It’s impossible to have any kind of conversation about the state of the technology industry in 2021 without acknowledging the looming impact COVID-19 has had on just about everything. Instead of pretending we’re on the long road back to “normal” (whatever that is), it may be wiser to embrace that we’re living in the middle of an inflection point—and attempt to learn, grow and act on the assumption that the way we work is changing for good. To that end, we asked a group of technology experts about COVID-19’s lingering impact on the way we work, the biggest issues and opportunities the technology industry as a whole needs to address, and which technologies you should be investing time in right now. Here’s what they had to say.
Question 1: COVID-19 has upended the way many people in the technology industry work. What’s been the biggest “silver lining” to changes in the way we’ve worked?
“Working remotely will become more mainstream. What we’ll all learn, if we haven’t already, is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Working remotely is entirely possible through the tech tools we have access to, but the human touch is also helpful in many cases. I predict more companies trying to mix in remote working and free up physical costs.” —John Papa “As someone who has worked from home for 30 years, working from home was not really new for me. But the fact that most people I work with are now also working from home, they have a better understanding and tolerance for some of the odd things that happen, like a dog barking or family members accidentally walking into a Zoom meeting.” —Julie Lerman “I think the events of 2020 have really brought home that things change slowly, and then all at once. Suddenly, everyone has kids at home, and e-learning seems a natural idea given the circumstances. Suddenly, everyone’s signing into meetings from home, and cyberattacks and hacking attempts from all kinds of malicious actors are immediately top-of-mind. These were important concerns in 2019—important, but not that urgent. Now? They’re squarely in the important as well as urgent category. I believe this is a silver lining to this year: When the important becomes urgent, that is when we see major technological advances that will help us all adapt to the workplaces and lifestyles of tomorrow.” —Janani Ravi
“A lot of programmers have already been working from home, but industries you wouldn’t think of are now telecommuting. This globalization of the workforce will have a huge impact in the supply of skilled labor, and allow people with skills to be paid better, and have more employment opportunities. Possibly, the workers least affected are developers and others in tech, but everyone else is now catching up to us.” —Joe Eames
Question 2: In April, we saw a resurgence of demand for “ancient” programming language COBOL as certain industries with outdated systems were forced to react to the pandemic. Was 2020 a comeback year for any other technology or skillset?
“2020 was the year for network infrastructure. In the early days of lockdown, ISPs struggled to keep up with demand. Businesses struggled to keep their employees connected. I can’t tell you how many times I had to rejoin virtual meetings this year because my connection dropped. I think a lot of people (myself included) ditched WiFi and opted to install more access points to connect via ethernet instead. I never thought I would go back to ethernet but it really saved me this year!” —Shelley Benhoff “With in-person events cancelled, webinars and video production were thrust back into the forefront in 2020.” —David Davis “As organizations try to harness the power of machine learning, they have realized that ML models in production may not be as useful as they seem in the training phase. Having meaningful ML models in production requires us to go back to our software roots. I think that technologists will start to again focus more on serious, productionized code for deployment, and a bit less on prototyping, with things like Java and old-school object-oriented programming seeing a bit of a resurgence.” —Janani Ravi
Question 3: What technologies, methodologies, frameworks, tools or skill sets do you think technologists and organizations should be investing in right now?
“Technologists would be well positioned in the market if they upskill in the latest versions of .NET and adopt the Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) to help prevent security attacks. Machine learning and AI are also continuing to grow and are being used in every industry to automate repetitive tasks and perform data modeling.” —Shelley Benhoff “Whatever can be automated, should be automated. One thing we’ve all learned well this year is that there are more important things in life than work, such as personal health; there is only so much time we can have to manage all of our daily tasks, which is where having automation can really help alleviate that burden. DevOps tools like Azure DevOps and GitHub Actions are very helpful here.” —John Papa
“Surely the ‘right’ answer is data, data, data, but I’ve always been a fan of recommending that people learn whatever really excites their interest and curiosity. The act of learning is itself a great skill, so whatever you practice with will still benefit you when it’s time to learn something that you are required to learn.” —Julie Lerman “With many physical offices abandoned, that also means that on-premises data centers have also been abandoned (for the most part) to be maintained remotely. This has further pushed IT professionals into a cloud-first mindset and away from the ‘datacenter hugger’ mindset that so many IT pros have clung to over the years. To that end, learning public cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and cloud technologies like Kubernetes, containers and other cloud-native apps should be on the top of your list for 2021.” —David Davis “From my perspective, there’s just an incredible sense of worry among mid-career professionals about whether their skills are relevant anymore. These worries are not new, but retooling for a completely different next couple of decades has become very top-of-mind. Skills in traditional software engineering—building reusable, robust and maintainable code that follows security best practices—will be more critical than ever, as will the ability to work across multiple cloud platforms. Tomorrow’s world is a hybrid, multi-cloud world, so being an expert on just Azure or AWS will not be enough.” —Janani Ravi “The last couple years have indicated a significant shift in how organizations think about scaling their data infrastructure. 2021 promises to continue moving in that direction with even more organizations choosing to modernize their data and analytics stack: shifting from custom code data integrations to help manage ETL processes to managed ingestion services like Fivetran and Stitch to enable ELT; making data for analytics more available and cost effective by shifting to a cloud-based data warehouse like Snowflake or BigQuery; and lastly, increased focus on the governance of analytics and models in order to ensure data-driven processes and systems are consistently monitored for optimal outcomes.” —Bill Saltmarsh, Head of Data Insights and Analytics at Pluralsight
Question 4: What is one of the biggest opportunities or challenges the technology industry needs to address in 2021?
“Enterprise technology is plagued with complexity, inefficiency and a lack of security. In 2021, the tech industry needs to focus on making all IT solutions more reliable, efficient and secure.” —David Davis “With an uptick in spam emails, texts and calls—not to mention widespread hacking attempts—the technology industry needs to be focused on security in 2021. Adding layers of security to servers, forcing regular password resets and securing user data are all actions that businesses can take to upgrade their security. For personal security, a good step is to change router passwords often and purchase a personal VPN service.” —Shelley Benhoff
“There are two dichotomous issues that need to see forward progress: Server-side rendering using something like Ruby on Rails vs. client-side rendering with React or Angular, and serverless vs. traditional architectures. Those two issues need to see major movements in 2021.” —Joe Eames “The neverending quest to wake up to and counter the challenges faced by underrepresented people, whether they are already in a tech job or seeking to shift into tech or grow their careers.” —Julie Lerman “I think the major challenge for all industries (not just for tech) will be to see how teams can stay motivated, productive and innovative with a hybrid work environment where not everyone is at the same place at the same time.” —Janani Ravi
Pluralsight has free live events happening every month, hosted by industry experts covering trending topics in software development, IT ops, machine learning, security and more. Each webinar includes the opportunity for you to ask questions during a short Q&A at the end of each event, and you’ll come away with actionable insights, tools and techniques to improve your tech skills and be a more valuable member of your team. You can view the entire schedule of upcoming live webinars here.