Top 10 deep tech skills of the 21st century to bridge the gap between academia & industry

September 2, 2020


Raymond, a senior software engineering manager, had given 17 prime years of his life to the organization he last worked with. When the management started hiring people with advanced computing skills, it didn’t strike him then that something was amiss. But one day, the management called Raymond and his team of five other software engineers and asked them to leave unceremoniously.

As Raymond struggled to cope with the news, he recalled his former manager’s words when he had exhorted all of them to re-skill and re-invent themselves to fit into an increasingly tech-driven world.


“My programming skills are very outdated. When I look around, I see youngsters are catching up on the emerging tech skills. I have been stalling the idea of reskilling for a long time now. If only I had taken my former manager’s words seriously about learning the ropes of the latest technology, I wouldn’t be unemployed right now,” laments Raymond.


This may just be a case in point, but it is a sad reality that most companies face due to the gap in tech skill sets. As technology is evolving and organizations are scrambling to adopt big data, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies, there is an increasing need to bridge the gap between academia and industry.


Problem of skill-set gap amidst plenty


According to Gartner, in its 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, 70 percent of the current workforce are yet to master the skills required for their work. While 80 percent revealed they do not have the skills required for their current and future positions.

The tech positions that lie vacant in the US alone stand staggeringly at over half a million, a strong testimony to the skill-set gap. Several positions among them include skills in programming, app/web software development, designing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, cloud computing, business intelligence, data analytics among others.

It is interesting to note that the European Commission has pointed out that about 37 percent of the workforce in Europe do not have the basic digital skills, leave alone the advanced technical skills that are required to keep up with digital technologies.

The irony, however, is that these technologies keep evolving rapidly and all businesses big and small incorporate them no sooner than the employees can upskill themselves. According to a Salesforce Research on The future of Workforce Development, 68 percent of hiring managers believe that to keep pace with such non-stop, rapid-changing tech advancements, formal retraining programs are required to prepare the workforce. Therefore, the only way professionals can keep up is by upskilling and re-inventing themselves.


Hard to overlook STEM education and hands-on learning


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Interestingly, tech organizations are calling on universities and colleges to prepare the workforce of the future by focussing on developing curriculum that are tech-focussed and hands-on rather than theory-based. This is where  STEM education plays a crucial role  and the early it is introduced in the education system, the better it is to close the skill gap. Industry leaders have come forward and stressed on the need to focus on STEM education to help fill in the STEM jobs that lie vacant.


“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

— National Science Foundation


A recent study conducted by the Mckinsey Global Institute indicated that by 2030 the amount of time employees put in on advanced technological skills will see a surge by 50 percent in the US alone, and 41 percent in Europe. The study also estimated that around the same time, the requirement for advanced IT and programming skills will increase close to 90 percent.

So, what are the most popular 21st century deep tech skills that are being sought-after by professionals to advance their career?

According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports  — where the online learning platform analyzed data from over 40 million users — it was found that the most popular and top emerging tech skills include programing, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, machine learning, web and mobile development, internet of things, quantum computing among others.

On the lines of Udemy’s learning trends reports, LinkedIn has also listed its most in-demand tech skills which include: blockchain, robotics, UX design, computer graphics, software testing, game development, scientific computing to name a few.

As automation is transforming businesses and workplaces, it has become highly imperative for the workforce of today to be able to speak the language of the tools and keep abreast of the emerging technologies.

The World economic Forum says around 133 million new jobs will be created across the globe by 2022 because of the work break-up between machines and humans. It also states that around 54 percent of the workforce will need to be reskilled remarkably by 2022.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution — which according to salesforce, “is a fusion of advances in AI, robotics, IoT, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies” — is bringing about transformative changes in almost every industry and businesses, let’s focus on some of the major tech trends that are crucial to keep up with if you don’t want to run the risk of being left behind.


Web development:


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“Don’t just play on your phone. Program it. If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

— Barack Obama


The ability to code or write software/computer programs is one of the most important skills of the 21st century. It helps people to be creators of technology rather than being mere consumers. From apps to e-commerce websites to news portals, everything that we see and consume online are developed by web developers.

Coding or programming is essentially automating workflow so that you can save time, energy and efforts. You can write a code and control how the hardware will react. For instance, blink an LED for 5 seconds. The code for this can be written on the programming platform, Arduino.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the demand for web developers will grow by 13 percent from 2018-2024. But to fit into the ever-growing job market, let’s look at the skills required for you to take your career forward.

  • Programming languages: Python, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, .Net, C#, HTML, CSS, SQL
  • NoSQL databases
  • Spring Framework
  • Javascript
  • Testing & debugging
  • SEO
  • Responsive design
  • DevOps
  • Backbone.JS
  • Node JS
  • Angular
  • React JS
  • AWS or Azure Certification

As we move towards an increasingly tech-driven future, web development is forever evolving. Therefore, it is even more imperative to stay updated with the latest developments in the field, whether they are programming languages, frameworks or latest technology.


UX/UI design:


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“The best products do 2 things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”

— Nick Babich, developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover


The above quote pretty much sums up the key responsibilities of a user experience/ user interface (UX/UI) designer. Companies today are aware that for a website or app to compete in the cut-throat market, it not only requires an impeccable design along with product functionality, but also a flawless user experience customized to people’s requirements. Therefore, organizations require competent professionals to build human-centric platforms and experiences.

This has made UX design as one of the most in-demand skills and the fastest growing. LinkedIn Learning has listed UX design as one of the most sought-after skills for 2020. Let’s take a look at the skills required if you want to make a move in this field:

  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Coding
  • UX Wireframes
  • Prototyping
  • User research
  • Interaction design
  • Usability testing
  • Javascript
  • Process design
  • Information architecture
  • Visual communication

With top companies like Microsoft, Adobe, IBM and Adidas among others always looking out to hire UI/UX professionals, it remains one of the most in-demand sectors. As we get more comfortable with IoT and AI-based devices, the way we look at UI/UX will change completely in the future.




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Our grandparents/parents must have grown up watching Rosie the robot maid in the animated sitcom, The Jetsons, and wished that they had one too to do all the household chores. What was earlier a dream is now a reality for us, as robots are making our lives much easier. From cleaning floors to entertaining our children; keeping a tab on our schedules to cleaning pools; trimming lawns to carrying your stuff around, robots are here to stay.

Robots have been there as early as the mid-20th century, but it was in 1961 when Joseph F. Engelberger and George Devol came up with the Unimate, the first industrial robot — a two-tonne robotic arm, which was programmable and hydraulically driven — used for automated die-casting. Since then it has gained momentum and now it is used across industries from manufacturing to logistics; healthcare to travel.


 Markets and Markets report suggests that the service robotics market is expected to increase from $37 billion in 2020 to $102.5 billion by 2025; it is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22.6 percent from 2020 to 2025.

Given this growth projection, the demand for professionals with the right skills are also going up. According to the Linkedin 2020 Annual Emerging Jobs report, the robotics industry reported a 40 percent annual growth rate.

So, what are the required skills for a roboticist or a robotic engineer? Here’s a lowdown:

  • Programming languages: Python, MATLAB
  • Hardware
  • Electronics: Knowledge of circuit boards, electronic equipment, chips and processors
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Technology design
  • AI basic
  • RPA (Robotic Process Automation)

Skilled professionals are in huge demand from top industries on the lines of industrial automation, information technology and services, computer software, automotive, financial services and those with the right skill set will be at an advantage.


Internet of things:


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“The Internet of Things is transforming the everyday physical objects that surround us into an ecosystem of information that will enrich our lives. From refrigerators to parking spaces to houses, the Internet of Things is bringing more and more things into the digital fold every day, which will likely make the Internet of Things a multi-trillion dollar industry in the near future.”

–PricewaterhouseCoopers report


As the IoT invades into our day-to-day lives in the form of smart watches that can monitor our health, or internet-enabled home entertainment system, or a smartphone app-connected light bulb, its presence in our lives are all-pervading.

On a bigger scale, industries and manufacturing companies continue to use IoT for maintenance and tracking, supply chain, energy consumption, shipping and logistics, regulatory compliance, smart city projects, oil and gas, retail and insurance among others.

McKinsey’s Global Institute projects that by 2025, the IoT will have an economic impact of up to $11 trillion.

And as adoption of IoT across industries grows, we have seen a huge demand from tech giants for professionals with IoT skills. Let’s get a lowdown of the most in-demand skill sets required to advance your career in this sector:

  • Machine learning
  • Cyber security
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Azure
  • Tableau
  • NoSQL databases
  • Data visualization
  • Business Intelligence
  • Assembly programming
  • Electronics
  • Programming languages: C and C++, Java, Python, Scala, R, Javascript, HTML, CSS, PHP, .Net
  • Big Data

As we see the intriguing applications of IoT today, the future looks promising. With all the projections and the ongoing work, IoT will definitely make our lives much more efficient and easier.


Data Science:


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“I foresee the next wave of revenue growth in corporate America will come directly from Data Science.”

— Ken Poirot, author, entrepreneur


In the age of big data, data science has increasingly found its way into our lives as everything today is data driven. From healthcare to finance; media to manufacturing; logistics to sports, data science helps us make sense of the big sets of data with its incredible new insights and information.

One of the perfect examples of its application could be taken from the 2011 biopic, Moneyball. How Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) transformed the entire selection process just through the insights he got through data science and brought about the best winning streaks to the team.

From helping tackle traffic by optimizing routes to identifying and predicting illnesses, its applications are limitless, and as its success stories resonate with industries and companies, they are leaving no stone unturned to reap its benefits.

As government and tech giants continue to look for skilled data science professionals, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2026 the requirement for data science skills will propel a 27.9 percent increase in employment in the field.


“To close the gap, workforce development and higher education must look beyond the data scientist to develop talent for a variety of roles, such as data engineer, data governance and lifecycle and data privacy and security specialist, and data product developer. Data democratization impacts every career path, so academia must strive to make data literacy an option, if not a requirement, for every student in any field of study.”

–IBM in The Quant Crunch


However, you need certain skills for a career in data science. Let’s look at them:

  • Statistics
  • Machine learning
  • Programming languages: Python, R, Java, Scala, SAS
  • Big Data
  • MapReduce
  • NoSQL databases: MongoDB, Cassandra DB
  • Cloud computing
  • GitHub

Professionals in this field are required in every sector, not in technology alone. And now when sectors from healthcare to education, government to e-commerce, media to customer service are leveraging data science, the impact of AI in our lives cannot be ignored.


Machine learning:


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As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, machine learning has been invaluable to scientists all across to help track and predict the risks of the virus. If we were to look at the uses of machine learning, we would be amazed at what this futuristic tech has given us so far.

From self driving cars to medical diagnosis; practical speech recognition to face detection in an image; chatbots to predictive analysis; Siri to Alexa; effective web search to better mastery of the human genome.

Also, how do you think Netflix and Amazon suggest what to watch next? They use machine learning to understand your tastes and based on other users’ history with similar viewing patterns, recommend you accordingly.

Widespread usage of machine learning in all industries is endless. Likewise, demand for workers in this sector is only increasing by the day, as tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon among others continue to look for skilled professionals. Here are some of the skills that you need to master in order to advance your career in machine learning.

  • Programming languages: Python, R, C/C++
  • Statistics and probability
  • Algorithm and data structure skills
  • Robotics
  • Big Data
  • Data modeling

According to Markets and Markets, by 2022 machine learning market is expected to reach a growth of $8.81 billion. And as top companies continue to use machine learning-driven solutions to enhance ROI or customer experience or to get an edge in their business, it will not be far when even small players will follow suit.


Artificial intelligence:


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“We see incredible opportunity to solve some of the biggest social challenges we have by combining high performance computing and AI – such as climate change and more.”

— Lisa su, Taiwanese-American business executive and electrical engineer


As artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly growing beyond the tech industry, today we see that it has penetrated into education, hardware and networking, healthcare, design, consumer goods, finance, retail, wellness and fitness, real estate, energy and mining, software and IT services, manufacturing, entertainment, corporate services, transportation and logistics and beyond.


Gartner has predicted that by 2024, 69 percent of the managers’ routine workload will be reduced by AI and emerging technologies. However, to harness the power of AI, we require skilled professionals who are able to leverage this technology.

With top companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Samsung, Adobe and NVIDIA to name a few always looking for AI talent, let’s look at the most in-demand AI skills:

  • Programming languages: Java, C++, Python and R
  • Applied mathematics: statistics and probability 
  • Critical thinking/ problem solving
  • Dynamic programming
  • Robotics
  • Unix tools such as grep, awk, sort, find, cat, tar, cut, ps, chmod, wc, man, diff etc.
  • Data science
  • Distributed computing
  • Creativity

AI might be synonymous to job automation for some, but it is also ubiquitous in our daily lives. We cannot ignore our virtual assistants Alexa or Siri or the vacuum bot, Roomba, as they help automate the little chores in our lives.


Cloud Computing:


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The  PCMag Encyclopedia  elucidates cloud computing as “hardware and software services from a provider on the internet (the “cloud”).” Think Apple iCloud or Google Cloud where you can access your pictures, documents, videos, contacts on the go. Other popular examples of cloud computing include Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Azure, Slack etc.

As almost all companies today depend on cloud solutions for their businesses, Gartner in its 2019 forecast revealed “worldwide public cloud revenue is set to grow by 17 percent in 2020 to a total of $266.4 billion up from $227.8 billion in 2019.” And according to Markets and Markets, by 2023, the industry worth is expected to be $623.3 billion.

With widespread adoption, comes the demand for skilled cloud computing professionals. So, what are the prerequisite skills? Let’s take a look:

  • Programming languages: Python, PHP, Java, Ruby, .Net
  • Linux
  • DevOps
  • Amazon web Services (AWS)
  • Docker
  • Cloud security
  • Networking
  • Azure

The market for cloud computing continues to thrive as companies are understanding its benefits and cost-effectiveness. According to Gartner, by 2021 most of the enterprises that use cloud today will be adopting an all-in cloud policy. This is indeed a good news for professionals who want to grow their career in cloud computing.




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When Satoshi Nakamoto invented this technology in 2008, nobody thought that by 2020 this would be one of the most sought-after skills by tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Facebook to name a few.

In over a decade, this technology, which was initially conceived for the digital currency Bitcoin, has made significant headway and how. Besides being used across finance, food industries, healthcare, proponents are also using this technology as a secure and cost-effective way to track transactions and shipments, identity management, crowdfunding, digital voting, file storage among others.

A  Gartner forecast  published in 2017 indicates that by 2030 the business value of blockchain will be $3.1 trillion. Given the prediction, the demand for people with blockchain skills across the US, the UK, France, Australia and Germany has skyrocketed. But one cannot get into the field unless he/she has the following prerequisite skills:

  • Cryptography computing
  • Database design
  • Networking
  • Programming languages: Python, Javascript, Java, Solidity etc.

As the likes of Walmart, Mastercard and FedEx to name a few continue to invest in blockchain, smaller companies are likely to adopt the technology and focus on solutions or develop applications that this technology can provide.


Quantum computing:


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According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports,  quantum computing is one of the top emerging tech skills of the 21st century. But what exactly is quantum computing? To know what quantum computing is, we need to understand quantum computers.


MIT Technology Review defines quantum computers as:

“A quantum computer harnesses some of the almost-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power. Quantum machines promise to outstrip even the most capable of today’s—and tomorrow’s—supercomputers…The secret to a quantum computer’s power lies in its ability to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits”


Given quantum computer’s advanced processing powers than the conventional machines, the technology could propel new discoveries in various industries from advanced manufacturing to cybersecurity; finance to pharmaceuticals research; telecommunications to climate change; military affairs to aerospace designing; artificial intelligence to machine learning techniques to diagnose diseases and so on. Its ability to process complex and extensive datasets efficiently could transform industries.

Big companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, HP, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi among others are already working and experimenting with this technology. For instance, Volkswagen has come up with a service that evaluates the best routes for taxis and buses to reduce traffic snarls. Likewise, Airbus is also using this technology to calculate the most fuel-efficient take-off and landing routes for aircraft.

Daimler AG and IBM are also working together to develop cheaper, powerful and long-lasting lithium sulfur (Li-S) batteries that would help speed-up in charging electric vehicles. Pharmaceutical companies are no less behind in leveraging this technology to create new drugs.

According to MIT Technology Review, businesses or companies working on quantum computing are facing a huge shortage of skilled professionals in the field. But the good news is that the National Quantum Initiative Act, gives the United States a plan to support research and training in quantum information science. Apart from advancing quantum technology, the initiative will help professional engineers to move forward in their careers in quantum computing

Let’s take a look at some of the essential skills required to get into this field:

  • Quantum physics
  • Math
  • Computer science
  • Coding
  • Linear algebra
  • Basic quantum mechanics
  • Probability/ Combinatorics
  • Group theory
  • Number theory

Quantum computing might be at its nascent stage, but in a decade or so it will disrupt the methods used today and bring incredible solutions to unsolvable issues.




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To help bridge the skill-set gap, of course, academia alone cannot play a pivotal role. Though some tech giants are still looking up at educational institutions and relying on them to train students with required tech skill sets, given the ever-evolving technologies, new roles and skill requirements, companies must also take charge and reskill the workforce. They can come up with their own courseware to reskill employees.

With online learning platforms like Coursera, Linda, Udemy among others offering specializations, certifications and professional courses, some companies are collaborating with these online platforms to help upskill their employees.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022 over 50 percent of all employees across industries will need to be reskilled. Given this trend, the need of the hour is shared responsibility. So, apart from academia and industry, it is also upon us to maximize our value by pursuing skills that are in demand. The world is at our fingertips, after all.

Do you think we have missed out on other important 21st century deep tech skills? Do let us know in the comments below.

– All Graphics Credit: Sidra Choudhry

About Author
Urmila, who is a Big Data and STEM enthusiast, works as the head of communications with Mand Labs. She is a believer in transformation of life and career through STEM. She can be reached on Twitter @umarak

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