January's job numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show 2015 closing out on something of a high note, with excellent employment growth and the lowest level of unemployment in the information sector seen since the early 2000s, before the dot-com craze got dot-bombed. At 2.9 percent, those numbers are low enough to indicate that employers are going to have to start adding IT staff sometime in the relatively near future, simply because there's almost no elasticity left in the ranks of current workers.
At the same time, recent surveys of employers from firms such as Foote Partners, Challenger, Dice and others indicate that hiring managers are feeling increasingly positive about adding IT workers to their staffs in 2016—a topic they've been mostly lukewarm to frozen on since 2008 or so. Given that opportunities are about to present themselves, which areas of the IT job market are the best for current and aspiring IT pros to target? Here are my top five, including some potentially valuable certification credentials for each of these niches.
Also known as business intelligence, data science, data analytics and so forth, this area is exploding with technology and activity, as companies and organizations seek to make more and better use of the data they already collect about customers, clients, processes and business. An area where an increasing number of universities are starting to offer advanced degrees, especially master's degrees, this subject matter offers all kinds of mid- to senior-level opportunities and equally nice rates of pay. My favorite certifications in this area include the MCSE: Business Intelligence, the EMC Data Science Associate (EMCDS) and the SAS BI credentials.
Cybersecurity, aka information security or infosec, has been an evergreen growth and opportunity area in IT since the late 1990s, and the increasing need for qualified professionals in this area shows no sign of abating. In fact, a recent study from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc., or (ISC)2, indicated a potential global shortage of 1.5 million cybersecurity professionals by 2020. Given constant demand for qualified security professionals at all levels of seniority, the opportunities are second to none here.
I'm a particular fan of the CompTIA Security+, the (ISC)2 System Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) and the SANS GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) as entry-level credentials. Other valuable cybersecurity certs are legion (as documented in our 2015 survey of such things for www.SearchSecurity.com), and my favorites include the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), the ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and EC-Council's Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
As the world continues to migrate its data, services and apps to the cloud, job opportunities in cloud-related platforms, tools and technologies continue to increase. Of all the niches included here, it's the only one whose promise and opportunities match those of cybersecurity. There are many, many cloud certifications available. My current favorites include the CompTIA Cloud+, MCSE: Private Cloud and the VMware Certified Professional - Cloud (VCP6-Cloud) credentials.
Virtualization and Hyperconvergence
These days, virtualization isn't just for apps and operating systems anymore; it also applies to networking, primarily in the form of software-defined networking or SDN and network functions virtualization or NFV.
Virtualization is what makes the cloud workable, so its fortunes closely parallel those for cloud computing, and opportunities also follow in that wake. Hyperconvergence refers to the use of virtualization to combine computing, networking, storage and infrastructure functions under a single management console and capability.
While I can't find any certifications that focus directly or exclusively on hyperconvergence, there are plenty that deal with virtualization—many of which provide coverage of hyperconvergence in concept and/or in part. My current favorites include the VMware Certified Professional for Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV), the Citrix Certified Professional - Virtualization (CCP-V) and the Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator (RHCVA).
Mobile App Development
No matter what type of functionality or access a company, software or service provider might want to deliver these days, one sure form of delivery is as a mobile application ready for access via smartphone or tablet. Thus, the folks who build such things are in high demand. Mostly, this means pledging allegiance to iOS or Android, then building stuff for iTunes or Google Play and its many hangers-on outside the Alphabet umbrella. The big dog in this room is the Android Certified Application Developer credential, though there are plenty of other, smaller dogs out there roaming the fields as well.
As you can see, there are plenty of great and interesting ways for you to improve your employability and increase your opportunities in IT. Find something that captures your fancy, please, and then get to work!
About the Author
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in IT certification, Windows operating systems, information security and markup languages, and who also occasionally works as a consultant and expert witness. Tittel's thrice-weekly Windows Enterprise Desktop blog focuses directly on Windows issues, hacks and technologies relevant to IT pros and business users. He blogs weekly for www.PearsonITCertification.com at IT Certification Success, www.GoCertify.com and Tom's IT Pro as well.