5 Tech Skills Everyone Will Have to Know
It's hard to think of anyone whose work isn't somehow mediated through tech, especially in postindustrial information economies. Chances are even a coffee stand will have a smartphone hooked up to process credit purchases through a third-party point-of-sale app. Tech's no longer a sideshow reserved for the "techies" in the corner cubicles. Everyone's a techie now.
You may have heard about the so-called "Internet of Things," referring to the diffusion of net connectivity away from just a simple handful of devices like phones and computers and more into the everyday fabric of life. In the world of work, it can often feel like that integration has already happened: Digital technology and the Internet have fundamentally reinvented the way we work.
So what are the new basic minimum requirements for working in this kind of economy? What kinds of things should a college student know before they graduate? We talked to the experts and put together this resulting list of the five tech skills everyone will need to know.
Especially with the many high-profile hacks and data breaches that have happened in the last few years, cybersecurity is a high priority at many organizations. It's also an area where a skills gap is most pronounced: According to a survey conducted in 2014 by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), large portions of IT professionals in cybersecurity -- as many as 50 percent -- were unfamiliar with some major types of malware and how they worked.
Perhaps more importantly, recent history has made it clear that maintaining security standards is the responsibility of everyone in an organization, a trend we documented in a survey on cybersecurity issues we conducted last year. With so much of everyone's work being mediated through the Internet as well as portables like tablets and phones, being up to speed on company data security practices is imperative.
ESG also found that some 30 percent of the 397 organizations it surveyed said the network security skills of their staff were at least somewhat inadequate, and 37 percent said the same about their security staff's ability to keep up with the threat landscape. Especially as security threats become more complex, companies are seeking out talent that's ready to help protect things like infrastructure as well as sensitive internal and customer data.
2) Digital Marketing
We've come a long way from the days of Mad Men, when the key factor to commercial success was designing one ingenious billboard sign or magazine ad. On a global scale, more and more eyeballs -- and prospective customers -- are moving online, restructuring the way people interact with and consume content.
It's like apples and oranges. What worked for print advertising will not necessarily resonate when designing messaging for videos on YouTube, tweets on Twitter, Facebook promotions and any other platform on which brands can reach out to individuals. What's more, it's not just about making impressions on the biggest amount of people anymore. Now that there's more data available than ever about both consumers and products, there's greater ability to personalize messaging for the specific audiences a brand wants to reach.
3) Big Data and Data Analysis
Data-driven decision making is increasingly becoming the norm, and not just for data scientists or specialized analysts. In the modern world, it's very likely that any connected device or service that people use is gathering up data about their usage habits and feeding it to off-site servers. Companies want to capture all that data to see how their products are used and improve them, market them better and anticipate the needs of their customers in order to be more effective businesses -- but there's often more data than there is an understanding of how to put it to use.
A study performed by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company projected a shortfall of somewhere between 140,000 and 190,000 data analytics professionals by 2018 in the U.S., and already this segment of the industry has seen huge growth. Capgemini Consulting reported in 2013 that while some 81 percent of executives responding to a survey said their companies were working on big data initiatives, only 21 percent thought they had staff with the skills to make it happen.
4) Network Management
According to the Robert Half survey, 52 percent of CIOs asked cited network administration as an area where they're lacking personnel with skills they need. Fifty percent of survey respondents also mentioned wireless network management as a lacking area. Keeping companies' networks in good shape is an area where it seems many employers could use help.
It's a good bet that, with the ever-growing nature of business networks and the dearth of qualified network admin talent, employees from across the enterprise will all be expected to know much more. Interfacing one's devices with the network, troubleshooting connectivity issues and more will be skills that will be handy, if not essential.
A 2014 study by CompTIA found network and infrastructure skills to be among the top-rated by businesses around the world, and it doesn't appear the demand for network experts is going to lessen anytime soon.
5) Ecommerce and Web Design
In a 2013 article Forbes reported an estimated 16.4 percent year-over-year growth for ecommerce in the U.S., generating a total of $262.3 billion in sales. That kind of growth in online business puts major importance on the ability to drive online business.
There are a whole slew of factors that go into curating an ecommerce business: crafting user experience, creating visuals and copy for listings, structuring the overall flow of a website and doing QA on whether or not everything's working properly for the prospective customer. The ability for anyone to jump in and make a few edits to basic HTML or CSS formatting, or to use a content management system to update a website can be massively influential. These are priorities that will be important not just for IT and engineers, but everyone involved in helping to grow a business.
What's a Pro to Do? Avoid Being Static
So what can students and professionals do to best prepare themselves? One important thing is to take on exploring new areas and technologies as a constant process, said Dr. Derek Hansen, associate professor and information technology program coordinator at Brigham Young University.
"Professionals can't sacrifice what is needed for what is comfortable. Retooling must be a day-by-day process, not an event," Hansen said.
Hansen added that IT students and professionals can benefit by taking a critical look at their own roles. If their jobs and skills seem like things that can be better handled, at least eventually, by software, then it might be time to start seeking out new skills and looking for new opportunities. And now that so much of what organizations do on a day-to-day basis is tied into technology, this is a process that just about anyone entering the job market should adopt.
"Computers are excellent at automating rote procedures, but poor at innovating and understanding context," he said. "Students and professionals in computing majors should ask themselves if their own jobs can be automated. If the answer is yes, then they should help put themselves out of a job and move on to new opportunities."
To find out more about easy ways to upgrade your own tech skills, check out some of the course listings below.
Interview with Ester Frey, Vice President of Technology Staffing Services, Robert Half. Conducted by Phil Hornshaw, June, 2015
Interview with Dr. Derek Hansen; Associate Professor, Information Technology Program Coordinator; Brigham Young University. Conducted by Phil Hornshaw, June, 2015
"U.S. CIOs Reveal Hiring Plans For Second Half Of 2015," Robert Half Technology, June 4, 2015, http://rht.mediaroom.com/2015-06-04-U-S-CIOs-Reveal-Hiring-Plans-For-Second-Half-Of-2015
"The Digital Talent Gap," Capgemini Consulting, 2013, https://www.capgemini.com/resource-file-access/resource/pdf/the_digital_talent_gap27-09_0.pdf
"The Cybersecurity skills gap is worse than you think," NetworkWorld, January 21, 2014, http://www.networkworld.com/article/2226178/cisco-subnet/the-cybersecurity-skills-gap-is-worse-than-you-think.html
"Ecommerce Is Growing Nicely While Mcommerce Is On A Tear," Forbes Tech, October 2, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckjones/2013/10/02/ecommerce-is-growing-nicely-while-mcommerce-is-on-a-tear/