Relatively unfamiliar until a year ago, the word ‘pandemic’ now dictates our daily lives. Unlike other similar events like the Spanish flu or the Plague, the COVID-19 pandemic has happened in an era where the rate of technological development is at a historic high. For instance, Viraj Tyagi, CEO of eGov Foundation, says that the COVID e-pass platform was developed and deployed in eight states within 72 hours of the implementation of the nation-wide lockdown. With trends like remote monitoring of the sick, work-from-home and online shopping becoming the new normal, future tech plays a huge role in how we have adapted to the changing situation.
In this article, we will look at how technology has helped to address the COVID crisis, especially the fields of data science and analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and UI/UX design. We’ll draw inspiration from this for what 2021 will hold and how you can take the driver’s seat for your career.
Future Tech: How COVID is Shaping Tech and Vice Versa
The early fear that career opportunities in tech will fall during the economic downturn is being replaced by the confidence that technology can ably complement human efforts and create jobs. India is at the forefront of this wave: BBC reported that researchers at CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) successfully created a paper-based coronavirus testing kit that, at about Rs 500, would give results in an hour!
With Silicon Valley companies steadily investing big in India and a third IT outsourcing wave expected, the prospects for tech jobs are encouraging. Let’s look back at the most important developments this year and what it means for future tech in the post-COVID world.
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#1 Domain-specific AI/ML Gains Popularity
AI helps to reduce manual effort in an activity by making machines mimic human behaviour. This came in handy, especially in the early days of the pandemic, when it was essential to make sure that the least number of people were exposed to the virus. In 2020, AI technologies changed diagnosis and healthcare delivery.
2020 Use Cases
AI tools helped create simple and effective ways of testing for the virus. A voice-based diagnosis application created by students in Mumbai analyses voice samples according to parameters like frequency and noise distortion and delivers results after comparing them to that of a healthy person.
Robots help reduce patient contact in hospitals and care centres. MeD Robo, fabricated in Visakhapatnam, delivers food, medicines and monitors the temperatures of COVID patients, effectively shielding healthcare workers from frequent interaction.
Healthcare, which has been lacklustre in adopting these technologies, don’t have the choice anymore. Remote consultation, automated lab testing, electronic medical records etc. will soon become the default standard. This will open up unique career opportunities for AI professionals in the domain.
Sreehari Ravindranath, our AI/ML career coach believes that the COVID period is also a good time to upskill to AI/ML if you’re already a healthcare professional — because you know the domain and are likely to help achieve greater accuracy. This also goes for all industries.
In 2021, we believe that generic AI will give way to more domain-specific approaches. It will take into account contextual factors, data security, privacy, regional compliance needs etc. to put AI into more effective use.
If you’re looking to grab an opportunity in AI/ML, here are some top skills you’ll need:
- Python programming
- Statistical inference
- Deep learning
- Machine learning
- Natural Language Processing (NLP)
#2 Advanced Analytics Becomes Omnipresent
Even if you’ve never seen advanced analytics in action before, you would have since COVID struck. The various kinds of numbers you see everyday — testing rates, number of cases per day, percentage of deaths, vulnerable groups, country-wise reports etc. — are all available only as a result of advanced global analytics systems.
Public health strategies like ‘flattening the curve’ are also devised on the basis of such numbers. One could argue that collecting mass data and analysing it has gained new importance for both the private and public sector, as a legitimate means to solve complex problems.
2020 use cases
Database management systems have helped to handle the large volume of data produced. Home Quarantine & Isolation Management System (HQMIS), is one such, used by the Greater Chennai Corporation to monitor those under home quarantine. Data was collected from 18 sources, cleaned and dispatched to area heads. The HQIMS app also provided a data visualization dashboard with reader-friendly results.
Insights were key to making the ‘new normal’ work. Large companies had to revamp their operations to the work from home style. Cognizant, for example, built an analytics stack to make quicker and more informed decisions.
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The prospects look good too. Salesforce alone plans to add 5,48,00 direct jobs and 1.3 million indirect jobs in India, according to chief data evangelist Vala Afshar. This is good news. If you’re hoping to prepare for a career in data analytics, here are some skills and tools you’ll need:
- MS Excel
- Programming with R or Python
- Building queries with SQL
- Data visualisation
- Software libraries like Apache Hadoop
#3 Intuitive Design as the Foundation of Better Virtual Experiences
A natural consequence of being homebound for months together is that people now rely on their phones and computers even for activities that were hitherto done offline. This has opened a window for companies to strengthen their online audience by giving them the best virtual experience.
2020 use cases
Companies have rethought their virtual offering to improve online brand engagement. Luxury shoe brand Christian Louboutin recently launched a virtual universe on a South Korean gaming platform that lets users’ avatars try on collections showcased in the Paris Fashion Week.
COVID related apps have increased the demand for good UI/UX design. These include apps for receiving information, tracing (eg: Aarogya Setu app), monitoring, to online shopping, delivery, fitness etc.
Unlike data jobs, UI/UX design is accessible to a larger population as it does not require a tech background. The most important tool for a designer is an intuition for good design, and comfort with a few design tools. These might be:
- Research tools like Google Analytics, UserZoom
- Balsamiq for wireframing
- Invision for product design
- Figma for interface design
- Presentation tools such as Powerpoint
Launch a Future Tech Career in 2021
The biggest lesson from 2020 is that: Technology is only as good as the impact it can make. We noticed that experimental technology projects were growing slower when compared to existing technology adoption. This meant that:
- Domain experts are on par with technology experts.
- Analytics that enabled decisions were valued higher than reports that just presented numbers.
- Design is used to shape a user’s feelings, emotions and decisions, far beyond simply being pretty.
At Springboard, our experts keep an eye out for these trends and regularly upgrade the programs to be job-ready. All of Springboard’s programs prioritise practical expertise and industry application.