The growing IT skills gap, demand for hybrid roles, and fallout from the pandemic are disrupting the traditional IT career path. This heat map of career trends will help you plan your 2021 IT team.
Abridged and first published by CIO, 5 October 2020
There’s a major IT skills gap 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. Organisations 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.
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 organisations, 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.”
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 Solomon, who says many IT pros decline to ask for more pay because they worry they might risk having their offer rescinded, emphasises the importance of presenting respectful, reasonable explanations and justifications as key to having your concerns heard in the workplace,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 organisation 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.”
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 organisational 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.”
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 enrolment, 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.”
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.”