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7 Hottest Skills For IT Freelancers

Freelance job posting site Upwork, lists the top 20 most requested freelance skills, 7 of which are IT skills.

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If you're an IT professional looking to freelance, you'll need to know which skills are most in demand. If you're a CIO or other IT leader looking to bring in some contract workers, you'll want to know which are the hottest skills so you can be prepared to fight for talent.

Freelance job-posting site Upwork has compiled a list of the 20 skills most commonly sought by the hiring companies worldwide that use the site to recruit talent.

Seven of these are IT related. In addition to listing the hottest IT freelance skills now, Upwork also offers insights into which talents will be in demand in the years ahead.

[ Freelancing is hot right now, too. Read IT Freelancing: 11 Signs Its Hot Right Now. ]

Upwork created its list by compiling the skill requirements from every freelance job posting on its site from January 1 through June 30 of this year. (Upwork has more than 3 million job postings per year.)

While Upwork doesn't share the total number of times each skill was required in a job posting, the list should give you a good idea of the skills you need to stand out in the freelance market. Upwork's community lists more than 3,000 potential skills that hiring companies are looking for, so to qualify for inclusion in the top 20 the skill has to be in demand.

Check out the list of the top IT skills, and how they rank in Upwork's overall top 20.

Table 1: Upwork's Top Freelance Skills For IT Pros
Skill IT Ranking Overall Ranking
PHP Development 1 1
Javascript Development 2 6
HTML 5 Development 3 8
MySQL Administration 4 14
Android App Development 5 15
iQuery Development 6 16
iOS App Development 7 17

You'll notice that the skill-sets don't necessarily always match up to the same hot skills you'd expect to need for full-time work. For instance, you won't see a lot of big data or security skills on the list.

According to Mateo Bueno, category director for Upwork's Web, Mobile, and Software Development category, "Freelance work is usually for solving a more specific problem, whereas full-time workers need to have a broader, more general set of skills. Freelance work is easier when you don't have to understand the full stack or the full setup to do the work."

You'll also notice the list is full of developer skills. Mateo says, "It is definitely more common to see developers hired on our platform. For companies, it is easier to experiment with developers without taking their eyes off their core projects."

Looking for the skills of the future?

To create the list of trending skills, Upwork looked at skills listed in the job requirements of the posts on the site from November 1, 2014 through October 31, 2015 and compared those results to the same dates the previous 12 months to find the skills with the biggest increases (and decreases) in job listings.

According to UpWork, the top five growing skills are:

1. PSD to Wordpress

2. Wordpress plugin

3. Excel VBA

4. Usability testing

5. Shopify

Mateo also says, "We are seeing some growth in setting up Amazon cloud. For now we see more smaller things, but we expect we'll see more growth in the development stack. And Angular JavaScript is the fastest growing development language."

Worried about which of your skills are declining in demand? These are the five skills trending down, according to Upwork:

1. Joomla

2. XML

3. Drupal

4. API development

5. Magento

What do you think? Do these match up with your experience? What skills do you think will be hot for freelancers in the year ahead? Tell us in the comments section below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 8:46:23 AM
specialized skills
I caught a couple of disturbing ideas here. When it's better of a freelancer doesn't have to understand the full stack, that sounds more like what they are saying is that we can hire someone with only the skill we want and therefore pay them much lower than a regular employee. For survival any freelancers need to find not only high demand skills, but those that they can specialize in to become experts where they are one of a few people who really know the skill in order to make sure they are appreciated by the clients. If a skill is in high demand but it's something almost anyone can do, you can't make a living off it.
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 11:00:20 AM
Re: specialized skills
@kstaron: I agree with you. Also, having a specialty guy working for me at half the money I pay my full time workers isn't good for the freelancer. Since the area of expertise asks for $100 doesn't mean I would pay him 50 bucks because he is a freelancer. I may pay him 85, but not half the money I'm paying my full time.
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 11:04:03 AM
Re: specialized skills
I'm really surprised to see PHP Development leading the charts and not database management and Android development. Php took a massive hit when I was learning it in 2010.
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 1:50:12 PM
Re: specialized skills
This PHP thing has to be driven by all these wannabee "get rich" startups who think they have the next killer app. PHP is server side, probably the cheapest, easiest way for these guys to connect mobile devices to a server database. And by that I mean cheap open source type "servers" using cheap/free OpenSQL databases, or more likely some cloud infrastructure made up of that stuff.

What I read into this is these companies must not have any real developers, it isn't hard to learn PHP is you are already a developer. PHP is not Java, it's simple, which is why it is popular.

The scary part is PHP can get you into a world of hurt from a security point of view, you really have to know your stuff to lock server down. How many of these PHP development freelance guys know squat about that? And what do they care about security, it's not their company or data. That is one scary trend we are seeing here.
David Wagner
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
11/30/2015 | 2:34:49 PM
Re: specialized skills
@kstaron- Well, I guess you can look at it as both good and bad. It is true that some jobs don't require you to have intimate knowledge of an entire company's stack to do them. That doesn't mean what they need isn't crucial and high paying. It just means it is part of a larger thing. It allows someone to be an expert at one crucial thing. That can be very lucrative. 

On the other hand, you need to make sure your skills stay in demand which is why watching these lists is important.
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 4:20:17 PM
Interesting skills mix
I'm very surprised at the demand for these skills. I would have thought app development ranked higher. I'm really surprised to see Joomla and Drupal skills in such high demand on Upwork. Very interesting results!
User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2015 | 4:24:59 PM
Re: specialized skills
The hottest skills needed depends on the region. For example, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the fastest growing IT industries are healthcare, oil and gas, financial services and real estate. The jobs most in demand are: systems administrators, .net developers, software engineers, database developers and network engineers.

User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 5:11:50 PM
Re: specialized skills
@tnguyengp, I agree with you.  Such skills depend on location and industry. I would think because these jobs can be done remotely, it would not matter where the jobs are.  I would think for such fields you are mentioning companies will bring a contractor rather than a freelancer.
User Rank: Author
11/30/2015 | 7:12:38 PM
Re: specialized skills
The jobs that are best for freelancers may be different than the jobs that are best for corporate positions to Dave's point. Certain assignments that utilize alot of cross functional integration are not a good fit for freelance talent. Freelancers can add a lot of bandwidth to the right project and expedite deliverables. The list of skills represent this well --more tactical than strategic skill sets.
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2015 | 10:08:29 PM
Re: specialized skills
@kstarton: I agree. I think apart from the technical skills, all freelancers need to have certain other skills which are essential. Since they're their own managers, they need to have good organization skills, good written and oral communication skills as well as the good selling skills in some cases. Technical skills can only result in so much success without these being there.
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