The Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to bring millions of devices online, and as many as a quarter million unique IoT applications will be developed by the year 2020. That means opportunities for skilled developers and technologists will abound. However, there are other, subtler ways the IoT will affect the job market.
"We're seeing tech companies around the globe getting organized and creating IoT strategies, but where they're struggling is they don't have the processes and talent in-house to make these things happen," says Ryan Johnson, categories director for global freelance marketplace Upwork. By tracking data from Upwork's database, Johnson and his team have identified major technology skills companies need to drive a successful IoT strategy.
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Skills like circuit design, AutoCAD and microcontroller programming will address businesses' need to adapt circuit design to new form factors and system requirements; design new hardware and add programming and data memory onto microcontrollers, Johnson says.
There's also great demand for talent skilled in machine learning, algorithm development and data analytics so that companies can develop new ways to gather, analyze and take action based on the data points connected devices create, says Scott Noteboom, CEO of machine learning company LitBit.
There will be a major focus on how interconnected and Internet-enabled devices can communicate with the people who design, develop and build them, Noteboom says, but there will also be an emphasis on how these devices can communicate with each other.
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"One of the things we're looking at is the idea of crowdsourcing, but in this case the 'crowd' is made up of all these connected machines," Notebooms says. How can machines share insights on failure data? Imagine a sensor in a household air conditioning unit that measures refrigerant level, energy usage, heat and other necessary metrics. Not only can it learn that when the refrigerant level gets too low, the unit vibrates differently and produces a higher level of heat, now it can go on the Internet and share that data with all the other relevant AC units, "This is what it looks, feels and sounds like when you're about to fail!"
"They all set up new alerts so their owners know when to have the refrigerant levels checked? That's the 'perfect storm' before the compressor is going to burn out; the unit's failing. That's pretty awesome," Notebooms says.
The IoT has already demonstrated an increased need for security, because of the potential for increased data exposure as well as device and physical security of connected "things," says Johnson.
"The added scale and complexity of IoT connectivity, communications and the endpoints themselves complicates things. Within security infrastructure, we're seeing strong demand on our platform for network security developers and programmers, and people with vulnerability analysis experience to conduct in-depth assessments to identify threats to embedded systems such as local controllers/gateways and determine the risk at the device level," Johnson says.
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The human factor
There's another, more human way the IoT will affect the job market that's not often addressed, says Noteboom. With so many connected, communicative devices that could potentially have the ability to take on arduous, repetitive tasks and "drudge work," the IoT could open up new avenues of creativity and collaboration, he says.
"The IoT has the potential to change the human experience the same way the assembly line and the Industrial revolution did. It changes the human-machine relationship in similar ways; machines will soon be able to do repetitive tasks driven by their past experiences," he says. That means more time and energy for solving problems by creating technology that can address pollution, save energy, using biotechnology to create new ways to grow crops or generate electrical power through the use of technology, he says.
"If you can use IoT in a data center, for instance, to figure out optimal cooling levels and regulate power consumption, you can help companies save energy without having as many personnel involved. IoT can help reduce the amount of repetitive work, and that will free up people to do more learning, exploring and creating new ideas, new knowledge. Instead of focusing on the accumulation of learning things, we can focus on creating new things that will help our fellow humans," Noteboom says.