3 ways general IT pros can become IoT experts before the jobs boom

This article originally appeared on TechRepublic by Alison DeNisco Rayome.

As the internet of things expands into the enterprise, companies will need more workers with expertise in technology, data, and security.

To say the Internet of Things (IoT) is a booming industry would be an understatement: By the end of 2017, 8.4 billion connected devices were in use worldwide, according to Gartner—more than the number of people on Earth. This phenomenon has led to increased IT spending, a plethora of security concerns, and a job market increasingly seeking professionals who are skilled in deploying and managing connected systems.

It’s still rare to see a job in this area spelled out as “IoT specialist,” according to Michele Pelino, principal analyst at Forrester. However, there are skillsets tied to helping companies leverage connected environments and IoT-enabled solutions to transform their processes and products. For general IT professionals, this represents a booming realm for current and future positions that is worth exploring for the job security that may come along with it.

“Clearly there’s a technology component, but beyond that, you have to think about folks that have the skillsets tied to analytics and bridging the gap with the business team and the operation side of the business, and understanding their requirements so that you can justify the value of these investments,” Pelino said.

Here are three different types of IoT jobs on both the technological and strategic side that general IT pros can prepare to take.

1. The technology components

IoT projects can be highly complex, and require a number of different elements of software, hardware, and networking to come together to operate.

“You need folks that understand the different elements of the technologies that have to come together,” Pelino said. “If you’re putting together an end-to-end IoT solution and proving that it can work, then you have to have technology experience.”

2. The data side

Organizations need professionals who know how to gather insights from the connected environment and use them across the organization. “Another type of role that’s becoming more important are folks that have the ability to bridge the gap between the technology and the business benefit,” Pelino said, which might be in the form of a data analyst or scientist.

“One of the things that’s a real challenge right now is that there is a gap in folks who have skillsets on the data analytics side,” Pelino said. “When you start thinking about the scale and scope of these connected environments and assets through IoT, there’s just not going to be enough of them.”

This skillset is going to be particularly relevant as IoT expands in the coming decade.

3. The security realm

IoT greatly expands technology’s footprints in the enterprise, said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA. “Instead of just having a data center and some endpoints, every single thing your company touches is connected and on your network somehow, generating data,” Robinson said. “The scope of the problem has grown dramatically.”

Keeping connected devices secure will be a major priority moving forward: Some 77% of companies say the increased use of connected devices creates significant security challenges, according to a recent report from ForeScout and Forrester. Individuals with the security skills needed to protect IoT endpoints will continue to grow in demand.

Job outlook

Many jobs seek to combine elements of all three of these areas, Robinson said. “They want someone who understands the devices, and can connect them with software and do the data analysis, and understand the security behind it,” he added.

That’s a high bar that’s leading to the perception of a skills gap, Robinson said. “With the newness of this field, this isn’t something where you’re likely to be getting college graduates coming out with the full breadth of expertise they would need to step into these roles,” he added.

Companies need to step back from their ideal candidate, and do some training to fill roles. “If they can get someone who’s strong in the hardware and software, but doesn’t have the security skills, then they need to be willing to help build those up,” Robinson said.

“If you’re a general IT worker and looking at a job posting saying, ‘I don’t have this breadth of experience,’ the best thing you can do is find a company that’s willing to help you train up and get those skills, or being to move in that direction yourself,” Robinson said.

General IT professionals who want to expand your skillset into this area should also take a look at what IoT initiatives are underway at your organization, Pelino said. You can then try to get involved in the process.

“If this is something you’re interested in, there may well be opportunities for you to go down this path with your organization, and to be proactive and say that you’re interested in it and want to contribute,” Pelino said.

The automation question

Automation may help fill skills gaps to some degree, but not completely, Pelino said.

“You may be able to automate certain things, but there’s still going to be a need for a human to really guide, ‘What are we trying to prove here?’ or ‘What are the inputs that we want to think about driving this new experience that we want to represent in a model?'”

“The skillsets may change, but the underlying requirement for folks that understand and can translate what I need on the business side with the kind of insight that can be gathered in an IoT environment and bridging that gap, a machine can’t just do that,” Pelino said. “You still need people that can make that translation happen.”

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