Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Six Minute Career, by Chris Mahar

The Six Minute Career, by Chris Mahar
00:00:00 Jack felt a lightness in his chest as he accepted the first job of his new career, received his password, and logged into his new company’s internal website.  The training and education for this job had been grueling and at times painful, like a hot knife in his brain.  But he’d demonstrated the right propensity, and stuck with it to become a design engineer specializing in plasma flow measurement.
00:00:05 The task list immediately appeared on his augmented reality headset, and began scrolling by.  Jack’s breath hitched and he put a shaky hand to his forehead over his AR visor. There was so much to do.
00:00:10 He took a deep breath, savoring this moment of starting a new career, then dove into the task list, prioritizing and sequencing based on the new knowledge in his head from the intense learning session he’d just completed. The new auto-teaching system imprinted directly onto the brain, overlaying a new career over any old ones that were already there.  The process was like a knife to the skull, but lasted only a minute, and at the end left you fully trained to begin a new career, albeit with a very narrow specialty. General training took longer, usually several minutes, but was only available to certain people who had a capacity for it.  Being a specialist and not a generalist, Jack’s training never took long, and when it ended he always felt puffed up and fidgety, ready to take on the new and unfamiliar job.
00:00:20 Other workers appeared in his peripheral vision, and he got a hint of the people he was working with on the project, redesigning a spacecraft plasma pump from an old class of freighters. It wasn’t the most glamorous job, but first jobs in any career rarely were.  
The command interface wouldn’t let him focus on the people around him, but it allowed him to be aware of their rough appearance, their roles in the job, and, vaguely, their gender and manner of dress.  They weren’t physically present in the workstation with him, of course.  They were augmented reality manifestations of real people all over the world who had been specially trained for this type of work, and hired for this job based on their specialty.  But being together virtually aided in the work because they could each see what the others were doing, which allowed brief but potent interactions that furthered the project.
00:01:00 Jack heard their voices around him asking and answering questions, giving data, acknowledging tasks on the list and adding more tasks as the job took form.  As he worked, adding his details to the job, designs appeared on his AR.  He manipulated them, added the bits he was responsible for, and checked what others had done that related to his work.  Slowly at first, but with gaining speed, he ticked tasks off his list.
00:02:14 Red warnings flashed on his AR, indicating he’d made an error that conflicted with someone else’s work.  Several men swore, and one woman giggle.  He instinctively turned to apologize and got a glimpse of a thin Asian woman with her arms crossed and face tightened.  Then the AR caught up with his motion and put his work front and center, the woman appearing only as a shadow to one side.  He corrected his mistake, rerouting tubing that interfered with her work while muttering an apology.  He heard sighs and chuckles from a few of the others.  He thought he heard one of them say, “Noob,” but wasn’t sure.  The AR normally only amplified and transmitted discussion that related to the job, so he may have mis-heard.
00:02:45 Red faced from embarrassment, Jack continued working. The design was taking shape, and he worked feverishly to keep up, making sure his small part of the work followed the design principles, fit harmoniously with the whole, and interfaced neatly with other systems on the overall job.  As it came together he felt his face relax, and some of the tension in his chest eased.  He learned of a new innovative ceramic alloy that popped up in a window on the corner of his view, and incorporated it into his design section, then noticed that several others had also included the new alloy in their sections.  It allowed the part to be even lighter and stronger than originally designed, and he sat a bit straighter in his chair, his eyes bright from the improvement to the design.
00:03:30 He noticed others leaning back from the job, reclining slightly in their chairs, and heard a bit more bluster in their comments and questions to each other.  Some even criticized the work of others, despite the final part exceeding goals and design specifications listed when the job had began.  He could see that they were looking around, but knew the AR interface wouldn’t let them look away from the job for more than a fraction of a second before it adjusted.  Careers were so short these days that there was not time to be wasted on socialization. Jack had heard about a time when people had only six or seven careers in their lifetime.  He had lost count of all the careers he’d had.  He had memories of dozens of careers, but knew that when the imprint overlayed onto your brain, some knowledge was pushed out or overwritten, and he was sure he’d had many more careers than he remembered.
00:04:40 Work on the project was slowing as the last few touches were placed on the design of the part.  Jack knew, from his flash training, that once the part was designed, it would be mass produced, likely for several days, until a newer model was needed. He took a moment to glance at a journal article his command interface had flagged as related to this project, and saw in the summary that plasma flow measurement technology had advanced since this job had started, and much of what he’d learned about it was now obsolete.  He considered taking a refresher course, but this project was so close to completion that he couldn't spare time away from it.  
00:05:25 Jack’s part of the work was essentially finished, but he couldn’t legally post for another job until he received notice he’d been released for this one, which seemed particularly unfair.  He twisted his hands together as he scanned journals with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  Technology had moved so quickly while he worked that nearly everything he’d learned no longer applied.  A refresher course wouldn’t suffice. If he was going to stay with this speciality, he would have to get educated all over again.
00:05:35 Jack’s release slip appeared on his AR visor, an electronic  pink slip indicating that he would be released in 30 seconds with a reasonable bonus, and that this company had no further work for him.  No hope of another job here.  He gritted his teeth and thought that it was inconceivable that this company, the biggest spaceship design outfit in the solar system couldn’t find another job for him, especially after all the fine work he’d done on this job. He heard others in the virtual room groan as they got the same news.
00:05:39 Jack posted his resume on the job boards, hopeful that one of the smaller design firms might have work for an experienced and skilled plasma flow design engineer. The virtual room would evaporate in just a few seconds, and others were discussing what they might pick as their next career. The medical field seemed like a popular choice.
00:05:49 His gaze darted over the job specifications scrolling by, fingers twitching involuntarily, but no jobs offers appeared in his specialty.  His shoulders sank as he realized he would definitely have to learn a new career.
00:06:06 His arms fell to his side, lifeless, as he thought about his decision picking this career. One job. It had lasted one job. Again.  Why did this keep happening? The career counselor had been so sure that specializing  in plasma flow measurement would guarantee him jobs well into the future. Of course, he hadn’t paid extra for that councilor, taking whatever the school offered. And he knew that large corporations paid colleges to give advice and counseling that worked to their advantage. He clenched his fists in anger.  Didn’t the school have an obligation to their students?
00:06:19 Alright, he thought. He had allowed himself his moments of pity. Now he leaned forward in the chair, eyes brightening, and dialed up the college catalog, prioritizing careers based on the latest career counseling advice. It was time he picked a new career. This time he’d find one that got him more than one job before it became obsolete.  This would be his seventh career before lunch break, and he was determined to make it last into the afternoon.  He picked a promising career from the menu, and keyed up the neural interface, feeling that familiar hot knife in the brain sensation.  This time he would be a medical instrumentation designer specializing in wireless kidney implant monitoring.  His knowledge of plasma flow faded, and through the pain of imprint he felt a surge of pride in his new career.

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