The 11 most difficult IT hires today

The IT talent gap is driving up demand for skilled IT pros, but for certain roles and skillsets, finding — and signing — the right candidate can feel a bit like trying to capture a unicorn.

The 11 most difficult IT hires today

Ask any recruiter or tech pro what roles are most hard to fill in 2018, and you won’t be shocked.

AI and data science jobs are at the top of the list, in part because they’re relatively young technologies, and they’re being introduced in all sorts of companies going through their digital transformation.

At the same time, there are some surprises. We’ve focused on those here, both to identify the demand for managers doing the hiring and to help IT pros interested in exploring new opportunities in fields that are in immediate need and have a bright future.

The killer combo: Emerging tech + business sense

The experts we talked with name-checked a laundry list of desirable skills and needed experience with emerging areas like cognitive computing, machine learning, data analytics, IoT and blockchain. But the true unicorns are candidates who can not only deepen their bench of tech skills but keep an eye on the bottom line.

“The challenge is not only finding individuals with the skills but people who can connect the dots to create business impact,” says Harley Lippman, founder and CEO of IT staffing firm Genesis10. “For example, there has been a focus for the last several years on enterprise data management, big data and analytics. Finding true data scientists continues to be a challenge.  Companies have focused on getting their arms around their data and their disparate systems.  Now the focus is on how to exploit the data to improve business decision-making and to create competitive advantage.”

Penetration testers with a scientific mind-set

Finding candidates with the right tech skills in 2018 is less of an issue than finding ones with problem-solving chops. For example, cyber security skills are in high demand but so is a proactive mindset, making high-value penetration testers hard to come by.

“Many testers can run tools, find bugs, and even exploit them,” says Doug Barbin, principal cyber security analyst at Schellman & Co. “If you can’t take that finding and translate into a clear statement of risk and threat, those reports also become noise and may drive the wrong action or inaction. The perpetual student or scientist — always looking for new challenges and ways to do things — are the types of soft skills that are not always common but worth their weight in gold when you find them.”

Security auditors with deep investigation chops

Security auditors are another position where hiring managers say they’re having trouble finding  candidates.

“You can recruit people with depth in cloud and virtualization technologies, Linux operating platforms, and network and security technologies,” Barbin says. “But if they don’t have the skills to interview developers, evaluate control sets, ask tough questions — and more importantly — document their findings coherently, whatever expertise they have in the underlying technology is ultimately discarded.”

The extreme specialist — robotics, cryptology, and more

Some roles are hard to fill because the technology is cutting edge, a combination of skills are required, and the candidate pool is inherently small.

"Our situation is unique as we have been looking primarily for mobile robotics specialists rather than general IT personnel,” says Randolph Voorhies, CTO of inVia Robotics. “Engineers with the requisite skill set are extremely rare, so we have had to rely on a combination of headhunters, word of mouth, and social media to attract the right talent.”

These types of jobs can lead to fierce competition, in terms of salary and benefits offered by the companies doing the hiring, says Ben Carr, vice president of strategy at Cyberbit. Consequently, it leads to a seller’s market.

“Roles such as malware reverse engineers, big data experts with a specialization in security or cryptologists are among the most competitive. Candidates are able to be extremely picky with regard to positions they are pursuing. Many of the open positions are critical roles and hiring managers are trying to find the perfect candidate — this combines to make a tight market even more difficult to source the right candidate.”

GDPR experts — and data privacy in general

Companies that employ personal data from European residents need to be in compliance with the EU’s data protection regulations by May 2018. Yet finding tech pros with experience in this area has proven difficult.

“It’s just such a hot area at the moment, but also much newer than our other lines of service,” says Lori Jendrucko, talent manager at Schellman & Co. Jendrucko says it’s been especially difficult to hire women in IT audit areas generally. “There are just not as many entering the field as men, which is why we concentrate on finding women that are a great fit.”

Jim Chilton, CIO of Cengage, is finding the demand for all sorts of data privacy roles is especially high.

“Most companies need an organization, not just an individual, focused on protecting employee and customer information, as well as their digital assets,” Chilton says. “Because everyone is hiring for these positions, salaries are rapidly increasing and job candidates have the lion’s share of bargaining power.”

DevOps engineers — and other agile, adaptable developers

The need for tech workers with DevOps experience is nothing new. And yet organizations say they’re still having trouble finding talent for this vital role.

“As DevOps gained visibility, because of its enormous cost-saving abilities as a department — along with the streamlining of infrastructure — many companies are looking for this skillset with little or no success,” says Giancarlo DiVece, president of Unosquare. “Most talent has fallen into DevOps by mistake, and then they find themselves learning it on the job.”

It’s especially hard to build a DevOps team that can show some flexibility as the role evolves, says Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies.

“We’ve attracted quite a few talented candidates in the last few years who have unique skills,” says Lahav. “That said, we’re still finding it challenging to locate agile people who have experience concentrating on DevOps. In general, the employees that are currently the most difficult to find are agile IT candidates that have the skills to change and accommodate change based on real feedback.”

Mathieu Nebra, co-founder of OpenClassrooms, agrees that employees with agile experience is one thing, but finding true agility is more daunting.

“Any person engrained in tech can follow the same steps to succeeding at a project or solving a problem, but one of the most difficult — and hardest to teach — skills is true agility. Of course it’s important to find a person who has skills in, for example, a programming language like Python, but these days it’s crucial to find the person who has these skills and who will be able to learn, adapt and evolve if other digital skills are needed,” Nebra says.

IT pros who write their own ticket

Some roles are hard to fill because the candidate prefers to keep his or her options open by working on contract. Arun Srinivasan, senior vice president at SAP Fieldglass, says he sees this in hot areas like data science, security architecture, and advanced mobile and analytics roles.

“As a matter of supply and demand such individuals increasingly choose to work as independent contractors, freelancers, hourly workers or through consultancies,” says Srinivasan, who describes the labor market as the tightest he’s seen in over a decade. “They find greater variety, more flexibility and want to select opportunities that let them shape their career path.”

Data scientists and big data talent

As companies work to wrangle data and use it to inform business decisions, it’s becoming increasingly hard to fill positions in enterprise data management, big data and analytics.

“Finding true data scientists continues to be a challenge,” says Lippman of staffing firm Genesis10. “Companies have focused on getting their arms around their data and their disparate systems. Now the focus is on how to exploit the data to improve business decision making and to create competitive advantage.”

Cloud-native experts

As enterprise cloud technology matures, there’s a growing need for — and limited supply of — tech workers with native cloud skills.

“This isn't just about moving to the cloud but adapting processes and organizations to take advantage of the unique aspects of cloud,” says Joe Beda, CTO of Heptio, and formerly of Google's cloud VM service. “Job candidates that are going to be the most effective and in demand in the coming year are those that have not only mastered the new emerging technologies around cloud native, but also have the grounding and people skills to effectively work to move the larger organization forward.”

Beda emphasizes one role in particular: “Much of this skill set will focus on site reliability engineering — a focus on building sustainable technology and people systems to allow engineers to create services and applications more efficiently and reliably. Many of these candidates will have cut their teeth at technology companies. The hardest to hire are those that combine this with the desire and skill to adapt those techniques to a more traditional enterprise.”

Infrastructure roles at HQ

Many companies are hiring for infrastructure roles in areas like computer vision, deep learning and IoT infrastructure, says Mike Grandinetti, CMO and CSO of Reduxio, but few are finding the ability to staff up roles that require in-person presence at the office.

“With so much going to the cloud it's becoming very hard to find candidates for on-premises infrastructure roles,” Grandinetti says. “Companies  want someone who’s ‘seen it all,’ because  security and infrastructure are not great roles to train on the job without a firm foundation on the team.”

Tech translators

A number of recruiters tell us they’re having a particularly difficult time in finding IT managers who can speak to non-tech staff, says Elisha Thompson, Philadelphia branch manager for IT staffing at Addison Group.

“It’s difficult to find candidates who can go into any type of business environment and thrive,” she says. “This is especially true among cybersecurity and DevOps roles where business culture plays a big role in professional development.”

How to find your unicorn

The trick to filling difficult vacancies begins with the job description, recruiters say. A job listing with so many requirements that it’s hard to read will be nearly impossible to fill. So the first tip recruiters offer is to avoid overwhelming potential candidates.

“It might seem like a good idea to make job requirements as exhaustive as possible, but in reality, that may turn off qualified candidates who would be great for the job,” says Jason Hayman, market research manager at IT staffing firm TEKsystems. “To combat this we recommend companies work with IT managers, line-level staff and recruiting experts to put together a realistic job description to widen the candidate pool.”

Working closely with recruiters to clarify your hiring needs is time well spent, says inVia Robotics’ Voorhies, who offers some tips on refining your outreach.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced in hiring last year was we had to give our recruiters a lot of guidance and education on the specific roles we were looking for,” Voorhies says. “For example, controls engineer has several overloaded meanings depending on the industry where it's being used. But after a few rounds of applicants, our hit rates picked up considerably. Now we have great working relationships with our recruiters, who get our business and what we’re seeking."

When hiring for hard-to-fill roles, looking inward can be a worthwhile strategy, in particular for positions related to specific security threats your organization may face, says Tim Helming, security researcher and director of product management at DomainTools.

“Some of the skills identified by security operations leaders as most critical are less technical,” Helming says. “Critical thinking, curiosity, problem-solving, collaboration, and other soft skills are very much in demand — and the supply for those is healthy. When looking at staffing in this light, any enterprise may have outstanding raw talent for their team right within their walls.”

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

6 digital transformation success stories