Irresistible IT Skills

These are the competencies and combinations of expertise that will get you hired today.

The technology skills shortage that pundits were talking about a year ago is here. Everything I see in Silicon Valley is completely contrary to the assumption that programmers are a dying breed and being offshored, says Kevin Scott, senior engineering manager at Google Inc. and a founding member of the professions and education boards at the Association for Computing Machinery. From big companies to start-ups, companies are hiring as aggressively as possible.

Many recruiters say there are more open positions than they can fill, and according to Kate Kaiser, associate professor of IT at Marquette University in Milwaukee, students are getting snapped up before they graduate.

The market for IT talent is hot, but only if you have the right skills. If you want to be part of the wave, take a look at the areas where recruiters, curriculum developers and computer science professors say certain types of expertise will be in demand in the near future.

Machine learning. As companies work to build software such as spam-filtering, collaborative-filtering and fraud-detection applications that seek patterns in jumbo-size data sets, there is more need for people with machine-learning expertise, or the ability to design and develop algorithms and techniques to improve a computers performance. Demand is expanding for data mining, statistical modeling and data structure skills, among others. Companies are snapping up these skills as fast as they can grab them, Scott says.

Mobile applications. The race to deliver content over mobile devices is akin to the wild days of the Internet in the 90s, says Sean Ebner, vice president of professional services at Spherion Pacific Enterprises LLC, a recruitment firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With devices like BlackBerries and Treos becoming more important as business tools, companies need people who are adept at extending applications like ERP, procurement and expense approval systems to mobile devices, he says.

Wireless networking. With the proliferation of de facto wireless standards such as Wi-Fi, WiMax and Bluetooth, securing transmissions is top of mind for IT employers, says Neill Hopkins, vice president of skills development at the Computing Technology Industry Association. Companies are concerned about how these [wireless technologies] all fit together and the security risks, which are much bigger than on wired networks, he says.

If I were to hire a wireless specialist, Id also want them to understand the security implications and build in controls from the front end, agrees Howard Schmidt, president of the Information Systems Security Association and former chief information security officer and chief security strategist at eBay Inc.

But dont venture into the marketplace with only a wireless certification, Hopkins warns. No one gets hired as a wireless technician, he says. You have to be a network administrator with a specialization in wireless so you know how wireless plays with the network.

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