Where are all the IoT experts going to come from?

The fast growth of the internet of things (IoT) is creating a need to train cross-functional experts who can combine traditional networking and infrastructure expertise with database and reporting skills.

Where are all the IoT experts going to come from?
Kevin (CC0)

If the internet of things (IoT) is going to fulfill its enormous promise, it’s going to need legions of smart, skilled, trained workers to make everything happen. And right now, it’s not entirely clear where those people are going to come from.

That’s why I was interested in trading emails with Keith Flynn, senior director of product management, R&D at asset-optimization software company AspenTech, who says that when dealing with the slew of new technologies that fall under the IoT umbrella, you need people who can understand how to configure the technology and interpret the data. Flynn sees a growing need for existing educational institutions to house IoT-specific programs, as well as an opportunity for new IoT-focused private colleges, offering a well -ounded curriculum

“In the future,” Flynn told me, “IoT projects will differ tremendously from the general data management and automation projects of today. … The future requires a more holistic set of skills and cross-trading capabilities so that we’re all speaking the same language.”

With the IoT growing 30% a year, Flynn added, rather than a few specific skills, “everything from traditional deployment skills, like networking and infrastructure, to database and reporting skills and, frankly, even basic data science, need to be understood together and used together.”

Calling all IoT consultants

“The first big opportunity for IoT-educated people is in the consulting field,” Flynn predicted. “As consulting companies adapt or die to the industry trends … having IoT-trained people on staff will help position them for IoT projects and make a claim in the new line of business: IoT consulting.”

The problem is especially acute for startups and smaller companies. “The bigger the organization, the more likely they have a means to hire different people across different lines of skillsets,” Flynn said. “But for smaller organizations and smaller IoT projects, you need someone who can do both.”

Both? Or everything? The IoT “requires a combination of all knowledge and skillsets,” Flynn said, noting that “many of the skills aren’t new, they’ve just never been grouped together or taught together before.”

The IoT expert of the future

True IoT expertise starts with foundational instrumentation and electrical skills, Flynn said, which can help workers implement new wireless transmitters and boost technology for better battery life and power consumption.

“IT skills, like networking, IP addressing, subnet masks, cellular and satellite are also pivotal IoT needs,” Flynn said. He also sees a need for database management skills and cloud management and security expertise, “especially as things like [advanced process control] APC and sending sensor data directly to databases and data lakes become the norm.”

Where will IoT experts come from?

Flynn said standardized formal education courses would be the best way to make sure that graduates or certificate holders have the right set of skills. He even laid out a sample curriculum: “Start in chronological order with the basics like [Electrical & Instrumentation] E&I and measurement. Then teach networking, and then database administration and cloud courses should follow that. This degree could even be looped into an existing engineering course, and it would probably take two years … to complete the IoT component.”

While corporate training could also play role, “that’s easier said than done,” Flynn warned. “Those trainings will need to be organization-specific efforts and pushes.”

Of course, there are already plenty of online IoT training courses and certificate programs. But, ultimately, the responsibility lies with the workers themselves.

“Upskilling is incredibly important in this world as tech continues to transform industries,” Flynn said. “If that upskilling push doesn’t come from your employer, then online courses and certifications would be an excellent way to do that for yourself. We just need those courses to be created. ... I could even see organizations partnering with higher-education institutions that offer these courses to give their employees better access to it. Of course, the challenge with an IoT program is that it will need to constantly evolve to keep up with new advancements in tech.”

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