Main image of article Mathematician: Is This "Hottest" Job Losing Steam?

Over the past several months, we’ve crunched the numbers, and every time the answer was clear: Mathematicians were the hottest tech (or tech-adjacent, if you prefer) job in America. But is that category finally losing some momentum?

For our regular analysis, we use Burning Glass’s NOVA platform, which analyzes millions of active job postings.  Throughout 2019, we saw the same trend: Mathematicians experienced an ever-increasing number of job postings, indicative of high demand; for example, in November 2019, job postings for mathematicians increased 92 percent year-over-year, well ahead of data engineer (59 percent), computer scientist (38 percent) and security management specialist (36 percent).

To kick off 2020, we decided to do something a little different: analyze our “hottest jobs” month-over-month, instead of year-over-year. While this exposes us a bit more to the quirks of seasonal and short-term trends, we thought it might give us additional insight into the market. And on that front, we weren’t disappointed: Between November and December, mathematicians as a category experienced no significant growth in job postings, unlike many other tech-related positions. Check out the chart:

Technology consultants enjoyed the best month-over-month growth (at 17.7 percent), followed by computer programmers (16.1 percent), web developers (13.3 percent), and webmaster/administrators (9.6 percent). That’s not terribly surprising—whether Burning Glass or another analytics platform, the consistent trend over the past few years has been that “staple” tech positions such as programmers and developers seem to enjoy perpetual demand.

What is surprising is that, in addition to mathematicians, we saw systems analysts, software QA engineers, data engineers, B.I. analysts, and UI/UX designer/developers experience either zero growth or month-over-month declines. Yet most other analyses via other platforms show these professions on a steady growth trajectory. So what gives?

We can’t discount seasonal variability. Like many other industries, technology goes through some pretty sharp cycles throughout the year. During the fourth quarter, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) often records a temporary unemployment spike in certain technology professions, such as web developer; this is due to a number of factors, including annual contracts expiring, companies waiting until the New Year to hire, and so on.

But there’s also the possibility that some professions are losing “steam” after several quarters of magnificent growth. At a certain point, companies actually find the help they need (provided they’re willing to pay for it). The market begins to shift; it’s less about finding warm bodies to fill seats, and more about finding highly specialized talent for specific projects (or up-skilling people within the organization to tackle those unique challenges).

We’ve seen a variation of this phenomenon in the data scientist market, where some sources suggest salaries have leveled off despite a high level of employer demand for people who can crunch huge datasets for valuable insights. An analysis of Dice job postings showed that job postings for data scientists rose steadily between 2016 and 2018—only to collapse. Since then, employer demand for data scientists has continued to rise, albeit more slowly.

What’s behind that trend in the data-science market? Perhaps it’s an oversaturation of talent. “Based on my own participation as a resume screener, mentor to data scientists leaving boot camps, interviewer, interviewee, and from conversations with friends and colleagues in similar positions,” Vicky Boykis, senior manager for data science and engineering at CapTech Ventures, wrote in a much-circulated blog posting last year. “I’ve developed an intuition that the number of candidates per any given data science position, particularly at the entry level, has grown from 20 or so per slot, to 100 or more.” The emphasis is on hiring the “right” data scientists, not just anyone who can crunch data.

Is the same thing happening with mathematicians and other, data-related professions? It’s too soon to tell. However, if these growth trends continue into the New Year, we might conclude that the market for some of tech’s “hottest” professions is indeed undergoing a significant change.