A sharper focus on digital transformation – driven by the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – is creating some clear priorities for 2021 IT talent.
“As we enter 2021, more companies than ever are embracing digital transformation. Part of this has to do with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many companies to reevaluate everything from their current tech stack to how and where their employees work,” said Art Zeile, chief executive officer of DHI Group, Inc., the parent company of technology jobs web site Dice.
Many IT leaders will focus their resources on two critical areas: cloud and cybersecurity. This is “largely to ensure they can both fend off attack vectors that are different and more plentiful in a work-from-home environment and move to cloud-based applications where they can,” Zeile says.
[ Want more advice? Read also: IT careers: 10 critical skills to master in 2021 and How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips. ]
Where the IT jobs are
IT hiring will most certainly be happening on a number of fronts in the year ahead. As of the third quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate for technology professionals (3.5 percent) was lower than the national average and many large organizations were looking to fill more tech roles. More than two thirds (68 percent) of the top 50 technology employers had created more job postings than the second quarter, according to Dice.
Beyond cybersecurity and cloud, some more specialized roles are becoming increasingly valuable. Data scientists and Python developers saw an increase in demand in later 2020 (two of the fastest-growing professions pre-pandemic), suggesting that companies may be angling toward resuming business as usual, with a renewed focus on the data analytics and software building so crucial to overall business strategy, Dice said in its report.
More nuanced AI and machine learning roles, data experts, and process experts will also be indispensable over the next 12 months. However, as Keith Sims, president of Integrity Resource Management and a member of executive recruiting network Sanford Rose Associates, points out, “While talent trained on upcoming technologies will be key, domain expertise and verticalization will be key to project readiness of the talent base.”
8 hot IT careers in 2021
Among the most in-demand jobs in 2021 will be:
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) specialists
Topping LinkedIn’s recent Top 15 Emerging Jobs in the U.S., with an annual hiring growth rate of 74 percent, is the AI specialist. As LinkedIn explains: “[AI] and Machine Learning (ML) have both become synonymous with innovation, and our data shows that’s more than just buzz.” A few different titles in this space, each with a very specific set of skills, has and will be in demand across industries, according to LinkedIn.
[ Read also: IT careers: How to get a job as an Artificial Intelligence (AI) developer. ]
“Given the role that AI will play in driving data-driven decision making, resiliency, and risk mitigation, roles pertaining to AI will gain increased traction,” says Nisha Krishan, senior analyst with Everest Group.
Enterprises need an efficient way to scale their practices for AI implementation to accelerate their returns on investment, says Dr. Ryohei Fujimaki, founder and CEO of dotData, a maker of automated machine learning software.
Business intelligence-focused AI specialists will become important “as organizations face increased pressure to optimize their workflows, more and more businesses will begin asking BI teams to develop and manage AI/ML models,” Fujimakin says. Machine learning developers, responsible for building and scripting both supervised and unsupervised machine learning models and respective workflows, will also be key, according to Everest Group’s Krishan.
[ Get the eBook: Top considerations for building a production-ready AI/ML environment. ]
2. Strategy-minded software developers and managers
Software development professionals are emerging as MVPs for the digital age. “Companies are seeking developers of all types to create new applications and software services to support the business and, in turn, provide a competitive advantage,” notes Robert Half Technology’s Salary Guide 2021.
Python developers, software development managers, back- and front-end developers, and data warehouse developers were all in higher demand as 2020 was drawing to a close, according to Dice’s analysis of job listings.
Given the momentum behind those roles and other similar developer and manager roles, it seems likely that employers will continue to recruit these roles into 2021,” says Michelle Marian, CMO of DHI Group, Inc., parent company of Dice.
“A new generation of more strategic-minded developers is emerging that will drive innovation and become the most influential people in the tech arm of companies,” says Spencer Kimball, CEO of database management systems maker Cockroach Labs. “The most successful organizations will be those that empower developers to not just have a say in the decision-making process, but those that enable developers to bring in tools that can accelerate the creation and simplify the management of new products and services.”
[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]
3. Business-focused data scientists
“More and more companies realize that a solid grasp on their data and insights are key to survival,” says Marian of DHI Group. “Recruiters are on the hunt for the analysts and scientists who can gather, clean, store, and analyze important datasets.” The demand for data science and data analytics and reporting skills is likely to remain significant as the complexity of data ecosystems increases and companies expand their implementation of intelligent automation, notes the Robert Half report.
However, IT leaders will see that while the scientific skills in statistical theory and technologies such as AI are critical, business acumen is also important. “The role will entail producing innovative solutions driven by exploratory data analysis from large, high-dimensional datasets to solve business problems; creation of complex actual analytical data models based on the actual and test data sets with the help of relevant data mining algorithms; and applying knowledge of statistics, machine learning, data modeling, and simulations to recognize patterns, identify opportunities, pose business questions, and generate insights,” says Krishan of Everest Group.
Finding employees who tick off all those boxes is tough, particularly in a market in which data scientists are already rare. “We’ve seen some good success with organizations who focus on the scientific knowledge in their hiring and then couple the new hire with a business-savvy problem solver or two,” says Ola Chowning, partner at technology research and advisory firm ISG. “The team can then generate relevant hypotheses based on knowledge of the business that can be tested through more scientific methods – obtaining a faster path to business value in data analytics.”
4. Data engineers
“Both tech and non-tech organizations know the value of software engineers and data scientists, but many are just starting to realize that they also need to hire the middlemen: data engineers,” says Scott Stephenson, founder of deep learning company Deepgram. “Data engineers are the individuals who capture raw data, clean, categorize it at times, and provide it to data scientists who then build incredible AI models.”
Indeed, data engineer made it to the number-eight spot on LinkedIn’s emerging jobs list, with an annual hiring growth rate of 35 percent since 2015. LinkedIn notes that industries from retail to automotive are “snapping up this hard-to-hire talent.”
Let’s look at four more hot IT jobs:
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