Selecting fields to study

Today the advancement of technology is transforming the global economy similar to what steam engines did in the 19th century or electricity did in the early 20th century. Technologies can take over many jobs from people but they will never be able to completely replace people in all jobs. Even with new technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence, they cannot replace people as it is feared by some but their impact on the global economy and future jobs will change significantly. In another word, the skills people choose to learn and the investments companies make today will determine which jobs will thrive and which jobs will go away.

Last week, during a dinner with friends, several of them asked me to name five best fields for their college children to ensure that by the time they graduate, they will have good jobs. I told them: “If my children go to college today, I would advise them to choose Computer Science, Software Engineering, Information System Management, Applied Mathematics, or Petroleum Engineer. These are the fields that have high demand and pay well due to the critical shortage all over the world. No matter where they live or what school they are going to, if they select these five fields, they would have no problem in finding a good job.”

Another friend asked: “We know that Computer Science is hot, but it is a large area with many subfields if my children want to get the best job, which specialty should they select? I explained: “For most college students, a Computer Science is the best field to get jobs. If they want to specialize, they would need to go to graduate school for a Master or Ph.D. degree, but that requires additional time. In that case, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data analytics, Machine Learning, Deep learning, Cybersecurity and Cloud Computing are good choices. For example, Big data analysis is used to detect credit card fraud, illegal banking transaction, and artificial intelligence is used in financial market trading for better efficiency. Machine Learning is used to recognizes people face in the airport and identify criminals in many countries. Of course, these technologies will impact many businesses and some jobs will be wiped out. However, people whose jobs involve develop these technologies will be more valuable because there are not enough of them. By understanding these technology trends and their applicability, we can predict their economic impact to a country whether the future is better or worse.”

Another friend wondered: ”But there are many forces contributing to the economy, such as globalization, political stability, and trade agreements not just technology.” I explained: “But all of these forces will have to depend on the ability of the workforce. Globalization will increase competition among countries, and a country with a weak or incapable workforce cannot compete. If young people are not educated and find employment, there will be chaos and protests and it will destabilize the society and without a strong highly skilled workforce, you cannot get favorable trade agreement. The fact is the “low-cost labor” economic policy is over several years ago due to the advancement of technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence. Basically, the potential for improvement in the economy is mostly due to technology as it will disrupt many things, creating both winners and losers. So the best thing you can do now is to focus on advising your children to select the right field of study so when they graduate, they will have a better job and better future.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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