2010 tech career outlook

After a brutal finale to a tough decade, is there hope for better IT careers?

There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that IT jobs took a disproportionately high hit in job cuts in 2009. Worse, high-tech advisories such as the Hackett Group are advising companies not to hire back U.S. or European IT workers but instead fill any needs overseas, which Hackett says will mean a jobless recovery in 2010 as far as IT is concerned.

The good news is that not everyone's predictions are as dire as Hackett's, and there are several pockets of demand for skilled IT workers, even if many jobs such as those in support and systems administration remain under threat. One recent indication: a Goldman Sachs study predicting a 4 percent rise in IT spending, which indicates some positive momentum among large companies at least. That follows similar surveys by IDC and Gartner, both also predicting slight upticks in IT spending in 2010.

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For example, demand for cloud-oriented tech experts is way up, as my colleague David Linthicum has reported. And tech placement firm Robert Half Associates has projected it sees strong demand for network administrators, security managers, and systems engineers.

Other hot areas are software architects, Java and .Net/C++ developers, quality assurance pros and project managers, agile-capable developers, and SAP consultants. Mobile app development has also gotten a lot of buzz, though whether this is a profitable area or long-term need remains to be seen.

Overall, according to Michigan State University's annual survey on recruiting trends, engineering and tech jobs will stay stable in number in 2010, with no overall losses or gains. And despite the recession and effects of outsourcing, a survey of HR pros still puts tech as one of the top fields of study for students to pursue (the other is health care).

What is clear is that journeyman positions -- help desk support, software coding, Web production, code testing, software and server administration, and even software development -- is increasingly being moved overseas or to automated systems. That poses near-term risks to people with such jobs, as well as long-term ones for the United States, Canada, and Europe, as fewer people enter engineering and tech fields for fear that there will be no jobs, exacerbating the shortage that already exists in these regions for qualified engineers.

Of course, not all these jobs will be outsourced -- collaborating over 12 time zones and 12,000 miles is difficult, and many outsourcing efforts have failed due to the time, distance, language, and cultural challenges. But many will, and as nations such as India, China, and the Philippines reap the rewards of their intensive engineering education efforts, they'll want to move up and begin taking work for project management, architecture, software design, and other more advanced skills typically handled in the United States, Canada, and Europe today.

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