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5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers
Which IT careers are on the rise and which ones are disappearing? IT job hunters and hiring managers need to understand the trends
Once a technology has proved its value, the demand for people who know how to get the most out of it never quite goes to zero. Just look at COBOL programming, currently experiencing a surge in demand due to states still using it for mainframe-based unemployment systems that now need to be retooled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (In response to that talent need, IBM is offering free open source training on this skill.)
Long-term, you want to align yourself with business and technology trends that are on the upswing. Trends can speed up, slow down, or reverse themselves, so you also want to identify the ones that look to be sustainable.
Here’s what we’re hearing from the recruiters and career coaches we consulted. As you look through this list, keep in mind that we’re trying to see beyond job titles that don’t always describe what people actually do.
[ Read also: IT career goals 2020: Most-wanted technology and core skills. ]
“The titles don’t mean much anymore,” says Mark Boeder, of Warhorse Executive Search and Recruitment in Milwaukee. In order to have a productive conversation with a hiring manager, he finds he needs to do some detective work to find out what they really want and need.
5 fading IT careers
Let’s tackle the bad news first.
Fading: system, database, and network administrators
If your career is defined by your skill at administering local servers, databases, and networks, you may want to redefine it, recruiters say. Even when those computing assets are not moving to the cloud, they are increasingly being managed remotely. The providers of remote administration services need people to perform those tasks but are also investing heavily in automation. Bottom line: There will be fewer of those admin jobs to go around.
One obvious answer is to come up to speed on how systems, databases, and networks are managed in the cloud and prove that you can help your organization manage them better.
“A lot of times, if an organization is looking for (experience with a particular cloud provider), they won’t even talk to someone who doesn’t have that,” says Melissa Smith, a technology recruiter based in Des Moines.
The counterpoint to sysadmin role pessimists: When we wrote a similar story on 4 dying IT jobs in 2018, sysadmin was also identified. Yet here we are.
Ken Hess, community manager for our sister site, Enable SysAdmin, has 20+ years of sysadmin experience himself, and he notes this role has outlived naysayers for years. “It is true that many services are moving to the cloud, but to say that sysadmin jobs will disappear because of this trend isn’t true," he says. "You still need system administrators to perform tasks such as regular hardware and software maintenance, updates, and upgrades. There’s no amount of cloud automation that can replace the hands and minds of system administrators.
“For example, DigitalOcean’s droplets (virtual machines) still require a sysadmin to install software, grab updates, create users, and generally maintain the system and those droplets are 100 percent cloud-based and remote,” Hess says.
[ Learn the do's and don'ts of multi-cloud: Get the free eBook, Multi-Cloud Portability for Dummies. ]
Fading: Project managers
The need for projects to be managed hasn’t gone away, but the agile and DevOps movements have, in many cases, turned project management into a team activity rather than a distinct discipline run by someone who has the title of project manager and works for a project management office.
“Over the last three years or so, if I look at the number of requisitions for project managers, seemingly the need for project managers is going down,” Boeder says.
Caveat: If you look at the Dice salary survey, project manager still shows up as one of the top 10 IT occupations, rating an average salary of $116,012.
However, Boeder notes, the smart ones are rebranding themselves as being more than project managers who take a list of requirements and execute a project on that basis. “That position has morphed into business owner, product owner,” he says – meaning someone who both defines the business need and manages the IT project that will achieve the desired results. What existed in the past – a division of labor between business analysts and project managers, with project managers often more highly valued – never made sense to Boeder in the first place.
[ Want a primer? Read Agile project management, explained. ]
Fading: Quality assurance engineers
As with project management, traditional quality assurance processes for software testing are fading as agile and DevOps advance an integrated cycle of testing and coding. User testing of software is more likely to be democratized, with everyone on the team testing it out, Smith says.
Boeder agrees. “If a company is doing a pretty good job or running an agile process, there isn’t as much of a need for an army of QA people.”
Some organizations will continue to employ QA teams, but again, there may not be enough of these jobs to go around.
One possible exit plan: Pursue a career in robotic process automation, which uses similar skills to test automation. RPA revolves around the creation of bots to automate common tasks, particularly related to moving data between systems that lack API integration. In fact, employers seeking RPA knowledge will value your QA experience.
Fading: Back-end and front-end engineers
Having a singular focus on just the back end, or just the front end, of applications is not the best way to stay employed. Hiring managers are looking for full stack engineers, Smith says. Some valued programmers may still be stronger on the back end or the front end – and be valued for that expertise – but they should understand the entire chain of software needed to create compelling applications.
“Employers want to see the full stack set of skills,” Smith says.
[ Read also: Top 7 open source project management tools for agile teams. ]
In general, developers should be wary of getting locked into any commodity skillset and deepen their understanding of the business context of their work, Boeder says. “You need to be more than just the stereotype of the developer in the back room, doing heads-down coding,” he advises. “There’s a little room for some of those people yet, but not for very long.”
Fading: The small-company CIO
For years, large organizations have courted CIOs who understand the power of technology but are businesspeople first and foremost, not necessarily techies.
However, Smith says the small to midsize companies and startups she works with want something different. “I just got a call from someone who has been a CIO his entire career. Now he’s getting interviews, but he’s being told that because he doesn’t come from a software engineering background, he’s not technical enough. They need someone who can code.”
Boeder sees a similar pattern. Small to midsize companies may give someone the CIO title, but what they really want is something closer to a CTO or software engineering leader – someone who understands the business, but who also has deep technical knowledge and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
Grabbing the CIO title in a smaller organization may not even be worth that much later in the job market, Boeder says. “The first thing they’re going to ask is how many people you had reporting to you,” he says. Unless the answer is an impressively large number, no one is going to take you seriously as a true corporate CIO.
So what’s the good news? Let’s look at five flourishing IT careers: