A single job can serve as a watermark for an entire time period. Where would the Renaissance be without its artists? Or the Industrial Revolution without its coal miners? What says “World War II” better than Rosie the Riveter?
Fifty years from now, when we think back to 2017, we probably won’t wax poetic about our president’s Attorney General pick, or the musicians who were caught lip syncing on national TV. Instead, we’ll talk about the everyday people who worked to shape our future. And we’ll have plenty to choose from.
Here are seven new jobs that reflect what’s important in 2017—and the risk takers who can tell us where we’re going.
Education: Must meet basic requirements of the NASA Astronaut Program (undergraduate degree in science, engineering, or related field)
Annual Salary: $18,000
When Dr. Sheyna Gifford came back to Earth last August, she noticed two things. First: humans are really loud. Second: she was going to need to find her wallet.
“The whole equation reverses,” Gifford says of her re-assimilation back into society. “I don’t have to worry about whether there’s going to be enough power to keep the lights on, or if there’s going to be enough water to take a shower. But the little things — cars, traffic lights, keys, money — those I have a hard time keeping track of.”
Gifford, one of six trained professionals chosen for a year-long Mars simulation on the slopes of a Hawaiian volcano, technically never left the Earth’s orbit. But after 12 months of living, researching and jargon-ing like a bonafide “Martian,” the resulting culture shock is all too real.
Her celestial home, the HI-SEAS IV Habitat, was a 1,200-square-foot dome perched on a former cinder rock quarry comparable to the geology of Mars — just big enough for a kitchen, lab, bathroom and sleeping quarters for a crew of six. Gifford served as the onsite physician, and was joined by a field biologist, fluid physicist, astrobiologist, engineer and an architect, all of whom lived for an entire year as an astronaut would on Mars — spacesuit and all.
As research volunteers, the HI-SEAS crew makes decidedly less than the $100,000-plus salaries deployed astronauts on “real” space missions enjoy. And yet, hundreds of highly qualified applicants are vying for a chance to participate. “Getting the space program off the ground is about the love, not the money,” Gifford says.
Funded by NASA and run by the University of Hawai’i, Gifford’s was the fourth and longest HI-SEAS mission — previous runs lasted between four and eight months. The crew worked on a variety of projects during their time together, Gifford says, like designing space suits and studying plant growth. For NASA, though, the goal was to answer a single question: is a Mars mission humane? Future simulated space travelers, including the new HI-SEAS crew that just deployed this month, will continue to answer that question.
YouTube Sex Ed Teacher
Education: Human sexuality background typical, but not required
Annual Salary: $100,000 (YouTube revenue only; includes sponsored videos)
In a video posted last August, the YouTube sex educator Shannon Boodram stands on a heavily trafficked Los Angeles sidewalk and tells the story — or shouts it, rather — of how she contracted chlamydia.
Half stunt, half PSA, “How I Got an STD” follows the same formula as the rest of Boodram’s 100-plus videos: start with an uncomfortable topic, throw in some statistics, and top with a whole bunch of realness. It’s a new kind of sex ed that aims to replace the nightmare-inducing slides of middle school health class with information people can actually use, and it’s taking YouTube by storm. Laci Green, a 26-year old activist and San Francisco-based sex educator, hosts a bi-monthly video series that has over 100 million views. Dr. Lindsey Doe’s “Sexplanations” is the go-to source for everything from love triangles to “vulva confidence,” and the YouTube celeb Hannah Witton is perhaps best known for her “Drunk Advice,” a recurring series where she and a guest drink wine and dole out sex tips.
For Boodram, who has certifications in sex ed counseling and clinical sexology, YouTube is just a fraction of the job description: she also does one-on-one counseling by phone and Skype, frequent hosting gigs on MTV and BET, and “expert” guest appearances on shows like TLC’s All About Sex, and CBS’ The Insider. At a time when only 24 states and Washington, D.C. mandate sex education and reliable, accessible information about sex can be difficult to find online, Boodram and her YouTube comrades are providing an indispensable service. Just don’t call her a “sex expert.”
“I hate that term,” Boodram says. “It insinuates that I know what I’m doing more than someone else. I’m just giving you the framework and tools to become the expert of your own sex life.”
Education: Advanced degrees common
Ethan Brown set a world record last year. His headline-stealing veggie burger — so realistic it actually bleeds — was the first plant-based product to be sold behind the meat counter in a supermarket.
The honor came from a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colo., which added Brown’s “Beyond Burger” to its meat and poultry section in May. Today, more than 200 Whole Foods locations stock the plant-based patty, often right alongside their flesh-filled offerings.
The deal was a huge personal accomplishment for Brown — landing a veggie burger in the meat case has topped his list of goals since he founded his company, Beyond Meat, in 2009. “We’ve set out to answer the fundamental question: do you need an animal to make meat?” Brown says. “And our answer is a definitive ‘no.’”
It hasn’t been easy — a lot of consideration goes into making fake meat look, smell and taste like the real deal (the “bleeding,” it turns out, is the easiest to explain — that’s pulverized beets). But the implications are profound. Research shows that livestock is one of the worst contributors to greenhouse gases; a convincing replacement gives scientists a fighting chance at curbing climate change.
Brown, who declined to give his salary for this piece, isn’t the only meat-free maven in the game. Months after the Beyond Burger hit grocery store shelves, David Chang’s Momofuki Nishi in New York began selling the Impossible Burger — another meat-like veggie burger from a company called Impossible Foods. Since then, the product has made its way onto the menu of three high-end restaurants in California, and its creator, Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown, has announced plans to make it mainstream.
Both the Beyond and Impossible burgers debuted to critical acclaim. Writing in Serious Eats last fall, the James Beard award-winning food writer J. Kenji López-Alt called the burgers “marvels of modern science.” Other vegan riffs on classic comfort foods, like Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo, have also enjoyed mounting popularity. By 2022, the market for fake meat is expected to near $6 billion, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets.
Brown, for his part, is currently working on a top-secret product he says will blow the Beyond Burger out of the water. “The consumer is the judge,” Brown says. And he won’t stop innovating until he gets a perfect score.
Education: Advanced degrees common, but not required
Annual Salary: $30,000 to $50,000
Micah White doesn’t want to be called a “career activist.” That would imply he’s punching the clock … and socking away a fat nest egg for retirement.
No, White says, he’s more of a consultant activist — someone who travels the country, and sometimes overseas, to meet and strategize with movement organizers of all ilks. White and his wife, the scholar Chiara Ricciardone, are the change makers behind Boutique Activist Consultancy, a firm that specializes in helping fledgling social movements get off the ground. They join Philadelphia’s Training for Change, Bowling Green, Ohio’s Solutions Institute and a handful of other consulting firms devoted to arming grassroots organizers with the research, tools and direction needed to incite change.
For White, this business model is more partnership than prototype. “We can’t tell people, ‘do this and this and this and you’ll have a successful social movement,’” he says. “But we can say, ‘here’s the theory of how successful movements are created. Let’s embark on this together.'”
White, a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street, advocates for a community-oriented approach that moves beyond marching, shouting and sign-waving. He believes in pursuing change through the political system, from ousting corrupt politicians to giving residents a voice in local government through small neighborhood organizations, like the one he founded in Nehalem, Ore. In 2017, a year that’s sure to be defined by political protest for those catalyzed by the presidential election, White is using his community as a litmus test for overthrowing the status quo.
“Some people want to celebrate protest,” he says. “I want to build social movements that win elections.”
Bug Bounty Hunter
Annual Salary: $300,000 (top)
Billions of dollars are spent on cybersecurity initiatives every year. And yet, breaches occur at major U.S. companies and government agencies with alarming regularity, attacks that drain budgets and eviscerate the trust of consumers and citizens.
The solution, says Jay Kaplan, is “bug bounty hunters,” or hackers paid by companies to find vulnerabilities in their software and websites. Kaplan is the CEO of Synack, a startup based in Redwood City, Calif. that crowdsources so-called bounty hunters — paying people “by the bug” to hack big-time clients like banks, healthcare institutions and gas giants to find insecurities before someone nefarious does.
“A couple of years ago, the notion of working with hackers was scary,” he says. “Today, companies are embracing their skills, and using them to their advantage. You want to stay ahead of the bad guys, so you use people who know how to tell us how the bad guys could get us.”
Kaplan’s “researchers,” as he calls them, come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are self taught, while others have advanced degrees in areas like computer programming and information security. They also have varying skill sets — some spot vulnerabilities in online banking; others focus on mobile apps or mail servers. The common denominator, Kaplan says, is that they’re all subject to a litany of interviews, background checks and assessments designed to weed out any bad apples.
In November, following an election marred by cyber attacks perpetuated, according to U.S. intelligence, by the Russian government, Synack brought its bug bounty hunting program to the Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service. That’s proof, Kaplan says, that “even the federal government is having a really hard time with this.”
Annual Salary: ~ $15 an hour
Composting — the fine, filthy art of turning food scraps into nutrient-rich soil — is having a bit of a moment.
What once attracted only the most resourceful of tree huggers has hit the mainstream, with private collection services available in most major U.S. cities. For about $8 to $10 a week, companies like Compost Cab in Washington, D.C., Collective Resource in Chicago, and Compost Crusader in Milwaukee will turn residents’ organic waste into pay dirt for farmers, community gardens and customers’ own gardens.
Boston’s Bootstrap Compost, a two-van, three-pickup outfit co-founded by Andy Brooks and Igor Kharitonenkov, serves a client list of about 2,000 households, restaurants and offices. Launched in 2011, Bootstrap began as a one-man enterprise, with Brooks collecting compost door-to-door with his bike (he was joined shortly thereafter by Kharitonenkov). Today, Bootstrap has a rotating roster of a seven “drivers,” who each collect about 1,000 pounds of food waste a shift—reducing landfill waste and offsetting millions of pounds of methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, every year.
“Composting has hit the mainstream,” Kharitonenkov says. “People aren’t just giving us money, they’re partaking in the process. By putting that banana peel in the bucket, by educating their kids and neighbors about how composting works, they’re inspiring people to do the right thing for their planet.”
Education: Medical background typical, but not a prerequisite. Certifications available.
Annual Salary: $40,000 to $70,000 (private practice)
Conversations surrounding death and dying are slowly but surely becoming less taboo. In just a handful of years, “death cafes,” informal events where participants speak frankly about their mortality, have sprung up nationwide. The Conversation Project, a nonprofit organization that gets people to discuss their final days, just launched a partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). And more Americans, on the whole, are looking at the high cost of end-of-life care with a critical eye — and are opting for quality rather than just quantity.
It’s no surprise, then, that “death care” has emerged as a viable career track, with a growing cadre of end-of-life doulas (colloquially “death doulas”) devoted to guiding patients through their final moments.
Henry Fersko-Weiss, executive director of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), created the first death doula program for hospital and hospice volunteers in 2003. In 2016, Fersko-Weiss began holding INELDA-sponsored doula trainings across the country, an effort that has since inspired many trainees to launch their own private practices, he says.
Like the labor coach from which it gets its name, a death doula’s job is multifaceted. Typically, doulas map out a person’s final days, create a comforting space for the patient (musical requests range from Gregorian chants to the Grateful Dead, Fersko-Weiss says), help with legacy planning, and provide grief counseling for family and friends.
More than half of Americans die in a hospital or nursing home — environments that are sterile, impersonal and “do not speak of human familiarity,” Fersko-Weiss says. As baby boomers approach retirement age and demand more autonomy over their final stage of life, Fersko-Weiss and his cohort are changing that narrative.
“[Dying people] go through much fear, anxiety and depression,” he says. “This gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of hope. It transforms how people die.”