IT execs and hiring managers aren’t just prioritizing automation skills anymore. They’re carving out whole roles that are largely defined by IT automation.
This is a twist on the general fear that automation eliminates jobs. It’s true that automation – not just in IT but across a wide range of roles and industries – is impacting various jobs, now and in the future. But automation will also likely create many new jobs that don’t exist yet or didn’t exist, say, 10 years ago, even as it gets rid of other positions.
IT occupies an interesting space in that broader trend. Many of the dominant and emerging trends in IT – hybrid cloud, containerization, orchestration, CI/CD, cybersecurity – depend heavily on automation. That means they also depend heavily on people with the right mix of skills to implement and manage the various tools and technologies underpinning modern software development and IT infrastructure.
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In IT perhaps more than any other field, fears that automation will replace the need for humans – while not unfounded – are a bit overblown. That’s evident in the job market. There’s a slew of positions that – even if they don’t feature the word “automation” in the title – might as well be classified as “automation jobs.” And while reasonable people can disagree, it is at least fair to declare there is a relatively new class of IT roles that require automation skills as minimum stakes at the interview table.
This is also reflected in IT leaders’ budgets and strategic priorities. Red Hat’s Global Technology Outlook 2022 notes that while IT operations automation specifically remains a middle-of-the-pack funding priority, it ticked up two points (to 28%) this year. Moreover, automation investments are fueling increases in other IT priorities such as security and application development.
That means investments not just in technology, but in people.
With that in mind, we asked Kelsey Person, senior project manager at the technology recruiting firm LaSalle Network, which automation-focused roles are in especially high demand right now.
Let’s dig into three jobs (or job categories) that recruiters are on the hunt for right now, according to Person. Keep in mind, too, that there are variations on all these from a title perspective.
1. DevOps engineer
Time has now settled the “Is DevOps a job title?” debate – which has gone on in some form for the better part of a decade now. You’re free to continue your philosophical objections but, well, DevOps engineers are a thing.
A recent U.S.-results search for “DevOps engineer” on LinkedIn produced nearly 15,000 job listings. Such numbers come with reasonable caveats. Among others, the same job is sometimes posted multiple times under different locations in the hybrid/remote era. But other job sites like Indeed (~10,000 listings) or Dice (~4,000 listings) tell a similar story: DevOps engineers are real, and lots of places are hiring them.
By any title, DevOps-focused roles have skyrocketed. In fact, that’s one of the central takeaways from the 2022 edition of the Open Source Jobs Report: “DevOps has become not only the second most desirable skill set among open source professionals but also the most in-demand position to place among hiring managers.”
A DevOps engineer might not be focused 100 percent on automation, but it’s universally a part of the role. DevOps without automation is like a beach without sand.
DevOps engineer job duties certainly vary by organization, but Person notes that they inevitably intersect with automation technologies such as Ansible and similar tools.
“DevOps engineers work with tools, processes, people, and methodologies to ensure the coding used for automation is produced not only correctly but is done in a productive way that helps enhance the software development lifecycle,” Person says. “DevOps engineers help optimize the automation from the automation’s ideation phase to implementation.”
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2. Automation engineer
You can’t argue with this one as a so-called automation job – the title makes an airtight case. As do 7,500 U.S. job openings, give or take, based on a recent LinkedIn search. (The general nature of the term automation means plenty of those listings might be outside of the IT domain.)
There’s overlap with the DevOps engineer role here, but with a fundamental difference – it’s not tethered in any way to DevOps shops or culture. Rather, this role applies automation wherever it may be beneficial, including outside of software development and operations.
“Automation engineers help streamline and improve processes and help teams identify and eliminate problems that can be solved through automation,” Person says. “They also help monitor existing automations to ensure they are working properly.”
There are variations or specializations of this overarching term, such as RPA engineer or RPA developer – that is, someone focused primarily on building, implementing, and maintaining Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots.
Automation engineers have a lot in common with system administrators – they apply and maintain the glue that keeps an organization and its systems running properly.
In that vein, Person notes that automation engineers are often well-versed in scripting-friendly languages like PowerShell, Python, or Bash.
3. Security engineers
Security is perhaps the most timely example of how many IT jobs are in some way becoming “automation jobs.” Security automation has increased in concert with the growing risks that enterprises and governments alike face. The complexity and relentlessness of the cybersecurity landscape are too great for even the largest organizations to manage with human effort alone.
“Instead of having technology professionals go and find the threats manually, security engineers can help identify threats through automation and help improve the security of an organization,” Person says.
Security as a domain is also a good example of automation augmenting human effort rather than replacing it. Security automation is ultimately enabling strong security practices and testing in all facets of an organization’s applications and infrastructure in a way that would not be realistic otherwise.
“Security engineers often work with SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation and Response) and SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) tools, which organize data, recognize threats and automate the proper response to threats,” Person says.
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