12 IT skills that employers can't say no to

Have you spoken with a high-tech recruiter or professor of computer science lately? According to observers across the country, the technology skills shortage that pundits were talking about a year ago is real.

"Everything I see in Silicon Valley is completely contrary to the assumption that programmers are a dying breed and being offshored," says Kevin Scott, senior engineering manager at Google and a founding member of the professions and education boards at the Association for Computing Machinery. "From big companies to start-ups, companies are hiring as aggressively as possible."

Many recruiters say there are more open positions than they can fill, and according to Kate Kaiser, associate professor of IT at Marquette University in Milwaukee, students are getting snapped up before they graduate. In January, Kaiser asked the 34 students in the systems analysis and design class she was teaching how many had already accepted offers to begin work after graduating in May. Twenty-four students raised their hands. "I feel sure the other 10 who didn't have offers at that time have all been given an offer by now," she says.

Suffice it to say, the market for IT talent is hot, but only if you have the right skills. If you want to be part of the wave, take a look at what eight experts -- including recruiters, curriculum developers, computer science professors and other industry observers -- say are the hottest skills of the near future.

1) Machine learning

As companies work to build software such as collaborative filtering, spam filtering and fraud-detection applications that seek patterns in jumbo-size data sets, some observers are seeing a rapid increase in the need for people with machine-learning knowledge, or the ability to design and develop algorithms and techniques to improve computers' performance, Scott says.

"It's not just the case for Google," he says. "There are lots of applications that have big, big, big data sizes, which creates a fundamental problem of how you organize the data and present it to users."

Demand for these applications is expanding the need for data mining, statistical modeling and data structure skills, among others, Scott says. "You can't just wave your hand at some of these problems -- there are subtle differences in how the data structures or algorithms you choose impacts whether you get a reasonable solution or not," he explains.

You can acquire machine-learning knowledge either through job experience or advanced undergraduate or graduate coursework, Scott says. But no matter how you do it, "companies are snapping up these skills as fast as they can grab them," he says.

2) Mobilizing applications

The race to deliver content over mobile devices is akin to the wild days of the Internet during the '90s, says Sean Ebner, vice president of professional services at Spherion Pacific Enterprises, a recruiter. And with devices like BlackBerries and Treos becoming more important as business tools, he says, companies will need people who are adept at extending applications such as ERP, procurement and expense approval to these devices. "They need people who can push applications onto mobile devices," he says.

3) Wireless networking

With the proliferation of de facto wireless standards such as Wi-Fi, WiMax and Bluetooth, securing wireless transmissions is top-of-mind for employers seeking technology talent, says Neill Hopkins, vice president of skills development for the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). "There's lots of wireless technologies taking hold, and companies are concerned about how do these all fit together, and what are the security risks, which are much bigger than on wired networks," he says.

"If I were to hire a wireless specialist, I'd also want them to understand the security implications of that and build in controls from the front end," agrees Howard Schmidt, president of the Information Systems Security Association and former chief information security officer and chief security strategist at eBay.

But don't venture into the marketplace with only a wireless certification, Hopkins warns. "No one gets hired as a wireless technician -- you have to be a network administrator with a specialization in wireless so you know how wireless plays with the network," he says.

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