Mobile dev chops? Cloud infrastructure skills? You're hired!

For 2014, IT hiring firms see a greater emphasis on cloud-related tech skills and more reliance on contractors

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Hiring more contractors than full-time staff, placing data center and cloud expertise over more conventional IT skills, emphasizing mobile rather than desktop development, and more fine-grained ways to find the right people for the right jobs -- these are some of the trends identified by IT staffing firms for 2014.

IT resource provider Mondo surveyed some 200 IT decision-makers and found that nearly half (48 percent) plan to hire more IT contractors than they plan to add full-time staff in the next 12 to 18 months. Among those surveyed, 73 percent already use contractors to maintain, develop, or deploy their existing applications. Predictions about full-time IT hiring for 2014 were already grim, and the tilt toward contractors may skew the numbers further.

When asked what skill sets are likely to be in demand in that coming timeframe, Mondo singled out mobile development as a major mover and shaker. "Anything within the mobile space, particularly Apple or Android, have seen huge increases and continue to be among the most desirable skill sets," said Matt Leighton, Director of Recruitment at Mondo. In the same vein, HTML5 and big data technologies such as Hadoop and Ruby on Rails were singled out as major in-demand technologies.

The hard part, then, is figuring out who's qualified for those jobs, a process few employers relish -- especially when screening candidates for newly emergent and deeply technical skills.

Leighton notes that aside from the typical testing processes used by employers (whiteboard sessions, code samples, and so on), one major change in the way candidates are screened comes from a movement from "an employer's market to a candidates' market," as Leighton explains it. "The candidates with these skill sets are able to pick and choose the positions that they are interested in. In these cases, the candidates have the option to be very selective and will often choose a position that does not require extra testing."

TrueAbility, a Texas-based company that describes itself as a "technical assessment platform provider," offers a skill-evaluation simulation system for employers. From what it sees, more of the people being evaluated and hired are what company co-founder and CEO Luke Owen describes as the "devops" types.

Owen claims that as enterprises move to the cloud and new business start there from scratch, the types of technical skills in demand are shifting as well. With this shift, "you see a lot of IT-type positions that are now part of the developer-ops teams. A lot of these devops folks are now picking up all these new configuration management tools, like Chef and Puppet." Because they have no legacy IT infrastructure, startups in particular are that much more dependent on these types of tools.

Another issue is how years of experience aren't by themselves enough of a metric to gauge the value of a given candidate. Felix Fermin, recruitment manager at Mondo, pointed out how the nature of a candidate's previous experience is crucial -- "if their previous positions are permanent positions or if they have been contracting a lot," or "startups vs. reputable established companies."

"Years of experience is not an effective metric," Owen says. "We see this with [technologies like] Puppet, Chef, MongoDB, and Cassandra," which are new enough that they make the years-of-experience metric less useful.

For such emerging technology, Owen believes it makes more sense to use a practical examination, where the application is invited to complete a given task -- such as set up a MongoDB instance -- and can be evaluated based on how successfully they perform that duty, or to troubleshoot problems commonly found in the world.

Yet another issue -- most relevant to job seekers but also problematic for companies -- is how technical job postings don't always reflect the actual position. For example, there may be one posting for multiple jobs or vice versa. Fermin feels this is because "a lot of hiring managers are looking for candidates that can wear many hats." Thus, "they list every skill that they would want in the ideal candidate." But narrower expertise, he believes, is better, since such ideal candidates almost never exist. "Hiring managers should try and shorten the job descriptions and only list must-have skills sets."

The folks at TrueAbility routinely poll job listings as a way to determine what IT job skills they should be creating tests for, and they too are concerned about how job listings can be a misleading index in terms of what skills are being asked for and which ones are being used.

"We're constantly looking at [job] data and trying to get an accurate idea about the positions out there," Owen said. "We're able to go back and take the population of jobs across these boards categorize them, and then assume with some of the [U.S. Department of Labor] hiring data how those are distributed across different positions."

This article, "Mobile dev chops? Cloud infrastructure skills? You're hired!," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

This story, "Mobile dev chops? Cloud infrastructure skills? You're hired!" was originally published by InfoWorld.