Fundamental skills for a bright future in IT

By: Sharon Florentine

Technology evolves at a breakneck pace, with new languages, platforms and software replacing legacy systems almost as fast as tech pros can master them. But according to recent research from College Board, some of the most in-demand skills going into 2018 will be timeless: data analysis, general programming, psychology and technology instruction. In addition, experts from IT recruiting and staffing firms say interfacing with artificial intelligence (AI) and even Mandarin Chinese will be necessary skills in 2018 and beyond.

“What we’ve seen is that being successful in today’s workplace is less about a specific technology skill or knowing a particular language than having the toolkit to understand technology and adapt to it as it changes,” says Matt Glotzbach, CEO of online learning platform and study application Quizlet. “It’s easy to say, ‘All technology professionals should be able to run a SQL query,’ but it’s more difficult, and much more important, that everyone understand the fundamentals; the basics of computer science, how to live in a data-filled world, how to interpret that data — it’s about knowing how to learn,” Glotzbach says.

While specific technical skills — Java, data science, SQL queries, for example — are all incredibly important, and soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and negotiation continue to be requirements for today’s tech careers, these “middle ground” STEM skills can set one candidate apart from another, whether you’re just starting your career or have been in technology for decades, Glotzbach says.

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“These are overarching concepts: seeking out information, data analysis, critical thinking,” he says. “These have always been important skills, but going forward, they’re going to be far more than a ‘nice to have’ on someone’s resume, they’re going to be table stakes, so it only benefits you if you’re adding these skills now.”

In addition, nestled among specific technology skills like React.js and Microsoft Azure, Mandarin Chinese language skills will be critical in the future, as China strengthens its position as a global superpower, says Daniel Culbertson, an economist with

“I found it interesting, but not surprising, that Mandarin appeared on this list,” Culbertson says. “It just reinforces the necessity of being able to work closely with this growing global superpower that’s increasingly making gains on the U.S. with their own technology industry.”

And you shouldn’t ignore the growing influence of AI and robotics, says Felix Fermin, regional recruiting manager for IT recruiting and staffing firm Mondo.

“Going forward, I believe you’ll see a basic need for talent that understands the fundamentals of algorithms to create AI systems, as well as general design and even some psychology and understanding of human behavior,” Fermin says. “People who are tasked with designing and building, say, chatbots will need to understand how to give those technologies human characteristics and make the interactions indistinguishable from interacting with another human being — how can it show empathy, compassion, creativity, communication,” he says.

But how can job seekers emphasize these kinds of “middle ground” skills on their resume? You can’t simply list them as you would harder tech skills; you should take the same approach you would when highlighting your soft skills, says Quizlet’s Glotzbach.

“Emphasize how you’ve learned on the job, or how you’ve invested in a post-graduate education through online courses, microcertifications, bootcamps — anything like that,” Glotzbach says. That will show a potential employer that you’re adapting to the changing needs of an “always learning” workplace culture, and that you can keep up as technology needs inevitably change.

It’s also important to emphasize a strong progression in your career, no matter how many twists and turns it’s taken, he says.

“We do see a lot of career-changers, too, which isn’t as off-putting as people might think. It’s really about how you have demonstrated these skills, whether it’s in a part-time job, an internship, through a bootcamp or an apprenticeship — anywhere you can talk about and illustrate scenarios where you were faced with having to learn and master new things,” he says.

There’s a strong market for anyone with these kinds of adaptive skills — curiosity, drive and passion to take on new challenges and learn new things, he says.

“The only constant in tech is change, and the certainty that tomorrow is going to look much different than today — we want to see candidates that embody that,” Glotzbach says.