Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The State of IT Jobs: Winners and Losers

The state of IT jobs in the US

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.

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