The hottest IT skill right now is probably data security. The demand for Java developers and virtualization specialists continues to be sky high, as well. If one of those fields isn't your specialty, does it follow that you should change course and begin to steer your career in one of those directions? Conceivably. It depends on whether you want to play catch-up or lead the pack in a different race altogether.
According to Tom Silver, senior vice president at IT career services provider Dice.com, "If you know how to keep a company's data secure, there's a job for you." Of course, chances are if you know how to keep a company's data secure, you already know that there's a job for you. If that's not your area of expertise, what you'd have to consider is how hot the market for data security specialists would be by the time you gained that expertise, and how well-positioned you'd be to succeed in that field compared to data security specialists who have years of hands-on experience.
One area where that wouldn't be nearly as much of an issue is mobile-application development for mobile devices and integrating mobile capability into the enterprise. When I spoke with Silver last week, he noted that whereas mobile job listings were practically non-existent on Dice.com a year ago, today there are more than 1,000. That's strictly a function of the popularity of the iPhone, the Droid, and other devices emerging in the market, he said.
I found two elements of Silver's description of the mobile trend particularly interesting. First, there's a catch-up dimension here as well, but it's one that makes the field potentially more enticing. Silver noted that anecdotal evidence suggests Asia and Europe are well ahead of the United States in the mobile arena, with Japan having gotten a particularly formidable head start. That adds to the sense of urgency U.S. companies are feeling with respect to developing and implementing a mobile strategy.
Secondly, that sense of urgency is particularly beneficial for contractors, since companies initially will want to move more quickly than developing in-house expertise allows. Silver encapsulated those two elements this way:
I would expect that contractors will be all over the trend to mobile. They're going to get there first. I don't have the numbers on that yet, but that's what I would expect to see happen. The way mobile technology has hit, with the iPhone and Droid in particular, that's hit faster than people might have anticipated, in terms of the impact that it's had. Where the U.S. is, relative to other parts of the world, I think we're going to play a little bit of catch-up in terms of the use of mobile applications. It's happened in other parts of the world, and the U.S. is catching up now. I think contractors will get to that area quickly.
As companies try to figure out how they're going to integrate mobile into their overall technology strategy, that's when they'll probably evolve the skills internally. But if I was a contractor now, I would be all over mobile applications and how to make those work [in the enterprise]. I think that's going to be a very, very hot area coming up.
Now's the time to be all over mobile, whether you're a contractor or not. Two years from now, when other IT pros are reading about mobile being the hottest IT skill and considering a shift in specialization to join that race, you'll already have a solid lead.