The short-term IT job outlook is looking pretty grim. Emerging technologies like cloud computing are changing the longer-term jobs picture as well, creating a demand for new combinations of IT and business skills. With all this uncertainty, it's tough to predict which careers will remain hot into the next decade and beyond.
If there's a safe bet, maybe it's data crunching. Much like the famous scene in "The Graduate" where a family friend tells Dustin Hoffman he should consider going into "plastics," the New York Times offers its prediction for the "next big job" in a single word: statistics. The article quotes Hal Varian, Google's chief economist:
I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I'm not kidding.
Demand for statisticians is growing right along with the volumes of data, reports the Times. Sensors, social networks and other new data sources create massive data sets. While they promise to help us solve business problems, the information won't do us much good without folks to analyze it and help us figure out what it's trying to tell us.
According to the article, most statisticians have studied computer science, economics or mathematics. With a doctorate, they can expect to earn more than $100,000 a year in their first year on the job. Statisticians are needed in lots of different fields. Working for an Internet company, they might focus on improving online search and advertising. In health care, they might analyze gene sequencing information for possible insights into curing cancer. Looking at sensor and location data, they might offer ideas to streamline the supply chain.
In September I wrote about Internet startups trying to take advantage of troubles at Wall Street companies by luring laid-off workers with advanced degrees in economics or mathematics. Experience in creating algorithms is in particular demand.
IBM obviously thinks this will be big. Earlier this year, Big Blue created a Business Analytics and Optimization Services group, which will draw on the expertise of the company's more than 200 mathematicians, statisticians and other data analysts, and it intends to retrain or hire 4,000 more analysts. IBM just opened a third analytics center in Beijing, joining existing facilities in Toyko and Berlin. Similar centers are planned in London, New York and Washington, D.C.
The Times article also quotes IBM researcher Daniel Gruhl, who has been analyzing medical data in the hopes of improving treatment. He says:
The key is to let computers do what they are good at, which is trawling these massive data sets for something that is mathematically odd. And that makes it easier for humans to do what they are good at - explain those anomalies.