superstar. Let’s face it: Computers aren’t going anywhere. And even if they did, whatever replaced them would break just as much and continue to drive us all crazy. As a result, there will be an even greater need for modern-day technological Marcus Welbys (I’m showing my age, I know) willing to make house calls to fix recalcitrant technology.

The coming revolution of truly embedded computing has the potential to drive us even more insane as appliances possess their own internal and ever-more-complicated computer systems. When the stove gets a virus and is suddenly unable to bring the teapot to boil, or when some nefarious individual hacks into your refrigerator and defrosts your freezer simply because he can, we will scream for the geek-squad superstar the way we nowadays call for Mr. Roto-Rooter. Key to success here is delight in being a computer sleuth and dealing with frustrated consumers. (Yes, I realize that is redundant.)

Farther out on the horizon, but well within the realm of probability, are the following careers:

7.  Bionic Physician/Designer. Surgery to replace damaged, worn-out or missing body parts with bionic prosthetics will be a future growth industry. Medical robotics and computer-assisted surgery already have a foothold in Pittsburgh, but future demand for the benefits offered by bionics will result in this becoming as much an aesthetic, designer field as a medical one, especially as future bionic devices incorporate artificial intelligence and power motion.

8.  Edutainment Specialist. Did you ever wish your school homework were as much fun as playing a video game? Well, the use of games and interactive digital media for didactic purposes stands to revolutionize education for the 21st-century digital natives whom we refer to as our children. Pittsburgh already has a major head start on becoming the world center for edutainment research and development. This opportunity is ours to either exploit or to let slip away, but it will require a patient partnership between reluctant school boards and wide-eyed, OCD-afflicted, serious video gamers.

9.  Lifelong-Learning Adviser/Guru. The life-long self-learning movement continues to expand around the globe. Recognition that learning is a lifetime endeavor and that we should perhaps start viewing our time on this planet as matriculation at University of Earth with the goal of figuring out a "major" before we "graduate" will lead to the rise of truly wizened gurus. They will be able to comprehend the curriculum of life in ways we attributed previously to spiritual and religious leaders.

10.  Life-Transition Guide. As Benjamin Franklin so wisely observed, the only two constants in life are death and taxes. Accountants have already exploited the job possibilities of the latter, but dealing with death still remains largely taboo. All of that will change as death comes to be seen as the final stage of growth. To appreciate this we will seek out life-transition guides, philosophic yet practical individuals whose concern is helping people make the most of their final years. Imagine if you will a cross among a super hospice worker, psychologist, attorney, priest and teacher.

Don Marinelli, 55, is a tenured professor of drama and arts management at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also the executive producer of the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, which he co-founded in 1998 with the late Randy Pausch, Pittsburgh magazine’s "Pittsburgher of the Year" for 2008.

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