What are the most important skills one can learn to become successful in the 21st century? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

If you want to be successful in the 21st century, you need to learn how to talk to machines.

People have been managing other people for thousands of years. The ancient Romans built their empire on the backs of slave labor. The British built their empire by imposing their will on the residents of dozens of colonies. And America became the economic force it is today largely thanks to cheap immigrant labor during the industrial revolution.

But here in the 21st century, we no longer get work done by managing people who tend grain fields, import spices from Asian colonies, or install railroads across the Rocky Mountains.

Now we get work done by managing machines.

The nature of work has fundamentally changed.

Today, it is no longer humans who do most of the work -- it's machines.

Think about it -- every day, humans make 3.5 billion Google searches. It's machines that carry out that work -- not humans.

Think about how many man-hours it would take for humans to conduct even a single Google search manually. Can you imagine a bunch of Ph.D's phoning each other around the clock deliberating about which documents they should recommend to whom? This work is only even remotely practical if it's done by machines.

Trip Advisor helps you decide where to go for vacation. Expedia helps you book the right flight to get there. Google Maps directs you to the airport. All of these services are within the reach of average consumers thanks to the hard work of machines.

But machines are only able to do all this work because humans tell them exactly what to do. And the only way for humans to do this is by writing software.

That's right -- computers are not nearly as smart as humans. For computers to succeed at the jobs we've assigned them, they need us humans to give them extremely clear instructions.

That means coding.

Coding isn't some niche skill. It's the essential 21st century skill that every ambitious person needs to learn if they want to succeed.

Don't believe me? Just look at the legal profession. Software is turning it inside out, and causing mass unemployment for the lawyers who can't code: Who's eating law firms' lunch?

The same is increasingly true for managers, marketers, accountants, doctors, and pretty much every white-collar job in between.

If you're serious about having a successful career in the 21st century, you need to learn to code.

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Published on: Mar 2, 2016