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Five Hard Skills Everybody Should Learn

Let’s face it, folks: the job landscape is changing. People are no longer staying in roles as long as they used to, and expectations are ever growing. If Naval Ravikant is right, we could see the blossoming of a “gig economy” where many people essentially work as freelancers instead of full time employees.

A few years ago, I looked to get feedback from my wife’s friend (who I later found out to be the head of data science at State Farm LOL) on how I could grow in my skills. A super nice guy, he rightly noted that I was far too focused in soft skilled areas and that it would behoove me to get some hard skills under my belt. When I first heard this, it was sort of a punch to the gut considering I have something like eight leadership designations / degrees, but I came to realize soon that he was totally on point. (And not coincidentally, a big reason that I’m on this data science learning path.)

I don’t think everybody needs to become a full blown data scientist, and as a dad of two little girls, I’ve often considered, what hard skills would translate to pretty much any industry? More importantly, which skills would serve well in the future where people will continually shift their jobs?

While certainly not an exhaustive list, I think I’ve come up with the big five. Let’s take a look at what those are along with references to how you can build each of these skills.

Kicking off this list for a reason, coding has been noted by many to basically be the new reading & writing. I don’t disagree with them at all. Whether you’re looking to build a website, create some analytical reports, or even program a robot to do something else for you, it’s a must to be able to speak in the language that computers speak. (I highly doubt we’ll ever get to natural language coding.)

Having experience in Java, Python, SQL, and a little bit of JavaScript, I personally think the easiest one to learn is Python. It doesn’t have as much of that confusing syntax that something like Java does with its pesky static data types, so if you’re looking for a place to start, go with Python. There are lots of great resources out to learn Python, and I’ll drop some links to some of those down below.

Course: Introduction to Python Programming on Udacity
Course: Learning Python on Codecademy
App: Py: Learn on the Go

I know, some of you out there might want to claw your ears off hearing anything related to math, but I actually think basic statistics aren’t too bad and can actually be sort of fun! At least, the next time you read a news article with a weird looking table, you can have some insight into whether or not its totally baloney.

And when I mean basic statistics, I mean pretty surface level stuff. If you’ve come across stuff like logistical regression or random forsests… you can probably turn around. I’m thinking more about stuff like understanding the different kinds of averages, standard deviation, hypothesis testing, and what confidence intervals are. In fact, so long as you have a conceptual understanding of these ideas… you’ll probably be okay. Most computers compute these things for you, so it’s hardly necessary to go memorizing any formulas.

(Speaking of conceptualization, check out the first resource below. It’s not 100% statistics oriented, but I think you’ll appreciate it.

Book: The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz
Course: Introduction to Descriptive Statistics on Udacity
Course: Intro to Inferential Statistics on Udacity

I’ve looped these two together because I see them as two halves of the same coin, that coin being psychology in the business world. I didn’t list psychology in general because I don’t think you need to go reading through the DSM-5 here. Game theory is essentially the understanding of how people form strategies in competitive situations. It might seem like a no brainer, but having focused on this recently myself, I can assure you that it is endlessly useful and fascinating.

That said, I see persuasion psychology being game theory’s complementary partner. Where game theory is focused more on the rational understanding of strategic moves, persuasion psychology understands more of those irrational ideas. So, for example, why did everybody used to feel the need to give money to those orange-robed Hare Krishna guys back in 1970’s airports? All they did was pin a nice flower to you… but that act reciprocated a LOT in returned donations.

Anyway, combine those two, and I think you have an unstoppable force of business understanding that far surpasses much of what you’ll learn in traditional business school.

Videos: Game Theory with Ben Polak (Yale)
Book: Influence by Robert Cialdini
Book: Win Bigly by Scott Adams

This is sort of a continuation of the last one, albeit with a stronger bent toward money. It should make sense that this one is on here since I can’t think of a single job that doesn’t involve money. But what I’m NOT talking about here is personal finance. Don’t get me wrong, having some knowledge for your personal finances is great, but it’s generally (as the term suggests) personal and not business-oriented.

What I’m talking about here are the general principles that guide what we do with money and resources in the real world. Again, it’s applying game theory / persuasion psychology in a more tangible financially-oriented way. Things I would suggest learning here include an understanding supply & demand, incentivization, capitalism vs. socialism, inflation, and more.

Book: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
Book: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Blog: Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen

Nearest to mine own heart is knowing how to tell a good story, particularly through a visual means. It’s something I do almost every day in my regular job, and I’ve seen what happens many a time when this fails. It doesn’t matter if you have the best idea in the world, it all falls apart if packaged in a muddling, confusing mess. It breaks my soul EVERY time because I know that there have been some good ideas out there that have been passed over because of this.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see this as the easiest / most fun thing to do on this list! It’s an invitation to put your creator’s hat on and weave together something that will make other people feel happy or satisfied or elated or… pretty much every other positive emotion! Of all these things on this list, this one enables you with the most freedom. It’s a means for you bring the world into your mind to see things as you see them.

And trust me when I say that you don’t have to be an artist to be good at this! Heck, my background definitely isn’t in graphic design, but a couple hundred YouTube videos later… here I am. I have good faith in you, friend, that this is something you can also learn.

Book: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Course: Anything by Aaron Draplin on Skillshare
Book: Purple Cow by Seth Godin

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Machine learning engineer by day, spiritual explorer by night.

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