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On Stack Overflow and Programmers we often see questions like Where to start? What language to learn first? and What language should I learn next? These questions should always be closed as not constructive or too localized, since the answer depends largely on the current skills of the person asking, where they're located, whether they're willing to relocate, what skills are in demand at that time, and a lot of other factors that make the question virtually unanswerable.

In short, the person asking such questions really needs to do some research on their own. It would be great if we had a resource that showed people how to do this kind research. So my question for The Workplace is, other than simply searching on Career Builder or Monster, what steps can I take to find out what skills are in high demand in a given industry, and what skills will be in high demand for the next two to five years?

Note: My particular examples (and interests) are in software development, but I'd welcome answers that could apply to any industry.

  • whatever you do do NOT consider the TIOBE index to be meaningful in any context what so ever! – user718 Jul 27 '12 at 17:45
  • @JarrodRoberson why not? – Codeman Apr 12 '13 at 0:35
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There's an increasing number of ways. Most of the following make it easier to see this, though it's still hard to see growth/future aside from sheer numbers (which can actually indicate a mature, but well-used technology) so try and look beyond the basic numbers to get an idea of growth and future.

  • Look at meetup.com. Look at your area (ideally) or the nearest big city. Try to get an idea of size from the number of members and if possible growth, even if start date and current membership count are your only 2 data points.

  • Look on monster and search under the major terms you are dividing things by.

  • Search on stack overflow by tag and see how many questions are asked for the given topics and how many questions seem recent.

  • Look on salary sites and see what is paying well. A new hot skill like ruby can pay well and conversely an older technology like php with more practitioners less so.

  • Go to new technology and nerd meetups and see what smart people think.

  • Read Wired, reddit and other blogs and sites that feature new technology.

None of the above will do the job "on their own" but all together should help put you in "the zone" for knowing what's new and what's up and coming.

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    I would say that pretty much the only method that would suit any industry would be looking at job boards, with things like meetup a far second. – Oded Jul 26 '12 at 8:29
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    Every industry and job type has technical publications, blogs, and websites. These are indications of the job types that are growing and shrinking over time. – mhoran_psprep Jul 26 '12 at 10:58
  • I agree - research is the key. Spending time reading articles, blogs and comments and cross-referencing them can give you a good idea of community uptake and help you to make an informed decision on what to learn next. – Town Jul 26 '12 at 20:01
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I realize that I am answering a paleo-question from a year ago, but I think it is a good question....

When it comes to career choice, it is vital to find the "right question" before trying to find the "right answer".

What I mean is you may NOT want to choose a career path because it is (or may become) "high demand". Sure, you'll want to choose something that makes you employable and that yields a sufficient salary and on the surface it sort-of makes sense that high-demand jobs will do that.

The problem is that with high demand eventually comes throngs of competition which is composed of wannabe's to super-elites and everything in-between. Unless you're talking about fields with very very long educational requirements, you're going to quickly find yourself in an ocean of similarly qualified candidates all looking for "the best" opportunities. Some will find their dream jobs but many will find themselves in unsatisfying career ruts after making a bad choice simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Moreover, it is truly a guessing game to try to select what the hottest technology or career path is going to be in the future, or what will fall out of favor or be sustaining. It might seem that Java web development, for instance, is the most flush with opportunity for now and the near future, but what about the next things coming down the pipe. I would have sworn in 2003 that .NET was going to bury Java-- but guess what, it hasn't. Who is say what is coming next? Nobody really knows and it is dicey to make career plans based strictly on such reasoning (not saying either .NET or Java would be mistake).

Basically I am trying to say two things:

1. There is NO WAY to really predict what is going to be "next"
2. You may not want to choose a career path based on demand.

It is vastly more useful to find something that you're very good at, that you enjoy doing, and that puts you in a unique niche. Instead of trying to put yourself in the center of the bell curve and hoping for the best, find something in what people have called "the long tail"-- something that very few employers need but which is very valuable to those few employers.

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I try to address the following:

  1. Do I have immediate needs in my current position or one I'm currenly applying?
  2. What type of work do I want to do? Identify the skills needed.
  3. What am I capable of and where can I stretch myself?

Just like it is difficult to anticipate all the features an application would need, it's tough to predict the future. Usually, something comes up and you have to learn it on the fly.

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So my question for The Workplace is, other than simply searching on Career Builder or Monster, what steps can I take to find out what skills are in high demand in a given industry, and what skills will be in high demand for the next two to five years?

I'd probably want to turn this question around and consider the following:

  1. What core values do you have as a person and would want in your workplace? There is something to be said for working where there is a sense of belonging and that feels like home which would come from having values be in alignment.

  2. What strengths do you have that would indicate the kind of role you'd want to have in a dream job? Do you want to be working with people all day? Do you want to be taking on new technologies regularly? Do you want to be drawing up plans? Considering the kind of natural talents you have and how do these translate into various roles could be useful as well.

Knowing yourself will be something that could be of immense value as if you feel like you are always having to fake it in the office, that could be the recipe for burnout. Do you know how you learn? Do you know how to pick up some new system quickly? Do you know how you prefer technical specifications to be presented to you? These are some other ideas to consider.

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