Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: IT Jobs in 2020: A Leader's Guide

IT pros will need a diverse skill set to be employed in 2020

It's not enough to master the skills required to do your job today. Keeping up with the rapid pace of technological change and honing a wide range of skills will be essential to future employment in IT.

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If there is a consensus in the IT world, it is that developing a diverse set of skills -- ranging from cloud services to soft skills to information security -- will help keep IT professionals employed in 2020. Artificial intelligence, big data, and the widespread adoption of everything-as-a-service (XaaS) means that traditional IT positions like network administrator may no longer be in demand.

SEE: Launching your cybersecurity career: 10 job roles to consider (free TechRepublic PDF)

Leaving out cybersecurity, which will be in demand as long as hackers continue to attack systems, IT professionals and those in the industry have differing opinions about what skills IT workers will need to remain employed in 2020. However, a few key skills have emerged as critical for IT professionals in the future, including soft skills like teamwork, general IT knowledge, and programming.

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Special report: IT Jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF)

ZDNet and TechRepublic looks at the dramatic effect of AI, big data, cloud computing, and automation on IT jobs, and how companies can adapt.

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Teamwork and project management are two of the soft skills identified as necessary for successful employment in the future. According to Joshua Peskay, vice president of technology strategy at RoundTable Technology, the changing nature of the tech landscape means that IT professionals need to identify opportunities and execute projects quickly to help keep the business competitive.

"The ability of an IT professional to work effectively on project teams for many different types of projects and, even better, be able to manage those projects, is already a critical skill and is only going to become more in demand," Peskay said.

Some of that management will extend to finding and utilizing outside resources to solve business problems. IT professionals may be tasked with managing in-house personnel, as well as contractors, crowdsource platforms, cloud services, and other external resources. "An IT professional who is both familiar with and can engage successfully with all of these resource types will have a huge advantage in the marketplace," he said.

The shifting IT landscape also means that IT professionals will need to acclimate to the ongoing changes. Soft skills such as emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility will help them adapt to both the marketplace and the constant fluctuations within the industry, said Holly Benson, vice president and organizational transformation consulting expert at Infosys.

"These non-technical skills help fuel the innovation, creativity and collaboration within organizations that power growth," Benson said.

SEE: 44 simple ways to sharpen your writing skills (free TechRepublic PDF)

These technical skills will be valued in 2020

The volatility of the IT industry requires IT professionals to stay on top of critical technical skills as well. While their roles may not require as much hardware know-how, a solid understanding of computer networking concepts and the processes and language of integration between applications and services will always be in demand, said Tom Roark, manager of IT operations at Toast.

"As IT departments place more responsibilities on automation and SaaS tools, the need for stable networking and robust connectors between platforms will continue to grow. Cloud computing has been a revolutionary technology and one everyone should be at least somewhat familiar with," he said.

In addition, AI and machine learning will be valued in 2020, according to Greg Cox, CTO architect at Sungard Availability Services. "Being skilled in AI will become a requirement for those working in areas of technology that are not purely hardware focused," he said. While being proficient with AI skills will be important, mathematics and general computer science principles will also be required.

SEE: 3 tips to help skilled labor prepare for the impact of AI and robotics (TechRepublic)

Programming will always be in demand

And even though technology continues to develop and change, organizations will still need strong programmers, said Kal Vissa, senior product manager at CloudBees. "As cloud computing evolves, microservices architecture and container orchestration technologies, such as Kubernetes, are becoming mainstream within enterprises," he said.

Programmers must also keep on top of programming trends to stay relevant, Vissa said. They need to understand where the industry is headed and prepare to adapt to changes before they happen.

"Anyone who is new to programming should focus on the fundamentals ... and be a stickler for detail," he said. Rigorously testing and documenting code and understanding design patterns are habits that new programmers need to develop as soon as possible.

Developing and honing skill sets requires ongoing education

While some of these skills -- especially soft skills -- can't be taught in a classroom, IT professionals do have options when it comes to learning programming and other skills. The internet is full of free programming resources, as well as low-cost training options. Webinars offer another way to learn new skills and stay on top of trends.

Resources like meet-ups and conferences can help IT professionals sharpen their skills, too, especially when it comes to understanding emerging technologies, Vissa said. "This allows them to not only learn from experts, but also to network with other IT professionals who can share tips and tricks they've learned. Hearing directly from others in the industry what they're trying or moving away from is invaluable."

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