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The growing demand for soft skills in tech jobs

Technology today is evolving more rapidly than ever. Thanks in large part to innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, technologists are developing ways for computers to teach themselves how to operate, spurring what’s now known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The shift is not only affecting our daily lives in terms of the products we use, it’s also fundamentally changing the job market in the technology industry. We’ve been grappling with the skills gap of American workers for at least the past decade, with many wondering whether the next generation of employees will be sufficiently educated to take on the jobs of the future.

But while this debate has focused on the broad strokes of “more tech jobs” and “fewer computer science graduates,” it’s missed a key variable in the equation: the skills required for success in an industry that’s constantly in flux. According to ZipRecruiter data, the skills tech employers look for in candidates have made a significant shift toward soft skills in the past two years.

 

 2016                                   2017

1. Troubleshooting                 Technical skills

2. Communication skills         Communication skills

3. SQL                                  Troubleshooting

4. Computer science              Project management

5. JavaScript                         Documentation skills

6. Hardware                          Customer service

7. Java                                 Collaboration

8. Detail-oriented                  SQL

9. HTML                                Database management

10. Written communication     Computer science

Communication skills are consistently in high demand, across all industries. But notice how new soft skills have gained priority over essential programming skills. JavaScript, still the most widely used programming language according to Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Survey, has not appeared in our top tech skills ranking since October 2017.

HTML, another basic skill required for those working in tech, has been absent from our top tech skills rankings since October 2016. In fact, the only specific hard skill that has appeared in our monthly aggregation of tech skills in 2018 is SQL, a programing language designed to access and analyze database information.

Behind the shift

Most tech employers still value great coding skills. In jobs posted to ZipRecruiter from January 2016 to date, SQL, JavaScript and Java were still among the 10 most in-demand skills. But the trend is shifting, and there are a few possible reasons why.

• Employers may take Java skills for granted. Java and JavaScript (related but for different purposes) were developed in the 1990s and are now considered “legacy languages.” If you’re applying for a programmer job you ought to at least know the basics of these.

• SQL, developed in the 1970s to access database information, has skyrocketed in significance given the rise of big data. Tech companies collect more user data than ever, and they need people who know SQL in order to access and analyze that data.

• Just breaking into the top skills for tech jobs this year, collaboration has taken on new significance in the industry. Connectivity, from social media to the internet of things, is the lingua franca of tech today. A top job in tech no longer looks like a solitary coder sitting in front of a computer screen. Rather, it’s someone who knows the basic programming languages, can access big data and has the skills to collaborate with a diverse team of hardware developers, marketers and salespeople.  

*Methodology: We took millions of job openings in the technology industry posted to ZipRecruiter.com and analyzed the skill requirements listed in each post on a monthly basis going back to January 2016. After aggregating all skill requirements listed in jobs within the technology industry, we ranked the skills from 1 to 10 based upon the total mentions of that skill in the job description.