Insights · April 20th, 2001
From time to time we respond to questions about the future sent in via email by readers. We don’t have a lot of time for this, but when a question seems especially interesting we offer our thoughts.
Jay Anderson asked:
“How does one go about becoming a “Futurist?” Is it a specific degree program, or is it more of a general studies kind of thing? How about a “Technologist?” I’ve seen people listed as “Chief Technologist”, or “Lead Technologist” but I don’t know how one goes about becoming such. Can you give me any help in heading my training and career that way?”
Response by Glen Hiemstra, 2000
I am not that familiar with how one becomes a “technologist” or “lead technologist” and assume that such a position requires the ability to design and/or program technology.
However, we can give you some guidance on becoming a Futurist. I left a career in higher education in 1987 to begin work full time as a Futurist. There are essentially three paths to this career. First is the informal or self-taught path taken by many people. Professionals in a variety of fields often discover their personal interest in the future, and begin to read the literature of futures studies, forecasting, science and technology, organization and system change, and so on. They begin to attend conferences and seminars as they can find them. Gradually they begin to define themselves as futurists. Of the 40,000 members of the World Future Society, most have taken that path, but only about 1200 are “professional members” who attempt to make a living as futurists. If this path sounds right for you, it can be successfully followed. The best place to start is with a membership in the World Future Society (Note: in 2021, twenty years later, the WFS is not the same kind of global member organization as when this piece was originally written, but check them out. Also when you have some experience you can explore the Association of Professional Futurists).
A second path is through the more traditional education institutions. There are both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in futures studies, typically involving interdisciplinary studies. Among those we recommend are the M.S. program in Futures Studies at the University of Houston, Texas. Another respected program for both undergraduate and graduate work in futures studies is the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, at the University of Hawaii. Both programs can provide launching pads for searching for other options.
Finally, a third path is the one that I took, or rather was given. That is the mentor path. In my case an early futurist, and founding member of the World Future society took me under his wing while I was an undergraduate student, and began to feed me things to read and to attend, nurturing my own interest in the Future through what became more than a decade long relationship. His name was Ed Lindaman, at one time director of program planning for building Apollo at the Rockwell Corporation, later a college president when I knew him. If you are fortunate enough to find that kind of relationship, it can combine some of the features of the first two paths, though without the formal degree.