The state of IT jobs in the US

The state of IT jobs in the US

Summary: What are the significant trends in the US IT job market, and which jobs are likely to be 'hot' in the future?

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2014 has been a year of mixed results for the US economy — and also for IT jobs. In the overall US economy, many industries have experienced growth, but memories of the 2007-2008 recession coupled with changing business models are deterring companies from investing as much as they once did when business expanded. Also wary of becoming over-exuberant, American consumers continue to stick with the conservative spending habits that they developed during the recession. When consumers don't spend, companies are hesitant to build up inventories and invest in new facilities.

The job market has followed this general economic unevenness. Although many businesses are hiring at the fastest pace in years, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the overall rate of employment has remained relatively unchanged. In an August, 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic region Federal Reserve president Dennis Lockhart stated that the official US unemployment rate of 6.2 percent was still substantially above its historical rate range of 5.2-5.5 percent, and that progress remained to be made in the job market.

Meanwhile in IT, the unemployment rate dropped from 5.8 percent in July of 2013 to 4.5 percent in July, 2014. Also in July of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 11,100 IT jobs had been added nationwide, with computer systems design, management and technical consulting, telecommunications and data processing, and hosting and related services accounting for most of that growth. Dice's August, 2014, IT Job Report shows that 80,651 IT jobs are available nationwide, with 47,646 of these jobs classified as full-time. The five states with the highest IT job growth rates are: Texas (5.99 percent growth); Florida (5.64 percent); North Carolina (3.80 percent); Oregon (3.57 percent); and Washington (3.53 percent).

There has also been a shift in some IT hiring that job applicants should be aware of. Companies have discovered that technology enablement is the key to most business objectives, so more are opting to hire IT talent directly into the business itself—and not through a traditional IT department.

Hot IT jobs

That being said, here are some of the hottest jobs in the IT market:

Software engineers: Enterprises are ramping up their applications for their internal users and their outside customers, so software engineers who can design, develop, maintain and evaluate computer software and systems are in high demand. These same individuals are being called upon to plan projects, develop new applications and determine application security needs — but it's important to differentiate them from 'computer programmers' who simply code what has already been designed and specified for them to code. This latter person is what enterprises are not necessarily looking for, since they can outsource this job and pay less for it. What enterprises want are experienced app developers who can tell them how they need to architect their applications and lay out their projects for the business — and then code in a pinch. These are seasoned professionals, likely with four-plus years of heavy-duty application design work under their belts.

Network analysts/engineers: Enterprises are looking for skilled network analysts and engineers who can design and configure networks from scratch with experience in both LAN and WAN architectures. WAN is growing in important because enterprises have recognized that their customer experiences depend upon network performance that goes well beyond the internal enterprise network. For persons in the early stages of their network career, Microsoft (and other network) certifications are still important to employers, but the fact is, almost everybody has them. If you can show experience and training in the WAN, you have a 'leg up' on the competition.

Database analysts and architects: As big data takes hold in enterprises, data architects and analysts are in high demand. The challenge for many businesses is coming up with a revised and overarching data architecture that can account for not only the traditional data repositories that support transaction processing and legacy batch reporting, but also a new series of data marts for big data that will likely be both on premise and in the cloud. Data analysts and architects are one of the critical 'three legs' of the big data team in many enterprises (business analyst-data scientists-data analysts).

Web programmers: Web developers with expertise in internet and browser applications, and who also know popular Web development technologies like NET, Java, PHP, Silverlight, Flex and MySQL, are in high demand — but the demand is even higher if they come with a solid understanding of the 'inner workings' of a website, and the ability to integrate front-end web applications with backend information resources that come from server- and mainframe-based systems.

Mobile app developers: Anyone who can offer an enterprise mobile app 'design and build' skills will receive a warm reception from corporate hiring managers. Like their web programming counterparts, the mobile app developers who can also bring experience with how to integrate mobile apps into mainframe and server-based systems in a secure environment bring even more value.

Business/systems analysts: Communications and the ability to work with end users so that business requirements can be turned into productive IT are as elusive as skillsets in IT as they were thirty years ago. Individuals who can offer a 'hybrid' set of skills that includes experience (or the ability to understand) the end business, as well as IT technical application experience that enables them to talk with software engineers, are worth their weight in gold to business. They also make excellent candidates for IT managerial positions.

IT Managers: IT Managers continue to be in high demand in enterprises, because enterprises can't find enough qualified managers internally to keep up with the demands of their IT projects. The greatest managerial need is for tech-savvy individuals who can command the respect of their IT staffs, yet also achieve wider credibility via demonstrable business knowledge — and how IT can help.

Hidden gems

Now, here are some 'hidden gem' opportunities in IT that many people miss:

Mainframe systems: Mainframes are responsible for 60 percent of the world's business processing, and have run applications in financial services, telecommunications, insurance and other major industries for decades — but the average age of a mainframe systems programmer today is in the late 50s. Over 150 universities worldwide now offer mainframe systems courses along with their standard Linux and Unix offerings. Many report 100 percent employment placement for students graduating with mainframe skills.

'Jacks of all Trades' for SMBs: Small to mid-sized businesses with 50 or fewer employees realize the importance of technology just like their enterprise counterparts, but they can't afford to pay for all of those specialists. This can make SMBs an exciting career opportunity for the IT generalist who likes the idea of running his (or her) own show, is comfortable collaborating with outsourcing partners, and can jump in on problem resolution whether it concerns a database, a network or the phone system.

Topics: The State of IT Jobs: Winners and Losers, IT Employment

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. She is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.

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6 comments
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  • A big thing to avoid

    A big thing to avoid is staying at a job with a particular operating system, programming language, or company name in the job title. Narrow focus leads to dead end careers.
    Buster Friendly
  • Expand you skill base

    I agree. Obtaining only Microsoft skills and certifications is no longer the route to take. Microsoft in my opinion is loosing it's hold on the business world. Broaden your horizons by learning Linux and how to secure and manage all IT related equipment, not just Windows...
    Jabailey325
  • A Jack of All Trades

    Is Master of None.

    Such roles are probably better viewed as brokers of outsourced skills, though a good grounding in technologies can make them far more effective than someone who can only bring their "people skills" to the table. That way they can act as a gateway to hiring temporary expertise and then carry on with day to day care and feeding of the result after cross training.

    But there is an awful lot of expensive technology being used to (ahem) less than full capacity because of such Jacks.

    Small businesses need to learn that it costs money to be in the game, and the boss' nephew just doesn't cut it.
    dilettante
    • Depth is the key

      I'm a jack of all trades, and as the article stated, I've worked for small to medium sized businesses, supporting 100 - 300 end users across 3 states... singlehandedly. I've been responsible for all technology needs within the firm: servers, routers, desktops, backups, WAN, printers, portable devices, etc. What you find is that a SMB network can be pretty static until upgrade time. You make sure that you get trained on the most important technology prior to rolling it out. On other technologies, you may not be 100% proficient in them, but at 75% - 80% proficiency, you can properly design or spec out your requirements and even install the hw/sw, but for the last 20%, it may be worthwhile to have a specialist come in and refine your solution for you and make sure you've followed best practices.

      When troubleshooting, I can resolve 80% of all problems myself. For a more complex problem, I can whip out my Corp AMEX and pay a per incident fee. And by the time I've troubleshot the problem, I've narrowed the scope of the problem so much, that I've done most of the homework for the vendor, which allows them to assist me in resolving the issue in a fraction of the time it might have otherwise required. Knowing how to resolve most issues, research the ones you can't and knowing who to call and guide for assistance, can make the Jack Of All Trades a valuable and cost effective IT leader for a SMB. But they have to have a head for technology. They have to be comfortable working with new an unfamiliar hw/sw. They need to have a firm grasp on technical fundamentals, as these fundamentals bridge various platforms and devices. Understanding what you need to accomplish allows you to search through new systems quickly and find the right commands.

      Providing this support for a SMB has made me a more visible IT leader than a specialist in a larger organization would be. Management is better versed in what I do and what I contribute to the organization, AND what I SAVE the organization. As such, a JOAT can earn more money working for an SMB, than many specialists working for larger organizations. You can more readily adapt to new solutions, and you have a clearer path to more managerial roles.
      BTRDAYZ
  • Be aware of changing trends in IT

    Don't just put in your hours and fix things. Make it your job to study the changing trends and IT is all about change. Study what are the top Programming languages, tools, platforms, OS's, interfaces and where they are headed. What is hot today could be replaced with a newer technology in 2 -3 years. Follow your interest whether it be in Application Development, hardware administration, security, Business Intelligence, DBA, Business Systems Analyst or Project Management. Yes there are still user groups and professional organizations that can help you stay on top in your field of expertise. Continue to take classes to learn more and also open up a new source of similar professionals that can be a new source of professional networking. Learn how to read the economy, technology trends that can give you early warnings about things that can impact your career. Always try to make yourself more valuable to your company and have a reputation that you embrace change and use it to your advantage.
    beachbum92629
  • An eye-opener article for me!

    It is good to know that there are more than 80,000 IT jobs through out the nation and more jobs are being created.
    As a high school student I always thought IT jobs are only about sitting at your desk all the time and doing non-stop coding. But after reading this article I came to know that there are jobs that require good communication skills as well as in business/system analysis jobs. A good thing I learned about IT field is, it offers a wide variety of jobs which mostly focus on constant learning to keep in the game.

    I was highly surprised to know that mainframe system's programmers average age is in the late 50s. Does it mean the demand of mainframe jobs is going to go up in near future after people start retiring?
    bhavi15