10 skills to advance your IT career in 2021

Which technology skills will be in demand in 2021?

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Which technology skills will be in demand in 2021? The simple answer is those that have anything to do with digital transformation.

Organizations will continue the relentless shift of data and workloads to the cloud, expansion of e-commerce infrastructures, ongoing support of the new hybrid work environment, and efforts to enhance customer experience—to name a few priorities.

Skills that support any of these initiatives will be in demand. But certain skills stand out as being especially in demand as organizations look to emerge from the pandemic and grow the business. Here are 10 to consider.

 

Cloud computing

The steady migration of workloads and computing capacity to the cloud will likely continue in 2021, and as a result any skills related to cloud computing will remain in high demand at organizations.

Research firm IDC predicts that by the end of 2021, 80 percent of enterprises will have put a mechanism in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the coronavirus pandemic. IT leaders must accelerate the transition to a cloud-centric IT model to maintain competitive parity and to make their organizations more digitally resilient, the firm says.

Which technology skills will be in demand in 2021? The simple answer is those that have anything to do with digital transformation.

Organizations will continue the relentless shift of data and workloads to the cloud, expansion of e-commerce infrastructures, ongoing support of the new hybrid work environment, and efforts to enhance customer experience—to name a few priorities.

Skills that support any of these initiatives will be in demand. But certain skills stand out as being especially in demand as organizations look to emerge from the pandemic and grow the business. Here are 10 to consider.

Cloud computing

The steady migration of workloads and computing capacity to the cloud will likely continue in 2021, and as a result any skills related to cloud computing will remain in high demand at organizations.

Research firm IDC predicts that by the end of 2021, 80 percent of enterprises will have put a mechanism in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the coronavirus pandemic. IT leaders must accelerate the transition to a cloud-centric IT model to maintain competitive parity and to make their organizations more digitally resilient, the firm says.

The main reason cloud expertise is so vital is because it intersects with many other hot IT skills, according to Global Knowledge, a firm that provides IT training services.

For example, the cloud can leverage or influence technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, networking, and cyber security. Understand the workings of the cloud, and you have great insight into the way processes are getting done in today’s business environment.

Some of the specific cloud skills that companies are looking for include, knowledge of the leading cloud platforms, cloud migration and deployment within multi-cloud environments, microservices and serverless architecture, cloud security, coding and database management, and containers.

Among the cloud-related roles that will be most in demand are cloud administrators and cloud architects, Global Knowledge says.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Few aspects of IT will not somehow involve AI and machine learning in the coming months and years. As these technologies continue to advance, developers will find new ways to leverage them, adding new intelligence and automation to countless processes.

Global Knowledge notes that as organizations increasingly use big data to make decisions, AI and machine learning skills will continue to be in high demand. They are used to identify patterns and trends that humans can’t see or process using traditional methods, it says.

The firm says AI is one of the most important skills for organizations whose businesses have been slowed because of the pandemic. For example, with so many employees working remotely, companies can deploy AI-based tools to improve endpoint security, protecting data and devices connected to the corporate networks.

IDC has predicted that AI market revenue will maintain a steady growth rate annually through 2023, approaching $98.4 billion in revenue that year at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 percent. The role of AI in enterprises is rapidly evolving, the research firm says, changing the way customers buy products and suppliers deliver materials.

AI services will continue to be integral to digital transformation efforts, which means organizations will be looking for people who have related skills and certifications in areas such as computer programming, mathematics, computer languages, and analytics.

Hyperautomation/Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Developing skills in any type of automation technology is a smart idea. Specifically, hyperautomation and RPA are expected to be big areas of growth in 2021.

Hyperautomation involves the application of technologies such as RPA, AI, machine learning, data analytics, and process mining to automate processes in ways that have significantly more impact that traditional automation capabilities.

Demand for key hyperautomation tools such as RPA, which automate many mundane tasks to increase efficiency, has been on the rise. In a September 2020 report, research firm Gartner predicted global RPA software revenue will reach $1.89 billion in 2021, an increase of 20 percent from 2020. The RPA market is expected to grow at double-digit rates through 2024.

Gartner says hyperautomation “has been trending at an unrelenting pace over the past few years, mainly because of the pent-up demand for operationally resilient business processes.” As business executives demand digital operational excellence, the firm says, there’s often a backlog of requests from business stakeholders for automation using one or more technologies.

Hyper automation is inevitable, Gartner says. “Everything that can be automated will be automated,” it says. “Competitive pressures for efficiency, efficacy and business agility are forcing organizations to address it.”

Data analytics and data science

Demand has been high for people with data analytics and data science skills for several years, as organizations look to gain more value from constantly growing volumes of information. There’s no sign this will slow anytime soon; in fact, demand will likely grow as companies gather useful data from sources such as IoT and edge devices and aim to leverage AI-powered tools.

IDC has noted that the number of devices connected to the internet, including the machines, sensors, and cameras that make up the IoT, continues to grow at a steady pace, and estimates that there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices generating 79.4 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025.

Demand for analytics technologies is also on the rise. A March 2020 report by Research and Markets says the global big data analytics market was valued at $37.34 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $105.08 billion by 2027. The rapid rise in volume and complexity of data are due to growing mobile data traffic, cloud-computing usage, and burgeoning development and adoption of technologies such as IoT and AI, the report says.

As Global Knowledge points out, new data will continue to accumulate—pandemic or not. “Data analysts are hot commodities because organizations need professionals who can store and manage data,” the firm says. “Data scientists are needed to dig into that data and understand how it can be used to solve problems and make informed decisions.”

Software development/DevOps

The software development job market is growing faster than most areas of IT, according to Global Knowledge. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of developer jobs will increase 22 percent between 2019 and 2029. For perspective, the average growth rate for all occupations is four percent.

Among the reasons for this increase in demand is the seemingly insatiable desire for new business and consumer applications.

Some of the skills developers need include knowledge of popular computer languages such as Python, Java, C++, and HTML. They also need to be familiar with the latest development tools, Web development techniques, cloud, security, databases, frameworks, and other areas.

Experience with development methods such as DevOps and Agile is also in demand, as organizations look to increase the speed and effectiveness with which they develop new software products.

Blockchain

While many might associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, the mechanism provides security and reliability capabilities that can be applied to many business processes. It has potential use in a range of sectors, and some organizations are already leveraging blockchain to ensure the integrity of data and transactions.

Demand for related technology is on the rise. Research firm Markets and Markets says the global blockchain market is expected to grow from $3 billion in 2020 to $39.7 billion by 2025, at an impressive CAGR of 67 percent. The increasing need for simplifying business processes and the need for supply chain management applications integrated with blockchain technology will drive the overall market, the report says.

Professional social networking site LinkedIn named blockchain hard skills as the most in-demand for 2020, and the need for such skills is likely to increase in 2021 as more organizations adopt the shared digital ledger system. Blockchain has emerged from the once shadowy world of cryptocurrency to become a business solution in search of problems, according to a LinkedIn report.

Internet of Things (IoT)/Edge computing

As noted, IoT and edge computing will play increasingly important roles at organizations as they look to gather valuable data from all kinds of sensors, devices, assets, consumer products, buildings, and other sources connected via the internet.

Many companies and institutions are offering training courses and certifications related to IoT, as demand for skills continues to rise. Among the technology skills that can be applied to IoT are business intelligence, cyber security, networking, mobile app development, hardware engineering, and software development.

There’s also demand for skills related to edge computing, in which functions such as data analytics takes place at the edge of the network, closer to where the devices and systems generating data are located.

A December 2020 report by Research and Markets says the global market for edge computing is expected to reach $18.7 billion by 2027, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 28 percent between 2020 through 2027.

“The IoT ecosystem is exploding with billions of self-aware devices expected to be connected to the edge of networks by 2030,” the report says. The use of private edge cloud networks for handling edge computing workloads and connecting to IoT devices is growing in popularity, the study notes, because it allows organizations to accelerate data processing and analysis.

Networking/Wireless/5G

Whether it’s IoT, edge computing, work-from-home, or other prominent IT trends, networking technology is playing a primary role in making things possible. People who have skills related to wireless communications will likely be presented with career opportunities.

Organizations are connecting more and more devices to networks, and this will only increase as IoT projects launch and grow. In addition, many people will continue to work from home, which means they’ll need to be connected in secure and effective ways.

One of the biggest developments in the networking technology market in 2021 will be the ongoing rise of 5G. The latest wireless standard promises benefits such as low latency and faster speeds.

Grand View Research in a May 2020 report says the global 5G services market was estimated to reach $41.48 billion by 2020 and expand at a CAGR of 44 percent from 2021 to 2027. The technology supports a number of use cases, such as virtual reality, and augmented reality, video calling, and ultra-high definition videos, the report says.

The firm expects growing demand for high-speed data connectivity to drive the adoption of 5G services. Industries such as healthcare, energy and utilities, and transportation and logistics are expected to leverage 5G as part of digital transformations.

Mobile app development

While part of software development in general, mobile app development deserves separate mention because of the growth of mobile devices as key IT resources for business.

With the shift to work-from-home and other remote locations that’s still in effect for many people, mobile apps could become even more important.

A June 2020 report by research and advisory firm Technavio predicts the global mobile apps market will grow by $497 billion between 2020 and 2024. Smartphone manufacturers are increasingly focusing on launching new mobile phones with enhanced features with respect to processing speeds, battery life, storage, display quality, and software capabilities to support advanced functions, the report says.

These functions include multi-tasking of apps, wherein users can operate multiple mobile apps at the same time. Smartphones are also being upgraded with additional functionalities for display, camera, memory, processors, and other technical specifications, Technavio says.

The development of hybrid mobile apps, which are built in combination with Web technologies (HTML) and JavaScript, is expected to be one of the key trends in the mobile apps market during the forecast period.

Cyber security

It’s no secret that there’s a large gap between supply and demand when it comes to cyber security skills—and this gap has been growing over the years.

Cybrary, a company that provides a cyber security career development platform, in a September 2020 report said organizations around the world are facing a lack of qualified candidates for key positions in security. Enhancing the job skills of existing staffers is becoming vital to defending against data breaches and protecting IT infrastructures, the report said.

The study was based on a June 2020 survey of more than 800 security and IT professionals, and showed that 72 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their security teams are experiencing skills gaps. About two thirds of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that skills gaps are having a negative impact on their teams’ effectiveness.

The pandemic has created an even greater urgency for acquiring security skills, in part because of the work-from-home trend and newly emerging threats.

Cyber security is an area that cannot be ignored, even as technology budgets tighten at some organizations, according to a Global Knowledge report on technology skills. “Our physical world has shrunk considerably in recent months, but the digital world remains a playground for cyber criminals who have developed new and devious tactics to obtain sensitive data,” the report says.

The number of attacks has increased since the pandemic started, the firm says, with phishing email attacks up dramatically since February.

The global shortage of cyber security professionals “has created an in-demand market for anyone who wants to rise to the challenge and build career-advancing skill sets,” notes Brad Puckett, Global Knowledge global portfolio director of cyber security.

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