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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens in his 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” If he’d been writing today, that statement could very much apply to today’s IT personnel and hiring landscape.
For many of the hundreds of thousands who’ve been laid off by tech companies recently, this might well be considered the worst of times — especially with a recession looming. Yet there are plenty among them, and others in the workforce, who could consider this the best of times. Why? Because they possess the most in-demand skillsets and certifications. Despite the layoffs, cutbacks, tightening pursestrings, and general doom and gloom presented in the media, these IT professionals can look forward to higher pay, plenty of offers, perpetual headhunting inquiries and even the occasional bidding war for their talents.
Below are some of the hottest skills and certifications in IT, in no particular order.
Filling the IT skills gap
First, Foote Partners’ IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report provides a list of the rising stars among IT skills and certifications. Many of the top skills are in cybersecurity.
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With the market value of this skill rising by almost 20% in the last six months, security auditing is very much in demand. Cyber-insurers have gotten stingy about whom they offer policies to and what those policies cover. They are interrogating businesses about their policies, practices and tools. Security audits are one way they can find out what is going on. But organizations are using them too. Bringing in outside eyes helps them find blind spots.
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“A security audit will provide a roadmap of an organization’s main information security weaknesses, and identify where it is meeting the criteria the organization has set out to follow and where it isn’t,” said David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners. “Security audits are crucial to developing risk assessment plans and migration strategies for organizations, and that always deals with individuals’ sensitive and confidential information — all of which are hot issues these days.”
Azure Key Vault
These Azure skills have risen in market by 19% in the third quarter of 2022. Azure Key Vault is a cloud service for securely storing and accessing secrets (anything you want to tightly control access to, such as API keys, passwords, certificates and cryptographic keys).
Cryptographic skills, which encompass areas such as encryption, VPN and SSL/TLS, are very much in demand. They jumped 20% in market value over the last six months.
Identity and access management (IAM)
IAM is up 6% over six months. This field has risen in importance steadily since the COVID-19 pandemic made physical boundaries less relevant. With so many remote workers being given greater access to internal systems, identity and access problems have become a serious concern. Those who can fix such issues and implement comprehensive IAM solutions have plenty of work opportunities.
Digital risk analytics is growing in popularity as a niche of business intelligence (BI) development because of increased interest among risk-management professionals. It is up about 6% over the last half year. “This discipline has vastly improved the way risk managers evaluate potential scenarios and predict risk-laden events,” said Foote.
Penetration testing (pen testing) has gained 21.4% in market value over six months. The more distributed denial of service (DDOS), phishing and ransomware attacks that occur, the more organizations want to bring in ethical hackers to identify, update and replace the parts of their systems that are susceptible to modern hacking techniques.
“While cybercriminals and hacktivists are increasing in numbers and deepening their skillsets, the ‘good guys’ are struggling to keep pace,” said Foote.
According to Skillsoft’s 2022 IT Skills and Salary Report, the top three most challenging areas to find qualified talent are cloud computing, data analytics/big data/data science and cybersecurity.
“This year’s list is notable first by what topics continue to be hot this year — cloud foremost, supplemented by a couple of key certifications in cybersecurity and data,” says Zach Sims, general manager, tech & dev, Skillsoft. “Not surprising, given how nearly every company in every industry of every size in every geography is relying upon cloud computing to power their technology strategy.”
Foote Partners named some of the specific areas of cybersecurity with the biggest recent hikes in market value. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other areas of cybersecurity desperate for competent and experienced personnel. These include application security, network security, cloud security, intrusion detection, security controls and frameworks, incident response and threat detection/modeling/ management.
Projections about the need for cybersecurity talent are bullish. Between April 2021 and April 2022, employers posted almost three quarters of a million cybersecurity openings. Government data projects a 35% surge in cybersecurity jobs between 2021 and 2031 — more than double the expected rise in demand for general IT jobs.
Anyone skilled in Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Wasabi or other cloud services such as Salesforce will have no shortage of job openings in 2023. With Microsoft Azure cloud deployments expanding by 33% year over year, and other cloud platforms experiencing similar growth, organizations are screaming for more cloud developers, engineers, architecture specialists, cloud migration skills, application programming interface (API) management skills, cloud database skills and more.
“Cloud skills are clearly in high demand,” said Foote.
Data analytics/big data/data science
Both Skillsoft and Foote Partners identified data analytics, big data and date science as rich in possibilities for anyone keen to find a lucrative career path. It’s also replete with avenues and niches. Depending on the platform, the programming language, the application or the industry, data analytics and data science skills are sought after to varying degrees. Data science positions are expected to grow by 28% by 2026, with salaries ranging between roughly $125,000 and $150,000.
Those proficient in statistics, economics, information systems, computer science and programming, and who can take care of data wrangling, data intuition, querying, social media mining and data visualization should be able to pick and choose their employers. Beyond data science skills, those who can extract SQL, Excel and other data and subject it to analysis will compete well in the job market.
Those with AI skills in addition to other specialties are likely to be inundated. Last year, some 33% of IT job postings asked for AI skills. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicts 97 million new AI-related jobs will be created between 2021 and 2025. Salaries are rising accordingly. Those well trained and experienced can command average salaries around $150,000.
But AI is a wide and varied subject. It takes in many skills, including machine learning, data science, algorithms, math, statistics, analytics and a variety of programming disciplines such as Python, C++, R and Java. AI applications often make heavy use of machine learning (ML), which is another in-demand skill, centered around the harnessing of algorithms that can learn without being programmed to do so. ML engineers are among the top five fastest growing jobs in the U.S. over the past five years.
A study by application development firm Reign found that the U.S. witnessed a 21% increase in AI jobs, plus a 27% increase in AI job-related wages, over the past decade.
“The demand for workers who can develop AI technology is increasing, as are the effects of AI on workers around the world,” said Felipe Silberstein, head of platform strategy at Apply Digital. “Jobs requesting AI or machine learning skills are expected to increase by 71% in the next five years.”
Devops has been a buzzword over the last couple of years. Nevertheless, devops specialization is a hot skill. Residing in the interface between software development and operations as a way to shorten development cycles, devops personnel need to be knowledgeable in continuous integration, testing, microservices and infrastructure as code, as well as programming.
Further hot skills
IT in general provides plenty of channels for employment beyond those listed above. These include product and project management, as well as a variety of networking specialties: cloud, wireless, edge, software-defined networking (SDN), secure access service edge (SASE), zero trust network access (ZTNA) and software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN).
Those possessing certain IT certifications can demand quite a premium in the job market. Anyone wishing to move up the career ladder is advised to plot a course that includes one or more of the following certifications, listed by Global Knowledge as the top paying certs for 2022:
- Google Certified Data Engineer
- Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect (Associate)
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
Their average salary for those with these certifications is more than $150,000 per year. These certs can open doors to positions such as CIO, CTO, CISO, IT manager, security manager and chief architect, as well as plenty of positions requiring cloud skills.
These certifications also scored well in the most recent salary survey from Skillsoft. But AWS Certified Solutions Architect (Professional) rose to the top spot.
To that list, Foote Partners adds the following, based on pay that’s well above average and the most gain in market value in the past six months:
- GIAC Certified Forensics Analyst (GCFA)
- Information System Security Engineering Professional (designed for those already completing CISSP and requiring two years of practical experience developing highly secure systems)
- AWS Certified Security Specialty
- OKTA Certified Professional (specialist in ID management) — rose 57.1% in market value in six months
- Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK)
Other worthwhile certs that can bring a bump in paycheck include:
“Learning is the catalyst for mutually beneficial growth for employees and employers, especially as organizations struggle to retain technical talent and keep pace with innovation,” said Sims of Skillsoft. “Companies that create cultures of learning and talent development will be most successful in recruiting and retaining ambitious individuals with the right skills and certifications to make an impact.”