Bring Your Own Device

10 hot areas of expertise for IT specialists

Success in the IT field is increasingly tied to specialization -- but what particular tech niches are most in demand? Deb Shinder runs through the IT specialties that top the list.

My recent article 10 Ways to become an IT superstar generated a lot of feedback. Quite a few IT pros out there apparently want to increase their visibility (and paychecks). One thing that drew a lot of attention in the piece was the advice to specialize. Okay, readers replied, but what area should I specialize in? They wanted to know which subsets of skills are the easiest to master and/or which ones will deliver the most bang for the buck. So in this follow-up, I'll look at some of the IT specialties that are likely to be in demand in the near future.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: To the cloud

You saw this one coming, didn't you? All the major technology companies seem to be "all in" with cloud computing -- Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Dell, CA Technologies, and more. According to recent surveys, at least 50% of organizations are already using some form of cloud computing, and Gartner says the adoption rate is increasing by about 17% per year. According to Dice.com, the number of ads for cloud computing jobs has grown by 344% over the last two years.

2: Virtually speaking

Virtualization has been hot for a while, as companies jumped in to reap the cost and management benefits of consolidating their servers and delivering virtualized desktops and applications to their users. Virtualization is also the foundation of cloud computing, so those with expertise in deploying virtualized IT environments will be in demand both in the public cloud arena and with those organizations that plan to stick with private clouds for now. Dice.com's data showed a 78% growth in the number of jobs related to server virtualization.

3: Mobile computing and consumerization integration

Everyone knows mobile computing is hot. Smartphones and tablets, along with laptops and netbooks, are the driving forces behind the increasing consumerization of enterprise IT. There are plenty of advantages for the company: Because employees are willing to buy their own devices, the organization saves money. Because those employees can stay in touch with work, read and respond to email, view attachments, and create documents no matter where they are, they become more productive.

But when employees purchase their own equipment, the downside is that you lose the standardization that comes with company-issued devices. You end up with many types of devices, made by different hardware vendors, running different operating systems and different apps, configured differently. Getting them to seamlessly connect to the company network can be a challenge. Getting them all connected to the company network without putting the network at risk is even more of a challenge. IT pros who have expertise in integrating these new devices into the network and managing them once they're connected are likely to be in demand by many companies.

Application lifecycle management (ALM) will become increasingly important as the environment becomes more complex with some functions in the cloud and some onsite. Bob Aiello believes configuration management (CM) will evolve into ALM, and the outlook is bright for those with these expanded skills.

4: It's all about the apps

As Toni Bowers reported in a recent blog post, the hottest job category for 2011 (according to CareerCast.com) is that of software engineer. But it's a position that's a bit different from the programmer of yesteryear. On the programming side of the fence, it's all about apps these days. As smartphones and tablets become ubiquitous, companies will need to develop their own specialized apps for those devices -- just as they've needed to develop proprietary software for desktop systems.

In addition, cloud-based applications will be big in the coming years, and that means software engineers will need new skills to design, develop, and implement programs that run in the cloud environment. Those who are familiar with Windows Azure, Google App Engine, VMware's Spring Framework, Force.com, and other cloud development platforms will be a step ahead of the game.

5: Security and compliance

With cybercrime on the rise and increasing concern over the possibility of cyber terrorism and/or cyber warfare, security specialists are likely to continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future. There is a saying in the law enforcement community regarding job security: Thanks to human nature, there will always be criminals -- and thus, there will always be a need for the police. That same dark side of human nature ensures that there will always be those who misuse computer technology to attack, intrude, and otherwise attempt to do harm to computer systems. That means there will always be a need for computer and network security specialists.

In addition, more and more government regulation of the Internet and networks, as well as regulatory provisions concerning data privacy, mean security is no longer optional for most organizations. Those who specialize in regulatory compliance are likely to see their job prospects increase as more industries come under the regulatory umbrella.

6: Four to six

When the IPv4 address pool was created in the 1980s, it was thought that the more than 4.2 billion unique addresses possible under the system would be enough. However, the creators didn't foresee the Internet boom or the possibility that one day, we would be connecting not just multiple computers per person, but printers, phones, and even household appliances to the Internet. This month (February 2011), IANA announced that it has allocated the last batch of remaining IPv4 addresses.

The solution to the problem has been around for a while: IPv6. The new version of the Internet Protocol supports a whopping 340 undecillion (2 to the 128th power) addresses. But IPv6 deployment is not an easy task; working with it requires learning a whole new IP language. IPv6 addresses don't even look like their IPv4 counterparts; they're notated in hexadecimal instead of dotted quad. IPv6 is also much more sophisticated than IPv4, with many new features (including built-in security mechanisms). Most important, IPv6 does not interoperate with IPv4, so transition technologies are required to get IPv4 networks to communicate with IPv6 networks.

Obviously, now that we've reached the end of the available IPv4 addresses, more and more organizations will be forced to migrate to IPv6. Because of the complexity, there is a shortage of IT personnel who have mastered and really understand IPv6. If you're one of the few, the proud, who specializes in this area, you're likely to have plenty of business in the upcoming years.

7: Business intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) refers to technologies that are used for reporting and analyzing data, including recognizing trends and patterns, to make better strategic business decisions. BI uses techniques such as data mining to extract and identify patterns and correlations in large amounts of data.

According to a recent study of midsize organizations that was done by IBM, BI/analytics is the second most popular IT investment (after infrastructure) that companies have planned for 2011. This indicates that specializing in the BI field can be a lucrative strategy and a good investment in your future.

8: The social network

Social networking started as a consumer-driven technology, but the use of social media is now being embraced in a big way by businesses. It can be used to connect with customers, colleagues, and partners to build solid business relationships. That doesn't mean you'll automatically be a hot property on the job market just because you tweet and update your Facebook page regularly. But it does mean organizations are looking for people who know how to integrate social media into the business environment in a way that furthers the goals of the organization.

Many companies are looking to develop their own social sites that give them more control and let them target their audiences more precisely. Specialists in social media are sure to find many opportunities as more and more companies stop seeing social sites as just time-wasters that should be blocked and start to recognize the potential for business use. This article offers more information about exactly what a social media specialist does.

9: Public sector computing

On the one hand, many state and local governments are cutting back on their budgets and laying off personnel. On the other hand, governmental agencies are depending more and more on technology to perform their functions more efficiently with fewer personnel. That means specialists in public sector computing can likely find a home in one of the many thousands of town, city, county, state, or federal government agencies that exist in the United States alone.

Although salaries for government jobs are often smaller than those in the private sector, they sometimes offer better benefits, more time off, and a less pressured work environment. There are a number of IT subspecialties in the public sector, as well. These include computer forensics investigators, criminalistics analysts, and personnel who specialize in secure mobile communications technologies for public service agencies.

10: To your health

The healthcare industry is in a state of flux in the United States. Government mandates are predicted to result in cost reduction measures that may result in personnel cuts and/or discourage young people from entering medicine. At the same time, the baby boomer generation is aging and requiring health care. Technology may be one way to fill the gap.

An IDC report published late last year showed that the U.S. healthcare market for IT was valued at $34 billion and was predicted to increase by 24% over the next three years. That translates into a demand for software developers and IT professionals who understand the healthcare industry and its special needs and who know how to integrate technology into the caregiver's world without dumping a steep learning curve onto people already working in an understaffed and overworked environment.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

6 comments
nat.hansen
nat.hansen

I didn't know VoIP was dead in the water...

danielmatalon
danielmatalon

With all the specialization focus here, what is missing is the biggest growing need, Project Management. All new strategies require change. Change requires change management and that is a combination of business analysis (not technical but informed by technical) defining projects that project managers need to implement. By definition, good change agents are generalists and communicators who know how to involve people, delegate tasks, educate users and ensure results (along with a broad technical knowledge). PM's should be an expertise on this list.

jay031209
jay031209

IT is very important things in our life , specially in this very extensive world of technology . Programming is the key of all technologies in earth. meladerm cream

thyssens
thyssens

??To the cloud? No thanks! I am an IT aficionado (took some IT studies too, enough for my programming needs) and work as translator. The problem with ??to the cloud?? is that clients are very concerned about privacy issues and I believe it will take a long time until they will trust their documents to the cloud. And they are very right ... In Spain we have a say: estar en las nubes, but it has another meaning as to be in the cloud... :)

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

Your clients are not alone in their hesitation with openly embracing the cloud. Despite the tech industry???s best efforts including the efforts by their journalistic partners (so much for journalists being unbiased and simply reporting the news and info straight up) the truth is that a majority of users are NOT as open to the cloud as the tech and media would have us believe. There are definitely some entities ready to jump into the cloud including some very large and powerful corporations but most of them have some level of interest in the cloud succeeding so they are taking the leap to the cloud to try and sell the cloud idea on others. The cloud is a revamped term for remote computing and before that, dumb terminals. The difference being the connection is via the internet and not some fixed line/cable as older technologies required. Its true the cloud makes it easier to connect when everything is working as it should. The problem is reliability and as your clients have said, trust. "Trust, but Verify". A wise statement if any. With the cloud you as a business are at the mercy of the cloud provider that you can get to and use whatever the cloud is hosting. What happens when government gets involved and sends in Homeland Security to do mass sweeps on all client data in a service providers cloud? If you hosted your own data and the government came knocking you would be far less likely to just give in since its your company that may be at stake. The Cloud providers must look at it from their own perspective and its far more likely they would give in then put up a fight. With the passing of THE PATRIOT ACT and as of a few days ago the NDAA, the Federal Government has a lot of unconstitutional powers it gave itself and its security agencies like Homeland Security are just aching to exercise those powers. Don't think it can happen? The news is full of FBI/NSA goofs with website shutdowns where the feds issued mass shutdowns of websites that were guilty of nothing but were closed because the provider that hosted their site was found to have at least one site that did engage in illegal activities. Its guilt by association and you can bet this will be magnified in the cloud. BOTTOM LINE: The entities most embracing the cloud (and trying to sell the rest of us on it) are those with a vested interest in the clouds success; usually a financial interest.