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Mary K. Pratt
Contributing writer

Security among the hottest tech skills for 2017

Dec 07, 201614 mins
CareersIT Skills

Are your assets bankable in 2017? Hiring managers say they'll seek out these skills most in the New Year.

Computerworld Tech Forecast 2017 - Hottest Tech Skills for 2017
Credit: Thinkstock

Scott Zulpo is facing stiff competition.

He’s adding a senior project manager, a network analyst and a help desk worker to his 55-member IT staff at BCU, a Vernon Hills, Ill.-based credit union where he is vice president of IT. He plans to add even more people in 2017 to keep up with an increasing demand for tech-driven innovations.

“The challenge is twofold — first finding talent, and then determining if that talent has the skills, experience and personality to thrive in the position,” says Zulpo, who’s mindful that “the cost and impact of not hiring an ‘A’ player is huge.”

Zulpo has his work cut out for him. He’s hiring at time when few IT professionals are out of work, so competition for tech talent is fierce. The unemployment rate for tech workers is about 2%, according to reports on recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Moreover, Zulpo is seeking the same skills that many of his fellow IT leaders also need. Computerworld’s Forecast 2017 survey of 196 IT professionals found that both project management and technical support were among the top 10 most sought-after skills among survey respondents who said they plan on adding head count in the new year.

“The IT labor market is still very hot. The candidate is very much in the driver’s seat,” says Jason Hayman, market research manager for IT staffing firm TEKsystems.

Hayman cites a government report that estimates that 500,000 to 1 million IT jobs go unfilled every year, but notes that some analysts say the figure is closer to 2 million. He says there’s a classic supply-and-demand scenario working here, with demand for talent far exceeding supply. “The takeaway is there aren’t enough of these workers,” he says.

Here’s a look at the top 10 most in-demand tech skills, as determined by the 29% of respondents to Computerworld‘s Forecast 2017 survey who said they plan to increase head count in the next 12 months.

If you’re a manager looking to hire people with these skills, be prepared — it could take a while to find the right person. If you’re an IT pro in possession of these skills, congratulations: Your services are in demand. If you intend to refresh your tech skills for 2017, start taking notes — this is where the action will be in the upcoming year.

Programming/application development

35% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Developers and programmers continue to be leading players in the IT world, with hiring managers citing programing and application development as the top skills they will be seeking in the upcoming year.

“Companies are still developing software and applications,” says Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing firm Modis. Companies need tech pros who can customize off-the-shelf applications, work on APIs and integration points, and even develop proprietary software — yes, that’s still happening, even in the age of software as a service (SaaS). Systems need to be maintained and updated, which further sustains the need for developers and programmers.

Because of the strong demand for these specialists, organizations have to pay top dollar to attract talent. In fact, Cullen says he sees employers trying to entice top candidates to leave their current positions by making them offers that exceed their current salaries by upwards of 15%.

Help desk/technical support

35% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

BCU’s Zulpo is looking for a new service desk manager to replace someone who recently left. He says he knows he’s competing with many other employers as he tries to recruit help desk talent, but he still has high standards for this hire.

“We’re looking for someone who not only can handle tickets coming in but can help us bring in best practices, policies and procedures,” Zulpo says.

Help desk staff remains in high demand because technology is so pervasive, says Rafi Khan, the former CIO at Riverside Community Care and now a senior consultant at Open Minds, a health and human services management consultancy.

That’s also why it’s critical to find the right people for these jobs. Even though support technician is sometimes seen as an entry-level position, Khan says companies often require candidates to have broad knowledge about different hardware and software systems so they can handle requests from all over the organization.

IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology lists help desk and desktop support professionals (especially Tier 2 and Tier 3 personnel) among the most in-demand tech workers for 2017. It says annual salaries range from $36,000 to $51,750 for Tier 1 workers, and from $60,000 to $80,500 for Tier 3 professionals.


26% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

As manager of information management systems at the Central Pension Fund, Gregory Drauch oversees nine people who support 70 employees at the Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization. He says he’s now assessing what skills he needs for the upcoming year but already expects to add security competencies to the mix.

“Security is an ever-evolving threat, and it takes work to make sure your own skills are up to date,” he says.

As an IT leader at a small organization with a small tech team, Drauch sees the need for all IT staffers to have security proficiencies so that infrastructure and data security become routine parts of everyone’s duties. “If it’s not built in from the start, security is much more difficult to incorporate effectively,” he says.

Drauch plans to hire a consultant to help him strengthen the organization’s security posture and engage a managed security service provider for penetration testing. He hopes to use both to train existing team members in current best practices and security technologies — because the high salary that a full-time security professional commands in the current market is a stretch for an organization of Central Pension Fund’s size.

Karsten Scherer, the global analyst relations lead at TEKsystems, says even companies that are able to pay top dollar have trouble finding seasoned security professionals, particularly individuals with recognized credentials such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). “There are far fewer people in the market than there are jobs for them,” he says.


26% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Peter Danchak has been in IT for more than 25 years, the past 16 at Data Recognition Corp. (DRC), where he’s now a systems administrator. Over the years, he has seen several companies, including his own, migrate more and more infrastructure to the cloud.

Danchak now works mostly with cloud technologies, supporting integration and engineering the architecture needed for a cloud environment. He says he gained the necessary skills through independent study and company-sponsored training — and those skills have been welcome additions to his résumé.

“The cloud environment is growing so fast, it’s creating many new opportunities for businesses and workers,” Danchak says.

There’s no single skill associated with cloud computing or SaaS; rather, companies are looking for a range of experiences and skills in candidates for cloud-related positions, says Sean Dowling, a partner at staffing firm WinterWyman and manager of recruiting strategy in the firm’s technology contract staffing division.

“Cloud architects, software engineers with cloud or AWS [Amazon Web Services] experience, DevOps engineers — you see [ads for those people] all day long,” he says, noting that help-wanted posts for system administrators and network engineers who have cloud experience are also plentiful.

Business intelligence/analytics

26% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

As manager of data analytics for North Carolina healthcare system Mission Health, Arun Murugesan has seen his team grow from two people to 35 in just a few years. He expects to hire 15 to 20 people in the next couple of years as his organization seeks to gain greater insights from the data it collects.

“There has been a huge surge in [the number of] people harnessing the power of data,” he says. Healthcare companies have put a particularly high premium on BI and analytics skills, but the insurance and financial services industries, the retail sector and other industries are also driving demand for these specialists.

“Companies want to mine their data to gain a competitive advantage,” says John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, explaining that companies need tech pros who can turn data into insights that senior leaders can use to understand buying patterns and industry trends and ultimately drive business strategy.

Top candidates for BI and analytics jobs often have math, engineering and statistical backgrounds, Reed says. They know how to use specific BI tools and are skilled in data-related programming languages such as SQL. They’re also business-savvy and are able to mine the data to show ways to improve revenue or cut costs or otherwise deliver competitive advantages.

Web development

26% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

The internet is the vehicle that organizations use to connect employees, clients, partners and customers, so it’s not surprising that the job of web developer remains a staple in the IT team, and that talented web developers continue to be in demand even as companies add social and mobile platforms to their portfolios.

WinterWyman’s Dowling says companies are hiring both full-time web developers and contractors at a fast clip. Employers are particularly interested in technologists skilled in front-end development, so they’re searching for people with HTML, CSS and JavaScript expertise.

“The website is your storefront; you need a slick interface that supports content and connects with other systems,” Dowling says.

Companies are continually updating and innovating in this area, Dowling says, and that’s one of the big reasons why web development expertise is among the top 10 most sought-after skills.

According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for web developers will grow significantly faster than demand for other tech professionals. According to BLS estimates, by 2024 the number of web development jobs is likely to have grown 27% from 2014 levels, translating into 148,500 additional jobs. The average projected rate of growth for all IT jobs in that same time frame is 12%.

Database administration

25% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Database administration “is a skill set that is not going away,” says Kitty Brandtner, who connects Chicago-area companies with IT talent through her role at recruiting firm LaSalle Network. Case in point: Brandtner says there’s not a month where her firm doesn’t see demand for SQL programmers and other skills related to database administration.

According to the most recent statistics from the BLS, it’s a good time to be — or become — a database administrator (DBA). The agency has pegged the rate of growth in employment opportunities for these professionals at 11% from 2014 to 2024 — a pace that would add an additional 13,400 jobs.

Employers expect top DBAs to have a range of skills. Proficiency in data modeling and database design rank high, as does the ability to ensure database performance and data integrity, recruiters say.

DBAs also need to understand the user experience to ensure that data is of good quality from the time it is input, says Michelle Beveridge, CIO at Intrepid Group, an adventure travel company. Beveridge has one database administrator on staff and may hire another in a year or so. She says based on the market for this position, she’s already expecting a challenge.

“It’s hard to find DBAs who can put themselves in the shoes of the user as a means to improving data quality,” Beveridge says. “Many DBAs think in terms of data rules, mandatory input requirements and data structures rather than close examination of the business processes behind the data collection.”

Project management

25% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Over the past 18 months, BCU’s Zulpo set up a project management office with a half-dozen professionals to shepherd the credit union’s growing number of projects. He says he’s now looking to add one more professional to his staff to keep up with the volume of work.

His expectations for this candidate are high: He’s looking for someone with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, a master’s degree and a track record of successfully managing projects, as well as the ability to collaborate with various business partners and juggle multiple projects.

“This is a highly visible person,” Zulpo says, and given his lengthy list of desired qualities, he knows he might need three to six months to fill the position. But a lengthy search is worth the trouble because hiring that wrong person would be costly — a situation that “that applies to all our positions across IT.”

Zulpo’s comments mirror what other hiring managers are saying about project management, according to TEKsystems’ Hayman. They expect candidates to have certifications and solid experience. Moreover, candidates must show they understand the technical and functional elements of the role and that they can communicate with people and lead teams. And on top of that they must be good cultural fits, too.

Big data

25% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Companies are inundated with information harvested from various sources, and they need experienced people to extract insights and value from the wealth of structured and unstructured data they have amassed, says Matt Leighton, director of recruiting for Mondo.

Leighton says companies want big data pros who are able to build out current data sets and have experience in specific technologies such as Hadoop and Oracle. They’re also looking for engineers and architects who know big-data-oriented computer languages, such as Scala. And they want people with experience in specific industries, because industry experience helps big data professionals derive insights and value from the firehose of data.

Mobile applications and device management

21% of respondents with hiring plans said they will be seeking people with this skill in the next 12 months.

Several years into the mobile revolution, mobile initiatives are still top of mind for IT leaders and their companies: Expertise in mobile apps and mobile device management are still among the 10 most sought-after IT skills, and 35% of the respondents to Computerworld‘s Forecast survey said they plan to increase spending on mobile applications in 2017, making mobile the No. 2 spending priority for the year.

Reltio, a data management firm in Redwood Shores, Calif., doesn’t deploy its own mobile apps, yet managers still need staffers who understand mobile, says Ramon Chen, who oversees personnel and recruiting as chief marketing officer and head of product management.

“We want our existing platform and applications to deploy in a browser-responsive manner, meaning the same code knows when it’s running on mobile and that it should display in a mobile-friendly way,” he says. And for that to happen, he needs IT employees with mobile app development know-how.

Reltio currently doesn’t have mobile-only job titles. Instead, it expects all of its developers to have mobile skills as part of their repertoires. Chen is, however, currently seeking two specialists — a user interface (UI) designer and a senior UI designer — to help the company carry out its strategy of delivering on mobile and, more specifically, to help create the best user interfaces and user experiences.

“We want someone who doesn’t just design [the mobile app] but also manages it once it’s built and in use,” he says. “These people need to be customer-facing, too, to be able to get feedback about what [users] like and don’t like.”

Chen’s approach to hiring for these positions, and for mobile skills overall, mirrors the strategies of other IT leaders. He says he wants candidates with the required skills, but he also wants people who fit culturally. Yes, he concedes, it’s tough to land people like that in a job market where competition for mobile talent is fierce. But he’s willing to take upwards of three months to find the right individuals.

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