Top Tech Skills in the Remote Work Era
ITCareerFinder interviews technology, business, staffing and education leaders to identify the most desirable skills in the post-Corona IT workforce.
The global pandemic has thrown organizations large and small into turmoil as offices shuttered overnight, and employees began a trial-by-fire adjustment to home office environments.
This has had a profound impact on the IT needs of businesses, and offers those in the tech job market a series of opportunities in the areas of IT service management (ITSM), unified communications, security, and a host of areas where businesses will need to ramp up their acumen—quickly and permanently.
“The most shocking thing about the pandemic was not that people were starting to work from home, it was how quickly it happened,” explains Shirin Mangold, senior director of IT at software and information solutions specialist Deltek.
She notes the company immediately lost their ability to go in and pick up IT equipment, and had to support employees who had never worked outside the office. This requiring providing an avalanche of information her team needed to communicate to people working remotely, without the ability to rely on traditional in-office communications.
“We had an increased reliance on online collaboration tools and that became extremely important for communicating information to people,” she says. “As people went home, they asked for support on consumer products, home printers, WiFi and cable providers, and it challenged our ability to troubleshoot, so we really had to share knowledge more creatively.”
She sees business needs for IT Service Management and Unified Communications ramping up dramatically as IT departments struggle with a deluge of tickets, a view shared by Matt Hackney, regional vice president for the New York region at the staffing firm, Robert Half Technology.
“There’s just more tickets because there’s more remote work, which means people require additional help desk and desktop support,” Hackney says. “That provides opportunities for ITSM professions from the ground floor all the way up through management across multiple professional backgrounds.”
He points out perspective employers are wanting to know more about prospective employees’ skill sets working in remote environments as well as their interpersonal communication skills.
“We’ve seen an increase in demand for network security engineers and cloud security analysts, as most clients are shifting to a more remote workforce and there’s a need to make sure their staff is secure, he says. “Those businesses need to constantly be checking their secure sign-ons and active directories and provide a secure work environment, for employees working from home or third party clients—there are just more touch points for people who are going to work remotely.”
Cyber security -- as always is the case -- is in high demand, confirms Dr. Abel Sanchez, executive director and research scientist at the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT.
“The way we're working in a distributed fashion has additional security record requirements, and we were already dealing with a skills shortage when it came to security even before COVID-19,” he explained. “So, this is one career that continues to be really promising and has even more opportunity now that we are working differently.”
If IT workers are already in the security area, they will benefit from adding some machine learning or data science skills.
“But they have a bright future ahead,” he noted. “Everyone is now working from home and that means everyone needs to up their game in cyber security.”
Sanchez pointed out that another area that is rising in prominence is dev ops -- a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) -- largely due to the rise in prominence of digital products.
“Everything that we're trying to do as we move away from our physical shared spaces and face-to-face communication, has to do with dev ops,” Sanchez said. “How do we automate and accelerate? This is a challenge that the software industry has been facing for some time, and that perhaps the open source industry is better at.”
For those reasons, Sanchez points out there's also a great deal of opportunity within dev ops, which is sometimes called site reliability engineering, and notes it is one of the highest paid IT roles at the moment because of it.
“Even beyond the pandemic, this is a great career track because the industry itself recognizes how important this is now,” he said. “Complementary to that comes all of the tooling and all the frameworks, that excess server side, which is the cloud side. Expertise in cloud computing, especially as it relates to dev ops, is a really valuable and necessary skill during the pandemic.”
Mangold adds people with cloud skills are “extremely important” in the current remote work paradigm, and expects organizations will continue to need talent with people who can deploy cloud solutions.
“We are much more reliant on our cloud services than ever before, so we’re looking for people who have experience in the public cloud, be it Google, Azure, AWS, et cetera, and people who have shifted their experience to those spaces, because they can bring their expertise to our shift as well,” she explains.
Looking into the future, Mangold sees a sustained need not only for specific skill sets like security, networking, and service management, but also for project management skills, and for people who have stellar communications skills and the ability to adapt.
“You need people who are reading their emails carefully and responding, and pro-actively communicating. That’s a huge skill set that’s really critical,” she says.
Add to that IT people who are collaborators and who are not shy to ask for help when they need it.
“I hire a lot of junior people, and they’re going to need to be able to raise their hands and ask for help, because I can’t physically see them,” Mangold says. “That means managers are going to have to be strong in collaboration and communication.
She also adds that at the senior levels in IT, what companies will be looking for are potential employees who can demonstrate resilience.
“None of us has seen anything like this before, so we need people who are creative problem solvers and have the ability to adapt to change,” she explains. “Resilience is absolutely critical.”