The future of work: IoT engineers, blockchain analysts and computer vision scientists

We’re on the cusp of a new age in computing, where cloud and big data combine with artificial intelligence and entirely new ways of building applications. That means some jobs are disappearing — but these technologies will create entirely new roles for IT pros in the future.

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If someone had told you in 2000 that people would earn their living making 140-character Twitter posts and then writing reports about how many other people viewed them, you’d be forgiven for laughing. But these days, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a social media manager.

The same may true for IT professionals. We’re on the cusp of a new age in computing, where cloud and big data combine with artificial intelligence and entirely new ways of building applications. What new roles will these technologies create for IT pros in the future, and how will they adapt to them?

Data-driven careers

Data science is a new job category that’s growing at a breakneck pace, according to recruiters. Thanks to the rise in big data and analytics, the industry is crying out for a new generation of number geeks who also know their way around Hadoop.

“We are seeing a lot within the data analytics space, such as data scientists, data modellers and data analysts,” said Tim Webb, director at recruitment consultancy Robert Half Technology.

The role ‘data modeller’ extends back until at least 2013 in the Robert Half Technology Salary Survey, but ‘data scientist’ only appeared in 2015. On average, pay increased 8.9% for data scientists between 2015-16, according to the firm, with the top owners netting up to $153,750 — that’s up from $138,250 last year.

“IT guys aren’t used to analyzing their web traffic and making money off of it, and so we are seeing a need for real mathematicians to come in and be half math master and half MBA,” said Travis O’Rourke, regional director at recruitment firm Hays Canada.

These professionals, who used to be plucked from universities by the finance industry, are now increasingly making their way to technology roles, he said. They are increasingly helping companies to process years of backlogged data and turn it into hard cash.

Cool jobs in a cool new sub-sector: Virtual reality

Many of the newest, coolest jobs aren’t coming from large organizations, argued O’Rourke. Instead, they’re coming from startups, because these companies are nimble enough to identify and take risks on up-and-coming new technologies that may not have been proven yet. So, what better place to look than AngelList, the online forum for new startups looking for funding — and hires?

Searching for hot up-and-coming technologies reveals some jobs that wouldn’t have existed a few years ago outside of some obscure university computer science lab. That’s changing, now that augmented and virtual reality is set to take off with devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive all launching this year.

VR jobs are making their way into the commercial market. One example on AngelList was ‘computer vision scientist,’ advertising for a new generation of specialists able to make computers see things in the real world and overlay computer images on top of them.

Ultimately, though, roles in VR will effectively be developer gigs with additional skill sets. Coders in this space require a focus on 3D modelling and image processing, and a sharp understanding of the leading players’ software development kits, along with strong games backgrounds in systems such as Unity.

New jobs on the block

The same is true for other emerging technology areas, such as the Internet of Things. A new technology doesn’t necessarily create an entirely new role. It sometimes simply needs old ones to be tweaked and refined.

This Quora user, a 15-year IoT veteran, had it right when he said you don’t become an IoT engineer. Instead, you take traditional disciplines that pertain to IoT concepts, such as embedded systems, and expand them with some pertinent skills such as interfacing sensors to the physical world. Then you get a job as an embedded engineer in an IoT-focused company.

Some jobs really do ask for rarefied skill sets, to fill roles that simply were not in play five years ago. These days, consultancies and financial institutions are advertising for one of the most leading-edge new skill sets: blockchain specialists.

Scotiabank was looking for blockchain business analysts and technical leads at last glance, as was Deloitte Canada. This relatively new category, spawned by bitcoin technology, is expanding as financial and other institutions realize the benefit of decentralized cryptographic algorithms. These new systems allow many participants in a network to deal directly with each other without a central arbiter, even if they don’t know or trust each other.

Get smart

Another category that requires significant new skills is artificial intelligence. This category, which for the longest time fell in the realm of academics and niche applications, has exploded as cloud computing has made concepts like machine learning far more accessible. Thus, titles such as ‘machine learning engineer’ have emerged.

These specialized software engineering roles are often industry-specific. One job may require an expert in computer vision for video processing, for example. Another may lean toward making robots more intelligent.

These roles will often involve big data skills, as machines must be programmed to chew through vast amounts of data as part of their machine learning algorithms.

Disappearing jobs

These new jobs are all highly promising in a world where vast swathes of CPU cycles are gravitating toward the cloud, and where IT staff could be forgiven for thinking their jobs are all being outsourced. But there are indeed dark shadows ahead. Some jobs are less in demand than they were, and may disappear altogether. If you’re a hardware support technician, then beware, warned O’Rourke.

“Any traditional hardware support role, outside of a traditional desk-side technician, those jobs are going into the cloud but they’re never coming back,” he said.

In technology, perhaps more than any other, the strong must adapt to survive. As some jobs evaporate into the cloud and others rain from it, perhaps it’s time for those with endangered skill sets to leave their screwdrivers behind — and pick up a new career path instead.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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