Some technologists learn a particular programming language, tool, or other bit of technology because they’re interested in how it works. Others learn that technology because they think it will translate into better job opportunities and/or higher salary. Both approaches are perfectly okay—but if you want to get paid, which technologies should you focus on?

As part of its recent, wide-ranging survey of the artificial intelligence (A.I.) and data-science landscape, O’Reilly asked its respondents (2,778 in the U.S. and 284 in the U.K.) about which areas of technology they thought would have the biggest impact on salary and promotions in 2021. As you might expect, some 63 percent said machine learning, a highly specialized skill that companies are intensely interested in. 

“It was more of a surprise that ‘programming languages’ was noted by just 34 percent of respondents,” the report noted. “Our respondents clearly aren’t impressed by programming languages, even though the data suggests that employers are willing to pay a premium for Rust, Go, and Scala.”

Respondents also called out data tools (46 percent), cloud and containers (47 percent), and automation (44 percent) as technologies likely to translate into more money and promotions. Check out the chart: 

“The cloud and containers category includes tools like Docker and Kubernetes, cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure, and disciplines like MLOps,” the report added. “The tools category includes tools for building and maintaining data pipelines, like Kafka. ‘Automation’ can mean a lot of things but in this context probably means automated training and deployment.”

A recent study of A.I. use-cases showed many companies using artificial intelligence and machine learning in the context of sales, CRM, chatbots, cybersecurity, and marketing automation—all things important to small and large organizations alike. Keep in mind that, even if you’ve mastered machine learning tools, unlocking better compensation might hinge on your ability to apply those tools within a highly specialized context.

No matter what industry interests you, the opportunities will likely be there. According to Burning Glass, jobs that heavily involve machine learning are predicted to grow 76.3 percent over the next 10 years. More than 220,000 job postings over the past 12 months mentioned “machine learning” in a meaningful way—quite a large number for a “niche” technology.