Succeeding in IT: Landing a Hot Job vs. Building a Long Career
By Newsha Makooi, Vice President and Dean, Western Governors University (WGU), College of IT
Recent attention-grabbing headlines about layoffs among tech giants, like Google and Microsoft, can paint a dismal picture of the tech jobs landscape, but it doesn’t look so bleak for nimble IT professionals with diverse skillsets. 

According to WGU Labs research, Utah employers posted more than 4,000 openings for IT jobs between August 2022 and July 2023. The demand for tech workers isn’t just in the rapidly-growing Salt Lake City area but also in rural communities across the Beehive State. According to a recent report by CompTIA, tech jobs are forecasted to increase by 4.9% this year – resulting in approximately 6,100 new jobs. 

Today, certain areas in IT have seen remarkable job growth, driven by global trends and the integration of tech into every facet of our daily lives. Three of the hottest jobs in IT are:

  • Quantum Computing Specialists: Quantum computing is no longer the future – it's the present. As quantum computers inch closer to becoming a commercial reality, companies need specialists who understand quantum algorithms, hardware, and software development.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Developers: With advancements in AR and VR hardware, there's a growing need for developers who can create immersive experiences for entertainment, education, healthcare, and other sectors.
  • Edge Computing Engineers: The move from centralized cloud computing to edge computing – where computations are performed closer to where the data is generated (like IoT devices) – requires specialists to handle this shift.

Workers with qualifications to fill those jobs are among the most in-demand in IT. But as tech evolves, so do the skills needed to get the job done – and for a worker to maintain job security over time can be tricky.

The rapid evolution of the tech industry challenges companies to stay agile, adapt quickly to changing market conditions, and continuously invest in research and development to remain competitive. So, it’s important to ask how can workers in tech fields fill the jobs of today and remain relevant over the entirety of their careers?

The answer to that riddle is “fungible skill development.”

Fungible skills are those that are interchangeable or easily transferrable from one job or role to another. They provide a foundation that enables professionals to adapt and evolve as they navigate the shifting terrains of their industry. For IT professionals, these skills could be both technical (such as programming fundamentals or understanding of algorithms) and soft skills (like problem-solving or effective communication).

Why are Fungible Skills Crucial for IT Professionals?

  • Adaptability in a Changing Landscape: With emerging technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality redefining the future, IT professionals with fungible skills can effortlessly adapt. They can leverage their foundational knowledge and adjust it to different contexts or platforms.
  • Job Security: The IT industry is notorious for its fluctuations. Companies might pivot, technologies may become obsolete, or market demands can shift. Professionals with fungible skills are less likely to become redundant, as they can swiftly transition into new roles or areas.
  • Career Progression: Having a broad base of transferable skills often opens doors to varied roles, from management positions to specialist areas, giving IT professionals a diverse career path.

There is more than one way a worker can develop the transferable skills to carve out a successful career in IT, including on-the-job experiences and self-learning. However, after working in IT for nearly two decades, I believe higher education is the most effective.

During my time as a software development leader at Amazon Web Services, I witnessed an employee advance from a software engineer to senior engineer to principal engineer over the span of six years. Despite tumultuous times of restructuring and downsizing, this employee’s fungible skills of leadership, ownership, technical writing, communication, project management, and team collaboration consistently showcased his potential to take on higher responsibilities and in turn resulted in his promotions. 

When advising aspiring tech professionals, I tell them certifications get you a job – and a degree gets you a career. 

After more than a decade managing and leading teams at Amazon and other top companies, I moved into higher ed because I believe in the value of postsecondary learning. I have seen many changes in tech-focused occupations, but the role colleges and universities play in maintaining a strong workforce and teaching fungible skills is essential. And it’s fungible skills that allow IT professionals to work – and thrive – in the industry for a long time. 

Colleges and universities offer holistic curricula, soft-skill development, and – in some cases – industry certifications in addition to an in-demand degree. Most postsecondary IT programs provide a blend of technical and general education courses. That structure ensures students gain a strong foundation in key areas while also getting the flexibility to explore and acquire skills in diverse domains. 

In addition, Western Governors University (WGU) is among the institutions that offer access to industry certifications on the way to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in IT. Certifications are recognized benchmarks mapped to certain skillsets based on standardized testing, and they demonstrate a worker’s dedication, motivation and knowledge on widely-used technical platforms. Those credentials, when paired with the array of skills and knowledge earned in a degree program, are the foundation for longevity in the IT industry.

Newsha Makooi serves as Vice President and Dean, Western Governors University (WGU), College of IT, a nonprofit, online only, accredited university. Makooi received his master’s degree in computer information systems from the University of Denver.

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