Keep current, stay employed: The most in-demand tech skills for 2021

Python, data security fundamentals, data analytics, Agile methodologies, DevOps & SecOps, and cloud fundamentals are also at the top of the best skills to have, according to a new report from Skillsoft.

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Whether you're a job seeker, an ambitious employee, or a manager, as the new year launches, it's an ideal time to reassess skills, to reskill, to upskill, or just add a skill. The top skills to develop for 2021 are detailed in a new report from Skillsoft Tech Signals, "Lean Into Tech: 2020 Tech Skills Trends and 2021 Predictions." The report is informed by last year's tech trends, which subsequently evolved into what Skillsoft found will be the most in-demand skills for IT professionals. 

The pandemic threw the entire enterprise into a new realm of working, sending the majority of the on-site workforce to work from home, the set-up of which weighed very heavily on the company's IT departments. 

"The problem is that technology is constantly changing," the report says. "Keeping up is hard enough, but staying ahead can be impossible—particularly in areas of technology your organization has not yet deployed. As a result of this rapid pace of change, skills are in high demand, but supply is low, particularly for the tech capabilities that your company will need to grow and compete in the future."

Cloud application security resulted in a significant rise (77%) in security course hours in September and October of 2020, and the report found the following course completion results in North America: Software craft 34%, infrastructure 20.5%, data 12.7%, security 12.25%, cloud 10.6%, and programing 9.4%.

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Software craft (fundamentally DevOps) "is a greater learner need than programming," 15% higher on average, and this signals that processes and methodologies used in crafting software are "a critical upskilling imperative."

Most popular skills

In the section "Tech Skills in the Pandemic," the report pointed out that while operating remotely, there was a dramatic increase in the number of learning hours when compared to 2019. Self-paced instruction seems ideal for IT pros who are telecommuting and "more than ever, technologists embraced" it. 

Sharp spikes in crucial areas were seen in DevOps, infrastructure and security. While new tech job postings are down 36%, there is a 52% increase in learning hours, 50% of the top 20 courses were in Agile and DevOps, there was a 6.3% increase in hours for security courses, and three times the completion rate for networking/infrastructure courses when compared to 2019.

Suggested skills and predictions for 2021

Software craft (process management, architecture, platforms, methods and models, and tools to build, test, deploy, and maintain systems and services; Agile methods are vital, and it's adjacent to cloud, programming and data tech): enterprise architecture and patterns, continuous integration and continuous deployment, testing and automated testing, and Agile and Scrum.

2021 predictions for software craft: Remote work is here to stay, it requires a tech stack, job role and skills adjustment; open source is a legitimate first choice for new projects, products and companies; advances in automated testing will improve software performance and resilience.

Top 10 in-demand software craft skills, in order: Software product/project management, Agile, testing, automation, DevOps fundamentals, design patterns, .net design/components, containers, product quality, and cross-platform

Programming (mastery of languages) skills to develop: Programming language and frameworks for data wrangling and analytics; programming language and frameworks for full-stack development (front end and back end); platform-specific frameworks (for Microsoft users).

2021 predictions for programming: Advantages of ML will accelerate Python growth; greater acceptance of midcareer retraining as the path to tech and development career growth, and focus on developing robust applications using proven languages such as Java.

Top 10 in-demand programming languages, in order: Python, Java, C, Scripting/Markup (HTML, XML, RUBY, etc.), Javascript, .NET, r, Scala, PHP, Swift.

Top 10 in-demand programming skills, in order: Front-end development, designing and using APIS, programming fundamentals, full-stack development, object-oriented programming, mobile development, server-side programming, automated testing, program design, and concurrency.

Data (infrastructure and services required to store, collect, secure, and access data, adjacent to cloud and security tech because of the need to mine data remotely and mitigate risks of intrusions that may compromise data integrity) skills to develop: Data wrangling with Python programming; data analytics, and, data security fundamentals.

Top 10 in-demand data skills, in order: Database programming and admin, analytics techniques, fundamentals, machine/deep learning, processing, artificial intelligence, visualization, streaming/real-time, clustering, and warehouse architectures.

2021 predictions for data: Organizations will intensify investments to secure data storage and remote access; ownership rights to personal data will make headlines, but not meaningful regulation, and social responsibility for reducing bias in data-gains momentum.

Security (protect private, intellectual property, public safety, social fabric; adjacent to all tech and core to all job roles) skills to develop: DevOps and CloudOps security features, methods and techniques; basic understanding of security principles, and hands-on practical experiences that challenge and test newly acquired knowledge.

Top 10 in-demand security skills, in order: Information data systems, security fundamentals, cyberOps, phishing defensive strategies, cloud security, threat intelligence, information systems security, application security, infrastructure security, and ethical hacking.

2021 predictions for security: Organizations will encourage "cyber champions" who support basic security principles; a return to "threat-modeling" to identify risks and exposures to security, and hands-on practical experiences will reinforce learning and improve security literacy.

Cloud (essential for sustainability, reduces dependency on physical infrastructure layer for programming decisions, apps can be built with any language with any toolkit, cloud systems are highly efficient, scalable, and cost-effective compared to on-premises alternatives; adjacent to security and data tech, growth expected to be 30% in 2021) skills to develop: Cloud infrastructure, standing up databases, networks, and virtual machines; native cloud app development and modernization of legacy systems for the cloud, and, public cloud platform-specific knowledge.

Top 10 in-demand cloud skills, in order: Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, cloud fundamentals, Orchestration (Kubernetes), other cloud platforms, cloud infrastructure, compute resources, cloud migration, and virtualization. 

2021 predictions for the cloud: Continued consolidation around public cloud providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google; value creation and ROI will be the drivers of cloud investments, and, tech organizations will expand cloud adoption because the cost savings are huge, and retraining and reshaping job roles will be critical to success.

Bootcamps

Live or on-demand bootcamps are "still an increasingly valuable way to learn," since in a virtual environment, skill gaps can be addressed or they can help to prepare for certification exams. According to Skillsoft, in 2020, more than 21,000 learners attended a live bootcamp, a 200% growth in bootcamp attendance from 2019, and the average NPS (Net Promoter Score) score for bootcamps was 71.

NPS' top 10 bootcamps, in order: Comptia Security, 83%; PMP Exam, 79%; Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, 79%; Data Wrangling with Python, 77%; Understanding Bias in Data, 76%; Intro to Scrum for the Team, 74%; CISSP, 74%; Agile Project Manager, 72%; AWS Cloud Practitioner, 71%, and, Mobile Device Management using Microsoft 365 and Endpoint Manager, 71%.

Connect IT

IT is an industry that demands skills agility, and will be evidenced as such this year. Skillsoft cites the research of Richard Elliott, head of IT transformation, digital services at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who looked toward staying ahead of the curve, and "set out to change the culture of the IT function." 

Elliott started by renaming the group Connect, for professionals who knew the fundamentals of "the tech space" but who could address skills gaps "and pivot quickly to stay ahead of the ever-changing tech space." Connect's IT pros, the report noted, focus on growth and a culture of learning and talent agility for more engaged and more productive teams.

In conclusion, Skillsoft's report indicates that technologists need to take advantage of the rapid tech changes and take on a proactive mindset and evaluate teams' talent and assess how they match up with the latest developments and the company's needs.

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