Jobs fight: Haves vs. the have-nots

ByUSA Today
September 13, 2012, 7:12 PM

— -- MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Marc Andreessen made his first fortune writing code. That was long before the wunderkind co-author of the Netscape browser morphed into the 41-year-old founder of Andreessen Horowitz, the fastest-growing venture-capital firm in Silicon Valley. Deep in his thinking about the future of work and jobs, there are still hints of the programmer.

Programmers write in binary math, all zeroes and ones. Andreessen says a 20-year-old today will find 2042's job market as binary as, well, code itself.

"The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories," Andreessen says. "People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do."

Decades of political issues will follow that split, he says. The division between the masters of machines and those who take orders from them will feed even greater income inequality in the years ahead, he says. Success in the 2042 economy also requires big changes in education -- both in how society provides schooling and in how young people should consume it.

"It's extremely positive for the people who have the ability to project what they do globally," Andreessen says. "If you tell the computer what to do -- product development, marketing -- the last 30 years have been phenomenal. In the next 30 years, it gets more extreme."

Andreessen is in position to know what will create tomorrow's jobs. A 2011 study by IHS Global Insight says 11% of U.S. private-sector jobs are at companies once financed by venture firms. Andreessen has been near VC's epicenter since college: First Netscape, then co-founding cloud-computing pioneer Opsware, which he and partner Ben Horowitz sold to Hewlett-Packard. His firm was an early Facebook investor, too.

In decades to come, insights like these will guide how VCs go about creating jobs, and how people should pursue work, Andreessen says. His vision mixes the hopeful and the hard-to-hear:

A vanishing middle class.

Globalization already has helped push down wages for people with routine skills, even as incomes at the top have skyrocketed. Expect this gap to widen, Andreessen says. People with unusual gifts will find it ever easier to project them worldwide and get wildly compensated. People who take orders from computers won't.

"There's no such thing as median income; there's a curve, and it really matters what side of the curve you're on," he says. "There's no such thing as the middle class. It's absolutely vanishing."

Liberal arts? Out of luck.

It's fashionable to talk about how schools have to be better for U.S. workers to compete. Andreessen would rather talk about how today's 20-year-olds should use the schools they have.

In two words, "study STEM" (science, technology, engineering and math), he says. In liberal arts, only the best of the best will make top dollar â?? a person will have to be good enough that his book is a best seller or her song goes global, or he'll have to be smart enough to apply philosophy to corporate strategic thinking. For people who want to be well-paid employees but not start businesses, he says superior creative talent or exceptional brain power will be essential.

"We're in a bubble for people with a non-Ivy League, non-technical education," says Andreessen, who studied computer science at the University of Illinois. "If you have a degree in English from a tier B state school, you're not prepared."

An American future?

People who lament income inequality often link it to jobs moving offshore, and they fear that skilled office jobs and new company formation will follow routine work in migrating to countries such as China and Brazil. Not so fast, Andreessen says.

For budding entrepreneurs, the U.S. looks like the king of the hill for years to come. This nation has all the traits new companies need to succeed: top universities; a consistent rule of law; an entrepreneurial culture; a huge market; and a government that is broadly pro-business, regardless of which party is in power, he says.

"China is very entrepreneurial but has no rule of law," Andreessen says. "Europe has rule of law but isn't entrepreneurial. Combine rule of law, entrepreneurialism and a generally pro-business policy, and you have Apple."

Who's your real boss? You.

Since not everyone is cut out to be an engineer, let alone an inventor, the mere mortals in the workforce will have to get creative to succeed, Andreessen says.

"Big companies are not going to take care of you," he says, which means most people spend parts of their careers at big companies and some at small businesses. "You can't let history happen to you."

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