Thirty months ago, when the novel coronavirus pandemic began flagging economic alarm, there was tangible concern regarding how a shrinking corporate sphere would support enough jobs for a healthy employment rate. But luckily, the path of COVID-era management has not only replenished lost roles, but it’s also created new ones. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment in computer and information occupations to grow 13% by 2030, creating approximately 667,000 new jobs. Businesses across all sectors have a greater need for cloud computing, data storage, and cybersecurity; a lack of available roles has not turned out to be the problem.
Interestingly, though, there’s a barrier to connection between employers and employees. I am seeing it keep candidates and business owners away from the symbiotic connection that defines a strong company and a strong economy at large. As in-demand roles have multiplied and changed across the IT space, an apparent skills-mismatch has emerged in a number of crucial areas, including DevOps, customer experience, cloud infrastructure, automation, platforms and products, data management, and cybersecurity. McKinsey researchers predict this employer-candidate gap will worsen before it improves; the disparity between employer needs and candidate experience could leave employers with gaps in positions that the pandemic has rendered integral.
SKILLS GAP: FACT OR FICTION?
I believe the skills mismatch can partially be explained by the nature of the industry itself. Computer science is intensely progressive. Breakthrough innovations are developed, integrated, and adopted faster than they are in other industries. The cyclical progress—new languages being introduced, adopted, and replaced soon after—repeats.
For candidates, educators, and employers, it’s hard to know where to intersect within that cycle of change. I believe the best thing a candidate can learn is how to learn and how to pivot between new programs, languages, and processes with speed, enthusiasm, and agility. For prospective candidates in the IT space, now is an opportune time to invest in lifelong learning.
CONSTANT AND CONTINUED EDUCATION
The pace of tech evolution can actually work as an equalizing force. A candidate with a relevant degree might possess the initial advantage, but in my experience, it’s the candidate committed to growth that will best navigate the industry. The lack of a traditional computer science degree need not prevent a candidate from participating in the tech industry boom, nor should fears about the cost of alternative training. Current alternative training options exist at low or no cost. Many programs offer online learning with a focus on relevant skills in a changing industry.
In considering programs, a candidate should ensure the training they receive is relevant. One strategy is to network within the target sector, looking for programs that are need-aware and that offer courses tailored to local industries. However, if a candidate is still unsure of their desired focus, they can explore the subcategories of computer science—programming, systems analysis, database administration, network architecture, software development, and research—and the jobs that accompany them. Studying information technology trends, watching webinars on LinkedIn or Youtube, and leveraging other self-led learning platforms are all great ways to begin.
Consulting firms or state-owned enterprises might use more established technologies such as Java or .NET Core. Multinational companies sometimes favor Ruby. A good strategy is to examine the job market for each language and try to determine which language is most commonly listed on job postings that are local or seem interesting.
Another consideration is how easy a language is to learn and what projects one is able to build and add to a portfolio while learning a language. In the end, the best language depends on a candidate’s needs and interests. The most important priority is to learn an initial language in depth and to use it to build a foundation for other languages, as well as a portfolio. No one can be an expert in every aspect of computer science, and there are no wrong choices.
FACING THE INTERVIEW
Armed with new knowledge and experience, candidates are ready to explore the available roles in their desired field. The top priority on both sides of an interview, for both the candidate and the employer, is to explore the fit in depth; no one wants to be in a working position that’s not right for them. And while the interview can be a stressful stage in the journey of a job search, candidates who are able to keep that goal in mind might find some much-needed ease.
Bringing in a portfolio of self-directed projects is a great way for a candidate to communicate their interests, experience, and skill level to date. In addition, candidates should be ready to bring alternative educational experience, skill test scores, and unpaid apprenticeship experience to the employer’s attention. Recruitment teams often make the mistake of specifying degree requirements in the language of a traditional educational system, but may be just as open to skills earned in other ways. Candidates who are able to speak to those alternative experiences are in the best position to demonstrate their intrinsic interest and motivation in a way that will be memorable to recruitment teams.
Finally, a candidate’s answers are only as good as their questions. Inquiring about a company’s long- and short-term goals in the recovery phase demonstrates an advanced awareness and collaborative capacity. Consider also inquiring about how the company supports the career goals of its employees. Does the company invest in reskilling and upskilling? Does it value its employees’ individual improvement, particularly in the post-pandemic landscape?
Building a career in programming can seem intimidating, particularly without a computer science degree. However, a candidate can construct a path by exploring subfields, researching stacks, and finding relevant training. This training can give them the skills to create a portfolio, complete skills tests, and secure initial work experiences. The number of self-made tech professionals is ever-growing—perhaps the perfect solution to a field that evolves greatly every day.