The future of tech jobs: 5 themes to watch

Whether you're trying to keep your tech career on the fast track or keep your department filled with IT overachievers, keep an eye on these five undercurrents in IT jobs.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
Image: iStockphoto/tatyana_tomsickova

When you look deeply at the future of tech jobs in the way ZDNet and TechRepublic did in our special feature -- "The State of IT Jobs: Winners and Losers" -- a number of key themes emerge. We highlighted the main takeaways across the various articles and original research that we published in that package.

But, it's a big topic so we've got more to say.

How about some of the more subtle themes that are drifting just under the surface? Here are five big themes that technology professionals, business executives, and forward-looking companies will need to watch as they evolve with the IT job market over the coming years.

1. Managing vendors is often job #1

IT used to be a job of specialties, where you got deep experience in a technology or skillset, often got certified in that specialty, and worked it for at least 5-10 years. While there's still plenty of that, the time window is smaller (see #5 on this list) and more IT professionals are spending a large chunk of their time selecting and managing third party solutions, where the vendor carries a lot more of the load.

As such, making good decisions about vendor selection and having the negotiation and people skills to manage vendor relations have emerged as critical skills for the most effective IT pros. While it's always been part of the job, the rise of cloud and outsourcing and companies doing more buying vs. building for IT solutions, has brought this skillset to the forefront. Get good at it if you're an IT pro and make it a top priority if you're a hiring manager. 

2. Big data is the new oil

The data-is-the-new-oil argument is getting a little worn out, but it's certainly not overplayed. While IT used to be about keeping employees connected and up-and-running, that part of the equation is almost completely taken for granted now. The place where IT brings the most visible value to the organization every day is with data.

The IT department that can help its organization, its executives, and its various divisions find and visualize the data that can help move faster, make smarter decisions, and change course when needed will see its value rise exponentially. Plus, so many future businesses and industries are going to be built around data, that it's going to make IT a central asset and a revenue-generator. Whatever you're doing in IT, think about how it relates to the future of big data and analytics because that's likely to be where a large chunk of the attention -- and the budget -- will be aggregated.

3. Business skills are worth double

In many traditional businesses and organizations, IT departments have been located inside the CFO's office since financial systems such as ERP and CRM were often the number one internal customer for IT. Despite that close connection to the business heads, too much of IT has remained a separate cadre of technical mercenaries who simply carry out orders.

Those days are ending. The best IT pros are strong partners now, and not just water carriers. The deeply understand the company's business model and they are proactive in suggesting upgrades and new solutions that can help the company grow, adapt, survive, and thrive. That doesn't mean all IT pros need to run out and get MBAs, but they should educate themselves on the basics of business, economics, and finance and they should become total experts about their own company and industry -- and do everything they can to continually stay up to date.

4. Recruiting more women remains critical

Anxiety continues to be high over a future shortage of candidates to fill the STEM jobs that our society and economy will need in the coming years. While the STEM shortage has its naysayers and part of the problem is in retraining tech workers made obsolete by rapidly changing technologies, the fact remains that a larger percentage of future jobs will require math, science, and tech skills. And the US in particular is simply not graduating enough people with those skills to power the future of almost every industry.

The fastest way to address the STEM skills gap is to address the gender gap. Women now earn 60% of all bachelor's degrees and 60% of all masters degrees. They make up 57% of all professionals occupations in the US workforce, but they hold only 26% of computing jobs, according to the US Department of Labor. Women used to make up a larger percentage of tech jobs (36% in 1991) but have been losing ground over the past two decades in the US. There are signs of hope -- women outnumbered men for the first time in a University of California Berkley computer science class in 2014.

But, companies are going to need to be conscious of eliminating the "brogrammer" culture that has developed inside some tech startups and IT departments, and individuals in the industry will need to step up and heartily encourage girls who show an early interest in STEM to follow their passion and consider it for a career. 

5. Adaptability trumps all

One of the biggest arguments against the STEM jobs shortage is that lots of laid off IT workers are out there struggling to find jobs. However, in many cases they don't have the right skills for the new jobs that in demand or they have high salary expectations from their previous work that's incompatible with the new opportunities.

It's a tough problem to overcome and it demands that today's tech workers put a much higher emphasis on adaptability as they navigate their careers. The stuff you're working on today is very unlikely to be the stuff you're working on 3-5 years from year. Constant learning and looking for opportunities to evolve have to be a top priority.

For companies, encouraging personal growth and enabling learning opportunities are critical to keep your IT staff moving toward. It's often a lot less expensive and a lot more efficient to keep your current employees than to hire new ones -- especially of the current employees are aces who know your business and carry a lot of institutional knowledge in their heads. Don't undervalue that.

Also read

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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