7 tips to jump-start your IoT career
The Internet of Things (IoT) is already causing huge shifts in how organizations spend money on technology. IDC estimates that over the period from 2015 to 2020, more than $1 trillion—yes, trillion with a t—will be invested in the IoT market, with industrial applications accounting for the largest share of that growth. And where investment flows, jobs follow: It's estimated that the IoT industry will support between 1 and 2 million technical employees.
Whether you are just getting started in the tech industry or a longtime vet looking to shift gears, you're probably wondering how to ride this potential gravy train. Perhaps you're worried that your employer might pivot to an IoT focus soon and you want to get ready now.
We asked industry experts to outline the steps you need to take for a successful IoT career.
1. Exploit the IoT skills gap
The gap is real, says P.K. Agarwal, CEO and regional dean of Northeastern University–Silicon Valley. "We have a current shortage of computer science professionals and managers. These are the same professionals who are needed for the IoT industry."
Consider just one skill set: IoT security. "It’s device security, embedded security, network security, application security, mobile security, web app security, cloud security, and then security fundamentals all rolled into one," says Daniel Miessler, director of advisory services at cybersecurity firm IOActive. "For someone to truly 'get' IoT security, they need some experience in many if not all of these domains, and this makes it very hard for manufacturers and enterprises to get people on staff who have this skill set simply because there aren’t many in the world who have it."
What does this mean for you? Well, for one thing, you can get in on the ground floor if you get up to speed fast enough. "The industry has an immediate need for these workers, and it cannot afford to delay its business for students to graduate with a four-year degree or go back to school for a master’s degree," says Agarwal. As such, he says, employers see value in certifications and other short-term programs in a variety of specific technologies.
2. Know what you need to learn
The key elements of an IoT skill set can sound like a 2017 tech buzzwords greatest hits list. But that shouldn't be surprising—after all, the IoT is becoming a reality largely because these new technologies are finally becoming prevalent in the industry. Here's the expertise the experts think you need:
- IoT pros need to master cloud-based solutions and machine-to-machine communications, says Dodi Glenn, vice president of cybersecurity at PC Pitstop, a security solutions provider. They also need database experience to understand data and trend analytics generated by IoT devices.
- "Enterprises will need to deal with the influx of data that starts flowing in and analyze it in real time as it grows by the minute," adds Carl Herberger, vice president of security solutions at Radware, a provider of application delivery and security solutions for virtual, cloud, and software-defined data centers. "That’s where big data analytics tools become a central piece of the IoT revolution. The next generation of DBAs and data scientists will be at an advantage."
- Herberger emphasizes that automation will be a key element in how IoT is deployed, managed, and maintained. That means you'll need to know about "technologies such as OpenStack and other software-defined networking based automation systems, along with REST and SOAP APIs and the ability to code bots of all types."
3. Cultivate a device mindset
One thing to remember is that IoT devices are just that—devices. These gadgets often have quirks that are distinct from the standard PCs and smartphones that tech pros spend their days poking at. "Building devices is quite a bit different than creating a mobile app," says IOActive's Miessler. To make it work, you'll need some specialized skills.
- Radware's Herberger recommends getting up to date on the sort of unconventional wireless networking that IoT devices often use. "An understanding of low-power and lossy networks (LLN) will be crucial," he says. "Educate yourself on emerging networks such as Thread (an alternative for home automation applications) and TV white space technologies. In addition to understanding normal IT communication protocols, you should also educate yourself on ZigBee, Z-Wave, 6LoWPAN, Sigfox, Neul, NFC, and LoRaWAN."
- It's not just the communications aspects of IoT gadgets that are more restricted than those of conventional PCs. The devices also have limited processing and compute power. "There just isn’t enough on-board capacity to perform many of the functions that larger systems can handle," says Chris Richter, senior vice president of global security services at Level 3 Communications. "The skills to recognize these limitations are crucial."
- Familiarity with Linux is another key skill, according to Agarwal, because many IoT devices use some kind of embedded Linux variant as an OS.
4. Focus on security
IoT devices don't have the robust suite of security tools available to PCs and servers, and often communicate via cloud-based networks that are difficult to lock down. "Understanding configuration and operational security, [and] ensuring data privacy and authentication are all crucial elements" to IoT security, says Herberger.
Glenn suggests you learn the ins and outs of virtual LANs (VLAN). "If malware were to infect any one IoT device, you would want to mitigate the risk of exploiting that infection to other devices by proper isolation of IoT devices"—something a VLAN expert could ensure.
5. Don't forget soft skills
IoT is a dynamic field, so don't expect to just keep your head down sitting at a desk all day. "You need strong communication, problem-solving, and troubleshooting skills," says Glenn. "Typically, I would expect the candidate to have some experience in a help desk."
You'll be working with others to implement IoT systems and diagnose their problems, so you should have emotional intelligence and be good at teamwork, Agarwal says. Because many IoT rollouts are built from scratch and need to be pitched to the department or client that will be using them, you should also be familiar with design thinking and know how to market IoT solutions for specific industries, he adds.
6. IoT > IT
IoT isn't just a technology; it's an ecosystem, and you need to learn how to thrive within it. You'll need to work with other teams within your organization, and know how to talk to all of them.
When it comes to hiring an IoT security expert, IOActive's Miessler says "the key thing to look for is whether they grasp the idea that IoT systems are ecosystems, and that they can and will be attacked as such. That means understanding how each component interacts with the others, understanding how authentication is handled throughout the system, how to deploy the system in a secure configuration, how logging is done, and what the detection and response capabilities are."
You may already be ready for your first IoT job
Like most new technological developments, IoT combines existing technologies in a new way. It'll be years before anyone hits the job market with a four-year degree specializing in the Internet of Things. If you want to act fast, take what you've learned here, brush up on what you don't know, and figure out how to showcase what you do.
"IoT is a broad category," says Mandeep Khera, chief marketing officer at Arxan, a company that offers an enterprise solution for application protection, specializing in mobile apps and IoT. "Look at the vertical you want to focus on: home automation, manufacturing processes, healthcare, automotive, etc. Then look at the technical components: There's embedded software in gateways and other devices, network administration because it's all about the network, cloud, since most of it flows through the cloud, and big data for analytics. Once you pick the area that you like, you can pretty much apply your background in each of these areas, combined with the fundamentals of IoT. It shouldn't be too hard."