Chaos is opportunity

Get there first with the most. (Nathan Bedford Forrest)

In new technology time, things move faster than anyone can keep up. Chaos! You find yourself doing work that doesn’t have a job title yet. In a digital age new technology explosion, you and your friends make your own tools, and use them to create the future.

Key point: you are doing exciting new work that the university people don’t even know exists – yet. In time, they will, and, within a few years, they will start teaching courses and then offering degrees in the new field. After that, your window of opportunity closes, as the large corporations will only hire web designers, say, with web-design degrees or certificates from approved schools. The HR department managers will establish pay ranges for the new job titles, as, somewhat like a large boa constrictor, the corporation swallows up the new jobs and digests them into the existing predictable-cost system.

Every profession has a secret hiding in plain sight. For example, in aerospace design, it’s not the leading edge that counts. It’s the trailing edge of the wing, where the real breakthroughs occur, where the engineering action is.

What about art? For us, there’s a time and place that’s pure magic. Trailing edge. The sweet spot. It’s a time, always in a new industry, when a new technology breaks out of the laboratory into commercial use.

‘The moving finger writes,’ wrote the poet Omar Khayyám, ‘And, having writ, moves on.’

So true. The sweet spot is a moving target, in both time and place. Now, you can luck out by being in the right place at the right time – or, from reading this, set yourself to get out on that trailing edge and physically put yourself right into the next new thing. If switchgrass for fuel takes off, move to Kansas. Biotech? New Jersey. Agriculture? Illinois. AI? California. You get the idea. I can’t predict what that next new thing will be... but, guaranteed, there will be not only one, there will be more than one during your working career. Chaos is opportunity!

Don’t know anything about the next new thing? Don’t worry, nobody else does either. And, as an artist, you’re not expected to be an industry expert. Whatever you need to know to ace a job interview, you can pick up on the internet. It is so easy. Just Google ‘nanotechnology’ or whatever it is. Bingo! How about ‘sodium-ion batteries’? Heard about them yet? Check it out.

And here’s something new – rapid-revision digital e-books like this one. Where, after the initial publication date, the author can make edits at any time – additions, deletions, content rewrites. At any time, instant revisions posted on the internet for any reader anywhere in the world. Perfect for tech manuals where downloadable software updates need immediate documentation. Perfect for textbooks about fast-moving technology. And that brings up money – how does a future author cash in? Maybe by subscription, where you buy the book plus two years of updates? Financial advice writers? We’ll see, soon. For regular books? Maybe not for novels... unless you design the e-book to continue with extra episodes to come, same as popular TV shows like NCIS or Blacklist. That’s easy enough to do, but the real magic is non-serialized, constantly editable topic content. As a writer/publisher, that’s exciting... with digital and its possibilities the biggest book breakthrough since Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press in 1453.

Fast money

New technology is not only a wild opportunity to get your foot in the door, but it’s also the best way to make a lot of money fast. In 1997, I managed a technical publications department. Half my workers were in Silicon Valley, my company was hiring anybody who could crawl in the door, and I still couldn’t get enough workers. If you could spell or draw, you had a job.

We interviewed a prospective technical illustrator, who wanted $75,000 a year at a time when the average US high-tech illustrator salary was about $40,000. I came that close to hiring him, saved at the last minute when we promoted a kid in the stockroom who drew the best Batman comics you ever saw. As I told my boss, you can teach anyone to use Photoshop or Illustrator, but you can’t teach someone to draw... to think visually.

If you’re in the door first during these techno-booms, you’ll do well, very well. The new companies need logos, ads, web pages, annual reports, illustrations for marketing collateral, for technical documentation, for financial presentations, engineering presentations, you name it. In the door first, and guess who gets to be a manager as the new industry takes off and grows so fast that they’ll promote whoever’s in the job, regardless of whether you have any track record or related degrees. You’re there; you are a known quantity, so you’re it.

True story: When I was a tech writer at Phase Metrics, we bought a new company in Santa Clara. “They can’t make the servowriters,” said Art, the company President. “Wrecked three machines yesterday. Head crashes. Jon, I want you on a plane-- today! get up there, get some help, we have to have a set of assembly procedures on that line by the weekend!” And off I went, with a company credit card and a fast $1,000 in cash for expenses. That afternoon, flew into San Jose, couldn’t rent a car, there was a cat-lover convention going on. So I rented a long black stretch limo and arrived at the facility in style, highly embarrassed, but there in time to scare up two writers from a local temp agency, and detail every assembly step, every minute detail, with drawings and photos and text. And within a year, I was running a 12-person department – a sub-manager, seven writers, three illustrators, and a video guy. And making a truckload more money than I had before.

So hit that sweet spot. If you smell a boom coming, find out who the hot new companies are, and go after a job. Move there, get in their face, get aboard. It’s a rocket ride!

Moral: be there first.

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