The hottest tech skills for 2015: Security forensics and good old Java

Talent compass pointing to the most highly skilled jobs hiring
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IT job growth is expected to outpace the overall economy, and those with the right skills stand to benefit handsomely

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It's a new year, with new opportunities.

If you're looking for a new job or simply want a better deal where you're currently working, "tech professionals really have strong negotiating power," says Shravan Goli, the president of Dice, a large tech-focused job board. "Every number we've looked at points toward a bullish tech market."

As always, focusing on the right skills and certifications is key to the techie who wants to move up the career ladder. Not surprisingly, companies are finally responding to the plague of hacking and data theft -- Sony Pictures is only the latest victim -- by beefing up their security teams.

Security dominates employers' IT needs

Cyber security was the fastest growing job category on Dice.com over the last 12 months, growing by 91 percent, with nearly 2,900 openings on the board in early January.

A list of the 10 IT certifications expected to be the hottest in 2015 developed by labor consultancy Foote Partners, which tracks premium pay across 2,700 employers, includes five security-related certifications: GIAC Certified Forensics Analyst, CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst, CWNP Certified Wireless Security Professional, EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker, and EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator.

Although the value of certifications has ebbed and flowed over the years, companies hiring cyber security staffers are looking for "people with provable chops," says David Foote, co-founder of Foote Partners. That means certifications.

The hot tech jobs outside security

There are plenty of other tech skills for which demand is booming, including that old standby, Java. A quick search on Dice reveals 443 Java-related jobs in the San Francisco area alone.

Enterprise architects and data architects will be able to "name their price" in 2015, as companies try to scale up software programs, databases, and infrastructure, Foote says. "IT has been so focused on producing a solution that works today; it hasn't considered scalability. User adoption rates and activity are soaring, which is fueling the demand for architects. In fact, the Open Group Architecture Framework is the highest-paid skill in our quarterly index," he says.

Software engineers are in high demand -- but the ones with the best prospects are employees who can do more than bang out code, Foote says: "CIOs are looking for software engineers who can think beyond what they're doing today and for business analysts who can predict what customers will want next year and the year after that. The demand for outside-the-box thinkers with hybrid skills is not going away."

Many IT jobs do not require certifications, so Foote asked his research staff to put together a list of noncertified skills that would best position an IT professional concerned about keeping his or her job, finding a new one, or getting a raise. The top skills in that list include enterprise architecture, Cloudera software, data management, JavaFX, user interface design, and project management.

Big data, Web development, and SAP are cooling off

Foote breaks with the conventional wisdom that demand for big data skills will continue to be red-hot. Although there are still plenty of jobs demanding those skills -- listings on Dice.com were up 54 percent in 12 months -- premium pay for big data specialists slowed noticeably late last year, according to the Foote Partners survey.

Also cooling off are the markets for Web developers and SAP professionals, says Foote.

Premium pay for SAP professionals has fallen 7 percent over the past three years, based on Foote Partners' survey of 92 certified and noncertified skills. "The pay for professionals with SAP peaked in 2011," Foote notes

However, there are some exceptions. For example, the pay for professionals with governance, risk, and compliance expertise or knowledge of SAP's retail modules has remained steady or grown.

Employers are trading consultants for full-time employees

Over the years, consultants have constituted a sizable chunk of the IT workforce. But that trend is slowing, Foote says. Part of the reason is likely greater confidence in the strength of the economy and the desire of businesses to have employees who are more loyal to their employer than contractors are.

For example, one company that Foote follows closely is cutting the percentage of contractors to 10 percent from about 33 percent.

IT is expected to outpace overall job growth

Because different analysts define IT jobs differently, it's hard to be precise about how many IT jobs were added last year. Foote Partners co-founder David Foote, who uses a rather broad definition, says that U.S. employers added an average of 17,633 IT jobs during September, October, and November. "We see that momentum continuing into 2015." Other analysts use lower figures, but regardless, IT job growth in the United States was certainly stronger in 2014 than it has been in many years.

The U.S. Labor Department expects that growth to continue. Although long-term employment forecasts are often unreliable, it is worth noting that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth in the IT workforce of a little less than 4 percent a year through 2020, a rate triple that predicted for the economy as a whole.

"Knowing a hot [area] can bolster your job-hunting fortunes and give you an edge in salary negotiations," Foote says.

That's good advice.

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