By Randy Muller
Part of your job as an IT pro is to ensure that your skills and knowledge not only are current, but also will be ready for future technologies. Who could have foreseen the rapid rise of the mobile platform? The continued push for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the workplace?
Some skills have been in high demand for years and will still be so in the future (good news for project managers and security experts). Others are still relatively new (virtualization and cloud), and some are very new and in increasing demand (mobile platform developers). By looking at emerging technologies now, I've made some educated guesses as to what will be in high demand in the future. Take note, because when budgets are tight, corporations look at maximizing revenue, and IT personnel are a cost center. Having a breadth and depth of skills -- especially on new and emerging technologies -- can only weigh in your favor.
There will always be a need for application developers. The programming language(s) may change over time, but developers will always be in demand and command a good salary for their work. Application developers for mobile platforms (iOS and Android) have some of the highest demands at the moment to fulfill the needs of all those smartphone and tablet users. There is a shortage of developers in the United States now, and this shortage will only be further heightened. In fact, numerous programs and "coding camps" have been designed to get kids interested in becoming developers.
Information is critical in all aspects of the business world. Corporations in every industry, including education, hospitality, medical and retail, need to shift through vast amounts of data to understand their customers and improve their business intelligence in an effort to cut costs and improve their business processes. Big data is used to sort through this vast amount of data quickly, efficiently and accurately. Big data jobs are some of the hottest in IT and will remain so for some time. You will need knowledge in Hadoop, MapReduce, NoSQL and R among others.
The interest and demand for cloud computing is only increasing. One way businesses can increase their computing environment with lower costs is through the cloud. Cloud also enables many smaller businesses to compete with much larger ones. Amazon, Google and Microsoft, as well as other providers, all have cloud environments. In many instances, it is cheaper for a corporation to rent the cloud services they need than to purchase new hardware and infrastructure. Integrating your current data center with cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and even Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) takes a broad set of skills and knowledge of the different dependencies.
Don't Become Siloed
In other words, don't let your skill set become stagnant or even worse, obsolete. In today's IT environment, hiring managers equally emphasize the breadth of your skills as well as the depth. Generalists are often more demanded than specialists. Many new and emerging technologies are a blend of what were once separate and distinct skills. Think of cloud (public and private) or in other areas where administrative tasks are merging with developer and database tasks. The IT shops in small companies are a great example - the IT staff must wear many hats to keep things running. You need to learn new technologies as they become more prevalent. Mobility is another example. Who would have thought that the smartphones, tablets and phablets would become so popular and push companies to allow BYOD? There is a saying in the academic world: "Publish or perish." In the IT world, it could be changed to "expand your skill set or your job might become redundant". Besides, keeping your mind active may help keep you younger.
Mobile devices are proliferating in both the consumer and corporate environments. The rise of mobile computing has brought with it an increase in the demand for those who can support these devices and for those who can write applications for both Android and Apple's iOS. In fact, iOS development is one of the most sought-after skills in the IT market.
Project management is in high demand now and will always be in demand as corporations continue to realize the value of having certified project managers on staff. The most sought-after project management certification is the Project Management Professional (PMP®) offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI®). If you have earned your PMP, then you are universally recognized as having the most highly recognized certification for project managers. When you have earned a PMP, you have both documented project management experience as well as professional education. You have demonstrated success in leading and directing projects. Becoming PMP certified requires meeting rigorous qualifications continuing education requirements. All of these factors ensure that the PMP credential is widely respected.
Information security experts will always be in hot demand - a future-proof skill if there ever was one. Security is of critical concern for individuals (think of the 1 billion estimated passwords stolen by Russian hackers), corporations (malware, fraud, ransom ware) and governments (leakers, whistleblowers). The United States even has a dedicated military organization for cyber security: United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). We simply have too many devices, appliances and even vehicles that can be compromised. These devices need to be protected, our networks need to be protected, corporate data needs to be protected and our personal information must be protected. Those who can provide this protection and security will be in high demand far into the future.
Speaking the Business Language
It is always a useful skill to speak the language(s) of the other departments in your organization. The IT world has its own language, acronyms and meanings. So too does the business world. Conveying an IT term to a non-IT person can be very frustrating for both parties. A skill that will always be useful is being fluent in IT and business. How valuable will it be to your career when an executive knows they can ask you a question about the IT department and not receive a "techie" answer?
Though virtualization skills are not brand new, the demand for them is increasing, because the adoption of virtualization is increasing as the power and capacity of the virtualization platforms increases and with the ability to host some of your virtual environment in public and private clouds. We are seeing a trend where companies are looking at virtualizing some, if not more, of their infrastructure. Doing so reduces costs and increases flexibility and uptime. You can virtualize your environment using several virtual platforms, including Hyper-V, VMware and XenServer. Knowing two or more of these platforms will only aid you in future-proofing yourself. Application virtualization is very popular. Having employees with the skills needed to deploy applications that connect securely through a browser is critical for companies that have numerous offices with remote and mobile users.
While IT workers aren't facing a shortage of any positions, it's also crucial they gain new skills to stay competitive. In the last three quarters of 2013, average pay premiums for professionals with IT certifications increased each quarter -- the first time there has been positive growth for more than two consecutive quarters since 2006, according to Foote Partners. Pay for certified IT workers also jumped 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, while non-certified worker pay rose 0.5 percent.*
The IT field changes rapidly. Skills learned and used today may be outdated in a few years. Unlike some fields, we need to continuously update our skills and learn platforms. In the last 15 years, we went from NT4 -> Windows Server 2000 -> Server 2003 -> Server 2008 -> Server 2012.
You are your own best career manager. Only you can motivate yourself to learn new skills, programming languages or platforms before it is too late. These are but some ideas and thoughts about what may be hot fields and skill sets in the future. My best advice is to look at current trends, read what companies are developing and let your curiosity loose.
*Source: Press release by Foote Partners, January 28, 2013. http://www.footepartners.com/fp_pdf/FooteNewsrelease_4Q13ITSkillsTrends_012814v1.pdf