The 10 Most Lucrative Tech Specializations (And How to Get Started)

Whether you’re new to the tech job market or you’re a seasoned pro seeking new challenges, the cold, hard truth is that some tech specializations are simply more valuable than others.

 

And with that in mind, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that, if you’re looking for a new gig, it’s best to focus on those specialties which are in highest demand – and, therefore, earn the biggest incomes.

 

 

Further, it’s important to note that although tech salaries are still rising in many disciplines, employers increasingly demand that new hires bring bigger toolboxes. Broader is definitely better when it comes to skillsets nowadays.

 

Ready to rev up your resume? Here, we’ve listed the 10 most lucrative tech specializations, along with the typical job requirements, daily tasks, pay scale (presented as conservative estimates in USD, averaged across major US job markets) and how to get started.

 

#10 – Interactive designer ($90,000-$110,000 per year)

 

Don’t settle with an average idea just because it means less work…

 

Interactive designers create multimedia solutions. Their work overlaps with that of graphic designers, yet is more focused on building comprehensive multimedia applications.

 

There are several career pathways to become an interactive designer, though most of those who chose interactive design already have a strong background in graphic design, visual arts and multimedia design.

 

Many successful designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, as well as an average of 3 to 7 years of design experience, before they begin to work independently.

 

But that doesn’t mean you have to go back to school if your skillset lies elsewhere. If you have a portfolio showcasing your talents, it can be fairly easy to find junior or senior positions.

 

Companies recently hiring in this niche include well-known names like:

 

  • Electronic Arts
  • HBO
  • Conde Nast
  • Disney Interactive
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • Deloitte
  • IBM

 

Best of all, a skilled and talented interactive designer can typically earn an annual income of $90,000 as a junior designer, or of $110,000 and beyond as a senior designer in the hottest marketplaces.

 

#9 – PHP developer ($90,000-$150,000 per year)

 

I really don’t like programming. I built this tool to program less so that I could just reuse code.

 

PHP developers build applications and websites using the dynamic scripting language PHP, which is recognized as one of the leading languages for small businesses – including tech startups.

 

Since PHP is ubiquitous in web development and business, it’s a great choice if you’re a contract developer or self-employed business owner.

 

Unlike some other tech specializations, if you’re competent as a PHP developer, you can take this skill with you anywhere, across a wide range of business niches.

 

The usual career path toward this tech specialization is through a baccalaureate degree of some kind, often in an IT-related field, followed by an apprenticeship working for someone else while learning PHP.

 

Still, there are many PHP developers who have built their own successful businesses strictly with on-the-job training and non-academic experience.

 

Well-known organizations that have recently been hiring PHP developers include Ingenium, Spark Group, Best Buy, and North Carolina State University (NCSU) among others.

 

In the best markets and subspecialties, good PHP developers are typically earning between $90,000 to $150,000 and even more if they’re independent business owners.

 

#8 – Augmented reality developer ($120,000-$140,000 per year)

 

On the spectrum between virtual reality… and the real world, augmented reality is closer to the real world…

 

Augmented reality is a sweet spot of tech specialization, where you’re responsible for blending together the real world and the virtual one.

 

By overlaying and combining digital resources and analog information, AR developers help users better visualize and interact with the world through new platforms like Oculus and Gear VR.

 

Your ability to change and grow are the most important determinants of success in this tech specialization.

 

That’s because AR technology is at the bleeding edge between the digital and real worlds. There’s always something new to learn, yet progress isn’t linear.

 

 

The most common language for programming is generally C++ or C#. Top AR devs rely on a mixture of 3D modeling, visual skills or artistic ability, plus mobile and web programming skills. Opportunities exist as well for those willing to enter the world of SEO for AR.

 

Dave Lloyd, writing for ClickZ, expands on this new challenge:

 

“Organically, it becomes an exercise in correlating data to your search criteria as it pops up to be discovered and presented as a relevant search result in your wearable or mobile device. Looking for the best Chinese restaurant in town? What better recommendation than a four star rating by the customer that just left an AR marker relevant to your question?”

 

Most candidates for these various AR positions first walk the academic pathway through a bachelor’s degree in an IT-related or design-related field, before becoming infatuated with virtual reality and augmented reality apps.

 

If you’re highly creative, you’ll fit right into the large, thriving AR dev community where there’s a constant flow of new ideas.

 

The companies recently hiring AR devs include, among others:

 

  • Google
  • Intel
  • Marxent

 

In fast-moving marketplaces the augmented reality dev’s annual income generally ranges from about $120,000 for less-experienced workers up to $140,000 or more for talented pros at the top of their games.

 

#7 – Drupal developer ($100,000-$150,000 per year)

 

…fixing problems in elegant ways…

 

In parallel with the demand for PHP experts, there’s also a large and growing demand for Drupal devs. Most people interested in Drupal as a tech specialization already work in parallel niches, such as PHP.

 

Yet, one of the unique attributes of Drupal is that it’s generally very welcoming to non-programmers. The Drupal platform and community offer powerful tools and resources for newbies and long-time users alike.

 

Drupal site builders create Drupal websites and applications. Site builders generally don’t write much custom code, but they must know how to choose and configure various modules.

 

Even without programming experience, if you immerse yourself in this tech specialization you can learn to build complex, innovative websites quickly and effectively.

 

Further, there seems to be plenty of non-degreed Drupal developers, making it one of the rare tech specializations for which you don’t need a college degree.

 

Companies recently seeking Drupal workers include Time Warner, NBC, Weight Watchers International, and American Automobile Association (AAA) along with countless others.

 

The Drupal skillset is hot – the best Drupal devs in the hottest markets usually earn at least $100,000 for a talented developer with a year or two of experience, up to about $150,000 for a senior Drupal guru.

 

#6 – UX designer or UI developer ($140,000+ per year)

 

 

Like a geeky, mythical creature, UX developers are part designer, part developer

 

Regardless of the overlaps and differences in job descriptions, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) developers and designers are tasked with bridging the gap between technology and design.

 

The successful UX designer or UI developer is typically a hybrid between designer and developer, and has a keen eye for design.

 

Over the past couple of years there’s been a resurgence of tech startups focused squarely on creating new screens and other types of user interfaces. That means plenty of work in the meantime for good UX/UI devs.

 

New sub-specialties and design roles are always evolving to meet the pace of rapidly-expanding technology companies. Instead of making full-functionality applications, much of the work in this field involves building out interactions by making prototype and proof-of-concept models.

 

University graduates with strong academic credentials can often find entry level UX or UI work. In the strongest markets, these newbies may earn $120,000 or more.

 

If you’re a tech pro already specializing in another niche, you can probably bridge over to become a higher-paid UX, assuming you have previous experience across multiple platforms, technologies and languages.

 

In any event, a top UI developer or UX designer in the right niche can expect annual pay of $140,000 or more.

 

#5 – Big data engineer ($130,000-$150,000 per year)

 

Big data brings us to interesting times – some say we’re even going to end up reinventing what it means to have a human society.

 

A big data engineer is responsible for developing and evaluating solutions that involve large, complex data sets.

 

Companies that have recently been hiring big data workers include:

 

  • HP
  • Google
  • Comcast
  • Apple
  • Allstate Insurance

 

Successful big data engineers have a talent for understanding and building the high-performance algorithms needed for processing huge amounts of data. They think in terms of petabytes, or even exabytes. The commonly-used tools include C++, Java, Linux and Ruby, Hadoop, Hive, MongoDB, Cassandra and MapReduce.

 

Beyond the typical academic qualification of having a four-year university degree, most people who enter the field of big data already have three to five years of experience in software engineering.

 

Big data engineers can earn big money

 

In hot marketplaces, even relatively inexperienced big data engineers are earning at least $130,000 while seasoned pros typically receive $150,000 or more.

 

#4 – Front-end developers with JavaScript experience ($150,000-$160,000 per year)

 

Web development is fun. JavaScript is daunting.

 

JavaScript developers are responsible for developing websites and applications using JavaScript. Front-end developers with JavaScript experience and strong libraries are in high demand in the marketplace, whether as in-house employees or independent contractors.

 

The day-to-day work usually involves implementing the front-end logic behind the behavior of visual elements on sites, as well as connecting the front-end with services which reside on a system’s back-end.

 

Successful front-end JavaScript pros must be able to work effectively as a team with other front-end devs who specialize in styling and markup.

 

Companies hiring lately include Salesforce, Tesla, UCLA, FastPay, ThyssenKrupp, Google and countless others.

 

Regarding career path toward this tech specialization, academic credentials seem less important than experience and turnaround time. It’s a straight shot for anyone with plenty of experience and a large JavaScript library ready to use. You may even find yourself working on Salesforce in this role, as JavaScript is used with both Visualforce and Lightning components.

 

In the best marketplaces mid-level JavaScript developers can earn at least $150,000 and senior devs generally rake in more than $160,000 annually.

 

#3 – Mobile app developer ($60,000-$170,000 per year)

 

From Angry birds to internal applications, mobile app developers draw on a diverse array of coding, UX/UI and design skills

 

Over the past couple of years, successful Mobile app developers have been earning eye-popping incomes, making now a great time to launch (or relaunch) your own new career in this niche.

 

 

Beyond entrepreneurial or freelance app development gigs, you’ll find an enormous range of opportunities for work through companies such as:

 

  • PayPal
  • Google
  • Bank of America
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

 

Still, the biggest winners in this game are the indie devs. For the right app, with good code, the earnings potential is huge.

 

If you know Java and APIs, and have an understanding of Android Studio, Xcode and/or Eclipse, then you already possess the basic hands-on qualifications for this lucrative tech specialization. Regarding academic qualifications, a college degree is usually listed as required for most of the best tech company positions available.

 

That said, this requirement can be challenged by showing a portfolio of working apps. Even a simple yet impressive app published via Google Play or Apple’s App Store can be enough to land gigs with employers, or draw additional clients.

 

Junior mobile app developers with mainline tech companies or independent contractors with ordinary skills and discipline typically earn annual incomes between $60,000 to $80,000.

 

The upside potential, however, is huge. Mobile development workers with a few years of experience can earn at least $140,000 per year, while senior devs or entrepreneurs with hot apps can draw $170,000 or more.

 

#2 – Information security architect ($150,000-$180,000 per year)

 

Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and collaborative with every coming year.

 

The information security architect is a key role in any organization concerned with security, especially for financial services firms, e-commerce providers and healthcare companies. Information security architects are responsible for planning and executing security measures intended to protect networks and systems.

 

Security architects lead the fight against hackers

 

As the number and severity of cyber-attacks increases, the role of security specialists has expanded and the demand for security architects is growing rapidly…. It’s created an employment “boom” in the entire information security sector.

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for this tech specialization is expected to expand by 20% annually at least through 2018.

 

Companies recently hiring security architects include:

 

  • Amazon
  • MGM Resorts
  • NCR
  • BB&T Bank

 

Day-to-day tasks here include working on intrusion detection and access control, virus protection, audit and certification.

 

The top pros in this tech specialization spend their time analyzing existing security measures and applications, then recommending, developing and implementing new measures to protect organizations against unauthorized access or loss.

 

In order to be a security architect, you’re expected to have university degrees (bachelor or advanced) in IT, IS, math or computer science. And, many employers prefer or require security certifications such as CompTIA, CISSP, CNSP or CHFS.

 

Well-qualified information security architects with modest experience may earn $150,000 per year in hot niches, while senior devs can command $180,000 or more.

 

#1 – Salesforce architect ($180,000-$200,000 per year)

 

a unified view of every interaction…

 

We don’t mean to toot our own horns here, but the numbers don’t lie. Salesforce architect is currently the most desirable tech specialization, given that the already-high median income in this niche continues to rise, even while new entry-level opportunities are increasing rapidly each year.

 

Salesforce is a recognized industry leader in CRM and enterprise cloud solutions, which means that, to excel in this tech specialization, you’ll need to be especially savvy about cloud architecture.

 

A leading Salesforce architect must have the overall knowledge and skill to assess architecture and design effective solutions on the Salesforce platform.

 

Other requirements for a successful candidate generally include a minimum of five years of experience with development and implementation, including at least one full project lifecycle.

 

Experience across other development platforms is helpful, particularly Java, .NET and Ruby. And, you’ll also need to know something about mobile development, too.

 

Before hiring a candidate for Salesforce architect, top employers will want to see a track record of successful implementations and good change management.

 

If you’re able to provide successful results as a Salesforce architect, the rewards can be great. Yearly compensation for pros with a proven track record is generally at least $180,000 and may range far north of $200,000 for senior architects in the sweetest niches.

 

Don’t quite have the credentials to qualify as a Salesforce architect? Never fear – there’s plenty of opportunity to be had as a Salesforce developer (which would have been #5 on this if list if it had been broken out separately).

 

Salesforce developers typically come from two camps: Salesforce administrators who are stepping up the ladder, and enterprise developers who are transitioning from some other technology to Salesforce.

 

For developers with coding experience, the learning path is fairly quick. Salesforce’s Apex code language is based on Java, and really any object-oriented programming experience will translate easily.

 

While certification is important to many prospective employers, especially Salesforce Partners, there’s a new game in town: Trailhead. Trailhead is Salesforce’s free, gamified learning platform where you earn points as you breeze through fun tutorials, quizzes, and projects. As you finish different tasks you earn badges, which you can add to your LinkedIn profile, to show off your skills and accomplishments.

 

Compensation for good Salesforce developers typically ranges from about $130,000 to $160,000, depending on the particular marketplace.

 

Launch your new career today

 

As we’ve covered today, there are are plenty of employment opportunities for certain tech specializations: Best of all, you probably already qualify for at least some of them, so let nothing hold you back as you pursue your career (and your compensation) dreams.

 

Where do you see your development career headed? Leave us a note below sharing which of these specializations appeals to you most:

Images: Youtube, Augmented reality; flickr, Pixabay, flickr

Published
May 24, 2016
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The 10 Most Lucrative Tech Specializations (And How to Get Started)