google-play-logo2The New York Times has been publishing a series titled, the iEconomy, about the shifts in the tech industry over the past decade. What drew my attention to it was this piece about the new economy built around mobile apps for iPhones and Android.

It’s interesting for getting a glimpse into the inside workings of the app industry. You might take for granted all those free apps that you download for your iPhone or your Droid. On the other end are app developers struggling to make the next big hit. For every app like Draw Something, which was bought out for $200 million by Zynga, there are tons of apps that make little to no money.

The lesson for us as educators and for our kids is that the economy – and the type of jobs available for our students – is changing. The old American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and technology has radically changed the landscape for developing and distributing content. Ten years ago, when I was in high school, I could have developed software or games with my friends. But to what end…?¬†Without a traditional publisher behind us, there would be no way to bring it to market.

Today, you can build an app, serve it up to the Apple App Market or the Google Play store and instantly reach millions of potential customers. If you want to be a writer, you can publish your novel to the Kindle and instantly reach millions of potential readers. You can broadcast podcasts or music through iTunes.

As with the app developers in the article, the likelihood of sustaining a real income from any of these activities are pretty low, especially if you don’t have the skills necessary to publicize and monetize your work. But the possibility of learning and building your resume is infinite.

If your end game is to be a software developer, why not spend your high school and college years building and distributing free apps? You polish your skills, you build a name for yourself, and you demonstrate that you’ve got experience. All of that can be leveraged into a job at a traditional publisher or it can be used to build a social presence that would support your own company.

The same goes for artists, writers, film makers, photographers. Traditional barriers to all of these fields are crumbling, and there’s an opportunity for people to move in and literally make their own careers. If you want to talk about preparing our kids for the future – and the economy of the future – then these are the opportunities we need to push on our kids and the skills that we need to teach them.

A college degree is no longer a free ticket to a good job. You gotta make it, and you gotta take it.