While anyone with a strong general background in information technology shouldn't have too much trouble finding work in today's economy, there are some areas of specialization that are in higher demand than others. Some are in such high demand, in fact, that many IT hiring managers report they're having difficulty finding qualified candidates.
Many, if not most, of these positions sit higher on the career ladder than entry level, so some time on the job is often required. Rarely does someone jump straight from academia or an unrelated field into such a position. Any help wanted job description underscores this point.
Employers tend to advertise for specific skills and expertise rather than general experience.
For example, while there may be plenty of available software developers, jobs that call for ".NET developers with three years of experience with ASP.NET MVC" are much harder to fill. In the case of security, an employer may require experience in several disciplines, such as advanced malware detection and mitigation, cryptography and forensics.
Keep this in mind as you peruse our list of high-demand topics and technologies developed by our own 2016 IT Skills and Salary Report, which reflects data from almost 9,000 IT professionals from North America.
The following list reflects the top 10 areas in which decision makers reported outstanding needs for new hires:
- IT security: Various sources project a shortfall of over 1 million jobs in information security in the U.S. by 2020, with more than double that for the entire world by the same year, according to a Cisco report and article in Forbes. Qualified professionals in this area are knowledgeable about security policy, application security, penetration testing, white hat hacking, and more. There are hundreds of certifications relevant to security in dozens of topical subareas. Check out the large number (35 in all) of IT security credentials for which training is available from Global Knowledge.
- IT architecture: As an IT discipline, architecture may be less well understood than other areas. Basically, architecture covers the meshing of technology and business in the planning, design, implementation and lifecycle management for IT projects and processes. Architects come in many flavors today including enterprise, business, storage, networking, application and more. Because architecture insists on defining and obtaining proper use and return on investment for technology investments, it's becoming a key aspect of modern IT practice. Architects are in short supply, and in high demand, because of their unique combination of technical and business skills in IT, leadership, communication and management. Global Knowledge teaches courses on The Open Group's well-known TOGAF certification.
- Cloud computing: The cloud runs most of the world's IT infrastructure nowadays, and what hasn't already made its way into those virtual environs is likely to do so in the near future. This makes understanding cloud computing and key supporting technologies, such as data centers, virtualization, storage and networking, a vital skill for IT professionals of any kind. This area is not only rife with opportunity right now, it appears to be the foundation for future high-volume mission-critical IT going forward. Individuals with senior cloud design, administration or architecture skill sets can pretty much write their own career tickets now and for the foreseeable future. Global Knowledge offers training on cloud credentials from brands and industry organizations that include the Cloud Credential Council, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, EMC, Cisco, Red Hat® and VMware.
- Network engineering: Networking has been a bread-and-butter area for IT since the late 1980s, when NetWare ruled that world. Today, networking encompasses local area networks (LANs), wireless networking, wide area networks (WANs), networking infrastructures and data center networking. Skilled professionals are in high demand in this area, across all of these specialties and more. Global Knowledge covers nearly 20 networking certifications, including credentials from CompTIA, the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program, WireShark, Cisco and Juniper Networks.
- Business analysis: With tracks in enterprise, technical and modeling topics, business analysis is an area that addresses planning, establishing and vetting requirements, facilitation, software testing and user acceptance, business process planning, use case modeling and more. These skills are vital to proper business use of IT as well as other resources (and quite helpful for aspiring IT architects of all stripes). Global Knowledge covers business analysis credentials from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) as well as from the Project Management Institute® (PMI).
- Core skills: communications, management, and leadership: Although IT professionals tend to think about so-called "soft skills" later rather than sooner in their careers, there's nothing more important than the ability to communicate, manage and lead within the field. This is particularly true for those IT professionals who aspire to positions beyond that of individual contributor. IT pros with strong soft skills are always in high demand (see the IT architecture item for an example). Global Knowledge offers a deep curriculum in the areas of leadership and management, business skills and project management to help IT pros develop and improve these all-important abilities.
- IT service management: Usually abbreviated ITSM, it includes a variety of skills and knowledge for equipping organizations with the integrated, process-based best practices needed to respond to rapid change, maximize resources and respond to user and customer needs. It embraces such standard ITSM frameworks as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library® (ITIL) and Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), as well as knowledge-centered support, help desk and more. Hiring managers struggle to find IT pros with these skills and abilities, and are in particular need of ITIL- and COBIT-savvy professionals. Global Knowledge covers these topics in depth.
- Network operations: Network operations covers the skills needed to set up and operate large-scale networks for service providers and communication carriers. Areas of specialty within this arena include network provisioning, business continuity and disaster recovery, network reliability, and network operations center (NOC) services. Relevant technologies include wireless and wired LANs, high-speed networking, WANs, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). This is the leading edge of modern networking integral to data centers and to private and public clouds. Global Knowledge offers training on relevant certifications from Cisco, Avaya, IBM, Red Hat and others.
- Systems engineering: Systems engineering addresses skills needed to design, deliver and maintain high-end, high-function systems across their entire lifecycles (planning, design, implementation and maintenance). This is a discipline that involves software development, testing and maintenance, along with occasional deployment of new systems and major releases, and ongoing patches and fixes for current releases. System vendors, system integrators and enterprises with in-house software development organizations all have need for such professionals. Global Knowledge offers training in the areas of Agile and Scrum, application development and project management, all of which touch on systems engineering. (ITSM plays into this area as well.)
There's an astonishing amount of opportunity amongst this handful of IT niches. Find one or more of them to start investing yourself in, and your career will surely blossom as a result. Good luck and have fun!