Beyond Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: Today’s IT Job Market

Look beyond the headlines to see what’s really going on in today’s IT job market.

Today’s IT Job MarketIt never ceases to amaze me how persistent good, old-fashioned fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is when it comes to news about the IT and cybersecurity profession. Yes, we’ve all seen news of layoffs in the “tech sector” (Amazon, Meta, Google, Microsoft). But CompTIA research shows a continuing need for IT and especially cybersecurity workers in all sectors – from manufacturing to finance to healthcare. It would appear that the “big tech” sector” isn’t really where the best tech jobs are – they’re usually in industry sectors where tech really gets put to work.

Job losses in the tech sector vertical are eventually offset by hiring in virtually every industry vertical. In fact, if you really consider how tech is now the single-most vital ingredient for success in every industry vertical, listening to just “tech sector” statistics in isolation makes less and less sense.

I regularly hold corporate roundtable events. I’ve been lucky enough over the past 8 months or so to meet with chief information officers (CIOs) and chief information security officers (CISOs) from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia governments, as well as companies such as CocaCola, UPS, Dell, United Healthcare, Molina, AstraZeneca and Mandiant.

I’ve spoken with IT and cybersecurity leaders from New Delhi to New York, and from Nashville to Singapore. They all are looking for workers. In fact, the research we’ve conducted shows that even with recent layoffs, we’re still in record territory when it comes to demand for IT and cybersecurity workers.

So, why all of the FUD? Well, there are quite a few factors contributing to the FUD we experience.

FUD-Breeding Factors

Some of these factors include:

  • Latent memory of previous downturns: Hiring managers, industry analysts and reporters alike remember when IT was impacted by supposedly unexpected, sudden downturns, such as back in 2008 and even around 2002.
  • Sector-specific shocks: Some organizations make cost-cutting moves because they are reacting – or, in some cases, overreacting – to changes in the economy. Quite a few tech sector companies hired IT workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and then eliminated many of these jobs as things seemed to calm down. Many, though, are finding it difficult to re-hire these tech workers. But there's another, more subtle, reason for these apparent cuts.
  • Stock price considerations: It’s a harsh reality, but many publicly-traded companies will cut workers just to improve stock price.
  • Tech company see, tech company do: Never underestimate how much one tech company watches another. When one cuts, the others do, as well.
  • Cheap money is now hard to find: Many companies that announced cuts were start-ups using leveraged money that was once easy to find. Companies that do this tend to be more dependent upon what happens in the stock market, rather than in the jobs marketplace. Well, that has changed – interest rates are up, up, up. So, when the economy experiences stress in the form of higher interest rates and other factors, these companies feel that stress first, and quite acutely.
  • Changes in the economy: The buzz is primarily coming from organizations that saw an opportunity to address a perceived need (in this case, security), and then based much of their value on leveraging investor-driven revenue.
  • Lack of consistent, coherent information resources about the IT sector: We need a place where people can get useful information.

From FUD to FUN

So, how do we get past all of the noise and mythical misconceptions created by FUD? Well, my answer is to introduce a new term: Facts, understanding and nuances (FUN). I think it’s about time we take a FUN-based approach to talking about IT. Let me explain.

First, let’s start with “F.” Facts are, well, stubborn, important things. So, start collecting them from places where you can collect them. Trust me, if the source isn’t one that works daily in the IT and/or cybersecurity realm, then I suggest you’re going to get something a bit less than factual.

Next, let’s talk about the U in FUN: Understandable. It’s important that the data gets turned into understandable, actionable information. These resources apply universally-accepted data analytics methods to compare raw data with long-standing, established trends. The result is that the facts are given within an accurate context. Many times, a big, juicy number or event will seem to portend some sort of big trend, or terrific insight. But that usually doesn’t happen. That’s why you need to put data within an understandable context. Good context means good information, and you’re not going to get contextualized information from people who have a superficial understanding of trends, or who have some sort of axe to grind.

Nuances are the third part of FUN. Instead of just discussing raw numbers, it’s vital to consult organizations that take many different factors into account. You need to get information from an organization that has regular conversations with hiring managers and working IT professionals. Those conversations, such as the ones we have at our corporate roundtables and in our surveys, bring out the nuances and subtleties that help you make good decisions.

If you’re looking for solid sources of information about the IT job market, check out:

CyberSeek puts the FUN back into cybersecurity, because it contains the latest information about today’s security job market, including the number of job postings and specific trends. CompTIA teamed up with EMSI Burning Glass and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to create CyberSeek. If you’re looking for good information about today’s trends, I recommend reviewing the information found there.

Dispelling a Few Mythconceptions

One of the common (yet, sillier) “mythconceptions” often found within the occasional “the tech sector is struggling” stories is that artificial intelligence (AI) is replacing entire cybersecurity jobs roles, from cybersecurity analyst to penetration tester. I call these negative thoughts “mythconceptions,” because they’re largely based on inaccurate, but powerful FUD-based perceptions.

In reality, AI has to grow up a bit more before it replaces entire job roles, or even specific job skills. In fact, workers in cybersecurity job roles have been using AI for years. They will continue to do so; AI and machine learning (ML) resources will increasingly become a trusted ally to talented cybersecurity workers. CIOs, CISOs and executive leaders from organizations such as UPS, Northrop Grumman, AstraZeneca, DBS Bank, the State of New Jersey, NIST, Cambridge University, Microsoft and more all chuckled at the idea.

There will always be the need for human judgement to weigh in on the machine recommendations. For example, our 2023 Workforce and Learning Trends research report showed that AI has become a strategic partner of human-digital teams.

Job Shifting Is a Reality

But people do lose their IT or cybersecurity jobs. That’s a reality. Others can get shifted, all for legitimate reasons. It’s true that some organizations in security services companies have been affected by the current economy. But, in many cases, don’t forget that many of the job loss reports also include non-technical roles, including positions in marketing, sales and product management. These aren’t IT or cybersecurity-specific jobs. Many times, these companies keep the IT pros. If not, most IT pros have been able to bounce right into another security job in another sector – that’s the reality we understand.

In the security services sector, we have seen some evidence of where workers are moved, as it were, from one organization, or sector, to another. For example, one security services organization in Europe told me it is looking to let go about 200 security operations center (SOC) Level 1 workers over the next few years. This company has many customers, from banks to oil companies, that need to protect their finance websites and oil derricks from getting hacked. But sometimes even common-sense moves tend to get miscommunicated.

The person there told me in one breath that AI was replacing those jobs. But, in almost the same breath, that person then said, "Our clients will hire workers in those same positions.”

I scratched my head at these two comments. Why? Because they contain a fundamental contradiction. I mean, which is it? Is AI eliminating those jobs? Or is the company transferring – or shifting jobs? After all, why shift those jobs if they're no longer needed in the first place?

The reality is that many security service organizations want their clients (the banks and oil companies) to hire people in those same jobs! This isn’t elimination, per se – it’s a shifting of risk, which could be a healthy thing.

So, there are, of course, legitimate reasons for layoffs. In the above case, serious security services companies that do security monitoring and incident response feel that their clients should have some skin in the game. Shifting security workers to the client transitions them to a liaison or consultative role instead of being fully responsible for security and then getting blamed when the client gets hacked. Therefore, it makes sense for a service company to move its employees to its partners. That, in my mind, is a legitimate reason for why you would see layoffs in a particular sector. It’s a nuance that gets teased out with real conversations with real industry leaders. Interestingly enough, this nuance shows continuing demand for cybersecurity workers.

Moving Forward With Confidence

Our research continues to show robust hiring. It’s important to focus on the most powerful information you can find and figure out some way to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and FUD when it comes to looking into the worldwide job market. In fact, the 10-year projected growth for cybersecurity specialists is 242% above the national rate, according to the CompTIA Industry Outlook 2023 report. Tech-based job roles are on pace to be the fastest-growing job roles by 2033. Cybersecurity analysts will lead the pack. Now, there’s some fun news to consider.

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