6 critical IT skills for the next decade: Bay Area CIO of the Year winners share

6 critical IT skills for the next decade: Bay Area CIO of the Year winners share

What skills will IT talent need most? Six award-winning CIOs discuss the top skills on their radar screens – from AI to emotional intelligence

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The skills that people will need to be successful in IT in the coming era are quickly evolving.

We caught up with CIOs who recently won the 2019 Bay Area CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards to find out what skills they believe will be most critical for IT talent in the next decade.

Make sure you’re as comfortable working with data as you are with working with people.

The awards were presented by the Bay Area CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership. A few facts are clear from their answers: Make sure you’re as comfortable working with data as you are with working with people. And if you’re not comfortable working with either, than these award-winning CIOs emphasize that you should work on building these (and other skills) if you want to stand out in the next decade. Read on to see which future skills stand out to these leaders.

1. AI, ML, and security skills coupled with strong emotional intelligence

Super Global CIO of the Year

Shobhana Ahluwalia, Head of Information Technology, Uber: Several technical and soft skills will be extremely sought after in the years to come. Among the top technical skills IT talent will need are machine learning and AI skills, and this trend will continue to be strong as autonomous vehicles take to the roads. Security skills will also be crucial. Threat vectors are getting more sophisticated, and as the world turns more digital, this complex landscape will continue to evolve and skills will be needed. We’ll also need IT talent capable of manipulating and learning from really large data sets, which will also be an input into both AI/ML and security vectors as well. 

Beyond technical skills, IT talent will also need strong emotional intelligence. As diversity in the workplace increases, and the remote working trend solidifies, emotional intelligence will be needed for all jobs, not just those in technology. 

[ Get AI lessons learned from CIOs in the new HBR Analytic Services report, An Executive’s Guide to Real-World AI. ]

2. Everyone needs to be a (creative) technologist

Global CIO of the Year

Sineesh Keshav, CTO, Prologis: The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and autonomous transportation are no longer the stuff of science fiction but are becoming mainstream in their adoption and applicability. With computers increasingly being taught to be more like humans, I see a future where the core skills required for success would move away from learning, retaining, and applying information to using insights gleaned computationally and creatively designing solutions for complex problems.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children starting school today will hold jobs in the future that don’t exist yet – suggesting that technology skills will be paramount no matter the role. Today we hear the cliché of every company wanting to be a technology company. I see this evolving to every employee of the future needing to be a technologist. Being able to explain, sustain, and champion technology will be a core skill for everyone. “Technologist” or traditional IT roles will change from specialized knowledge workers to horizontal, creative thinkers who are able to move from gig to gig completing seemingly unrelated tasks.

This ultra-gig economy of the future will entail workers not going to work so much as their finding new ways to access work. Physical location will be less of a factor in employment, and therefore, leadership and employee engagement itself will need to be imparted and fostered digitally. It’s a fascinating and exciting future, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

3. Cybersecurity know-how and ability to cope with constant change

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Paul Chapman, Global CIO, Technology and Trust, Box: Security and risk will be the single biggest global area where we need to continually evolve our technical expertise. I advise technology professional to continue to develop and evolve cybersecurity skills. However, the most powerful skills with the most long-lasting results are people skills.

I'd highly recommend all technology professionals build their external network and contribute to the external professional community as early in your career as possible. The wisdom of the tech community is incredibly important, and because you have to curate this over an extended period of time, there is no accelerated option you can tap at a later date. Technology professionals need to constantly be re-inventing themselves to stay relevant. As technology evolves, so too do the people and roles around it. Constant change is the steady state today and as I tell my team, “The pain of change is mandatory, it is the suffering that is optional. And if you don't like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

4. Process and experience design to accelerate business automation

Corporate CIO of the Year

Eric Johnson, former CIO, Talend; currently CIO of SurveyMonkey: Looking ahead, we need to strengthen the IT organization’s ability to take advantage of technologies that drive business automation and use data strategically. Business automation through RPA will enable IT teams to drive enterprise-wide efficiencies, but doing so will require a new skill set around process and experience design. The area of data management is not new, but the tools and complexity are. This fast-advancing area brings together highly-diverse data sets for real-time insights into what is going on in our businesses, as well as the need for predictive analytics/data science to take action that drives our businesses forward. Data analysis/science, data architecture, and data governance will become highly-valued skills that every IT organization will need to be successful.

5. Understanding and knowing how to use data 

Large Enterprise CIO of the Year

Michael Mathias, EVP Customer Experience and CIO, Blue Shield of California: In healthcare, we’re already seeing the criticality of data and the power it has to affect the outcomes of our members lives. Understanding how to effectively work with, leverage, and interpret data will be a skill set that IT staff in all industries will need in the future. In our own strategic work, we already see the need for skilled talent in the data space growing faster than we can address. Understanding and knowing how to use data will continue to be a critical skill in the next decade. 

6. Optimizing work for machine learning 

Enterprise CIO of the Year

Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix: Over the next decade, IT talent will need to master the skill of creating and documenting processes that are suitable for machine learning. IT talent simply can’t rely on teaching “old-school” infrastructure engineers to script and automate.

Instead, the most critical skill will become the ability to create and document their best-in-class processes. Then ML tools will be able to train the machine to build and manage infrastructure the way those engineers do.

[ Want advice and data for IT hiring managers and job applicants? Download our free eBook: IT job searching in 2019: A practical guide. ]

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