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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. Tech 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 and in-demand IT skills 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 various medical scenarios, from depression and anxiety to stroke recovery, which can benefit us personally.

Learning new IT skills will help you stay competitive within your organization and 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 can adapt and change quickly are more likely to survive than their less adaptable counterparts.

In-demand IT skills for competitive candidates

So what are the in-demand IT skills to focus on to stay ahead of the pack? We 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. Artificial intelligence

The AI revolution isn’t coming; it’s here. 

Since the launch of the AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT in late 2022, millions of people have firsthand seen the implications of previously abstract AI concepts like natural language processing. What we’ve seen companies do with the technology thus far is only the tip of the iceberg, and we can expect IT skills in this area to be a hot commodity for the foreseeable future. 

Tech giants are massively investing in AI. Facebook recently acquired AI avatar startup Alter for $100 million, while IBM has purchased at least five AI companies in the last three years. 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; organizations of all sizes are betting on its power to help them do business, with 83% of companies saying AI is a top priority in their business plans.

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.

In addition to natural language processing, some common artificial intelligence skills employers seek include AI system architecture, encryption and authentication, machine learning, neural networks, and familiarity with major programming languages.

2. Cloud computing

The role and scope of cloud computing have changed drastically over the last decade, with everything from personal data and photos to entire business systems moving away from hard drives and into the cloud. The global pandemic only accelerated the shift as companies scrambled to find ways to move their workflows to platforms that could be accessed from anywhere. Now, it’s standard practice to be able to use any type of application from anywhere with a WiFi connection (and even without one).

In the wake of this shift, companies in all sectors face an urgent demand for IT professionals who are well-versed in cloud technology. 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 seek candidates to help the organization harness cloud computing to improve customer satisfaction, boost productivity, lower costs and increase agility.

Some common cloud computing requirements employers seek include experience with AWS networking, Microsoft Azure, Kubernetes, and API gateways.

3. Information security

The universal prevalence of the cloud means data security is of utmost concern for businesses, large and small. Add to that a persistent skills gap and the ever-growing risk of cybercrime, and you’ve got an environment that’s ripe for IT talent with cybersecurity expertise to have their pick of lucrative jobs. 

IT professionals are in demand to address various cybersecurity challenges, from engineering the architecture that allows for secure interactions to helping teams share information securely. Hiring managers will seek resumes that showcase network and software security, data encryption, threat analysis, and risk mitigation skills. 

4. Sales

Think sales isn’t an IT job? Think again. 

It’s pretty hard to sell a multi-million dollar software platform if you don’t understand what it does. It makes sense that companies are desperate for sales professionals who also know their stuff from a technical standpoint. These in-demand staffers are instrumental in helping promising startups become household names. 

IT sales can be a great career path for those looking to capitalize on the strong IT sector without having a computer science or engineering background. It’s a solid option for those looking to make a switch out of a more technical role. It also pays well–if you’re good at it. The top tier of IT sales earners easily clear six figures annually.

5. 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. The number is so high that experts estimate it in zettabytes–a number of bytes with 21 zeros behind it–and the amount doubles roughly every two years. 

But what should companies do with it once they have collected or acquired the data? 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 opportunities to work on pilot projects or those dealing 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.

6. 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 into effective people management, we can look no further than one of the most successful and revered companies regarding 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.

7. 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; the customer will be lost if it doesn’t work for humans.

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 can 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 fields.

Some common UX skills employers seek include experience with UX research and testing, prototyping, knowledge of major design suites like Photoshop and Illustrator, and familiarity with coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Best online courses to improve these in-demand IT skills

  1. Coursera’s IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity Specialization: This IBM course covers the historical events that shaped the evolution of cybersecurity, various types of malicious software, and key concepts such as the CIA Triad, access management, and incident response. Additionally, it compares essential cybersecurity tools like firewalls, anti-virus, cryptography, penetration testing, and digital forensics.
  2. Coursera’s Cloud Computing by Meta: This course covers cloud computing, dev ops, and site reliability engineering. You will learn about various tools and systems, core concepts, delivery and deployment methods, and containerization principles.
  3. Coursera’s UX Design Professional Certificate by Google: Through this program, you will acquire a strong foundation in UX design, along with hands-on experience in the design process, including wireframing, prototyping, and user research to validate your designs.
  4. Udemy’s Complete Machine Learning & Data Science Bootcamp: This hands-on course covers the fundamentals of becoming a Machine Learning and Data Science engineer, including programming basics, advanced topics like Neural Networks and Deep Learning, and practical projects.

For more up-to-date information on the tech industry, check out our post on the current trends and job outlook of IT careers!

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn