15 jobs that barely existed 15 years ago

Creative destruction is the economics term for the incessant churn of markets and economies. New technologies and macro-level trends create new products and services that, over time, replace the demand for legacy products and services. The horse-and-buggy industry gave way to the automobile industry, which today is transitioning to the autonomous, electric vehicle future. 

Jobs, too, evolve with the times as demand for one set of skills is replaced with the need for entirely new skills. The past 15 years have been no exception. Many of today’s highest-paying roles have come into existence only recently; and some of these roles are already in decline as new technologies herald the need for entirely new skillsets.

As 2017 draws to a close, we thought it would be timely to highlight just how many of today’s jobs simply didn’t exist just 15 years ago. It’s surprising that a relatively short period of time, just a decade and half, represents the birth of the technological fixtures of our lives like the smartphone and on-demand services like ride hailing. And the jobs that make them possible.

Here are 15 jobs that barely existed 15 years ago:

  1. Mobile app developer. The iPhone arrived in 2007, followed soon after by Android devices. And just 10 years later, half of the world’s adults have a smartphone. Many tasks that once got done sitting in front of a desktop and keyboard are now more commonly done on a mobile device, everything from banking to communication to shopping. So naturally there was an explosion in the number of mobile app developers.
  2. Social media manager. These days, businesses large and small have personnel dedicated to managing a company’s social media presence. Social media is used for traditional marketing as well as customer service. Social media managers (and related jobs) evolved from earlier digital marketing roles to encompass the specific skills needed to help a brand stand out on today’s social media channels. 
  3. Ride-sharing driver. Once upon a time, urbanites stood on street corners with arms raised, hoping to attract a passing taxi cab. Today, of course, ride hailing is done with a few taps of an app, and yesterday’s taxi driver is giving way to today’s gig economy driver. Uber, the leading ride-sharing company, was founded in 2009 and quickly grew to become the world’s most valuable startup. One interesting dynamic about app-enabled ride sharing is that it has created driving jobs that will prove to be only temporary. Companies are investing heavily in self-driving cars and have their sights set on flying cars as well.
  4. Self-driving car engineer. While driverless cars are poised to make a major dent in transportation, they are also beginning to create new types of jobs. Driverless cars can’t yet develop or repair themselves, so engineers, mechanics, and software developers are in-demand jobs today and should remain so into the foreseeable future.
  5. Cloud computing specialist. You don’t have to go back much more than 10 years or so for the statement “I work in the cloud” to sound downright crazy. While the concept of distributed software services had been around for some time, cloud computing really took off after 2006. Today, more than half of U.S. businesses use cloud services of one form or another. 
  6. Big Data analyst and data scientist. Digital data management by IT professionals isn’t new; but beginning in the mid-2000’s the concept of Big Data took off as the management and productive use of data entered a new phase. These days, the path out from under all the data piling up every second lies with the skills of Big Data analysts and data scientists. With data volumes growing 40% per year, there is tremendous demand for specialists who can analyze, process, and make useable all of this information. 
  7. Sustainability manager. Sustainability was once a niche concept, reserved for progressive companies focused on finding productive uses of human and natural resources. But in the same way as electric cars have gone mainstream in recent years, so too has sustainability. Professionals who develop corporate sustainability programs are in demand, working on projects like identifying “green” cost-saving opportunities and federal, state, and local tax rebates.
  8. Vloggers. The term “weblog” evolved into the more familiar “blog” and “blogger” in the late 1990’s. You would be forgiven for not recognizing the term “vlogger,” a more recent term that combines “video” with “blogger.” With the rise of video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, vlogging has become big business, with top YouTube stars earning millions of dollars through advertising, social media, and sponsorship deals.
  9. Commercial drone operators. Even though government regulations covering unmanned aerial vehicles—commonly called drones—are just now being written, demand for drone pilots is skyrocketing. Once reserved for military use, commercial use of drones is expanding to include everything from deliveries by UPS and Amazon to aerial photography and videography of commercial real estate sites. 
  10. Digital content marketers. The marketing industry is one of many that has seen phenomenal changes over the last decade and it continues to develop constantly. Go back 15 years or so and marketing budgets were still focused on traditional advertising channels like radio and TV and print brochures. Beginning with email marketing, though, marketing departments evolved quickly to encompass sophisticated data-driven digital campaigns covering websites, social media, and digital ads. Driving much of this transformation was the rise of “content marketing,” the strategy of using high-value content like articles and explainer videos to market without really marketing. 
  11. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist. Before Google came along and gave the world near-instant search of the Internet, companies like Yahoo! thrived by providing directories that categorized websites. But as the number of websites exploded, a marketing problem emerged: how does my business get found amongst all the noise? “Getting found” became the domain of Search Engine Optimization, the art and science of selecting keywords to support business objectives. Once limited to a handful of tips and hacks, SEO today is a complex and ever-changing field, and its professionals are in-demand at businesses large and small.
  12. Market research data miner. Businesses are awash in data. Making sense of the data involves turning all the 1’s and 0’s into actionable insights. The role of market researchers has evolved in lock step with the Big Data revolution, so that today these prophets of market trends are a highly technical specialty skilled at finding meaning in reams of marketing and customer data. 
  13. Elder-care services coordinator. Two powerful trends are driving the demand for jobs in the elder-care space: the aging U.S. population and the increasing complexity of the healthcare system. Demand by older Americans for in-home healthcare services is growing, but because so much of the healthcare systems is DIY, figuring out how to access those services can be complicated. Elder-care services coordinators are specialists who understand the healthcare needs of elderly patients and the intricacies of the services available to them. 
  14. Medical biller and coder. Here’s another newly emerged role driven by changes to technology. The U.S. healthcare system is largely structured around fixed rates that doctors receive as reimbursement for services. A regular office visit is reimbursed at one rate, treating a broken ankle at another. Medical billers and coders provide the expertise that connects doctors’ services to insurance and governmental reimbursement, commonly employed at doctors' offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
  15. Genetic counselor. Advances in genetics are taking place at a breathtaking pace, as seen by the successful uses of the Crispr-cas9 gene editing technology. As genetic technologies move out of the labs and into mainstream, a new job title has emerged as well: genetic counselor. Genetic counselors help patients interpret the results of genetic tests to aid in the prevention and management of illness. As medical capabilities around genetic testing improve, and as new technologies like genetic modification of embryos mature, these counselors will be increasingly in demand at healthcare facilities the world over.

There’s an important insight to be gleaned from this list: given the rapid advances in technology, 15 years from now the world will no doubt look quite different than it does today, and we’ll take for granted new technologies that are now in their infancy. Think: artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous transportation, and smart cities. For any professional expecting their career to continue into this future, the lesson is to keep learning the new skills that will keep you competitive and productive. The need to learn new skills through lifelong learning has perhaps never been greater.