I don’t have kids. And I’m not even sure college is a good investment. But I’m hell-bent on leaving the world better for your kids. And theirs. For the purpose of this blog, just play along, and pretend I have a kid. We’ll call him Charlie. And like parents everywhere, I want Charlie to get the skills he needs to have a great career and a big ol’ life.
Here are four things I want Charlie to study:
- Stats and analytics
- App development and mobile communications
Let me explain…
Half of all births in the United States are minorities. According to Brookings:
“Hispanics are a large part of this dispersion. They comprise more than half of all infants in California, Texas, and New Mexico and are the largest source of births in Nevada and Arizona. Among minority births, they contribute the most in 26 states, including Midwest states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.”
Hispanics are quickly becoming the largest “minority” in America, and Charlie needs to learn to speak Spanish. Not because he’ll use the language at work, but because there’s a certain cultural gateway that’s opened between people when they share a language. Charlie is likely to have Spanish-speaking classmates and eventually Spanish speaking coworkers, clients and supervisors, and I want him to be able to work alongside America’s largest growing minority, with ease.
Does this mean that Spanish should become an official language of the United States?
No. (And if you’re asking that question, you’re missing the point.) America is changing. Rapidly. And Spanish is already the official language of a large voting bloc of new Americans.
[Why shouldn’t Charlie learn Mandarin? Here are 6 reasons.]
2. Stats and analytics
Every day, people create the equivalent of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions, and social networks. In other words, ninety percent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years.
We have entered the era of Big Data. And all this information is creating amazing opportunities for discovery. Harvard professor and IT guru David Weinberger wrote about Big Data for the December 2011 issue of Scientific American:
“Researchers have amassed so much anonymized data about human behavior that they have begun to unravel the complex behavioral and environmental factors that trigger ‘diseases of behavior’ such as type 2 diabetes […] Mining big data this way makes the seminal Framingham study of cardiovascular disease—which, starting in 1948 followed 5,209 people—look like a focus group study.”
Charlie’s generation will be responsible for taking all this information, and separating the signal from the noise. The “noise” is the information; the “signal” is what the information means.
IBM has pinned their entire corporate strategy around separating the signal from the noise. If Charlie can develop skills to analyze big data, he’ll be in demand by any organization - government, corporations, consulting firms, even Big Blue itself - that’s trying to make sense of it.
3. App development and mobile communication
The growth of the iPhone was 10 times faster than the growth of America Online. By some estimates, there are already more cell phones in the world than there are television screens. But the apps that run off these devices are in their infancy. The top downloaded apps are still kids’ games and fart generators.
But there will come a day - fairly soon - when our smart phones will grow up and you’ll scroll past Angry Birds to your to get your basal metabolic rate, and see whether you should eat more protein. Already, an Android app allows users to secure their phones using facial biometrics. Yup, the same technology used by the Department of Homeland Security, available on your phone.
By the time Charlie’s ready for work, his smart phone will be much smarter, and the folks with the skills to work with health care providers, banks, retailers, and others to make these devices’ apps more relevant to the tasks of daily work and life will win big. App development, like Spanish, is really just another language for Charlie to master.
Charlie’s generation is inheriting an ecology in crisis. He knows it. And so do we. But the same systems that we’re destroying - the oceans, the coral reef - have the power to heal us. Take the hagfish. They eat the dead. But they’ve also been around since the beginning of dirt, and scientists wonder why. Turns out, they have an amazing immune systems (especially considering what they eat.) From the Atlantic hagfish, researchers have identified three potent, broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds that might help explain their ability to ward off microbial diseases. And might help humans do the same.
For Charlie’s generation to help heal the planet, they needs to understand how long-ignored, living systems - systems like the air and the oceans and the tree canopy - regenerate. Charlie’s generation can learn these lessons, and embed them in their solutions for the planet.
Good luck, Charlie. And don’t think you’re moving home after college. We’re changing the locks after you leave.