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The growing popularity of technologies such as cloud computing is dramatically transforming the data center job market and expanding the IT skillset. Tried-and-true positions such as Cisco Network Engineer are losing their luster and recent additions like data scientist are gaining traction. As a result, data center professionals find themselves in a highly volatile arena.
Overall, the employment numbers look good for IT. The unemployment rate for tech professionals is 3.5%, down from last year's first quarter rate of 4.4%, according to Dice.com, an IT job site.
However, behind the numbers lies a significant shift in emphasis. "The closer you get to the app, the higher the demand," said Tom Silver, senior vice president at Dice.com. "For software developers, the unemployment rate is 2.2% and for web developers -- 1% unemployment." The shift toward software and away from hardware is altering the data center job landscape.
Data scientists parse the 'big data' puzzle
Big data is a sizzling hot market stemming from more horsepower and better analytic capabilities found in the data center. Corporations now generate oodles of information. More than 2.7 billion "likes" are posted on Facebook daily, and 17 industries have more data than the Library of Congress, which at one time represented the high-water mark for data generation. As a result, Wikibon expects worldwide revenue from big data software, hardware and services to increase from $5 billion in 2012 to more than $50 billion in 2016.
The data explosion is rippling throughout the enterprise. Corporations are trying to use data to better understand all aspects of the business. From this evolution, a new job title, data scientist, has emerged and become as hot as a Miami nightclub.
The position blends business, analytics and computer skills, in the hopes of tackling big-data sets collected by today's businesses. What sets data scientists apart from other data workers, including data analysts, is their ability to create logic behind the data that leads to business decisions. MBAs understand business concepts, such as product development and management but often are not able to analyze and interpret data. Mathematicians and statisticians dazzle with numbers but usually lack intimate knowledge of the business. Data scientists must understand both.
They also need strong analytical skills. These individuals need to think outside the box -- that is, the current business procedures. Instead, they must deduce that changing a corporate behavior now will lead to improvements in sales, business processes or customer satisfaction later.
Because this IT skillset is so rare, these individuals demand lofty salaries, generally starting at $110,000 and reaching as much as $350,000, placing them among the IT industry's highest paid professionals.
Going mobile requires aid from technicians
Raw numbers also show the effect of the mobile device market. In 2012, smartphone penetration passed the 100% mark in the US, according to Telecommunications Industry Association. Apple Inc. has approved more than 1 million applications in its App Store and users have downloaded more than 40 billion applications.
Not surprisingly, the tremendous growth in the mobile market has impacted enterprise data centers. Companies have been on the lookout for tools to control these rogue devices. However, the market is now fragmented and dominated by small niche vendors. Consequently, knowledgeable technicians are in demand.
Architects sought to build clouds
Another area of interest is cloud computing. On Dice.com, the number of job postings mentioning cloud is up 31% year in 2013 -- more than 4,600 on any given day -- from 2012. "If you have cloud experience, whether you are a sysadmin or an engineer, companies are looking for you," said Silver. Businesses are looking for cloud architects who know how to build and leverage these systems. These IT pros need to know where a company should host its applications, how to configure it, how to negotiate a Service Level Agreement, how to secure corporate information in the cloud and how to make sure that data is properly backed up.
Help Desk support remains popular
Some traditional data center positions continue to gain interest. And Help Desk personnel continue to be in demand.
As companies deploy new applications to enhance business operations, they need more tech support workers to help employees use them. Typically, calls come in because employees do not know how to operate the system.
Because of the increased demand, salaries for these individuals are increasing. A Robert Half survey found salaries for Tier 1 Help Desk professionals going up 4.9%, Tier 2 Pros up 4.8% and Tier 3 IT techies up 5.3%.
Security jobs ripe for the picking
Security has long been a concern of IT leaders, and demand for specialized security professionals is growing as the task of safeguarding systems and data becomes increasingly complex. In addition to expertise in deploying firewalls, threat detection tools and encryption technology, these individuals need to understand how the growing number of industry-specific compliance movements impacts their company.
Consequently, businesses are adding more IT security executives and creating positions, like Chief Security Officer. In fact, IT security jobs have seen a 50% spike in demand, compared to 2010, according to IT Security Jobs.co.uk, an IT security job site. Security pro salaries are also on the rise. ITSecurityjobs.co.uk found that average wages have also seen a substantial rise: 16% per annum.
Location plays perhaps as much of a role in a finding a fulfilling career as salary and job security. Shifts are occurring there, as well as with job titles. Modis, a leading provider of information technology staffing, listed the 10 cities with the most IT jobs. As expected, computing hubs San Francisco and Boston were on the list, but they were joined by Midwestern cities Minneapolis, St. Louis and Omaha. Companies seem to be moving their operations to cities with a lower than average cost of living and educated workforces.
Technological advancements are altering traditional IT job metrics. Professionals will find jobs, but they may not have a familiar title or be in a familiar location.
About the author
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in cloud computing and data-center-related topics. He is based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.