About a third of the employees at digital health startup Peerfit Inc. are tech workers, tasked with running the company's customer-facing platform as well as supporting the internal systems that serve the company's 85 staffers.
The tech team includes product designers, project managers, front-end engineers, database engineers and visual designers, as well as techies who handle day-to-day IT operations. They all work remotely, as Peerfit is a distributed organization without a brick-and-mortar headquarters.
Peerfit Vice President of Technology Drew Bisset said he believes that many more IT departments in the future will look like his IT shop today, with technologists who are collaborative, work remotely and are well integrated into business lines.
In addition to strong collaboration between technology teams and business units, Bisset said that the "gig economy" will factor heavily into the future of IT jobs. More technologists will work as contract workers, he said, as companies seek to create more agile teams that contain only the expertise they need for executing current projects. And more of these experts will work remotely, as they seek projects that best suit their skills and ambitions, and as companies look for the very best candidates for the job, not just those located nearby or willing to relocate.
"The relationship employees have with employers is going to change. They'll be more of an individual-type consultant," Bisset said.
Future of IT jobs: They won't disappear
CIOs and IT leaders often focus on how technology is enabling transformation of the various business units that make up the enterprise. But technology is also transforming the enterprise IT department, as more companies see themselves as technology firms, adopt digital objectives and embrace data-driven strategies.
The business shift changes how technology products are developed, delivered and maintained as well as what IT skills are needed where and when.
"I believe IT remains an important function within the enterprise. There will still be many large sophisticated systems that will need care and feeding," said Larry Volz, who recently retired as vice president and CIO of Pratt & Whitney and now serves on the advisory board at tech company PreVeil.
"That being said, I think the roles and skill sets will change considerably," he added. "There's a lot of pressure to deliver on speed and agility, there has always been pressure on cost, and there's more pressure today on security. Now, there's a data play. And the traditional roles around global infrastructure are changing, which is driven by cloud."
Predictions on what these changes mean for enterprise IT departments vary. But interviews with IT executives, consultants and researchers, along with surveys and studies that quantify a confluence of industry trends, have produced some consensus on what the future IT function will look like.
"We definitely believe that the IT function will continue to exist. There is too much novelty, too much platform potential, too much rapid change in the environment for IT to be a pure commodity. But it's definitely going to evolve," said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at the nonprofit trade association CompTIA Inc.
Big thinkers needed in the IT teams of the future
The IT team of the future will need people who think big, who can continue to bridge the gap between technology and business -- a trend that has been ongoing for some time now, said Jim Johnson, senior vice president for IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. CIOs will increasingly hire people not for particular technical skills, but rather because they can drive objectives forward.
"Companies are looking for solutions architects -- people who can look across the organization and find what solutions are needed to solve a business problem versus building just a technology footprint. They'll need to look at it from a business perspective and know the technical resources to put together to support that solution. That's what we see coming," Johnson said.
And more technologists need to become comfortable developing in an iterative fashion, with a focus on rapid and constant deployment, he added.
Khalid Kark, a director at Deloitte LLP who leads the development of research and insights for the CIO Program, said he talked to a financial services firm CIO who expects that half his IT workforce will be doing different technology tasks in the next three to five years. Like Bisset, this financial services CIO anticipates his staff's becoming more engaged with the lines of business and being able to anticipate what they need for technology products. As such, these technologists will need to understand the business more deeply and become more agile in their delivery methods.
IT skills most in demand
Deloitte polled 1,116 CIOs and 321 chief experience officers for its 2018 global CIO survey, "Manifesting legacy: Looking beyond the digital era," on what IT skills will be most in demand (and the hardest to find) in the next three years. Topping the list was skills in analytics, data science and business intelligence, followed by: cyber privacy and compliance; innovation and emerging technologies; big data; cloud, SaaS and distributed systems; and application design and development.
Deloitte also asked executives to rank the soft skills they plan to seek in IT hires in the next three years and found that creativity, complex problem-solving, leadership and management, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence will be the most in-demand.
Similarly, Robinson predicted technologists will need to continue to shift their thinking skills from tactical to strategic in the upcoming years.
As far as what programming languages or technologies will shape the future of IT jobs, the IT experts we interviewed said there's no way to predict with certainty, given the rapid pace of change.
But based on current trends they said they expect IT departments to hire more experts in artificial intelligence, automation, blockchain and the internet of things as more companies find strong use cases for those technologies. CIO should expect to continue to pay top dollar for security skills in general, too.
And while cloud will continue to displace some enterprise IT work, as it has for the past decade or so, Johnson and others said the cloud has also given rise to new positions and will continue to shape the future of IT jobs. For example, there are emerging IT jobs focused on building the right architecture to take advantage of cloud computing, cloud orchestration and managing workloads in the cloud.
Additionally, demand will continue to rise for workers with data-related skills. "You're going to need people who can find data and leverage data," Johnson said.
Security skills, creativity
Richard Teachout, the chief data officer at El Toro, a technology company that specializes in delivering display advertisements, agreed that competition for data skills will heat up in the upcoming decade, as organizations grow their analytics capabilities as well as their automation and artificial intelligence programs (all of which need robust data to work).
He said he also anticipates growing demand for skills around infrastructure-as-code as well as cloud-related skills in general as organizations continue to forgo on-premises solutions for outsourced options.
As the threat landscape broadens with the adoption of new technologies, Teachout said that compliance and regulatory requirements will evolve, so security skills will continue to be in high demand.
Teachout also said the future of IT jobs will upend some cultural norms. A worker's technology pedigree -- educational background and certifications -- will matter less than that person's capacity to innovate and develop skills as needed.
"We hire people based on how they think," Teachout said, noting that innovation and creativity will be more critical capabilities moving forward, as technologists will be expected to collaborate ever more closely with business colleagues to deliver products to the market.
Mixed stats on number of IT jobs in the future
As for how many IT professionals will be needed in the future, and what exactly they'll be doing, the answers are still up for debate. A recent report from Nintex found that a majority of IT respondents say more than 20% of their job could be automated.
The Deloitte survey found that IT departments expect to trim their full-time employees from the current level of 82% of positions to just 75% -- although the survey also suggests that there will be new positions for remaining employees and that those new positions will offer more challenging work.
Others, though, see the future of IT jobs as more rosy.
"We haven't seen IT hiring slow down. We haven't seen anyone say that they expect to hire fewer people in the future," Johnson said.