A sudden, unasked-for job search can really make you question the direction of your whole working life. It's like having to re-answer the "so what are you going to do after you graduate?" question all over again.
But this doesn't have to be a bad thing. As you've been working, you've probably acquired skills that you didn't intend to, opening up avenues you hadn't previously considered. Furthermore, this can also be an opportunity to re-orient yourself to an updated professional landscape, with a different set of technologies and even industries out there compared to when you first entered the professional ranks.
So for me, what's next? I think I could do a lot of things, but what I'm really hoping is to be part of something both interesting and meaningful -- something with real impact. I want to contribute to something that I care deeply whether or not it exists. There are LOTS of ways to do this, but for now, here are three areas where I'm going to start looking:
- The first area I'm looking at also happens to align with my professional expertise: Social. We've seen over the past 20-30 years or so how online social tools can bring us together, but also how they can drive us apart. While there are plenty of big players in the domain, I believe there's still a lot of room for innovation. Moreover, the current big players are often seen as a net negative relative to public discourse, and this is where I think the opportunity for making an impact lies. In a free society, a healthy public discourse is vital to all of the other things that society might want to accomplish, and when the discourse is dominated by vitriol and misinformation, nothing else important can get done.
- The second area where I see huge opportunities is in what I'm broadly referring to as Sustainability. This could encompass many different companies across a host of industries -- energy, housing, agriculture, transportation, and others. Climate Change is the existential threat that we talk about most readily in regards to leaving a better world for our children, but there are many areas where the growth of human activity appears to be on an unsustainable path, and I believe that new processes and technologies will be more effective than laws and mandates at steering human behavior onto a more sustainable path.
- The final area I've got my sights on is an area of both opportunity and concern: Applied AI. AI is already starting to impact us, and as it begins to prevade our society, it will change us in ways we cannot reliably predict. Every aspect of our lives will be examined through the lens of "how can we leverage AI here?" The opportunities to profoundly impact people's lives are only just beginning to emerge. However, there's also real danger here, because AI lacks human constraints such as morals or desires. If mishandled, the effects could easily be dystopian. We must never forget that AI is still created by humans, and AI cannot be a shield to deflect the resulting consequences from those human creators.
These are just some ideas, of course; there are multitudes of ways to make a positive impact on the world via our labor. Sectors such as healthcare, finance, and education all have enormous potential if leveraged for good, and not solely for profit. Perhaps the hardest part of this exercise is that I can ultimately only pick one thing to work on at a time.