When CompTIA conducted an intensive examination of the IT employment market last year, it uncovered demand for jobs whose titles would have been meaningless only a year or two ago: augmented reality designer, Internet of things architect, container developers.
That’s no surprise, given that the IT job market is in constant flux, with new technologies emerging so quickly that hiring managers struggle to define those positions -- let alone give them a title. IBM, for example, has a director of blockchains, and Ford Motor is among many companies looking for GPU cluster engineers.
Surely, some emerging fields will falter. Others, however, will grow to become the next big thing. When InfoWorld looked at emerging jobs in 2011, No. 2 on the list was data scientist. Now a quick search on Dice.com, a large tech-focused job board, returns screen after screen of hits; it’s in the mainstream. This trend toward extracting business value from large data sets has spawned demand for new skills and spun off emerging areas of opportunities for IT pros willing to learn those skills.
At the same time, traditional IT jobs are morphing, requiring new abilities, says Tim Herbert, senior vice president and researcher at CompTIA. Network admins, for example, must learn cloud skills, and security specialists are using machine learning to defend their networks.
Among the technologies that could fuel a new IT career revolution are IBM’s Watson and similar cognitive computing initiatives. Advances in hardware are also making demands for skills that aren’t yet being met. Experian, the giant credit reporting agency, is using GPU clusters to sift through its vast data stores, but finding engineers and developers who can write the code to make it work is difficult. “Someone whose resume indicates they understand GPUs will rise to the top immediately,” says Eric Haller, executive vice president at Experian DataLabs.
Haller’s point reflects the growth of what Dice.com CEO Bob Melk calls “the skills gap.” Technologies are moving faster than the expertise needed to exploit them can be disseminated to the workforce. That’s a problem for companies looking for employees to help exploit breakthroughs, but a boon for IT professionals who can fill that gap.
“The problem is digital strategies and transformation have become competitive necessities and not just growth-enablers. There simply isn’t enough talent at the right level of experience in the marketplace right now to satisfy the need. And it will get worse before it gets better,” says David Foote, principal analyst at Foote Partners, which closely studies the IT job market.
In examining the latest changes in the IT job market, we talked with analysts, staffing groups, and executives whose responsibilities include hiring. Here are some of the jobs that we and our sources think will be hot in the not-so-distant future.
Cognitive computing engineer/machine learning specialist
IBM’s cognitive computing initiative, best known for Watson, the computer program that became a "Jeopardy" champion, has given birth to the cognitive systems engineer, a title whose responsibilities have yet to be fully defined. Even IBM isn’t exactly sure if “cognitive systems engineer” is a meaningful job title. What is clear, however, is that cognitive systems are becoming a very large part of IBM’s business plan, and an ecosystem of smaller companies is developing around Watson and related technologies, bringing with them a host of new career opportunities.
SparkCognition, for example, is using machine learning, big data analysis, modeling, and other cognitive-related technologies to better understand security threats. WayBlazer is focused on consumer travel, and Point of Care, one of a number of health care-related Watson partners, allows clinicians to access peer-reviewed content on specific diseases on a mobile platform.
The demand for cognitive computing skills is gaining enough steam that institutions of higher education are paying attention. IBM is helping hundreds of universities develop cognitive-related course materials, says Jim Spohrer, director of IBM's university programs. The skills needed to succeed in cognitive computing go beyond the obvious knowledge key to any big-data-related specialty. “Data curation is a key part; you don’t build a cognitive system without thinking of a body of documents or websites,” he says.
A job listing with IBM Watson Health group, for example, says this about what’s needed to land it: “Candidates should be hands-on in their approach to technology. This includes unstructured data, statistical extraction of entities, machine learning, natural language processing, and search.”
You won’t find a lot of job openings with this title yet. But startups are recruiting engineers and developers who are familiar with the technologies behind bitcoin and have deep experience in cryptography, distributed systems, hash algorithms, and more.
Bitcoin’s core technology, the blockchain, is proving the most intriguing to could-be employers. More than 200 companies and open source projects are seeking to apply blockchain technology to applications such as trading platforms, secure identification cards, self-executing contracts, and many applications in financial services.
Peter Kirby, CEO of Factom, a startup working to monetize the technology developed by Factom.org, an open source project, says it’s easier to get eight-figure infusions of capital from VCs than it is to find qualified blockchain engineers. “It begins with understanding how decentralized architecture works and the intersection of software architect and cryptography expert,” he says.
The technology is not that difficult to comprehend, he says, but it is new and in some ways more like advanced math than programming.
Interested? Check out this job posted on Dice.com by CyberCoders, an IT recruiting company promising a salary of $150,000 to $170,000 for an engineer with experience in Python, bitcoins, and distributed systems.
GPU cluster engineer
GPU computing improves application performance by offloading compute-intensive portions of the application to the GPU, while the remainder of the code still runs on the CPU. That advantage is key to companies like Facebook, China’s Baidu, and Experian that deal with enormous data sets.
Facebook’s Big Sur runs the social networking company’s machine learning servers and is heavily reliant on GPU clusters, which can be more efficient than conventional CPUs for machine learning and other tasks. Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer says the GPU-based system is twice as fast as conventional solutions.
Experian, with its massive data stores, also uses GPU clusters, but because it is a new technology, finding engineers with GPU experience is difficult, says Experian’s Haller. “Provisioning clusters is one thing, but writing code to run on it is another. You can download software that does it, but that’s inefficient,” he says.
In something of a new technology twofer, Ford Motor is looking for GPU engineers to work on its driverless car program. The list of necessary skills and duties fills an entire computer screen, and the minimum skills needed include: “1+ years [experience with] GPU, parallel programming tools and language extensions etc.,” as well as a broad array of programming skills, among them C/C++, Perl, Python, Java, OpenGL, OpenCV, CUDA, MATLAB, and more.
You can learn about recent developments in GPU computing by visiting the GPU Computing News group on Facebook.
Virtual reality engineer
Virtual reality is no longer the sole province of game makers. That means someone with the right experience and skills can write a ticket to places as diverse as The New York Times, one of the first newspapers to begin using VR (and Google Cardboard) as a storytelling tool, or startups such as Lucid VR, a developer of 3D cameras.
Here’s a list of skills Lucid says you’ll need: Objective-C, C++, Computer Vision, C, computer graphics, mobile application development, OpenGL ES, C#, OpenGL, DirectX, WebGL, and digital image processing. There are more VR-related jobs posted on AngelList and you’ll find postings for a few VR engineers by CyberCoders, a staffing agency in Seattle.
Don’t overlook established companies working on mobile if you’re interested in VR. Samsung, for example, recently announced two new phones, but what drew more attention at the Mobile World Congress was its Gear 360, a camera for recording virtual reality videos for its Gear VR headset.
Although investment banks frequently overhype new technologies, it’s worth noting that Goldman Sachs predicts that virtual reality will generate $110 billion compared to television’s $99 billion in 10 years. Even if that estimate is too bullish, it is clear that serious money is pursuing virtual reality technology and there will be opportunities for skilled IT workers to exploit.
Internet of things architect
One billion, 2 billion, who knows how many billions of devices will be connected to the red-hot Internet of things? Even if those estimates are wildly overstated, the IoT is top of mind for many innovative companies -- and not only startups.
Verizon, for instance, recently advertised for what it calls an “IoT solutions architect.” Among other skills, the applicant should have experience in “managing delivery of complex solutions involving IoT, M2M [machine to machine], cloud, security, professional services, and SaaS,” in addition to “strong technology marketing and analytical skills.”
It’s worth noting that Verizon wants its architect to have nontechnical business skills as well: “Must possess financial management skills needed for forecasting, pricing, and margin analysis. Professional presentation and [communication] skills to address all levels of the enterprise to include client senior executives.”
That requirement tracks with an important trend: Information technology departments are becoming less of a service organization and more of a line of business that can add revenue and business opportunities to the entire enterprise, says analyst David Foote.
Computer security incident responder
Cyber security specialist has long been on the hot jobs list, so what’s new about a job that Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, calls "security incident response professional"? “He is the guy who can deal with the effects of an attack or an exploit, and he needs a broad understanding of security information and event management (SIEM),” says Husain.
SIEM combines a number of functions into a single system and centralizes event logs and other security-related documentation for analysis. The information resides within the SIEM, but leveraging it means knowing what questions to ask, and few people have that skill, says Husain.
Foote, agrees, saying “without a doubt, a cyber security skills gap has developed on a global basis.” The increasingly sophisticated nature of cyber attacks and the ability to use new technologies such as machine learning algorithms to analyze, understand, and counter those threats has fundamentally changed the nature of the job, which now requires the ability to cull evidence from a wide range of sources, not SIEM alone.
A job that’s close to the one Husain describes was posted recently by JPMorgan Chase. Among other responsibilities, the person who lands that position will “analyze alerts from various sources within the enterprise and determine possible causes of such alerts, provide timely detection, identification, and distinguish these incidents and events from benign activities and identify false positives.”
Skills you’ll need in order to be considered include a knowledge of networking fundamentals (all OSI layers), protocols and packet analysis, encryption and tokenization technologies, and experience writing PL/SQL or SQL scripts.
Since this job is built on a foundation of conventional skills, you’ll also need information security certifications such as CISSP, SANS, CEH, or related certifications.
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