Main image of article Dice Reddit AMA: Talking About AI, Return to Work, and More

Last week, we hosted a Reddit AMA (on /r/cscareerquestions) in which we talked about everything from the current job market to return-to-office (RTO) mandates. It was a fun discussion! For those who couldn’t attend, we have some Q&A highlights below. For your reading pleasure, we also added some additional links within the answers for a bit more context.

Remember, it might seem like a hard job market out there, but with the right mix of experience and skills, you can find the tech position you want!

I keep seeing stuff on LinkedIn about the ATS for resumes. I’ve gone through mine with a fine tooth comb but I don’t know if I’ve optimized it for the ATS. Any advice on how to get it through a company’s ATS?

Yes! There are some effective ways to “optimize” a resume for ATS. When companies set up their ATS for a particular job, they seed it with keywords. For example, if you are applying to a front-end developer job, the company you’re applying to may have its ATS scan for terms like “Figma” or “CSS.” These systems will often score your resume based on how much you’ve optimized it for those keywords. 

So, start by looking at the original job posting and noting the technical skills, tools, etc. it asks for. Make sure that those skills and tools you know are in your resume, because those skills and tools are likely the keywords utilized by the ATS. “Soft skill” terms such as collaboration and communication are important, as well. With all that being said, make sure you use these terms in a context that makes sense, because ATS systems are also designed to detect and reject resumes that engage in keyword stuffing: don’t simply stuff job post keywords into the “skills” section on your resume, but take the time to break down your use of them in detail.

Some other points to consider: use an ATS-friendly resume template that’s easy for a system to read. So, no graphics or weird typographical flair. Tailoring your resume to the specific job is also important, not only for the ATS but also for the human reviewers who’ll read your resume once you’re past the ATS stage. Proofreading is critical; misspellings might cost you.

What’s up with low-balling job postings, even for stuff that is hyped right now (particularly AI)? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit up by recruiters looking for Senior ML/MLOps Engineers, but looking for them to accept a lowball $60-80/hr contract rate (and sometimes even having it be in-office, maybe even involving relocation to boot). Has there been an increase in these kinds of job postings? Are they getting sustainably filled with the talent they are looking for?

It's a great question. I think it's partially a function of companies trying to game the market at a time when demand for tech professionals is off its peak… they’re seeing what they can get.

I haven't seen anything indicating an increase per se, but there are always going to be organizations who prey on people who are desperate, and I think that's what we're seeing here. Your question about whether they're actually filling these roles reminds me of the age-old question about telemarketing and cold calling: Does calling someone during dinner about extending their auto warranty actually work? It must, because it happened for so long.

The reality is that it's a volume play. Put the posting out everywhere and maybe you eventually get a bite on it. The majority of organizations, however, seem to be working to understand the market and create jobs with salaries that are as high as they can afford.

How important are personal projects when applying for roles? Do they make a difference? (Generally speaking)

Especially if you’re just starting out, personal projects can be huge in terms of showing that you have the necessary skills for a particular job. When you think about it, personal projects show that you’ve mastered key technologies on your own time, that you’ve worked with others toward a common goal (if you’ve built an app with friends, or participated in open-source projects), and that you're always hungry to learn and adapt. 

If you intend to leverage personal projects in order to score jobs, it’s helpful to have a setup that puts those projects in the best light and is easy for people to access.  That could include:

  • A GitHub repo with your code
  • A personal website displaying your personal projects
  • A link to the app store that has your products
  • Pretty much anything that allows a hiring manager to quickly evaluate your portfolio

When you’re actually interviewing for jobs, it’s also key to craft a story you can tell a hiring manager or recruiter about that personal project that shows how it’s relevant to the job on hand. For example, if you’ve built a small mobile game and you’re applying for a developer gig at a gaming company, you might explain how building that game allowed you to master the languages and frameworks that the company utilizes in its own tech stack. Relevancy is also key here. 

How does the job market look like for IT systems engineers, systems analysts, and software developers today and in the long-term, considering the ramifications of AI in the whole tech industry?

Do you think more IT professionals would eventually lean more on starting their own gigs/consultancies than climbing the corporate ladder in the coming years, given the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in full swing?

At least on paper, the market for IT systems engineers, systems analysts, and software developers remains strong. For example, there were 53,682 open job postings for software developers in May, up ~7k from the month before (that’s according to Lightcast), and I’ve seen numerous reports indicating strength for pretty much every kind of analyst job. Long-term, it seems likely that those jobs will remain in demand despite the potential impact of AI; I say that because all of these jobs demand human creativity, intuition, and experience that something like ChatGPT simply can’t replicate effectively. 

I’m not saying there won’t be job loss; anyone who’s worked in a datacenter knows that automation has steadily reduced the number of humans necessary to keep those operations running. We’re also seeing companies experiment more with hiring less, and demanding that their software engineers rely more on AI as a force multiplier. At a certain point, though, even the most cost-obsessed company runs headlong into one cold, hard fact: you need experienced people if you want projects to actually succeed and turn into viable products and services, especially complex ones running at substantial scale. 

And related to that, yes, I think you’ll probably see a significant portion of tech pros launching consulting gigs where they market that intuition/experience/creativity to companies that need it. That’s going to remain the strong point for human developers and engineers, and a good jumping-off point for those who want to strike out on their own path.  

As software engineer, sometimes I feel like cybersecurity will be the future specifically role like ethical hacking or devsecops or pentesting. What are your thoughts on it? Should we switch our career in cybersecurity?

You’re absolutely right that cybersecurity is a hot subindustry right now. According to the latest data from CyberSeek, there are only enough professionals to fill 85 percent of open cybersecurity jobs in the United States… and that’s despite 1.2 million people are already employed in cybersecurity. So it’s a huge industry and only getting bigger, especially since the rise of AI is unleashing a whole new, scary level of threats against companies and individuals. 

So the need is there, but if you’re hesitant about taking the leap, here’s something else to consider: having cybersecurity skills in addition to your current skill-set can make you a much more powerful candidate for a range of jobs, given companies’ obsession with cybersecurity right now. You might also want to consider asking your current employer to pay for cybersecurity training — it’ll make you a more valuable employee to them, and it’ll help you determine whether it’s interesting enough to you for a career switch.

One thing to note with switching: while many tech jobs don’t require certifications, many job postings for cybersecurity roles make certifications a requirement. Some of the more popular ones include: 

We did a deep breakdown of the most valuable cybersecurity skills here, as well:

To your other point, DevSecOps is big and getting bigger. A couple years back, one study found the DevSecOps market would hit $2.55 billion in 2020, and it’s expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.2 percent over the next several years. That trend has only continued. In that context, knowing how to test apps for flaws is key, along with pen testing, threat modeling, etc.