The one constant in today's tech workplace: change. With so many dramatic changes on tap for 2020, technologists risk being left behind unless they recognize these disruptions and seize the resulting opportunities.  

Increasing Diversity and Competition for Jobs

Although there were 6.8 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. through November (including 148,000 openings in the “information” category, which generally encompasses tech jobs), technologists should expect increasing competition for jobs, recognition and possibly promotions in the coming year.

How can that be? Employers have gone to great lengths to stock their talent pools with unconventional or overlooked candidates such as former retirees, veterans, non-college grads or people with liberal arts degrees, explained Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence and author of workplace teambuilding book “Back to Human.”  

The influx of non-traditional workers is transformative, because many of them possess “soft skills” such as creativity and communication that will become more valuable moving forward, especially as artificial intelligence takes over more technical tasks (placing more emphasis on teamwork and empathy for the remaining human positions).

If you have a purely technical background and want to continue supporting the development of new products and services in the future, you will need to develop a customer-centric skillset and mindset to stand out, Schawbel warned.

The Rise of Former Tech Pros to the C-Suite

There’s good news for technologists who aspire to be executive leaders: Tech roles are no longer blocked off from a C-suite management track, suggested Cyndy Trivella, managing partner at TalentCulture.

Historically, CEOs have been promoted out of operations, finance or sales and marketing; but CIOs and CTOs will have an equal if not greater shot at becoming a CEO for the foreseeable future. Trivella’s prediction is supported by Gartner TalentNeuron data, which shows that C-suite executives are increasingly expected to have technical skills to supplement their communication abilities.

In fact, software engineer, project manager and software developer were among the most common first jobs listed on the profiles of CEOs, according to LinkedIn, confirming the notion that starting out in tech provides a solid foundation and path to the very top.

The Death of Traditional IT Support

Thanks to outsourcing and the rise of customer self-service driven by A.I., the traditional help desk or call-center model for basic support will finally become a thing of the past. That will impact the careers of technologists everywhere.

Technologists in dedicated support roles (i.e., help desk and QA) may need to develop new skills and transition into new positions. Developers and engineers will increasingly be expected to act as service providers to other departments, either by providing product support or using their expertise to resolve complex support issues.

A.I. Goes Mainstream in the Workplace

A.I. will go from a next-generation technology to something that is woven into every role, product and operations activity, predicted Ian Barkin, chief strategy and marketing officer for SYKES, a provider of customer care and support.

The enterprise adoption of A.I. will not only transform the workplace—it will make familiarity with A.I. and machine-learning skills, tools, and programming languages a necessity, not a nice-to-have, Barkin added.

As further proof of the trend, Gartner’s 2019 CIO Survey revealed that A.I. adoption has more than tripled in the past year… but companies are slowed by acute talent shortages. (By the way, Gartner’s latest findings are a stark contrast to its previous claims that just 4 percent of enterprises had implemented A.I. in production.)

Companies are Prioritizing Mental Health

If you’ve been suffering in silence from stress and burnout, and/or seeking relief from a grueling commute, the changes you’ve been waiting for could finally arrive this year.

More employers are recognizing the importance of mental health in 2020, Schawbel said. To that end, forward-thinking companies are inviting conversations about previously taboo subjects such as anxiety and stress. They are making it easier to get help, take extended paternity leave, and use benefits without fear of retribution. What’s more, managers may prove more willing to offer flexible schedules, telecommuting and the opportunity to influence your work schedule.

The Repurposing of Employees

Rather than laying off employees with outdated skills, companies are finally realizing that it is better and more cost-effective to retrain than rehire.

According to the Future of Work Survey Report, over 58 percent of respondents say their employers are indeed providing some degree of training and/or resources to help them keep current with changes in technology. Moreover, large companies are building internal talent pipelines to fill future hiring needs. At long last, learning, development, growth opportunities and employee retention are more of a workplace priority in 2020.