Karen Armon

Trends in Tech Careers: How to Stay Competitive and Ahead of the Crowd

Three major trends in staffing in the technology industry are changing the competitive landscape. Here’s how tech professionals can be prepared.

by Karen Armon, January 2013

The transformation of our economy has created tremendous shifts that can be confusing. The way to maneuver your professional career is to understand the direction in which these micro-trends point and take steps to move forward.

Trend #1: The convergence of technology and marketing skills

Convergence in technology has been happening for some time now. Platforms, data, and applications continue to converge into one based upon new capabilities, sometimes driven by consumers and sometimes by breakthrough technologies.

Functions, skill sets, and roles are converging as well. Requirements to have a broader skill set based upon multiple functional roles is one of the primary reasons that companies can’t find the talent they need—even in an economic environment in which unemployment rates are high.

Examples of this convergence can be found particularly in the technology-marketing mix. Marketing now is dependent upon technologies, particularly social, to communicate to customers, develop integrated strategies, and utilize data to determine consumer trends. However, fewer functions are as far apart as information technology and marketing. IBM’s 2012 State of Marketing Survey says that these two groups must work together or “their organizations risk becoming less competitive.” Yet only a small percentage of marketing and IT executives say that their companies are fully integrated. What can an IT professional do to prepare and be a part of this convergence?

First, IT must become more flexible in its ability to adapt, focusing on speed while maintaining quality, and meet business needs rather than technology requirements. Too often, IT projects take too long because of the adherence to standards and processes that no longer work for the business. Some clients of mine, to address this issue, have turned the IT corporate function into a pseudo-manufacturing plant and have stripped away all the reasons for becoming an IT professional. Of course, this isn’t the solution. Rather, the solution is to adopt a fluid, flexible, team-oriented approach to delivery (think “SWAT teams”) and rapidly deploy particularly upon revenue-generating projects that serve marketing and sales initiatives.

Second, IT must learn about business as a whole and how companies make money. No longer can the IT professional, similar to an engineer, ignore how business is conducted and how customers behave, particularly with the increase of social marketing tools that continue to be fundamental in building collaborative products and brands. According to The Economist, “Consumers want personalization and to participate in value creating, shifting the mindset to ‘made with me.’”

Finally, IT needs to understand big data as it relates to customers rather than how it relates to data itself. Putting data into context, offering trending solutions for that data, and becoming an advisor to the business will help tremendously in transforming IT from a back-office outsourcer (and therefore less relevant to the business) to a front-office must-have advisor. That requires IT professionals to learn influence, selling, and consultative skills, as well as general business skills.

Trend #2: The rise of the social leader

According to The Economist, “Mobility is entering a new stage and work is becoming increasingly distributed.” Yet many companies are not prepared to shift with the increase in social business, let alone foster social leaders. However, the cat is out of the bag, and those leaders who adopt social leadership styles will increasingly win in today’s talent wars.

Social leadership, according to Tia Benjamin, as opposed to socialistic concepts, incorporates task and social leadership styles. The true social leader is adept at both. The social leader provides meaning for tasks rather than focusing on the accomplishment of tasks; achieves consensus for actions rather than outlining work needed; motivates with compelling, approachable interactions rather than deadlines, goals, and expectations; and fits within a collaborative, participative environment rather than the careful management of resources.

One of Boston’s “best places to work” is Enterasys Networks, a Siemens Enterprise Communications Company, where the social leader is celebrated, resulting in the industry’s best employee retention statistics. Using 10 building blocks that create a culture of engagement, this company is on the cutting-edge of developing social leaders.

There are significant benefits to becoming a social leader. They include:

  • Corporate values and strategies becoming clearer and more sustainable

  • Strategic business knowledge coming from both outside and inside the organization

  • Employee engagement and accountability increasing innovation and financial options

  • Social responsibility and customer alignment improving access to markets and revenues

How can an IT professional become more of a social leader? 

First, listen to or follow those who are social leaders. Forerunners include Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, who uses social tools to communicate with customers and employees 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as well as intentionally designing a culture of trust and respect. Others include Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research. Go beyond what they are saying and think about why and how they communicate. You’ll find that: 1) they have a point of view, 2) they communicate boldly, and 3) they connect with others and are open about that.

Second, practice what you discover by listening to social leaders. Take the time daily to implement something that you’ve learned from these leaders. Don’t be concerned whether or not you are doing it properly—you’ll learn that along the way. Social leaders are made through time, effort, and hard work.

Finally, understand the difference between position power, which is derived from your role as a leader or manager, and influence power, which is derived from your ability to connect with others. Social leaders rely heavily on their influence power and only use position power when needed.

Trend #3: The increased utilization of fluid talent

The Harvard Business Review’s recently published article, “The Rise of the Supertemp,” shows that we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in employment today. This article points out some clear truths:

  • “Supertemps” are defined as “…top managers and professionals—from lawyers to CFOs to consultants—who’ve been trained at top schools and companies and chose to pursue project-based careers independent of any major firm.”

  • These supertemps are growing in number and are changing the way executives are hired.

  • Compensation is comparable to their former top-level position in a marquee company.

  • Supertemps are not “paratemps,” who are individuals who work temporary entry-level and are traditionally low-paying roles.

Top talent, due to the Great Recession and the desire to have meaningful work, is cutting the ties to an 80-hour work week and demanding that work fit lifestyle. Companies are listening, finding ways to work with high-powered talent while keeping their companies lean and efficient. 

McKinsey found that 45 percent of temporary employees work in management, IT or technical occupations, or healthcare, and contract work has grown four times faster than total employment over the past decade. According to research by MBO Partners, 17 million Americans work independently today, projected to be 23 million in the next five years. “Independents,” the MBO Partner’s definition, make up 21 percent of Millennials (Gen Y), 35 percent of Gen X-ers, 36 percent of Baby Boomers, and 8 percent of Matures. There are a lot of signs pointing to the use of fluid talent pools and becoming part of the mainstream.

The downside to this type of utilization is only one: the origin of the project work. According to the authors of the Harvard Business Review article, this is where “intermediary companies”—companies that do the marketing and selling for talent and assign project work to individuals—are needed.

As I have stated before, overhead costs (one major impediment to growth is healthcare costs) must be kept within affordable ranges, and to do this, many companies will turn to this fluid talent/fluid work mix.

How, then, can an IT professional prepare for the increased use of fluid talent?

First, understand that your company will use outside talent more over time. Learn what types of work can be delegated to outside talent and what must be kept in-house. Reach out to outside talent so that you can learn to use multiple forms of talent and how it works or doesn’t work in the company.

Second, prepare yourself for the possibility that at times in your career, you may be outside of a company to find work. Work doesn’t need to be defined by an employer and employment doesn’t need to be given by a single entity called a company. According to MBO Partners, the most satisfied individual is the Independent and not the employee.

Finally, learn how to market and sell your talents and keep your networks strong so that whenever you are outside of a company, you’ll stay financially whole throughout your career—regardless of whether you work for an employer or yourself. Those who proactively approach income production, regardless of the status of W-2 or 1099, will be those who are able to handle the ebbs and flows of economic disruptions that will continue for the next decade.

The bottom line: what does this mean for the technology professional?

Since 2000, there has been a silent emergence of a new economic structure that has gone undetected because of our focus on macro-economic measurements. Indices such as the unemployment rate, labor statistics, gross domestic product, and industrial output do not pick up these micro-trends. Technology advances somewhat cloud (no pun intended) the issues because innovations in products and services cause the professional to follow these trends and not the significant employment changes that are happening under our very noses. Yet periodical reviews and individual discussions that provide a human face to our world today can tell us what’s really going on.

For the tech professional, keeping a sharp eye and ear out for these micro-trends changes how one sees the world, provides new direction for moving into top roles in any market and in any situation, and develops new and robust careers that meet today’s economy while effectively marketing and selling one’s top-level capabilities.

Karen Armon (www.MarketOneExecutive.com) is an executive-level career coach and author of the book, Market Your Potential, Not Your Past. Karen’s newly released 2012 eBook helps you to understand and to decode today’s economic climate and is available at www.marketoneexecutive.com/ebook.asp.