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Micro credentials could stave off software engineer layoffs

Software developers can take measures to protect their jobs with micro credentials tailored to their company’s needs within hot trends such as cloud computing and AI.

Developers can take steps to shield themselves from layoffs by earning micro credentials that target the latest trends in application development, according to industry experts.

The job market for developers has swung from red hot to cool in the last few months, with many tech companies implementing hiring freezes. One way developers can ride out the recession is to stay up to date with the latest programming languages and tools. A relatively quick way to do so is to earn a micro credential, a certification that focuses on a specific competency or skill, such as Agile development, UX design or cloud computing, as opposed to a full degree program.

The flux in the tech industry means reskilling the tech workforce is a key trend for 2023, said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst at GlobalData, a British market research firm.

"There's no way around the fact that developers and IT ops members need to evolve their skill sets based on technologies which are going to bring value to enterprises over the next couple years," she said.

Micro credentials for added value

Dunlap suggested software engineers concerned about layoffs should take advantage of new and updated developer training programs, such as Salesforce Trailhead, Cisco DevNet and AWS Academy.

While many entities offer micro credentials, industry certifications offered by organizations such as CompTIA and EC-Council also might be a more accessible way for software developers to upskill, said Kathryn Uhles, associate dean of IT programs in the College of Business and IT at the University of Phoenix.

"For example, someone working in an Engineer 1 role in IT may want to transition to a role as a security analyst," Uhles said. "A quick search of security analyst job postings will show in-demand skills include network security, risk analysis and incident response."

The University of Phoenix, a private for-profit university, markets its own subdegree credentials, including an online Advanced Software Developer Certificate.

Brian David Crane, founder, CallerSmartBrian David Crane

Unlike traditional degrees, micro credentials are affordable and practical, said Brian David Crane, founder of caller ID software company CallerSmart, who has experience working in both business development and software development leadership teams.

"In a nutshell, not merely more education, but highly focused hyperindividualized learning is what can avoid the chopping block," he said. "Employees can complete these courses in days or weeks, on their own time, which provides the bang for the buck when it comes to these micro degrees."

If developers aren't attached to staying with their current employer and just want to ensure they have a job amid software engineer layoffs, then wider industry trends can offer insight into the current job market. One way to identify those trends is to look at job posting analytics data from labor market analytics firm Lightcast, formerly Emsi Burning Glass.

For example, a December 2022 Burning Glass report showed that in-demand skills include AI, machine learning and cloud computing. The report also showed that rising skills -- likely to affect the future of software development -- include colocation, AWS Serverless and Azure Monitor.

Companies are looking for developers to improve their knowledge of technologies in app deployment, security, databases, security and debugging, and serverless computing.
Charlotte DunlapAnalyst, GlobalData

Developers can also follow vendors' technology roadmaps, especially new entrants into DevOps, including infrastructure players such as Cisco and VMware, GlobalData's Dunlap said.

Conference attendance is another way to stay on top of trends. "If you aren't able to attend the major conferences such as KubeCon, take the time to stream into them for trends and ideas on how to shape your career path," she said.

There are more opportunities for application developers to specialize in emerging technologies that serve as the basis of DevOps, Dunlap said. Those emerging technologies include automation and robotics, FinOps, DevSecOps, and observability.

"Companies are looking for developers to improve their knowledge of technologies in app deployment, security, databases, security and debugging, and serverless computing," Dunlap noted.

In addition to keeping an eye on industry trends, developers should also seek to understand what is driving change among specific key vendors, she said. For example, as a traditional networking company, Cisco aims to move into DevOps by building out its observability and visibility capabilities with OpenTelemetry; eventually, this move will support a more seamless user interface between network and application visibility.

"Therefore, it would behoove Cisco-trained ops and engineers to acquire a better understanding of modern monitoring advancements to help secure their positions," Dunlap said.

Opportunity still exists in software engineer job market

The growing number of layoffs and sluggish economy are a concern to everyone, said Nick Suwyn, founder and CEO of Promineo Tech, a vocational school for software development.

Nick Suwyn, founder and CEO, Promineo TechNick Suwyn

But in the software development industry, there's a huge skills gap, he said.

"While there will be layoffs and corrections, some of it might just be redistributing where people are working," Suwyn said. "So, if someone does get laid off, there should still be opportunity. Plenty of other companies are working hard to fill those roles."

But while the global skills shortage is real, that doesn't mean developers should twiddle their thumbs, Dunlap said.

"Keep coding if you're a noncoder, or consider reskilling if you're a coder who's looking to excel in emerging areas of app development," she said.

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