21st century tech jobs and how to land one
Ever considered being an augmented reality specialist? How about a director of cloud transformation?
By Mary K. Pratt | Computerworld US | Published: 17:15, 04 January 2012
Forecasts for IT hiring are almost universally predicting that project managers and business analysts will be in demand in 2012, but what about cloud transformation officers?
With big data, mobile computing, social media, cloud computing and the consumerization of IT all converging on IT in 2012, some new - and intriguing - job titles are beginning to emerge.
Computerworld went digging and unearthed a handful of positions you can expect to see popping up more and more -- along with details on what you'll need to land one of them. Read on, future chief agile officers.
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1. Director of cloud transformation
As companies move from the client-server world to one where systems reside in the cloud, they're hiring professionals to oversee the entire strategy, says Al Delattre, global industry lead for technology at Los Angeles recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International.
Whether the position's called director of cloud transformation, vice president of virtualisation or cloud transformation officer -- all of those titles are floating out there in the corporate world - the job description remains roughly the same: Oversee all the moving parts required to make the move to the cloud, Delattre says.
"This position is like being a conductor of an orchestra. It's a series of 500 projects over seven years. You have to make sure it works and it's sequenced," he says. "No one person is an expert on all of it," which means multiple specialists are often involved - and that, in turn, spurs some companies to seek out an overseeing director.
Delattre likens the move to the cloud to the big ERP projects that swept through organizations in the past decade or so. Now, as then, companies are looking to hire people who can show that they've been able to plan, control and deliver complex, high-risk projects involving technology that's evolving even as the project is underway. "You've got to have that track record. You want someone who has landed on the moon and returned before," Delattre says.
They're also looking for deep knowledge of the organisation's applications. "You have to understand the parts you're working with. You need to understand what's in there now," he says. "You need to know that [someone] might have put in a patch 10 years ago and never documented it."
Finally, they're looking for folks skilled in negotiating with and managing vendors. "There is absolutely a skill requirement around procurement, because so much of this is about procuring services," says Delattre.
Once an organization successfully moves to the cloud, does the job go away? Given the complexity of the task, Delattre says, cloud transition managers can expect to stay busy for at least the next several years, before transitions are complete and the job morphs into one focused on maintenance.
"This is a two-to-five-to-seven-year run, similar to what happened when we went from mainframe to client server and then again when we went to the Web," Delattre says.
Companies of every size and stripe are implementing ever more ambitious strategies involving social media, so it's only logical that they need technologists who can make the most of their investments, says Rachel Russell, director of marketing at IT staffing firm TekSystems.
Some of them are moving to hire people who understand both the marketing value of social media as well as its technical complexities - an acknowledgement that in most organizations social media has, up until now, been under the purview of either marketing or IT. Now, some are putting a new crossbreed of talent into positions with titles like chief social media strategist, new media coordinator, manager of social media and (less frequently) socialite.
"What you'll see with these positions is a tie-in to strategy. Companies want someone who can help them understand and define what the strategy is; [someone to say] 'Here's what we want the social media strategy to be,'" says Matthew Ripaldi, senior vice president of IT staffing firm Modis in Jacksonville, Fla.
The role isn't about sending out tweets and posting on Facebook all day, he clarifies. It's about leveraging technology to monitor online activity and interactions and to engage consumers.
Given all that, the ideal candidate is someone who has a strong background in business strategy and marketing with project management and business intelligence experience mixed in -- and a technical background, with skills in HTML and Web rendering, Ripaldi says.
If that order weren't tall enough, companies also want candidates with proven experience. Strong candidates would have solid experience in marketing and could demonstrate the ROI of their past marketing projects, Ripaldi says.
"When we're interviewing IT professionals, we want to hear about what projects they worked on and what they did for the business: What business stakeholders did you work with? What were the challenges? If they can answer those, [we see that] they get what they're doing," Russell says.
In a move that may be welcome news to IT types, some organizations are going so far as to create more than one specialized social-media-oriented position. They're hiring a high-level executive to develop a strategy and then hiring a midtier techie (as social media architect, engineer or developer) with skills in coding, HTML, website development, graphical user interfaces and search engine optimization.
3. Data scientist
Big data is on the agenda of nearly every future-looking operation, for good reason. "Organisations are drowning in the amount of data that comes in, but it's all very siloed. People have the information, but they can't find it," says Daniel Burrus, founder and CEO of Burrus Research Associates in Hartland, Wis., and the author of Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible.
So enterprises need a new breed of worker who understands how to collect, interpret and analyze vast amounts of data in a way that's truly useful for making business decisions.
"There's a huge explosion of consumer data, and every company that's even close to a consumer market is trying to figure out what to do with all this data - to move it from data to insight to actionable items instantaneously," says Korn/Ferry's Delattre.
Like many of the other hot jobs in IT, this specialty requires the right combination of business and technical skills. The ideal candidate needs to be familiar with sophisticated algorithms, analytics and marketing - as well as ultra-high-speed computing, data mining, statistics and even artificial intelligence.
"IT needs to understand what questions the business [is] trying to answer so it can make better business decisions faster and cheaper," Russell of TekSystems explains. A data scientist "has to know where all the data is and how to push it out, but also what data is the biggest priority, where did it originate, and how to structure the business process so there's no garbage in and garbage out," she adds.
"You need process management skills and communication skills, so you can say, 'I can build this for you, but we need a partnership because a tool alone isn't going to get us what we need,'" Russell explains.
The data scientist position goes beyond the skills generally seen in a BI analyst. These new specialists will not only find and deliver the data; they will also be the ones using it for extensive forecasting. "You want someone who can take the raw data and apply it in order to predict [customer] behavior," Delattre says.
Delattre describes the ideal candidate as someone with an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master's in marketing with some operations management expertise. It's a specialized skill set, he admits, but anyone with those credentials could step into the new positions being created under titles like chief market scientist, chief data analyst and the more creative-sounding customer sleuth.
4. Augmented reality specialist
Companies building apps that are designed to enhance how people view the world around them need technologists who can deliver that experience. And demand for people with that expertise is only expected to grow, according to Burrus.
Companies are increasingly working to deliver programs that enable people to view a landscape, street or mall, for example, through the lens of their smartphone or tablet and get valuable information about the things they can see in front of them. A view of the landscape might, for example, display the heights of mountains and the number of vacancies at nearby lodges, while a scenes of a city street or a mall would show which restaurant has a lunch special or which store has the best price on a particular product.
Required technical skills include programming experience in HTML5 and the iOS and Android platforms, as well as graphics expertise - specifically 3D modeling skills that include texturing, shading and rendering.
Beyond that, Burrus says, augmented reality specialists also need a particular mindset to be successful. "It will require an open, flexible mind," he says, explaining that these workers need to be able to visualize how to combine technologies in new ways to produce new results.
More tech titles of the future
It's no surprise that new tech job titles tend to emerge during times of great change in the industry. "When you look at what's emerging today, usually the new jobs are tied to the new technologies," says Sandra A. Slaughter, a professor of information technology management at the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Management.
Slaughter and other industry watchers listed these as some of the jobs out on the high-tech horizon:
Chief agile officer: As more organisations move from the linear and sequential waterfall model of development to agile development, with its iterative approach, they're looking for leaders to help with the transformation. Branndon Kelley, CIO at American Municipal Power, says he has seen these people hold titles such as chief transformation officer or agile coach. He says they're typically charged with building the methodologies that will lead an organization through a changing environment.
Flexible resource manager: Because IT is in a state of constant evolution, some departments are starting to hire people who can foresee what skills will be needed and how long they'll be needed, says TekSystems' Russell. These managers are also responsible for bringing people with new talents into the organisation and integrating them with existing staff to assemble high-performance teams.
Health informatics expert: As healthcare becomes an ever larger and ever more computerised industry, technologists are needed who can optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval and application of health-related data. Ideally, health informatics experts will understand not only IT but the unique needs of the clinical care community. "In some ways, it's taking things we already know how to do and tailoring them, developing new systems for the healthcare system," Slaughter explains.
Machine-to-machine communications enabler: Machine-to-machine communications is already present in some industries, though the application of such technology is in its early stages, according to Burrus. As companies expand their use of such communications, they'll need more and more people to develop, deploy and manage the technology.
Outsourcing/offshoring manager: "Outsourcing and offshoring are getting more complicated," Slaughter says. "The work may be going on in four or five different places now, not just in one place, so you need someone who can manage all the projects."