Whether you’re brand new to the IT workforce or have been in the professional game for decades, you can always benefit from sharpening your skills. IT is one of the fastest-moving sectors there is in terms of new career opportunities and industry evolution, so keeping pace with the latest trends is essential if you want to position yourself as a top candidate.
Picking up new skills keeps your mind agile. When we learn something new, the cells in our brain communicate differently; developing new neural pathways and literally rewiring our brain. This is called neuroplasticity, a process that can be likened to a muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it. In addition to enhancing our memory and cognitive abilities, improving our neuroplasticity has positive implications for a range of medical scenarios, from depression and anxiety to stroke recovery, which can benefit us on a personal level.
Learning new IT skills will help you stay competitive, both within your organization and in the job market as a whole. Practicing continued learning demonstrates your adaptability, which, according to a LinkedIn survey, was one of the most in-demand soft skills among employers going into 2019. It’s well documented that organizations that are able to adapt and change quickly are more likely to survive than their less adaptable counterparts.
The Top IT Skills For Candidates
So what are the top IT skills to focus on to stay ahead of the pack? LinkedIn analyzed the data to determine the most in-demand skills for the future that companies are looking for when hiring. Here are the top technical skills on the resulting list.
1. Cloud computing
The role and scope of cloud computing has changed drastically over the last five years, with everything from personal data and photos to entire business systems moving away from hard drives and into the cloud. In the wake of this shift, companies in all sectors face an urgent demand for IT professionals who are well-versed in cloud technology.
The market for cloud computing and related technologies has exploded, growing at nearly seven times the rate of the overall IT market. According to industry analysts, revenue from public IT cloud services reached $100 billion in 2016 and is expected to exceed $200 billion in 2020.
For candidates, this opens up a range of new roles that aren’t limited by industry; every field from healthcare to retail will see a need in this area. Hiring managers will be seeking candidates who can help the organization harness cloud computing to improve customer satisfaction, boost productivity, lower costs and increase agility.
Some common cloud computing requirements employers are looking for include experience with AWS networking, Microsoft Azure, Kubernetes and API gateways.
2. Artificial intelligence
The arrival of the so-called “age of AI” has fueled not-unwarranted worries about millions of jobs being lost to technology. Tech professionals can take heart, however, because the artificial intelligence influx will make top IT skills in this area a hot commodity for many years to come.
Tech giants are investing in AI in a massive way; just this year Facebook contributed $7.5 million to help launch an AI ethics institute, while Google paid a whopping $400 million to acquire artificial intelligence startup DeepMind all the way back in 2014.
The investment in AI isn’t limited solely to global brands; companies of all sizes are betting on its power to help them do business. According to a survey conducted by Narrative Science and the National Business Research Institute, 61% of businesses said the implemented some form of AI in 2017. By 2021, 80% of emerging technologies are expected to be rooted in AI.
Candidates with artificial intelligence skills can take advantage of roles in AI research and development, consulting to make AI accessible to businesses and their customers, and all kinds of offshoots, from deep learning to high-end graphics processing.
Some common artificial intelligence skills employers are looking for include AI system architecture, encryption and authentication, machine learning, neural networks, and familiarity with major programming languages.
3. Analytical reasoning
Analytical reasoning is a skill as old as business itself, but forward-thinking organizations are looking for candidates who can apply it to problems on the cutting edge of technology.
Most would agree that data is power, and there’s more of it available than ever before. One industry source estimates the amount of data in existence will hit 40 trillion gigabytes by 2020, with 90% of it created in just the last two years.
But once companies have collected or acquired the data, what should they do with it? What can they do with it? Candidates who can blend critical thinking with innovative problem solving will find themselves in a highly competitive position.
To build experience with analytical reasoning that will strengthen your resume, seek out opportunities to work on pilot projects or those that deal with untested technology. Aim to strike a balance between individual and collaborative projects. Consider adding some books on critical thinking to your reading list; Think Smarter and Thinking, Fast and Slow are two good options.
4. People management
The modern tech workplace has changed dramatically, even from just a decade ago. Gone are the days of managing people through a culture of fear and control; the new gold standard for workplace leadership is a culture of empowered decision-makers working toward a common goal.
IT candidates who hope to climb the leadership ranks must be adept at coaching teams of diverse employees and uniting them with a shared vision.
For further insight on effective people management, we can look no further than one of the most successful and revered companies when it comes to culture: Google. In an internal survey, the company asked its employees about the qualities that define a great manager. In true Google fashion, they then shared the results for all of us to learn from.
Google employees defined their ideal leader as one who empowers rather than micromanages, communicates effectively about work and performance, has a clear overarching vision and makes strong decisions that support the team. The sentiment behind the skills matters, too; one of their top three most desired traits in a manager was a genuine concern for the success and well-being of employees.
If you’re not already in a management role, you can hone your people management skills by stepping up to take the lead on department projects, volunteering to be the point person for the summer intern program, or holding a training for your colleagues in an area of your expertise.
5. UX design
As the connected world grows, so does the importance of the User Experience. It doesn’t matter how many cool features a device or application has; if it doesn’t work for humans, the customer will be lost.
Consider UX in the context of mobile browsing. 53% of users say they’ll leave a mobile site that fails to load properly in three seconds, and when they leave, the majority won’t return. That’s an enormous amount of money left on the table due to poor UX, presenting a huge upside for those with top technical skills in this area. According to Forrester Research, improving UX design has the potential to raise customer conversion rates by up to 400%.
And UX work isn’t limited to websites and apps. As the prevalence of IoT expands, the need for quality UX extends to everything from architecture to service-based businesses like restaurants. And let’s not forget about the rapid evolution of voice interface services like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, where UX is instrumental.
UX design is a particularly lucrative field for IT candidates looking to make a shift in their career trajectory, bringing together elements of design, psychology, art, and technology. In one UK-based survey of job and salary growth, UX designer was the second most in-demand role in the digital, creative and marketing field.