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The future of the IoT job market

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Zach Supalla

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Zach Supalla is the CEO of Particle.

Since the dawn of technology, we’ve been afraid of technology eliminating our jobs. Look at the birth of the steam engine. When it was invented in the late 1700s, people believed its arrival signaled the end of manual labor and thousands of hardworking individuals would be out of jobs.

Instead, the steam engine created completely new jobs in new industries like railway systems and high-productivity factories. While the steam engine did eliminate some manual labor jobs, it created new jobs like machine operators, engineers and maintenance workers.

Nearly 250 years later, in a world defined by technological change, we see the same fears and concerns. As of September 2015, Amazon had 30,000 Kiva robots automating its warehouses, increasing efficiency and reducing the need for pick-and-pack labor. And at the same time, demand for software developers continues to rise, as Marc Andreessen’s famous 2011 statement that “software is eating the world” becomes ever more true.

Over the next decade, we’ll see this pattern play out once more in the nascent Internet of Things (IoT). With an industry defined by “bringing physical things online,” many IoT business models are predicated on improving efficiency by eliminating labor. We see companies connecting garbage cans to the internet to improve the efficiency of deploying waste collectors — which means we’ll need fewer waste collectors. Drones are dramatically reducing the time it takes to survey a plot of land — which means we’ll need fewer surveyors. Every industry that involves electronics or equipment can expect to be disrupted in this way over the next 10 years.

So the same question that was asked in the late 1700s remains: Will this new technology eliminate jobs? No.

Take Target, for example. Just last month the retailer posted a job opportunity on Indeed for Lead Engineer, Internet of Things. The description of the job says that the hire will “…be building innovative IoT solutions for consumers.” Required skills include experience with programming languages, code and the ability to take an iterative approach to work.

In addition to the job posting from Target, technology consulting firm Janco Associates, Inc., in its latest handbook of corporate IT jobs, identified the IoT Manager as a one of three new positions added to the handbook. A senior-level position, it calls for a manager to oversee the “implementation and maintenance of technical systems support as well as data transmission and retrievals from field controllers.”

In a nutshell, IoT will do exactly what technology does everywhere — it supplants low-skill jobs with high-skill jobs. Eventually, the Internet of Things will lead to widespread replacement of simple and repetitive jobs in areas such as manufacturing, administration, quality control and planning. But more importantly, IoT will lead to the creation of new jobs that will help organizations champion and pioneer not only their personal success with IoT, but the success of the business as well.

So what are these jobs, and how should you rework your resume to be prepared for them? Many of these opportunities are new enough that they don’t even have titles yet. But don’t worry, we made some up. So without further adieu, meet your next:

Chief Internet of Things Officer (CIoTO)

I bet you thought that C-level job titles couldn’t get more obnoxious.

2016 will be the year that the Chief IoT Officer (CIoTO) is born, with Machina Research predicting that “at least one Fortune 500 company will appoint a Chief IoT Officer” this year.

Additionally, studies have shown that more than half of U.K. businesses plan to employ a Chief IoT Officer (CIoTO) in the next 12 months and will invest in a CIoTO, especially in the education, retail and telecom industries.

This comes as 94 percent of all businesses polled claim to be investing in initiatives to prepare for the IoT, spreading those investments across infrastructure, security, R&D, skills and personnel.

So what is a CIoTO?

The CIoTO will be responsible for driving the technology decisions that in turn steer the direction of the business. This person will develop the company’s IoT strategy, tying the adoption of new technology to clear business results. They will oversee the development of IoT products or initiatives and they will be responsible for gathering data from IoT devices, analyzing and identifying insights and ultimately taking action based on that data.

Effective communication will be paramount for this position. The CIoTO must be someone who can effectively communicate with other C-suite level executives to justify and drive the company’s IoT budget when faced with opposition and push-back, and they must collaborate closely with the CTO/CIO as well as the engineering and manufacturing teams.

IoT Business Designer

When you hire new positions to help build out IoT initiatives, who will oversee them?

Some companies are hiring technology-driven “IoT experts” who are looking at new cheap radios and sensors and figuring out how to apply them to the business. But this approach is a bit backward; the adoption of technology should be driven by business need, not the other way around.

Instead of hiring supposed “IoT experts” to oversee projects or employees, we’ll see the advent of the IoT Business Designer, a creative thought leader who will search for business opportunities that can be addressed through IoT, then assemble a tech solution to address the opportunity. At the end of the day, technology means nothing if it doesn’t serve the business.

You know who doesn’t have an IoT Business Designer? Companies who develop BLE-connected toothbrushes.

When looking for someone to fill this position, companies should focus on two key characteristics:

  • Someone with a clear vision of how your company will look 10 years out, and who can define and execute on an initiative that will be your first step down the road.

  • Someone who understands technology well, but is not enamored with it, and will only bring in new technology when it solves a real problem.

Hiring someone who has the vision to start with the business problem first and the IoT solution second will set up your company for success because it will take them a lot fewer attempts to build a product that knocks it out of the park. The companies that will succeed will be the ones who pursue the right business models and create the best user experiences — all by thinking creatively about the business.

Fuller Stack Developer

We’ve all heard the term “full stack developer.” It embodies developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies. To be more specific, it means that the developer can work with infrastructure, databases, back-end code (Ruby, Python, Java, etc.), and front-end code (JavaScript, HTML, CSS, etc.).

But in the Internet of Things, that’s not enough. IoT products include the same front-end and back-end systems as web and mobile apps, but they also include hardware, which is usually custom-built. That means that your full stack is fuller — it includes embedded systems (i.e. firmware), and often electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. Therefore, you need a Fuller Stack Developer.

This person might sound like a unicorn, but these types of software engineers do exist. Many people who have computer engineering and embedded systems degrees have transitioned into web and mobile development because over the last 10 years those jobs have paid better.

Fortunately for IoT, the pendulum seems to be swinging back. In recent postings from ITCareerFinder for an IoT developer, hardware engineering and UI/UX design are listed as desired skills. For engineers who know hardware and web, they’ve been able to increase their marketability and salary thanks to many new opportunities developing in the Internet of Things.

Over a short-term horizon, technology and labor markets are at odds with one another. But while advances in technology may displace certain types of work, over a long-term horizon technology has been a net creator of jobs. As a society we adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work, and by taking advantage of uniquely human capabilities.

The advent of IoT is no different, and much like the industrial and technological revolutions that preceded it, we’ll find that instead of fearing for our jobs, we should embrace the fact that IoT will take the mundane activities out of our work lives and offer new, unique opportunities to evolve and expand our skill sets.

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