Planning to work in information technology but not sure which areas to focus on? You could do a lot worse than sharpen up your analytics skills and your PHP chops.
Picture by Steve Ryan
Earlier this week, I chatted with Mike Page, managing director of recruitment firm MitchellLake. Asked to single out areas where demand was particularly strong, he immediately focused on analytics.
"We're seeing analytics really start to emerge as a major force in the labour market. It's not the analytics people we looked at three or four years ago, concentrating on building data warehouses and business intelligence systems. That need is still there, but we increasingly get requests for web analysts who can create insight from that data. The data warehouses are now there, but the business is saying: 'what can we do with that data and how nimble can we be with that to improve customer experience?'"
MitchellLake quite often recruits workers from overseas for those roles, a reflection of the continuing strength of the Australian dollar, the appeal of our lifestyle and the fact that in Europe, analytics uptake is ahead of Australia. "Digital transformation programs in Europe are business as usual," Page said. "Those who have built it and bedded it down are looking for another challenge. There's great talent in the UK with that experience."
That doesn't mean you can't acquire those skills locally, but you'll need to work your way up through the project. "There's two levels here: the strategy level and how we manipulate that data. At the strategy level, that person really needs to have the scar tissue. At the execution level, not so much. People who have come from either an SEM or SEO channel can now transfer those skills at the execution layer into the new space. But the strategic level is where we're really lacking."
You may also encounter organisational challenges. "One of the challenges in that area is where it's pegged in a large organisation. Often businesses know they have the need but when they try and fit it in, they say it's an analytics role, but that's not necessarily reflective of the market salary."
If you can deliver those skills, the pay packet can be healthy. Starting salaries are around $130,000, while experienced analysts could command as much as $280,000, Page said.
Outside of that, there are still significant opportunities for traditional programming skills and UI design. "The more agile open source languages are where we're seeing movement: PHP and Ruby On Rails. If I was interested in pursuing a career as an engineer, I'd stick to those areas. The other discipline coming into its own is designers: UI and UX people. We're seeing the designer really coming into its own now and being viewed as a very critical part of the online experience. We're seeing huge growth. the IT market and the technology space is changing significantly, but it's a very healthy outlook."
Working in a startup rather than a large enterprise is also an increasingly viable career path, Page noted. "It's now easier than ever before to create a startup, there's more noise and energy and understanding That's also sucking people away from those traditional IT career paths."
Regardless of the ultimate employer, learning those skills early is vital, Page said. "What we've got to really focus on nationally in Australia is making sure at the universities and schools level that we're building the knowledge base. There's a definite lack of investment in the education stage. If you think about any typical day in our lives, technology is at the centrepiece. Building that knowledge and interest to enter the market I think is critical."
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.