Building a career in Internet Of Things (IOT)

 

For those who don’t work in IT or digital tech, the Internet of Things, or IoT, might be a rather confusing term. In fact, to many, it probably sounds more like the title of a novel than a jobs sector. Even the people who coined the phrase struggle to define it. Numerous white papers and research articles have picked apart the evolution, meaning and significance of the IoT, but, to be frank, it can be summed up in just a single word: connectivity.

The IoT refers to the connection of devices to the internet. But, we're not just talking tablets, smartphones and laptops here. The IoT incorporates all the existing and emerging things that have, or soon will have, internet capabilities. Things like your in-car computer, your smart TV, the heating in your home, even the temperature controlled store room of your favourite brewery.

The IoT is an ever evolving, ever expanding phenomenon that will, in time, infiltrate every corner of the jobs market. Working with the IoT is not only exciting and challenging in equal measure, it promises a career in a burgeoning sector the likes of which hasn’t been witnessed since the birth of the internet itself.

Where to start?

The very nature of the IoT means new roles are constantly being created, but there is already an established route into the industry, regardless of the specific sector you decide to focus on. In essence, IoT careers centre on developing IoT solutions for businesses, governments, and the public, and although many entry level roles exist within start-ups dedicated to creating IoT solutions for external clients, in-house IoT operatives are quickly becoming an established part of many existing IT teams. For most IoT roles in the current job climate, equivalent IT qualifications are enough to be considered for an interview. But to get that role, there are some specific skills required.  IoT positions differ from their IT equivalents in a number of ways. Where as in a traditional IT environment an Engineer or Developer might get by focusing on a single element, say App design, to succeed in IoT you can’t simply be an expert in one field. What sets IoT apart from IT is its collaborative nature and the need to understand and have experience in a number of specific areas. The key areas and skills you need to have at least some experience in are as follows:

Data Analysis: Being able to work with Big Data is a must. Knowing how to process large volumes of data and experience working with platforms like Hadoop and Spark is a key skill in the IoT industry.

Networking Platforms: It’s not enough just to have a superior knowledge of how data is shared over standard networks like WiFi. Anyone hoping to progress in an IoT career needs to understand the importance of more complicated low-power and long-range networks like LoRa.

App Design: With much of the IoT controlled via smartphones and tablets, anyone with a background in IT looking to take the step into the IoT must have experience working with App design and development

Cyber Security: Security is a concern for all Developers. But in the IoT, the opportunities for data breaches are unfathomable. That’s why anyone considering a role in IoT development needs to, at the very least, have experience implementing cyber security systems.  It may be an added extra in most IT roles, but in the IoT, it’s vital.

Here are a few IoT jobs that might suit a trained IT professional taking their first steps into the IoT:

IoT Architect: Don’t be put off by the grandeur of this job title. An IoT Architect has very similar responsibilities to that of an existing IT Architect. In essence, it is the job of an IoT Architect to plan, develop and in many cases, although this is often the job of a dedicated IoT Manager, manage a team of engineers and developers to create the IoT products and solutions you have helped devise.

IoT Software Engineer: As a Software Engineer working with the IoT, you’ll be responsible for turning the vision of your team into a reality. Solutions forged by IoT Architects need to be put into practice, and will more often than not, require further development. Just like any other software engineering role, you’ll be tasked with following the project through to its completion, whether it’s a new function for an existing product or an innovative solution to a brand new proposal.

The above roles are of course very much focused on the physical development of IoT solutions, and salaries tend to fall in line with existing IT roles. But as the IoT sector continues to grow, and more start-ups join the fray, other, more unexpected roles are becoming ever more commonplace. New IoT companies are already on the lookout for marketing personnel, Business Development Managers, accounting teams and HR professionals.

Moving up the ladder

The most exciting thing about working within the IoT sector is the opportunity for growth and the increasing importance of, and reliance of companies on, IoT professionals. Once established, someone working with the IoT can expect to find ever growing opportunities for vital roles, both in the IT departments of existing organisations and at the head of emerging IoT companies. Already, pundits are predicting that the top IoT roles within a company will soon become just as important as traditional high-level posts, like department heads. Two of the most important, and profitable IoT roles are as follows:

Lead IoT Engineer: Just like in a traditional IT team, the Lead IoT Engineer is responsible for building and maintaining IoT solutions, as well as working with experienced IoT Architects to realise a vision. With a team of Software Engineers, Designers and UX Developers below them, a Lead IoT Engineer has a very important role to play and must be proficient in a wide-variety of programming languages.

Chief IoT Officer: By far the most important IoT role going is that of the Chief IoT Officer or CIoTO. This challenging job is already an established role in a large number of companies, and recent studies have predicted that in the UK alone, more than half of all businesses in the country will soon be recruiting a CIoTO. The purpose of a CIoTO is to oversee the entirety of an organisation’s IoT staff, solutions and future development. At the moment, this role is the pinnacle of any IoT professional’s career, and its importance is burgeoning.

How to stand out

It might seem that with an explosive jobs market and massive opportunities for expansion, finding your first IoT job shouldn’t prove too difficult. But even if you have the academic qualifications and experience in IT to qualify you for the technical elements of an IoT role, there’s a lot more you need to focus on to show you are the very best candidate.

As a fledgeling IoT professional, you’ll need a head start, and the best way to do this is to become acquainted with the latest IoT research, make the most of the online resources, and even attend IoT events.

Online resources: There is such a wealth of information on the IoT online that it might seem a little daunting to pin down just where to start researching the subject, but staying on top of the latest thoughts and evolving practices will stand you in good stead. Postscape is a fantastic toolkit with information on the history of the IoT as well as up to date links to some of the most important white papers and research documents available today [LINK: https://www.postscapes.com/internet-of-things-resources/]. Another great place to look is Council, an early pioneer in IoT news [LINK: http://www.theinternetofthings.eu/iotcouncil-news].

Courses: Although a lot of the skills you will need to develop a career in the IoT will have been forged in previous roles, taking time out to study the sector in a recognised course will make you stand out from your competitors. There a huge number of courses advertised online, with varying degrees of legitimacy. In July 2017 it was announced that the University of Florida would be running the first IoT degree, but there a number of great online alternatives that take far less time, and money, to complete. Some of the best include MiT’six-week offering [LINK: https://mitxpro.mit.edu/courses/course-v1:MITProfessionalX+IOTx+2016_T1/about] and this free, four-week course from King’s College London [LINK: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/internet-of-things]. Of course, there are lots more alternatives to be found online.

 

Events: Every year, a number of large scale events take place globally where major players in the IoT industry gather to share their knowledge and predict the latest industry trends, one of the largest being the annual Internet of Things World Forum [LINK: https://www.iotwf.com/]. But, you can keep a track of many more similar events as well as smaller conferences and networking opportunities here [LINK: https://www.iotevents.org/].

Within the IoT industry, when it comes to you as a candidate, the main thing employers look out for is your ability to bring together ideas from different fields and make them work as a unified entity. The IoT is built around the concept that one device can connect with another and share information with ease. These two devices might be completely different, their uses as distant from one another as it’s possible to be. But as an IoT professional, it’s up to you to make this relationship seamless, so proving your ability to connect conflicting ideas and experiences is a must.

This sense of collaboration is just as important within working relationships as it is with product development. As a valued member of an IoT team, you’ll need to prove that you can collaborate with a wide range of people and work seamlessly to create a unified vision, despite any differences of opinion.

And for this, you’ll need to be a great communicator. As a junior member of the team, you’ll need to learn to cope with working on projects that have very unusual, or even unexpected outcomes. So the ability to talk openly and ask questions is incredibly important. As a more senior IoT professional, it will be vital that you can communicate complicated ideas down to IoT Engineers and Developers as well as to external clients who will be eager to understand the IoT solutions you’ve been busily developing.

More than anything though you’ll need to show your resilience. Working with concepts and products that have only just emerged onto the market is challenging. Not only are there very few examples for you to use as a placeholder, in many cases, your innovative ideas may well fail. If you can continue to be persistent, despite the setbacks, you’ll go far in what is proving to be one of the most inspiring and exciting career choices of a generation. 
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