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Oct 2, 2020

Skills Desired In The Information Technology Field Continue To Evolve

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

Contributed by Jeffrey Cummings, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Information Systems and Thomas Janicki, Ph.D., Professor of Information Systems in the Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems in the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

A recent survey of information technology (IT) professionals indicates the field continues to evolve as organizations leverage analytics, target customers via apps and focus on the importance of security. The survey, conducted this past spring/summer, consisted of over 500 IT professionals from across the country. The survey asked respondents to answer questions concerning their specific field as well as overall skills every IT professional must possess.
Results suggest all IT professionals should increase their data analytics skills as well as their software development skills and networks/security knowledge. However, the importance of having skills from the business/systems analyst toolkit (e.g., requirement analysis, analysis/design techniques, problem solving, user interaction, etc.) continues to be the most important area needed in the IT field.
General Demographics
The average respondent had eleven years of experience in the field and almost nine years with their current employer. Respondents came from a variety of firm sizes from larger firms with greater than 1000 employees (49% of respondents) to sole proprietors & partnerships (18%). Firms ranging 100 employees up to 1000 account for the remaining respondents. Formal education in the field continues to be important with over 90% of respondents reported having at least a bachelor’s degree and 53% having a master’s (or higher) degree. The occupations of respondents included software developers, project managers, business analysts, data analysts and network/security analysts. Within each job category, the study reported some interesting shifts in skills demanded. 
Trends in the IT Field
The largest jump from our 2018 survey in overall IT knowledge importance was data analytics. This appears to be relevant across all IT occupations surveyed. Data analytics covers a wide range of knowledge from working with data to being able to visualize results. We are seeing that this is no longer a separate field as it is being integrated into many different disciplines across an organization.
Additionally, the importance of certifications in the IT field continues to grow. Over 89% of the respondents indicated they had at least one certification (up from 62% in the 2018 survey). Top certifications included: Microsoft CSE (Certified Software Engineer), Security +, CompTIA A+, CCNA, CompTIA Network+ and AWS Solutions Architect. In addition, over half of respondents reported having 2 or more certifications. Given the nature of the field, many organizations may be using certifications as an indicator of knowledge depth in a specific area.
Skills for Software Developers (highest number of respondents)
The importance of knowledge of cloud and virtualization concepts jumped to the most important skill for software developers. This shift to cloud/virtualization knowledge marks a shift in how development is changing in the field with many companies leveraging technologies such as Azure, GitHub and Adobe CreativeCloud. Other knowledge sets for software developers included data structures, design patterns, object-oriented programming, and version control management.
Popular languages suggested by respondents included JavaScript and HTML 5 which remained at the top of knowledge sets; rounding out the top five was Java, C++ and C#. Phyton moved up to sixth place from twelfth place in 2018. Dropping in importance was PHP and JSP.
Additional skills suggested for developers included the need to understand working in agile environments, effective communication and critical analysis/problem solving. For app development, respondents indicated a good understanding of the CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) method is important.
Other IT Occupations
For business analysts, the top skills/concepts reported were Software as a Service (SaaS) and requirement analysis. As with software development, this suggests a shift for many companies who are now leveraging more cloud technologies. Among these technologies, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure and Google were tied for first in importance at the respondents firms. 
Project managers surveyed suggest effective team management skills and planning/scheduling skills as most relevant. This is closely followed by the need to handle risk management within projects. However, while change management which was the highest demanded skill in 2018, it has dropped to fifth most important skill for project managers in 2020.
Cybersecurity skills specifically around desktops, data/information and networks were ranked as most important for Network/Security professionals. This has changed from prior surveys which suggested overall network and windows admin skills as most important in 2018. While this survey was conducted in early 2020 and may not have captured the current IT climate, there will be changes in this field given the current Covid-19 pandemic. Areas of importance in the future may include increased remote access capabilities, focused policies/training on remote work and importance of secure remote technologies such as VPN.
For data analysts, professionals should be aware of the top analytic tools (SSIA, SSAS, SSRS), database programming concepts, NoSQL, and Raw Unstructured Data concepts. This survey also included database administrators within this occupation and found that knowledge of different database technologies of which Oracle, MySQL and MS SQL comprised the top three.
IT and Business Knowledge
In addition to specific occupational skills, there are skills that all IT professionals should possess regardless of their role within the organization. Respondents ranked knowledge of business/system analysis, data analytics (moving up from seventh in 2018), software development, network/security, project management and database skills as the most important skills.
Furthermore, respondents suggested gaining overall business knowledge is important including skills such as business management concepts (moving up to first from fourth place in 2018) and effective communication skills (both written and oral). As the need grows for understanding and interrupting the massive amount of data being collected, data analytics and statistical knowledge rounded out the top five. Other overall business knowledge includes finance, economics, logistics, marketing and accounting.
The IT field can be a very rewarding yet challenging occupation. There will always be a demand for IT professionals and as IT professionals, and IT professionals need to continually upgrade their skills and knowledge base as the field changes. For educators, the implications from this research demands that curriculums need to be constantly upgraded to meet the needs of future and returning graduates.
This research is part of an ongoing project to survey IT professionals that has been conducted since 2004 by faculty in the Cameron School of Business. Funding for this research was provided by the Cameron School of Business Research Fund and the Duke Energy Progress / Gordon Herbert endowment.
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 90 full-time faculty members and 30 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,600 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 750 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].

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