by Paul Heltzel

5 hot IT career trends — and 5 going cold

Oct 05, 2020
CareersIT Skills

The growing IT skills gap, demand for hybrid roles, and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic are disrupting the traditional IT career path. The following heat map of career trends with help you cash in and avoid dead ends.

career trends hot cold thermometer sky
Credit: Thinkstock

There’s a major IT skills gap in the country and it’s only expected to widen. According to the World Economic Forum, closing the global skills gap could add $11.5 trillion to the global GDP by 2028. Organizations are looking for ways to bridge the gap, but if anything, the global pandemic has worsened the problem, according to the WEF. 

Meanwhile, some tech workers are looking to adopt new skills in areas that are in demand, but with limited time, and facing layoffs. Tech leaders say they recognize the difficulty workers face in upskilling while being both remote and potentially in crisis mode.

Read on to find out which IT careers-related areas are trending in challenging times — in communication skills, networking, and new roles — and which are cooling down.

Hot: Cloud security and SRE roles

With large portions of the workforce still working from home, companies find themselves more reliant on cloud services than ever before. It’s little wonder then that there is a rise in demand for cloud security skills. McAfee CIO Scott Howitt believes this need will outlast the pandemic.

“COVID has shown that companies that are cloud natives were able to pivot gracefully to the new normal,” Howitt says. “In fact, we’re seeing many have become so comfortable with it that they are telling employees that they can work from home indefinitely. Since the walled garden of the corporate network has all but disappeared for many organizations, security professionals that are familiar with cloud and cloud security principals are much more valuable. Also, infrastructure engineers that understand site reliability engineering [SRE] principles have more value to the organization.” 

Cold: Utility roles

The pandemic caused a short-term spike in the need for VPN and middleware skills, says Ola Chowning, a partner focusing on enterprise agility and innovation at Information Services Group. But those needs were quickly overshadowed “by demand for a more substantive skill in cybersecurity, to address the huge expansion of digital connections the pandemic has driven,” she says.

Keith Sims, president of Integrity Resource Management, agrees, saying he is seeing less demand for what he calls “utility roles,” such as database and system administration, as well as less need for performance monitoring and testing.

“The back office of technology, the keeping-the-lights-on work will be automated, outsourced, commoditized, or moved to pay-as-you-go models,” Sims says. “If you’re not working with value creating processes like analytics, product development, process automation or customer engagement, there’s a high chance your role will be outsourced or eliminated in the next five years. 

Hot: Communication skills

Soft skills are an often-mentioned need in the tech sector that’s frequently unmet, say hiring managers and recruiters. But Michael Solomon, co-founder of 10x Management, puts a special emphasis on a particular soft skill that can also help add to your personal bottom line.

“We often say that almost anything can be asked for if it is framed properly,” Solomon says, adding that this includes asking for better compensation in a job offer. Solomon, who says many IT pros decline to ask for more pay because they worry they might risk having their offer rescinded, emphasizes the importance of presenting respectful, reasonable explanations and justifications as key to having your concerns heard in the workplace, recalling a colleague who wanted resources for a project but wasn’t able to secure them without communicating the need effectively. 

“They had failed to sufficiently explain the project such that the rest of us could neither support nor reject the idea,” Solomon says. “We asked for more information, and they somehow felt this was a form of rejection. In this case it was not at all but just trying to better understand. They got so flustered by the questioning that they rescinded the suggestion. This was a potential loss for everyone involved especially the organization had it been a good idea,” he says. “Knowing how to communicate effectively and via what channel — call, zoom, email, slack, etc. — is a critical skill that often goes overlooked.”

Cold: Padding LinkedIn connections

Recruiters, including AI-based headhunters, rely on keyworded profiles. But depending on keywords alone isn’t advised. Nor is networking for the sake of numbers.

“Simply growing your LinkedIn numbers and padding your profile is out,” says James Stanger, chief technology evangelist for CompTIA.

IT pros who can meld personal connections with tech skill will outperform even those with more traditional hard skills, says David S. Patterson, president of IT staffing and executive search firm The Kineta Group.

“It’s not only the understanding of technology, but it’s the understanding of technology and how to creatively weave that into the business landscape that will be the real difference maker in the coming job market,” Patterson says.  

Hot: Business skills

Innovating in today’s IT workplace, our experts say, means developing business smarts for those who want to advance their careers.

“We’re starting to see more roles in business competencies, like in marketing or operations, that reward an IT background or competency,” says Lev Lesokhin, executive vice president of strategy and analytics at software intelligence firm CAST. “As software continues to permeate everything we do, it’s becoming more imperative for ops people to at least have a baseline understanding of what technology does for the business.”

Even hot areas such as data analytics don’t exist in a vacuum. “Almost any function in the business has a lot of data they are dealing with on a regular basis and need the analytics function to ensure that data can tell the story,” says Mona Abou-Sayed, vice president of organizational development and talent at telecommunications company Mitel. “This requires a minimum level of business understanding to be able to pull out relevant stories from the data.”

Cold: Business as usual

Chowning says organizations are starting to realize they need to pivot, if they want to attract the skills they need in a COVID-impacted world. This could be a boon for tech workers who are seeking more work-life balance. “Companies are beginning to seriously address the job-family architecture changes necessary,” she says.  

ThoughtWorks’ CEO of North America, Chris Murphy, agrees there are new opportunities in remote work, perhaps a silver lining for tech staff, amid all the uncertainty, and one that won’t change anytime soon.

“Businesses who sold their in-office culture as their differentiator — the stereotypically colorful open-plan office spaces with on tap kombucha — are having to rethink how they maintain their differentiation in a world which, for a while longer at least, is going to be largely and increasingly remote-first,” he says. “This involves a complete rethink of multiple aspects of digital-business communication, including community building and social nights, recruiting, training and development, for a virtual world. Companies that get this shift right will be able to attract and retain the best talent and come out of the crises even stronger.”

Hot: Self-learning

With companies holding back on training and conferences scrambling to shift into virtual mode, many IT pros are taking tech education into their own hands. The pandemic has seen a significant rise in online course enrollment, and certificates that can be earned while working from home are proving to be a worthwhile investment of hours that may otherwise have been devoted to commuting.

“When it comes to employee training, employees have taken charge of their own career development since the onset of the pandemic hit us,” says Dave Denaro, vice president at Keystone Partners. “So, if some companies don’t offer training, employees will be forced to get it elsewhere. For the sharpest employees, that elsewhere might be another employer.”

Cold: Employer-led training

Many IT pros looking to grow their careers are losing an outlet for gaining new skills, thanks to COVID-19. The pandemic has seen many companies putting training on hold, says Denaro, as companies expected the economy to recover more quickly than it has. 

“So companies are now trying to figure out how to get training back on track,” Denaro says.

Doug Stephen, president of the enterprise learning division at CGS, says training wasn’t just halted — budgets were cut and it’s not clear when or if they will return to previous levels. 

“Learning and development leaders must future-proof reskilling and training for tech workers and demonstrate how these programs affect the bottom line and the success of the business,” Stephen says. “Companies that adopt a mix of virtual and in-person learning-and-development programs will have a better gauge on how employees are faring in the new workplace.”

Hot: Hybrid roles

Jesus Pena, vice president of sales and services at United Data Technologies, says he’s seeing a transition to more hybrid IT roles.

“No longer are the days for technical resources to be in silos,” Pena says. “They need to be retrained and be thinking more about business outcomes, ROI conversations and vertical expertise.” But it’s not always easy.

“This is an uncomfortable conversation for most technical people,” Pena says, “because they usually play in the IT department and this will push them outside of that comfort zone.”

Todd Loeppke, lead CTO architect at Sungard Availability Services, says market changes and the rise of DevOps have paved the way for more and varied hybrid roles.

“It’s critical that IT people know when, where and how to leverage and monetize new technology,” says Loeppke. “We are seeing this right now with machine learning and blockchain. Machine learning requires large data sets to learn from and test with. Business insight is critical for guiding how ML is implemented. Similar to the career path for IT staff, the business side also has an added technical career path — data scientist.”

Cold: Single-focus roles

Renee Zung, vice president at Keystone Partners, says silos have long been commonplace in software development, but those times are over. 

“Modern, cloud-based digital product development requires poly-skilled teams to work closely together to bring digital assets to market, including product managers, developers, analysts, testers, marketers, financial folks and business domain experts,” Zung says. “This shift is leading to a wholesale restructuring of how organizations are designed, breaking down functional silos and poly-skilled cross-functional teams aligned around business products and customer segments.”