The Future of Work Is Eye-Opening

We asked 16 people how the future is changing their work. Here's what they said.
July 1, 2016, 10:30 AM UTC
Icons by Martín Laksman for Fortune

The Future of Work Is Eye-Opening

By Signe Brewster, Clay Dillow, Rachel King, Kia Kokalitcheva, Kirsten Korosec, Sheila Marikar, Leena Rao, Jasper Scherer, Audrey Shi, Maxine Wally, Andrew Zaleski, Valentina Zarya, Larissa Zimberoff

We asked 16 people how the future is changing their work. Here’s what they said.


A move to the cloud changed how L.A. responds to a crisis.

Ted Ross, CIO, City of Los Angeles photographed in LA's Emergency Operation Center.Ted Ross, CIO, City of Los Angeles photographed in LA’s Emergency Operation Center.Photograph by Michael Lewis for Fortune

Ted Ross is proud of the state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center on which more than 4 million Los Angeles residents will rely in the event of a terrorist attack, a flood, or an earthquake. “It’s truly Kiefer Sutherland, 24-esque,” says Ross, the chief information officer for the City of Los Angeles. It’s a resource that helps America’s second-most-populous city be more resilient, acting as a staging area for emergency responders to coordinate efforts. But there’s only one of its scale—which is why the choice to add redundancy keeps Ross (and the rest of L.A.) sleeping soundly at night. Los Angeles has long maintained alternative emergency operations centers across the city, but over time it became clear that the aging facilities weren’t capable of handling the load of the main EOC should it go down. “We all started to get this horrible feeling that would keep us up at night—should there be a horrible disaster that impacted our main EOC, our alternate EOC would not be up to snuff,” says Ross. So last year the city decided to move to the cloud. Now backups for its evacuation tracking, hazard mitigation, and emergency communications systems reside on Amazon’s (AMZN) global network of data centers. Initially the move was meant to be temporary, buying the city time to repair the cooling systems in its secondary centers. But Ross never looked back. A cloud backup costs the city just $300 a month, saves time, and maintains operations when they’re needed most, he says. “We can set up a virtual EOC anytime, anywhere.”—Andrew Zaleski



Robots help mechanics identify fixes.

When faced with a tricky automotive repair, Jamie Ludolph used to turn to a tome-like service manual. Today at the Atlanta car dealership where Ludolph is a master guild technician, he can turn to a robot.

The Audi Robotic Telepresence, or ART, is a remote-controlled robot on wheels. Outfitted with cameras and a screen, it lets mechanics at Audi of America dealerships talk to experts at the company’s technical center in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“At the beginning I wasn’t really sure how helpful it would be or if there were any advantages to it,” says Ludolph, who has been a mechanic for more than two decades. “The first time I used it, though, I realized how much time it cut off of what my normal routine would be.”

ART isn’t used for every problem, and today’s mechanics have several high-tech diagnostic tools at their disposal. But the robot is the latest example of how dealership repair shops have transformed from grease pits into high-tech service centers loaded with computers.

“In the last 10 years the technology has gotten a lot more advanced, a lot quicker,” says Ludolph.

Despite that pace, Ludolph isn’t nostalgic for the old days. The job “is a little bit cleaner than it used to be,” he says, “although sometimes you still have to get in there and get dirty.” —Kirsten Korosec



Algorithms put a somm in every home.

The ancient world of wine doesn’t seem ripe for technological revolution. But that’s exactly what Brian Smith set out to do when he co­founded Winc, an online wine club in Los Angeles, in 2012.

Though the U.S. wine market continues to grow steadily—$38 billion in 2015 sales—many producers still have a hard time reaching consumers daunted by the discovery process. The solution was once a good shop owner or sommelier. But what if an algorithm could make recommendations based on a person’s preferences?

Winc asks customers to fill out a brief online survey about their affinity to certain flavors (Coffee: Black or with cream and sugar? Salt: A little or a lot?) and recommends bottles accordingly.

The data allow winemakers to take more risks. The surprise popularity of 2014 The Bluffer Valdiguié, for example, demonstrated that people were willing to try wine from an unknown varietal.

“Thanks to technology,” Smith says, “we can use data to develop our own wines.” And, of course, winners. —Rachel King


More design ideas, faster.

FUT.07.01.16.Aerospace.illoIllustration by Rachel Ake for Fortune; Original photo: U.S. Navy—Lockheed Martin via Getty Images

With nearly 2 million lines of code and a host of futuristic technologies, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter isn’t the kind of product one designs with only a pencil and paper. But Bob Ruszkowski, a longtime aircraft engineer for Lockheed Martin (LMT) and its secretive Skunk Works lab, remembers when the company did just that.

“When I started here in 1985, we were still drawing new designs on drafting boards,” says Ruszkowski, now director of advanced air dominance, unmanned systems, and directed ­energy. “Today computer-aided design is commonplace, but it is still advancing in a lot of important ways.”

Advances in computing have given aircraft engineers a wealth of sophisticated new capabilities. For example, engineers once built separate models for different kinds of analysis—one to test an aircraft’s aerodynamic properties, another to test its potential radar signature, and so on. Today a single model can output data to various analysis tools simultaneously.

“Before, we would optimize the design of an aircraft in a serial fashion,” Ruszkowski says. “Now we are doing parallel optimization and looking at thousands of iterations within a very short period of time.”

Today’s aircraft engineers optimize designs faster than ever before. In the future technology will allow them to continue doing so even after an aircraft is in production.

“Imagine a point in time when you can change the features of an aircraft using 3D printing technology,” he says. “You can have an aircraft that evolves its capabilities over time.” —Clay Dillow


A device to get the job done.

Robert Kipp, Superintendent, Tutor Perini at the Hudson Yards Project in New York.Photograph by Patrick James Miller

Robert Kipp’s must-have tool when he steps onto a construction site isn’t a walkie-talkie or a hard hat, though you’ll never spot him without them. It’s an eight-inch Apple iPad Mini on which he stores blueprints, field documentation, and other relevant information.

“Carrying blueprints under your arm while climbing up a ladder at a dangerous, high-story construction site just wasn’t practical,” says Kipp, 36, a supervisor and project manager for construction giant Tutor Perini.

At a site like the ­17-million-square-foot Hudson Yards project in Manhattan—Kipp’s latest assignment and the largest private real estate development in the history of the U.S.—paper is quickly disappearing. The former U.S. Army captain is just fine with that. “It minimizes errors in construction because you can see the documents clearly,” he says.

On his silver tablet computer Kipp has installed Plangrid, software that helps architects and construction managers collaborate on different versions of the same document in the cloud. Kipp and his team also use the software to keep on hand the 300 permits needed for the job, not to mention the 13,780 sheets of blueprints. Another piece of software, the Autodesk-made modeling app Revit, allows Kipp to visualize in three dimensions the buildings he’s constructing.

Not all of Kipp’s colleagues have been quick to welcome iPads to the work site. One foreman Kipp worked with called tablets “bullshit” and requested paper versions of blueprints instead. But he soon relented, and today the foreman swears by an iPad Pro.

The construction industry has not been at the forefront of technology adoption, Kipp says. No longer. “Construction is filled with inefficiencies,” Kipp says. “Technology can change that.” —Leena Rao



A simple solution for keeping ice cream cold.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to an ice cream maker? Melting product. The problem kept happening to Brian Smith, owner of Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn, usually because an employee would forget to firmly close the freezer door. “It’s a heart-sickening moment when everything you made the day before is gone because the freezer door is open,” he says.

Fed up with more conventional means of enforcement—“We’ve yelled and screamed enough,” Smith concedes—the owner and operations manager Andy Wandzilak deployed a mobile application called Modularm that alerts them to drops in freezer temperatures. The creamery can now record historical data for health inspections and avoid the possibility that an absent-minded employee could ruin a day’s worth of treats.

When Ample Hills Creamery first opened in 2011, its most advanced technology was an ice cream scooper. “I wanted to create a place where everyone knows your name,” Smith says. Now, with $4 million in funding, Ample Hills is slowly embracing the notion that technology can help standardize processes across its six locations.

Smith says the “cold quotient” was once one of his biggest business problems. Now it’s just the long lines. —Larissa Zimberoff


FUT.07.01.16.pq.ITO Photo: Earl McGehee—Getty Images


An old-school driver in an on-demand world.

Gary Englander, 64, has been driving a yellow cab in New York City for 38 years. It was a job he enjoyed—until very recently, that is. “I loved my job,” he says. “The independence. The meeting of people and minds. I learned every day.”

What’s changed for Englander in the last two years? It’s not just that ride-sharing apps are now in the picture, he says, though he calls Uber a “money-laundering operation.” Englander’s issue is that it is now possible for drivers with little-to-no knowledge of city streets to work alongside more experienced—and, frankly, better—drivers such as him, rendering the entire role a commodity.

“They’re not good,” he says of the thousands of newcomers hired by the ridesharing apps. “And they rely on technology, which also isn’t very good.”

Englander still relies on his decades of experience when it comes to tracking traffic patterns and knowing where to pick up work. The native and proud Brooklynite says the increased competition (and, consequently, lower earnings) are now causing him to leave town. “My income is down, my stress level is up,” he laments.

Englander says he and his wife plan to move to San Diego, where he hopes to find “some kind of customer service job.” He says he’ll miss being a driver, despite how much the job has changed in an era of mobile apps. Says Englander: “I’ve met the most wonderful people driving.” —Valentina Zarya



In pursuit of better beer.

Ask Danny Kahn how technology is changing brewing, and he’ll take you back 7,000 years to its origins in Mesopotamia. “That’s one of the coolest things about brewing,” says Kahn, technical director for the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif. “There’s such a rich history.”

Not that beer can’t taste any better. Last year Sierra Nevada figured out a way to preserve the more delicate flavor contained in wet-hopped ales.

Brewers harvest hops for several weeks in August and September. Most are dried and preserved for the rest of the year, but brewers use a small fraction immediately to essentially create the holy grail of beer. Tragically, it lasts only for harvest season.

“I don’t think most people realize how complicated beer is,” Kahn says. “We’re not just mixing water and flavors.”

So Sierra Nevada brewers apply steam to wet hops, which “carries the oil away,” Kahn says. They condense the vapor and separate the oil from the resulting liquid. Adding even a tiny amount of the oil to dry hops gives the resulting brew the flavor and aroma of wet hops.

“Nobody else is doing that,” Kahn says. It’s not a high-tech solution. But in an increasingly competitive craft-brewing industry, standing out on store shelves matters. —Jasper Scherer


A data-driven way for lobbyists to persuade.

FUT.07.01.16.Government.illo Illustration by Rachel Ake for Fortune; Original photo: Getty Images

The public sector may be behind on embracing modern technology, but lobbyists are way ahead. And it’s radically changing the way they do business.

Bryan Miller, senior vice president of public policy for San Francisco solar energy provider Sunrun, says the rise of online communications platforms—from Google (GOOGL) to Facebook (FB) to Twitter (TWTR) to Snapchat—has upended his approach.

“Money is not what it used to be in politics, because the world of online advocacy has really reduced the impact of lobbying,” says Miller. “Mail and TV were the traditional forms of communications, and they’re expensive primarily because they’re imperfect,” but social media and online advertising have since emerged as more affordable and precise alternatives for basic outreach.

The benefits also run in the opposite direction. Miller says today’s lobbyists can easily look up relevant bills circulating among policymakers and intervene well before the process is over. They can also reference videos of lawmakers discussing potential laws, which can come in handy down the line. “We’ve found many occasions when our legislative friends said something very different 10 years ago,” Miller says. “It’s a lot harder to get away with stuff.”

Concerned, lawmakers? You shouldn’t be. Miller says his only guideline is to tell the truth. “If you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to be worried about,” he says. Not that public officials are taking him at his word. “We’ve certainly seen some legislative bodies move to reduce access to public records,” he says. The bureaucracy-busting Internet may have made democracy much easier, but not everyone in office is comfortable with that reality. —Kia Kokalitcheva

FUT.07.01.16.pq.Brown-Philpot Photo: Simon Dawsn—Bloomberg via Getty Images



New skills to keep up with the glitterati.

Last year Jen Betts, the president of Pivotal Public Relations, a Los Angeles–based lifestyle PR firm, went back to school—Snapchat school, to be specific. “It was a free class offered by a third party as part of Social Media Week,” she says.

She was moved to hit the books, as it were, because of a shift in client asks that began about a year ago. Instead of enlisting Betts’s firm to help them get mentions in celebrity tabloids, clients wanted Snapchat impressions. And that required a very different approach.

“They were asking for Snapchat monetization and participation at events,” she says. “I took the class to perfect my usage of all the different features”—and ultimately to make her clients’ stories more engaging.

Betts has embraced her new skills, but they have made her job trickier. Because Snapchat content is ephemeral, Betts has to hound “influencers” (whom brands pay to snap on their behalf) to publish more photos and videos to fulfill their contracts. She also has to pay for analytics from a third party because Snapchat doesn’t provide them.

It’s all a part of keeping up with her customers, Betts says. “Their views on Snapchat were higher than on Instagram. I was like, ‘I have to get on this. I have to figure out what’s going on.’ ” —Sheila Marikar


A novel technique for shaping prosthetic parts.

FUT.07.01.16.Medicine.illo Photo-Illustration by Rachel Ake for Fortune: Original Photo: Getty Images

Juan Garcia’s job isn’t like yours. As an associate professor in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, he’s in the business of anaplastology—the creation of prosthetics such as eyes, ears, and noses. As the name of his department suggests, the field is as much art as science, requiring a careful eye, a steady hand, and lots of patience.

In the past, Garcia looked at a form and sculpted it into a 3D object using wax and heated tools. From this, molds were made to cast the prosthetic device using silicone matched to the patient’s skin tone. But lately he’s been using a 3D printer to make patterns for body parts. Garcia uses a Printrbot Simple Metal to scan and print a mirror image of the unaffected side of a body, which he then duplicates into a wax pattern of the prosthetic device. Garcia then uses that to create a mold to cast the silicone part.

The technology has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the file is digital and virtual, allowing him to make multiple versions that he can later revisit. It also allows him to break through his traditional production workflow, which limits him to casting only what he can obtain from the mold, saving considerable time.

On the other hand, there is no way to directly print out a silicone prosthetic part at a high enough resolution and an accurate enough color match for his liking. Technologists will address these problems soon enough. But it is clear that 3D printing has given him new ways to moonlight as Mother Nature.

Says Garcia: “I see it as an integral extension of what the medical artist can do.” —Maxine Wally


New menu, new mind-set.

FUT.07.01.16.Hospitality.illo Illustration by Rachel Ake for Fortune: Original Photo: Getty Images

Paper menus are as old as time. But at Da Legna, an Italian restaurant in New Haven, those documents (which once did double duty as place mats) haven’t touched a table in a year. Good thing: At $500 a month, they cost the business a pretty penny. “We were turning them out like you wouldn’t believe,” says Derek Bacon, co-owner of Da Legna.

Why not go digital? Frequent customer Jeff Hong pitched the proprietor on Bite, his tablet-computer ordering system. At $20 per month for each device—Da Legna started with 10 and now rents 30—the setup offered customers far more for the same cost. Bacon, you might say, bit.

Customer reactions have run the gamut—some are delighted by the interactivity; others reel from the LED glare. But it has completely changed how people spend time in the restaurant. Better still, it’s giving the business better insight into what food customers really want, Bacon says.

“We’re saving money, which is a benefit we didn’t anticipate,” he says. And there isn’t a cheesy laminated menu in sight. —Larissa Zimberoff



A trusted tool in the operating room.

When doctors first approached Hormuz Irani, a surgical oncologist based in Bakersfield, Calif., to suggest he participate in the hospital’s robotic-surgery training program, he resisted. He’d been performing laparoscopic surgery since 1995 and heard that the Da Vinci robot was bulky, expensive, and time-consuming. But when he actually started using what he refers to as the “workhorse,” he saw the future of surgery. The optics were clearer. Tremors from his hand vanished because the robot moved in a fluid motion. Smaller incisions left his patients with less pain and shorter healing times. The arms of the robot swiveled 360 degrees, allowing it to do things the human wrist cannot—sew backward, for example, or sew underneath tissue.

“And it’s ergonomic, so you’re not hunched over a patient,” Irani says. “That’s definitely a big plus because we all end up with back, neck, and wrist issues.”

The Da Vinci Surgery System was approved by the FDA in 2000, and many more technological advancements have been made since then. Irani sees no sign of that progress slowing, and unlike before, he’s looking forward to it.

“A robot could be that much more advantageous to use in the future,” Irani says. “Better, lighter, cheaper.” —Maxine Wally


One compliance system to rule them all.

Joan O’Neill, HR Manager, Menlo Park City School DistrictPhotograph by Brad Wenner

There’s got to be a better way to do this,” Joan O’Neill thought as she pored over the master schedules, student case loads, and credentials of dozens of schools and teachers. O’Neill is now a human resources manager in the Menlo Park City School District. But in 2015 she was a credential analyst in the San Francisco Unified School District, where she had to perform an audit of 36 elementary, middle, and high schools. She first requested from each school printouts of the teachers’ credentials and the classes they led. Then she cross-referenced the classes to ensure they were in compliance with various education codes. She also checked California credentialing websites to make sure instructors were teaching the right classes.

“It just drove me insane,” O’Neill recalls. “I spent so much time flipping through pages.”

So O’Neill got to work on a project dubbed Access, which linked courses and credentials for each class in the district. After writing the logic, O’Neill worked with the district’s technologists to create the application. Now one click runs a report that displays each error in the district. The system also includes employee information, allowing for far easier review of records for arrests and credential revocations.

“We’re in the heart of Silicon Valley,” O’Neill says. “Technology surrounds us, and we should try to incorporate that into our work.” —Maxine Wally


FUT.07.01.16.pq.SlaughterBahat Photo, Slaughter: Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg via Getty Images; Bahat: Chris Michel



An eye in the sky for the goods in the ground.

Before Lincoln Hughes tended the land on his farm in Nevada, Mo., so did his father and his grandfather.

“My dad worked to leave the land better for me,” Hughes says. “My goal is to leave the ground even better for my children, and hopefully their children. It’s all about taking care of the land.”

For Hughes that means turning to the skies. On his corn, wheat, and soybean farm, he monitors everything from seed count to nitrate levels with drones equipped with specialized cameras. When equipment malfunctioned and began laying too many seeds, a drone caught the error. When abnormal rains caused a drop in nitrates, a drone spotted the exact soil regions that needed replenishment—a formerly inexact process that required the family to send soil samples to a laboratory. It all saves Hughes between $30 and $40 an acre, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

“We have a large farm, and there’s no way I can get to every field in a timely manner,” Hughes says. “The drone solves a lot of my problems. We’ve got data running out of our ears.” —Signe Brewster


Taking disruption as gospel.

FUT.07.01.16.Religion.illo Illustration by Rachel Ake for Fortune; John Gaim—Lightrocket/Getty Images

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a churchgoer who carries a Bible to Church at the Springs on Sundays—and lead pastor Ron Sylvia doesn’t mind.

At “the Springs,” as it’s known—a multisite church based in Ocala, Fla.—most of its 3,000 or so members follow along during services with the YouVersion Bible app on their phones. Up front, Sylvia teaches from an iPad. Toss in contemporary-rock worship music, state-of-the-art LED screens, and Text to Give software (to simplify tithing), and it’s not difficult to see how the pastor has cultivated such a following. “I don’t want people to step into a time warp to meet God,” Sylvia says. “The message will never change, but the method must. And our method is our delivery system.”

The 57-year-old pastor, a self-professed lover of numbers and technology, was studying for a bachelor’s degree in accounting when he entered the church ministry at age 21. What followed was two decades of trial and experimentation as Sylvia—moved by “a clear calling to start a contemporary church”—founded Church at the Springs in 1994.

Sylvia credits business management guru Tom Paterson in particular with helping him apply strategic thinking to the task of establishing new churches.

“Relevance is a moving target, and every corporation in America knows that irrelevance is a slow march toward death for them,” Sylvia says. “Everybody—from Coke to Windex to Elmer’s Glue—knew that if they didn’t change, they would die. Down the road, the church needs to wake up to that.”

Alongside his ministry at the Springs, Sylvia directs NEXT Churches and works with Intentional Churches, offering guidance and mentorship in both organizations.

Sylvia is also enthusiastic about keeping up with the latest changes in the church world. He says the Internet allows him to learn from other churches without leaving his desk. Sylvia delights in scouring the web for insights on how to further develop his ministry.

“I tell our church all the time: We signed up to be God’s R&D department a long time ago,” he says. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to reach people far from God, and we’re always going to be pushing the envelope.” —Audrey Shi

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A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Future of Work Is…”