Of course, one of the hottest industries for job-seekers to get in on is the tech sector, but it's also changing. In fact, the skills you need to be a big shot in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs may well be counterintuitive.
One things, for sure: there are opportunities. The impact of the late summer hurricanes have dominated most of discussion of a weakened jobs report, and the economic Cassandras will decry the unsustainably low unemployment numbers and the past year's slight uptick in the labor participation rate.
Yet that's not happening in technology. The news from this industry is about evolution over time.
That change is the growing importance of liberal arts to the computer world. So-called "soft skills," such as writing, reading and communication, are becoming an increasingly important part of many technology related roles. Over the coming years this will redefine what it means to work in the field. In many ways, it already has.
"The tech sector has really been a jobs creating machine for the past decade or more," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist with the jobs site Glassdoor.com. "What is interesting today is that there is something of a shift going on in tech… You're seeing rising hybrid roles which combine hard skills and soft skills."
It is, he said, "normal as an industry matures."
For people outside of the industry, this change might be hard to notice, but jobs in technology have begun rewarding people who understand customers and individuals as well as raw code. These are increasingly sophisticated jobs with titles like "solutions architect," one of the careers with the fastest pay growth in America, I/O Psychologist and project manager. The language can change, but the broad mission stays the same: integrate judgment, flexibility and human understanding into products.
Understanding process, what a company needs to make and why, has begun to matter as much as (or sometimes even more than) the ability to make the product itself. In very large part this is simply because technology as an industry has gotten more sophisticated.
"Very often what tech companies really need is somebody with a vision who can see ways to apply psychology, not just being told what to build and then just doing it," said Chamberlain. "Today there's more automation taking place in the way [they] operate. For example, we used to hire test engineers that would go through our software at Glassdoor and try to break it. Now we hire automation test engineers. We're seeing more things like that."
Just like manufacturing before it, coding has become an increasingly streamlined process. Companies can now buy pre-built toolkits for jobs that coders once would have had to do from scratch. Neural networks and analytics tools are built to accommodate and even learn increasingly specific needs, and automated systems can take over many of the more menial tasks that teams might once have had to do line-by-line.
Any user who has ever built a website using programs like Wix or Wordpress has gotten a glimpse of these systems, and they get more sophisticated every year. Toolkits, plug-ins, libraries, dictionaries… they all serve the same function: making a programmer's life easier by allowing them to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
The result, as hard skills become easier to train and automate, is an industry that has begun to emphasize difficult to train soft skills. The value of understanding ordinary users isn't new to Silicon Valley; indeed, failure to do so has caused disastrously over-engineered products in both real life and popular fiction alike.
After all, Dean Kamen truly did rely on some ground-breaking technology when he invented the Segway. But a political science major might have been able to tell him that no one would ride it.
As user interfaces become easier to program, understanding the relationship between the user and the device will become more important. As apps become easier to write, companies will need people who better understand how people use their phones. It's a change that will touch every area of technology -- high and low.
The need for soft skills is a sentiment increasingly echoed elsewhere. Even when it comes to coding and IT, working directly with machines, employers increasingly have begun to look for people who can communicate, problem solve and work with a team… and they're finding that it's easier to teach someone how to code Python than how to sit still in a meeting.
Does this mean that liberal arts majors will chase out the STEM degrees? No. Technical careers remain some of the most highly paid professions in America and technical skills the most sought after. That's not about to change.
That said, the soft skill gap is growing. At the same time as seek hard skills, hiring managers also overwhelmingly say that soft skills are what new graduates most often lack. In a 2016 survey by PayScale, 60% of managers felt their new hires lacked problem solving skills. Forty six percent thought their new graduates couldn't communicate.
Of the ten skills that managers said new hires lacked, the top five were all soft skills.
Tech is, most likely, moving in the direction many industries do. It will happen slowly, but sophisticated tools will make day-to-day skills increasingly common. What once took years of training will, eventually, come pre-built. The things automation can't handle someone will be able to learn and understand far more easily than they once could. (Indeed, coders who have worked in original C or machine code may understand how far the industry has come towards general accessibility already.)
Workers who stand out will be the ones who can work in a team and communicate well, the ones who can write well, read deeply and understand what the customer needs and wants.
In other words, everything students learn over in the liberal arts.
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