Do what the robots can’t

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If robots can replace your job, it’s not the robots’ fault

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. June 8, 2016

Robots are here to make our lives easier, and in the process, they are eliminating a lot of menial work. We see it everywhere from the banking to the food industry, and all areas of retail and trade. These industries employ people all across the globe. The idea of all of these jobs becoming obsolete is a bit concerning since there has yet to be a real replacement.

When a worker is made redundant, replaced by a machine or an algorithm, the situation is met with pessimism. The notion is that if you don’t know how to code, you might as well starve. However, the rise of the automated, robotic workforce is something we have been experiencing since our youth. We grew up with computers and machines, so why is it so shocking when a new system replaces us on the assembly line?

In tech, there is a lot of talk about disruption. Is this software or hardware capable of changing the way we accomplish a task? Can the iPhone change the way we pay our bills? Will streaming services make video rental stores relics? How can virtual reality change the way we shop online? Not only do innovators consider how a product can disrupt an industry, they consider the industries ripe for disruption. They find the problem before the solution.

A controversial disruption at the moment is with driverless cars. The technology is there, but regulations and lobbyists are preventing it from reaching the next phase. The transportation network Uber has openly announced that as soon as driverless cars are available, clients will be able to select that as an option when hailing a ride. Who’s angry with this? Taxi drivers, chauffeurs, transit people, and anybody else that makes a living working in transportation.

Only time will tell if driverless cars will become a fixture in our daily society. But if I was a taxi driver, I’m not going to bank on my driving skills to sustain me for the next 40 years, I’m going to start developing some other set of skills just in case. Learning how to fix cars can be another skill to add on. That’s just a thought.

So often we are pessimistic when it comes to new technology stealing our jobs. But these technologies didn’t sneak up on us. These technologies took years and years of development. They are all over the news and they gave us every opportunity to be more relevant. Like a rival, it is pushing us to improve. You cannot and should not fight against it, as it has been shown all through history, humans will veer to the side of convenience, profitability, and security.

Turn the lens onto yourself and ask: “How will a robot disrupt my career?” Then, either build that robot, or be better than it. The question is not how robots can replace you, but how can you replace the robots when they come? I’m confident that you will figure it out.

Don’t brag about your work ethic, ever

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Why nobody needs to know that you are a hard worker

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

You think you work hard. Well guess what? Nobody cares. Nobody cares how hard you work. People care if you get the work done or not. How hard you work is your business, and even then it’s just your own perception of yourself, and we know how often that is flawed.

It’s a competitive world out there and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. However, when you start advertising your efforts as if what you’re doing is so much more significant than everybody else, you are putting a target on your back. You think announcing your hard work will get you praise, but rarely is that the case. Telling someone you’ve worked hard, even if you did, is like a pretty skinny person telling you that they are attractive. On the other hand, if you tell someone that you’ve worked hard and they found flaws in your project, then don’t you look like an idiot?

Wanting people to know that you’ve spent significant time on something is natural. We live in an age where sharing information—regardless of how mundane—is as normal as sharing an elevator. But when you are telling people that you work hard all the time, what you convey is that you are stressed out and under pressure all the time. Many people see hard working people, not as inspiring, but as pitiful. They have to work harder, because they suck at what they are doing. Other people with the same job and same assignment as you are getting it done with ease, but here you are, working hard. Pfft! Don’t make a job sound hard; make a job sound enjoyable and painless.

You might think that your boss wants you to work hard, but that’s not true. Your boss wants you to bite off what you can chew and swallow it well. The Canadian workforce loses $16.6 billion a year in sick days. Keeping you healthy and working consistently is better than having you breaking your back and winding up out of commission. Working recklessly doesn’t impress anyone, not even the person paying you to do so.

If you work hard, the product will speak for itself, and nobody will ever be able to take it away from you. It’s true—sometimes, hard work doesn’t pay off immediately. You can play a great game and still lose. But if you are genuinely putting in the effort, with a set goal in mind, you are not after the praise. You probably don’t even care what other people think. You want to do your best. How you get to your accomplishment doesn’t matter, the key is that you get there.

Wake up and compromise

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The pursuit of dream may not be the same journey as the pursuit of happiness

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Happiness is not getting everything we want. Happiness is accepting what we have.

We all want glory and success. As children, we dream of our achievements as adults and all the possibilities. People will ask what we want to be when we grow up and we’ll list off all the options: actor, athlete, astronaut, doctor, etc. At some point, we need to face reality; perhaps our childhood desires are not what we want forever.

Having a dream is having a goal. When you are young you have all the potential in the world. Nothing seems impossible. You can become a doctor if you want. It’s like buying a lottery ticket, and you are anxiously awaiting the draw. You haven’t lost yet. You haven’t won either. As you grow older, you might realize that you aren’t that interested in medicine, and studying makes you sick. Pursuing a career as a doctor—not only dedicating time and money but also excelling in the programs—is likely to be torturous if that’s the case. So I ask: is it worth it for a well-paying job?

When we talk about dream jobs, we aren’t really talking about the job itself, we are talking about being successful in one particular field. The problem is that our society only shines the spotlight on certain roles, placing them on a higher pedestal than others. The CEO gets the spotlight, the lead actor gets the spotlight, the star athlete gets the spotlight, but we ignore the supporting cast. Rarely do children dream of being part of the pit crew. They want to be the driver.

We want to take our interest and transform it into a lifestyle. The problem with turning hobbies and interests into work is that we turn something we enjoy—music for example—into something tedious. Putting pressure onto anything may often destroy it. And so it goes with dreams.

We chase our dreams, but what we should do is chase our passion. Dreams are a fabrication, while our passions aren’t. Once we accept that, regardless of what we do, we’ll have to work hard, we can then hone in and identify what actually makes us happy—or not. That’s the thing about passion, it changes, and we can allow it to.

It’s not a crime to give up on your dreams. We are lucky to have an opportunity to pursue it, so don’t feel guilty. Not everyone is built to climb Mt. Everest and to be stupid enough to believe you can without the hard work is irresponsible. Dream is a finish line. Happiness is the desire to improve and seek progress. Dreams just happen. Happiness requires work. Find work that makes you happy and that may mean changing paths now.

Isn’t it ironic

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How to deal with people who don’t understand sarcasm

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 6, 2015

There is nothing better than someone who doesn’t understand sarcasm. Nothing. If you can’t tell, which so many can’t, I was being sarcastic. I wouldn’t say my sense of humour is of the highest level. But I would say a lot of it relies on irony.

In many situations, sarcasm is classified as inappropriate behaviour, as if I’m acting out of line or to offend. I’m not. It’s just my unique way of dealing with an awkward or uneventful scenario. I love using sarcasm to lighten the mood, especially in a social gathering or workplace. Work can get awfully serious if you allow it to, but I won’t. So, when someone tells me to do something, I say: “Never, I won’t! You do it.” Of course, I’m not refusing to do my task; I’m merely making light of the task and their authority. I’m pretty much saying that neither you nor I should take our duties too seriously. I’ll get to the work as soon as possible.

People who don’t understand sarcasm are often those who take everything seriously. Yes, doctors, lawyers, and police officers shouldn’t be making jokes during their job, and that’s what makes them such wonderful satirical characters on television. But, in reality, not all of us have serious jobs—even school is not that serious when you actually think about it. Will anybody die if you don’t finish your project? Maybe your parents, who invested so much into your life, but nobody else. Nobody cares. So have some fun.

Sarcasm is a great way to break the tension. It’s like a little splash of cold water for those who are serious. Once they realize that my little jokes will not harm them or the task at hand, they tend to lighten up a bit. If they don’t, you probably don’t want to develop any further relationship with them anyway. Their life is probably a straightjacket. You want none of that.

Like strong spice or perfume, sarcasm should be used sparingly when the situation calls for it. Over time, you’ll be able to detect when you are in a situation where you can use it. It’ll show that you are carefree yet daring. Nobody likes a sarcastic douche that can’t take anything seriously, just like how nobody likes an uptight jerk that can’t take or tell a joke.

If you are meeting new people and you want to identify who is conversational in the dialect of sarcasm, present some irony in a group environment first. “Wow! I sure love vegetables at parties.” It really is like another language, and if even one or two catches your drift, they’ll continue the trend and you’ll have suddenly developed a new channel of conversation that isn’t as boring as reading a textbook. Communication should have flavour and sarcasm is a unique spice—and an acquired taste.

For those who don’t get it, luckily for them, they’ll learn. That’s the wonderful thing about languages: they grow on people overtime. As long as it’s presented in a harmless way that is also engaging, people will continue to speak it. According to Smithsonian magazine, those who are sarcastic are highly intelligent, even more than those who are always sincere. If you are able to back it up with hard work, class, and respect, you don’t have to worry—be sarcastic. Yeah, right…

Like a pro

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Why there is only one real measurement for professionalism

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. October 6, 2015

What makes someone professional? That is a question all up-and-coming employees want to know. They spend hours fine-tuning their resume, they buy a new wardrobe, they practice their handshake over and over, and they even show up 15 minutes early for meetings and interviews, but, in the end, none of that matters except consistency.

Being professional is not a switch you turn on and off when you are working. Being professional is an attitude towards all things, regardless if there is a paycheque at the end or not. The ability to treat every task—whether it’s finishing a report, communicating a business plan, or meeting a friend for lunch—with equal importance is what makes someone valued, and therefore professional.

There is nothing more prized in the workplace than an employee who is consistently accountable. If you say you’ll do something, it’s your job to make sure it is done. If you can’t accomplish the task on your own or in time, don’t feel bad. Being professional does not mean that you have perfect foresight.  And being accountable does not mean doing everything yourself. A professional needs to meet hurdles with competency, not expertise. When employers are hiring, they are rarely looking for specialists; rather, they are looking for those with the capability of asking for help when they need it.

If you think being a professional is being a perfectionist, working overtime, and straining over every little detail—like what to wear and what to say—then you will never operate at your fullest potential. The pros know that, given time, opportunities, and experience, skills will undoubtedly form and gaps will fill in. There is raw talent, sure, but in a workplace, repetition and routines rule, and learning a task and accomplishing it with consistency is often what makes you a pro.

Yes, you hate your job and you are finding it harder and harder to apply the same amount of enthusiasm you had the first few weeks after you were hired. I have one suggestion for you: quit. If you can’t apply consistency to your craft—and you should live in a world where every job is a craft, where improvement is as important as completion—you are harming yourself. If work ethic were a tangible object, you’d be smashing it into a thousand pieces.

You hear it every day: the job market is a scary, volatile place. Only the best get hired. That is not true, or in a way, only semi-true. When we think of the best athletes, we think of those who are consistently showing up to every game or tournament. They might be scoring goals, stopping shots, or just making par every time, regardless, you can always bet on them. When people look at you will they bet on you to succeed? Where’s your track record to show it?

Being professional does not start after you graduate or get your job or receive your first paycheque. Being professional starts the moment you wake up every day.

Lighthouse Labs Bridges Digital Literacy Gap with HTML500

Coding is a universal language; however, many find it daunting, confusing, or overwhelming. Like learning all new languages, the best way to become skilled is to engage with it socially. That is the environment The HTML500, a free one-day coding event hosted by Lighthouse Labs, has established.

“When you are learning in a room with 499 other people who don’t know how to code and being helped by 100+ mentors,” said Jeremy Shaki, co-founder of Lighthouse Labs, “the energy is fantastic and the room is engulfed by this buzz of people who want to learn and are seeing the instant results of their learning.”

The HTML500 will kick off 2015 in four Canadian cities: Vancouver (January 24), Calgary (January 31), London (February 7) and Toronto (February 22).

The value of coding stems further than getting a well-paying job (Canadian programmers can make over $50,000 annually), it can also give people the confidence to create projects that change the way we live.

Although coding is often recognized as a young person’s game, the best coders are those who are curious about technology and strive for logical solution-oriented thinking. The 2014 The HTML500 welcomed attendees ranging from 13 to 65 years old.

“Fluency in code for a non-developer can empower them to make their own lives and work more efficient,” said Khurram Virani, co-founder of Lighthouse Labs. “Personal and professional websites, macros in Excel, desktop and mobile apps are some common examples. At work, it will help them communicate better with their developers. And lastly, learning to code and coding can also serve as a great creative outlet.”

For many years, those who were interested in coding had to seek educational workshops and tutorials independently through online sources such as YouTube or apply to post secondary programs and private institutions. Few classes in elementary, middle and high school deal with the in-demand skill set in depth. Students will rather stumble into it or take initiative if they want to pursue programming and tech.

“A great, but telling, story from my partner Khurram is that when he was in Grade 10 he ended up essentially teaching his Computer Science class because the teacher was trying to teach something they didn’t understand,” said Shaki. “That’s still a reality in a lot of schools, and the only way to combat that is to bring awareness to the opportunities coding presents both the individual and the classroom and the ease of which it can be taught at basic levels.”

“The tech industry as a whole is rapidly growing,” said Virani, “resulting in higher demand for coders and there aren’t enough of them out there because as a country, we still haven’t placed a priority on digital literacy. If we are to support the growth of our tech industry here in Canada, we need to start teaching code in schools as a basic part of literacy.”

With numerous job opportunities in mind, The HTML500 encourages attendees to bring along their résumés. After the event in 2014, the organizers discovered that many companies were interested in hiring people for non-technical roles. This year, The HTML500 has partnered with Vancouver Economic Commission to host a career fair at all four events.

“If you think about what many tech companies are looking for when hiring for non-technical roles,” said Shaki, “they are seeking self-motivated people who strive to grow and learn, and who show an interest in tech. With all these participants giving up a Saturday to come and learn something on their own, they are checking off some key checkboxes as marketers, operations people, HR staff, etc.”

Companies participating range from startups to corporate companies, including some establish brands such as Techvibes Job Board regulars Hootsuite and Unbounce.

A one-day event is obviously not enough to tech everything about coding, but The HTML500 is hoping to give the attendees some comfort and confidence, in addition to creating a community for developers of all level.

“We strongly feel that everyone should know the fundamentals of software and how computers work, regardless of their profession,” said Virani. “The current education system has yet to consistently and sufficiently teach coding in schools so we decided to create The HTML500 as a great way to have companies and the developer community come together to bridge the digital divide.”

Nice guys finish last—but they get second chances

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Passion versus reputation

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

All through our upbringing, people have told us to behave nicely to each other, but there was always this voice in the back reminding us that perhaps we’re getting pushed around and being taken advantage of. We try to puff out our chests and keep our heads up high, but it always seems that when the time comes to make a complicated decision or to say no, we turn soft. For those of us who want to be successful, being nice might just be the one quality to hold us back—but I believe that opportunities are bountiful for those who are kind.

As Eminem sang, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo!” There is a general consensus that opportunities do not come around that often, so when one does arise, it’s important to seize it. It’s good to have goals and pursue them with a passion, but ambition can become a pretty ugly trait when you start pushing people over to achieve your academic, professional, or personal objectives.

Compassion may not be in the same category as work ethic or drive, but it’s a soft skill that will help you gain friends and supporters, rather than rivals and competitors. We always talk about getting a slice of the pie, but let’s be honest: if there is a pie, we aren’t getting a slice of it. We’re scurrying around under the table and we’re waiting for crumbs. It sounds pathetic, but that is how we live. Work together with those who may threaten your ability to move up, not against them. To quote Chinese general, Sun Tzu, and The Godfather: Part II, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Regardless of who succeeds in the end, having a tight network of friends is more valuable than having a one-track mind. Being a self-made man or woman is great, but it’s an illusion. Society is built upon a strong foundation, and that is constructed through kindness and shared opportunities—not through backstabbing and selfish acts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on average, people change jobs approximately 11 times throughout the course of their lives. Meanwhile, research from Penn State University shows that 80 per cent of American students are uncertain about their majors, and over 50 per cent change their major at least once. That means what you want now might not actually be what you want later. So don’t fret, make friends, and learn more about yourself as you go before you act self-righteous, damage your reputation, and harm others.

It doesn’t matter if you end up being a leader of a small technology start-up company or the mayor of Toronto, it’s always important to have sympathy and kindness towards others. Life is not one destination, it’s a journey—if you waste all your energy reaching a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you’ll realize that you have wasted all you second chances on the petty little things.