What can you do to ensure your technical skills remain relevant and in demand even as technology evolves?
For years, I've suggested that sysadmins and other technology professionals who want to stay ahead of the curve focus on:
- Developing skills for the next wave of technology innovations
- Routinely picking up some in-demand skills
- Investing some of their time in side projects that may not pay off right away
While that still seems to be excellent advice, it appears a specific focus on the Internet of Things (IoT) should be added to the list. Earlier this year, Gartner predicted that 20.4 billion IoT devices will be connecting in 2020. That's just over two years from now, and that's a lot of devices. Srini Vemula, global product management leader at SenecaGlobal, believes this influx of new IoT devices will lead to tens of thousands of new jobs in the IoT economy.
In addition, Vemula says the barrier to entry is lower than ever — "equivalent to what it was when Apple and Google first introduced the App Store and Google Play, both of which led developers to rapidly monetize their ideas. Amazon’s Alexa is a well-known example of this, as developers can build a complementary product or service, integrate with the Alexa platform and monetize it by selling the solution through their marketplace."
6 IoT skills you will need
The six skill areas that Vemula says IT technologists should invest in include:
- Communicative chips
- Communication gateways
- Cloud management
- Security solutions that cut across the IoT stack
- Domain knowledge that identifies and addresses problems with IoT
Building useful devices that are able to sense, act, compute and communicate with the IoT network is a critical part of the IoT infrastructure that we need to move forward. This includes sensors that can detect position, pressure, flow, acoustics (sound waves), humidity, light and temperature. The most functional and accurate sensors will be invaluable contributors to the future of IoT.
Chips that sense and communicate data should be energy efficient, low power, very small and accurate. A focus on integrated circuits, low-power technologies and embedded systems is key.
This refers to the wireless technology — Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, LTE, WiMAX or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) — that allows collected data to be sent to the cloud. Network engineers need to understand these technolgies and be ready to engineer protocols and networks that can work with small packets and constrained protocols such as CoAP.
Vemula points out that these protocols need to be self-healing, reliable, secure, able to gracefully handle congestion and able to scale on demand.
Analyzing data in the cloud and providing feedback to the IoT device is critical. Vemula suggests that engineers get experience with "Extract, Transform, Load" (ETL) along with batch parallel-processing technologies from the Hadoop stack.
He also stresses the importance of working with unstructured data and storage such as HDFS and Cassandra, complex event-processing using tools such as Apache Spark, machine learning for cognitive computing (self-learning, pattern recognition, and processing that mimics human thinking), and data visualization that can identify data patterns and structure.
IoT security solutions
Engineers who are able to apply strong security measures and controls both to IoT devices and to the data they process will be increasingly in demand. They should focus on end-to-end security, including the ability to perform reliable testing.
Professionals with in-depth knowledge of their business domains will be needed to assess data sensitivity and regulations with which they must comply. They will be key to weighing in on issues of security and privacy.
Steps to improve IoT skills
Developing skills from an engineering, programming or systems management perspective can benefit from the following efforts:
- Using sensors to capture events or system states
- Transporting sensor data reliably to the cloud
- Storing and aggregating sensor data
- Analyzing data to provide useful information, make predictions or take actions
- Implementing data analysis in the cloud
- Understanding and using the essential technologies
- Using sensor data to drive decision making
- Identifying problems that might be addressed by IoT technology
- Documenting security and privacy concerns related to IoT data collection, aggregation and analysis
Regardless of what we're doing right now, many of us are going to find ourselves increasingly involved in IoT. Developing insights and gaining experience can help keep us in the career passing lane as others find themselves staring at brake lights.