Top Career Paths for New IT Candidates

More organizations are moving from roles-based staffing to skills-based staffing. In IT, flexibility is key.

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

June 26, 2024

6 Min Read
ladders placed on red wall
ImagesRouges via Alamy Stock

The accelerating pace of business and technology innovation requires an unprecedented level of organizational agility that is affecting human resources, hiring managers, and candidates. Gone are the days when a computer science or other degree sets one up for life. 

Meanwhile, the IT talent shortage remains an issue, which requires organizations to reskill and upskill existing talent. To make sense of it all -- and to remain competitive -- businesses need to understand the skills they need today as well as the skills they’ll need in the future so they can staff appropriately now and later. 

The shift to skills-based talent management has cast a shadow of doubt over the value of having a degree, given the amount of online and certification options available. While there are IT professionals who lack a traditional four-year degree, a forthcoming survey report of 800 IT decision makers by insurance company MetLife reveals that 83% believe higher education is necessary to succeed in today’s workforce. 

“The technology industry is rapidly evolving, and recent graduates are navigating a more complex and tech-driven workforce than ever before. While it’s unrealistic to expect education curriculum to quickly pivot to account for every tech advancement, higher education is critical for success,” says Bill Pappas, head of global technology and operations at MetLife in an email interview. “At MetLife, we find the most successful entry level employees have a combination of soft and hard skills, providing them with the foundation to work with emerging technology -- but also adapt to industry changes in real-time.” 

Related:Why Now Is the Time to Reinitiate Halted IT Projects

Those essential skills include critical thinking, problem solving, flexibility, time efficiency, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

“Colleges and universities are struggling to maintain relevance in IT skills development, as the average half-life of a technology skill is just 2.5 years, according to IBM. This means that when a learner graduates with a four-year degree in information technology, half of the skills they have learned have already perished,” says Cali Koerner Morrison, senior director, learning marketplace at employer tuition assistance company EdAssist by Bright Horizons in an email interview. “Some colleges and universities are addressing this by creating stackable credentials where learners receive a market valuable credential certifying the skills they recently gained to enter the job market sooner than it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree, while still earning credit toward that degree.” 

Related:The Impact of AI Skills on Hiring and Career Advancement

Other institutions are mapping credit equivalence to industry certifications, allowing learners to gain credit toward a degree for skills and knowledge they gain outside of the institution’s physical or virtual classrooms.  

One reason that degrees remain important is because of the rigor they require to complete. According to Morrison, what a bachelor’s degree holder brings to information technology career path are the durable skills also in high demand by technology companies -- communication, writing and problem solving.   

Career Tracks New Candidates Should Pursue 

MetLife’s survey respondent base said their top 2024 hires would be software engineers (66%), AI researchers (39%), data scientists (36%), and security specialists (36%). According to Kathyrn Uhles, dean of the College of Business and Information Technology at the University of Phoenix, cyber and data security are the hot jobs right now with the highest needs for quality candidates who can hit the ground running. Certifications help here by validating a certain set of skills employers understand. 

“For new IT graduates, it is critical that they stay updated on technology trends and sought-after skills from employers. I also recommend that new graduates and those seeking entry-level positions enhance their technical and soft skills, build their professional networks, and seek mentors in the field,” says Uhles in an email interview. 

Related:How To Close The IT Skills Gap

Jessica Roper, director of career services at the University of Phoenix encourages pursuing certifications in areas such as cybersecurity, cloud computing or network security because it allows students to delve deeper into these subjects, acquiring new skills and enhancing understanding of one’s preferred IT specialization. Certification can also provide the candidate with a competitive advantage. 

“Breaking into the IT field can be challenging, so for those just starting out, gaining hands-on experience alongside your education and certifications is key for building practical skills and enhancing your employability,” says Roper. “Part-time jobs, internships, volunteer experiences and personal projects are all valuable opportunities to apply your theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios, helping you stand out to employers. Consider volunteering your IT skills for non-profits or community projects to showcase real-world experience on your resume. Platforms like GitHub are also excellent ways to showcase your personal coding projects and technical skills to potential employers.” 

AI and GenAI skills have increased in job postings over the past year, however, skills like Java, Python, and SQL, though shrinking in demand, still outnumber AI related skills and should not be overlooked, according to EdAssist’s Morrison.  

“New grads should pursue entry level positions in technology fields that interest them, but keep in mind that they will need to constantly upskill to not only maintain their entry point but also to grow,” says Morrison. “For anyone pursuing a career in information technology, the key to unlocking success will be the ability to continuously learn.” 

Employers are also an important piece of the puzzle because it’s mutually beneficial for them to equip their employees with the latest skills they need to succeed. For example, MetLife hosts a Global Hackathon annually for its employees. In 2023, there were over 300 unique, tech-driven solutions designed to improve customer care.  

“With over 3,500 registrants already signed up for 2024, it’s great to see employees excited to continue their learning, even outside of their everyday role,” says MetLife’s Pappas. 

Bottom Line 

The rate of business and technology change shows no signs of slowing. To succeed in IT careers, candidates and employees must be able to adapt to changing circumstances appropriately and in a timely fashion.  

AI, GenAI, cybersecurity, cloud, and data-related jobs are what’s hot right now. 

While it is possible to have an IT career without having a degree, today’s general rule of thumb is to begin with a degree and continue active learning throughout one’s career. 

Degrees and alternative learning are not an either-or proposition for most. Both are recommended for varied reasons. Degrees require a greater level of time and capital commitment than online courses, workshops, or seminars. Traditionally, a bachelor’s degree has been viewed as a rite of passage, but that alone will not keep one’s skills current. 

Online and professional training courses are easier to create and can adapt faster to change than university programs, so they’re a logical complement to a degree and steppingstones to evolving career goals. 

About the Author(s)

Lisa Morgan

Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers business and IT strategy and emerging technology for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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