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Stirrings of Life in a Bleak IT Employment Desert

By Jack Cullen
Oct 11, 2010 6:00 AM PT

When the pulse of the global economy slowed -- or, as some would have it, virtually flat lined -- in 2009, IT felt it. Even though IT serves as the heart of global business, the indispensable systems without which companies simply wouldn't work, layoffs and cutbacks still wracked the industry.

Stirrings of Life in a Bleak IT Employment Desert

More than a few IT professionals found themselves questioning their career choice in a workforce not that far removed from the tough times that followed the burst tech bubble earlier in the decade -- a past all too present for many.

The economy may be recovering now, however tentatively, but some continue to ask whether IT is a field worth sticking with -- or going into. No company can do without it, perhaps, but businesses have learned to live with less, and to pay less, by outsourcing jobs to one or another outpost of the global economy.

That's part of the picture, certainly. But only part. Anyone with the right skills can still thrive in IT. The key is to strategically assemble a resume fine-tuned to what companies need right now. Every successful job search is rooted in knowing what's in demand. Staying current on employment trends can make a beneficial difference for a resume that may be deep and impressive but otherwise gets lost in a pile of others with similar qualifications. A winning CV will be as targeted and relevant as possible to the needs of whoever is hiring.

So what's hot?

Outlook on Security

No area in IT is more in demand than security. Insight into the cutting edge of security means job security. Hackers continue to discover new ways to breach companies' defenses, including an increasing incidence of break-ins that occur from within a business' own staff.

Unfortunately for companies -- but fortunately for IT specialists -- protecting data will be a growth industry for years to come. Also, as networking gets more complex, vulnerability rises too, as evermore intricately linked parts create the potential for gaps the unscrupulous can exploit.

Security knowledge and ethical hacking certifications are smart, if not indispensable, additions to any IT resume right now.

Programming/Application Development

As new projects go on line, programming/application development skills also rank high on the list of what companies need. Green lights demand staff able to drive the most cutting edge vehicles in tech, developers with ability to work with .Net, Java and Sharepoint, for example, along with staff fluent in programming languages like Ruby on Rails and Ajax.

These are not necessarily areas likely to lead to high-volume hiring, but they are the kind of specific knowledge that can make an applicant immediately stand out, accelerating the hiring process.

Cloud Computing

Another rapidly growing IT area for job seekers is cloud computing. Understanding virtualization, the creation and/or overseeing of cloud computer systems themselves, and automation technologies charged with monitoring, securing and making sure companies are fully compliant with new dictates of the cloud are up-to-the-minute paths to building the more economy-proof resume.

\u201cVirtual System Manager\u201d may not be a designation on many business cards yet, but it is an area that is rapidly being defined, with the attendant need for staff to help define it.

Healthcare Fields

Healthcare is changing in the U.S. and, particularly as it relates to the management of electronic medical records, it will also be an expanding IT sector.

Billions in government stimulus money is already promoting the federal government's commitment to moving patient histories, once and for all, out of manila folders. The Computer Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA, predicted no fewer than 70,000 new IT positions in healthcare would come on line in 2010, and this is a trend certain to continue as healthcare reform legislation locks in over the next several years.

Sourcing Specialists

Sourcing specialists also will be valuable to companies, with a degree of irony, perhaps, for IT pros affected by jobs going overseas. But employers need help making decisions about moving work overseas.

Again, expertise that enables companies to run lean, like outsourcing, along with cloud computing and managed services are all part of painting a realistic picture of employment opportunities in IT.

Other IT Growth Areas

Other growth areas will include capacity management experts, open source specialists, service assurance and service catalog managers, business process engineers, and help desk/technical support staff. The jobs are there. It's estimated that three quarters of HR managers currently have at least one hard-to-fill tech position open for someone with the right qualifications.

Employment opportunities in IT will remain constrained. When Computerworld polled 312 IT executives, less than 20 percent said they expected to significantly increase IT head count in 2010, compared with 26 percent in 2009. Another 20 percent, in fact, said they planned to cut jobs. Hiring is happening -- but selectively.

The trick is to know what to bring to the table. There's no feast of jobs in virtually any field in the American economy right now, but as the economy unlocks, there is a recipe for finding work in IT. A mix of the right abilities, carefully targeted to company's needs -- a combination of skill and savvy -- is how to break through in the IT job market this year and for years to come. It's a field that still pays well, and that no company can do without. And that's a good combination too.


Jack Cullen is president of Modis.


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