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Future-Proof Your Career Prospects: Best University Degrees for the Automation Age

If 2023 was the year of recession-induced layoffs
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19 Feb 2024
Computer science degree in the chatGPT era_TTAB publications and insights 2024
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Is A Computer Science Degree Still Worth It When ChatGPT Can Code Faster

If 2023 was the year of recession-induced layoffs, then AI lies at the root cause of 2024’s seemingly unending round of job cuts. 38% of business leaders believe that layoffs are coming to their companies this year, with up to 50% planning hiring freezes. Once again, tech giants including the likes of Dropbox, Google, and IBM are part of the conversation, and have in fact already laid off hundreds or even thousands of employees in favour of AI-powered productivity.

With the once-impervious tech industry running into its second year of mass layoffs, how can current students and prospective tech professionals ensure career longevity in this new AI-defined meta? 

Understanding what AI can replace, and what it can’t

The impact of AI has already permeated beyond the workforce and into universities where students are cruising through introductory coursework with ChatGPT. In response, educators are adapting with in-person assessments to ensure that their students truly understand programming concepts they are supposed to learn.

Layoffs not a reflection of worker productivity

But the current layoffs still beg the question: Does learning coding skills hold value when AI can outpace humans in speed? One thing to note about mass layoffs is that they are largely speculation based rather than a reflection of professional abilities. Organisations faced investment pressure last year amid concerns over inflation, interest rate hikes, and a looming recession, and things aren’t too different this time around.

Three-to-five figure job cuts this year at Alphabet, Meta, and Microsoft coincided with trading record highs in the S&P 500, with these three companies breaking the $3 trillion market cap. This year, companies are making job cuts in anticipation of right-sizing moves from their competitors, and are understandably looking to keep costs down so that cash will be available for investment when the opportunity arises. 

Beyond ‘learning to code’

Seasoned programmers will tell you that AI in its current state is far from capable of performing all functions of their role. In fact, concerns over AI-related redundancy have been around since the days of GitHub Copilot, which was already helping programmers complete tasks 56% faster. It would be ludicrous, however, to suggest that any non-programmer would be capable of achieving the same level of efficiency with GitHub Copilot, and things are no different with ChatGPT.

The better you are at coding, the better you will be at using generative AI.

A programmer’s ability to read code syntax and understand how every line of code impacts a program and ultimately the business is what sets them apart from non-programmers and non-sentient generative AI software. Moving forward, employers will likely value programmers who can ideate and implement solutions with the greatest business impact, rather than absolute coding ability. Because at the end of the day, a significant portion of day-to-day coding tasks really aren’t that complex, but knowing how and when to implement them is what separates great programmers from average ones.

Identifying sunrise areas of the tech industry

There’s another caveat to the effectiveness of AI: It draws on solutions and data that is already available. In a world where we’re constantly witnessing the rise of new threats in cybersecurity, novel diseases, climate change, and even malicious use of AI itself, human ingenuity remains necessary in formulating solutions to problems that have never been witnessed before. Similarly, the world of academia and AI-related research present fertile ground for discoveries about human-AI interaction:

And herein lies Moravec’s paradox. Rule-based, routine tasks that are easy for AI to perform are abhorred by error-prone humans who have neither the mental or physical stamina to match AI’s output. At the same time, new solutions that draw upon an individual’s lived experience outside of 1s and 0s are what allow us to overcome humanity’s trials time and time again. As illustrated with GitHub Copilot, the combination of human and AI prowess is key to overcoming complex challenges.

Still unsure about what to study? Find your path with TTAB

Picking a path to study is tough, and the ‘right degree’ will definitely vary significantly from person to person. While significant, job security is but one factor to consider when deciding what we want to do with our future, especially since most of us are going to be working for at least a couple of decades before we’ll have the luxury of retiring!

Take the pressure off your shoulders by connecting with like-minded professionals and students and receive tips from industry leaders by following TTAB on LinkedIn and Facebook, or meet us in person at the next TTAB Career Conversation.