What an IT career will look like in 5 years

While crystal ball technology is notoriously fallible, tech leaders say there are a handful of changes to IT work that we’ll likely see half a decade from now.

IT pros will work in environments that are more task-based than position-based, experts say, relying more on automation and AI, and using tools that are increasingly portable yet powerful. At the same time, automation through AI in particular will need a human touch, to review processes and results, creating a need for soft skills in the IT ranks that’s greater than ever.

Here’s a look at how IT workforces will operate and collaborate in the near-future enterprise.

Automation takes aim at IT productivity

Driven by AI advancements, IT work will increasingly be automated over the next five years, according to those on the forefront of those changes. In addition to general workplace enhancements, automation will play a vital role across IT domains, including software development, both streamlining IT processes and increasing IT productivity.

“IT leaders have led their organizations through immense workplace changes in the last three years, and it will only become more complex in five years’ time,” says Asana CIO Saket Srivastava. “Organizations are facing a shortage of resources and talent, so we need automation to be our ally to automate mundane, repetitive, and low-value tasks so that our talent can work on more impactful projects.”

Srivastava says companies will automate low-skill tasks to reduce mental load and save time. “Think about how you can implement advanced data science models to understand customer pain points and improve service,” he says.

Jim Flanagan, CIO at Hanscom Federal Credit Union, predicts natural language processing (NLP) will work in tandem with automation to improve the technology that IT staff rely on in the near future.

“NLP has the ability to discern intent, context, and ambiguity within written text and speech,” Flanagan says. “Our calendars will automatically plan our workday based on variables such as deadlines and estimated timeframes, and our inboxes will automatically group emails by priority, considering the sentiment of the sender’s message, ensuring that the most important emails get the quickest attention at our convenience. AI-driven do-not-disturb features will prevent us from getting emails when we need to focus, and this technology will help us to write email replies faster, often with minimal effort on our part.”

AI augments the value of IT work

Like many other industry experts, Mike Hendrickson, vice president of tech and dev products at Skillsoft, sees a bright future for AI in the IT workplace. But as Hendrickson sees it, IT’s AI future will be one of collaboration between IT staff and AI technologies. And as more work is handled by AI, literal people skills will be more important than ever, especially around troubleshooting automated processes.

TripActions CIO Kim Huffman agrees, saying that AI will reduce the number of repeated internal support requests that require human intervention, freeing up IT support employees for more personal interaction.

“We will see AI usage increase in software development and testing functions shifting the role of these employees” toward higher-level, personal-touch tasks, Huffman says. Mike Bechtel, chief futurist for Deloitte Consulting, cautions that adoption of AI for enhancing IT operations and employee productivity will require a new level of trust in the technology.

“An augmented workforce experience — across recruiting, productivity, learning, and more — will certainly be something to watch, as the level of trust that we will likely put in our AI colleagues may be surprising,” Bechtel says. “High confidence that AI is delivering the right analytics and insights will be paramount. To build trust, AI algorithms must be visible, auditable, and explainable, and workers must be involved in AI design and output. Organizations are realizing that competitive gains will best be achieved when there is trust in this technology.”

Moreover, increased reliance on AI for IT support and development work such as entry-level coding, as well as cloud and system administration will put pressure on IT pros to up their skills in more challenging areas, says Michael Gibbs, CEO and founder of Go Cloud Careers.

“With artificial intelligence replacing hands-on tech work, tech workers must increase their business acumen, leadership abilities, communication abilities, emotional intelligence, and architecture skills,” Gibbs says. “The world will need more people with deep architectural experience to further tie the new technologies together to maximize business performance.”

Skills-based teaming and dynamic sourcing

Speaking of skills, that emphasis on business acumen and deeper technical know-how will be coupled with a shift in which organizations in the next few years will seek flexibility by prioritizing skills over jobs, according to Deloitte research.

Deloitte’s Bechtel points to Mercedes-Benz, which he says has “organized some of its IT talent into ‘capability sets’ to improve flexibility for assigning staff to new roles or new products.” And Bechtel says the results speak for themselves: “Skills-based organizations are over 100% more likely to place talent effectively and 98% more likely to retain high performers.”

IT pros who tend to change jobs every few years may, in fact, be just what future organizations are looking for, and we may see a shift in the way the organizations think about long-term careers, he says. 

“Enterprises ahead of the curve are already crowd-sourcing talent, through gig workers or contractors, to fill gaps and free up their internal resources to focus on the most challenging and interesting work, and to the delight of those bored IT pros, we expect more organizations to take this approach,” Bechtel says.

Remote in full force

The pandemic accelerated the development of remote and hybrid teams, and that trend will only continue in the future, Bechtel says. Organizations whose IT employees who prefer working from home will also benefit by sourcing talent from all over the world.

“Given the rate of digital transformation, enterprises are demanding more from their technology teams and are sourcing talent globally,” he says. “Many technology workers have opted to stay remote, creating a more fluid workforce. In fact, 85% of IT divisions plan to be hybrid or fully remote going forward.”

Frank Opat, chief architect and vice president of architecture at Versapay, sees remote support work evolving in both scope and how the work is accomplished. 

“IT pros already know what it’s like to be on call, but with the continued rise of remote and hybrid work, geography and time zones are becoming less relevant,” Opat says. “I expect to see the continued need to adapt so that IT services are available around the clock. I’d imagine that this continued demand will see the rise of natural language process AI to handle things like tier 2 issues or frequently asked questions, much like you see in chat on websites for marketing and customer support today.”

As the impact of widely distributed organizations unfolds over the next few years, Wiley CTO Aref Matin says increasingly sophisticated ways of working remotely will improve collaboration. 

“Virtual and hybrid work is here to stay,” Matin says, “and I think that’s a great thing for technologists. In terms of culture, putting teams in a silo is the fastest way to dishearten them. In a physical workplace, this can be easy to do. I’m hoping that virtual work environments have shown leaders not only the benefit but the necessity of better connectivity between day-to-day work and business outcomes.”

Rehman sees a trend, especially among younger workers, of using mobile devices for IT work instead of being tied to a computer at work, or a desk for that matter.

“I see the next generation using phones for writing an entire doc,” he says. “I saw a kid coding on his phone the other day, not like C emulator stuff, but actual coding. Remember, languages are changing, and I see this more and more. There is a change in how tech workers use our attention span.”

And while it’s difficult to say how all these forces will impact IT salaries on the horizon, Hendrickson sees the confluence of AI and remote work freeing up additional budget for IT talent.

“The days of physical monitoring or fixing are gone. Most everything can be done remotely, and with cloud services and major providers being the future of tech infrastructure, there will be little need to go into a physical office, at least from an infrastructure point of view,” he says. “With the coupling of continued automation and the reliance on cloud technology, organizations can prioritize investments in talent, R&D, and skills and career development ahead of real estate.”

Either way, it’s going to be interesting seeing how the next five years unfold in the IT workplace.

Careers, IT Skills