Tomorrow’s Unicorns: The In-Demand Skills

17.07.2017 Daniel Goldstein

It’s not only venture capitalists who are always on the look-out for the next big thing in the tech world. The lure of cutting edge technologies and exciting projects are also powerful incentives for engineers and techies looking for a new challenge.

How do you plan your next career move when even the experts cannot accurately predict where the next Unicorn will emerge? Here are a few pointers to help you cut through the hype and keep your career on track.


What is happening right now?

Whether we’re talking about Uber, Airbnb or Snapchat, every one of these services is governed by the Unicorn Principle – using technology to make human life easier. So when assessing a start-up, do its products or services adhere to this standard? If not, they probably won’t reach the levels of success needed to become a genuine Tech Unicorn.

Virtually every unicorn is driven by data. Vast amounts of information collected from service users, customers, suppliers and third parties that needs to be sorted, analysed and applied.

Data scientists will find that they already possess many of the core qualities demanded by Unicorns as they are used to manipulating high-volume and complex information. Commercial experience in artificial intelligence, machine learning or machine language understanding (voice responsive systems like Siri and Alexa) makes you even more desirable to potential employers!


Machine Learning, AI and voice are where it’s at

Programs like Alexa and Google Voice are generating vast data sets that need to be gathered and stored, before being analysed to see how these insights can be put to (profitable) use. Clearly there is far too much information being created for easy-analysis by humans, so machine learning and artificial intelligence are enabling possibilities that exist beyond the limitations of the human mind.

Natural language processing is the technology that brings voice recognition and big data together. By understanding voice commands and nuances and applying context to those instructions, apps are able to better serve people, integrating neatly into their everyday lives.

Smartphones, smart speakers and now wearables, give users an expectation that every device will soon accept voice prompts. More than simply taking instruction, users expect these devices to provide meaningful responses too. The need to integrate voice into virtually every app and service means that unicorns and cutting edge startups are crying out for engineers with relevant voice experience.


When tech giants realise the skills don’t exist

Many of these in-demand skills are still not taught at every college or university. As a result, firms like Google, Apple and Amazon are being forced to develop their own training, intake programs and internships.

For anyone not yet in the industry, the choice of degree is critical to future employment options. For anyone about to start university, a BSc in Computer Science is particularly helpful, giving you a good grounding in the principles that govern modern day IT projects. You can then specialise with additional skills like Python or Spark that are likely to be in high demand for some time to come.

But what if you’re already in the sector? How can you improve your chances of joining a future Unicorn start up?


Attitude often determines success

Realising that there is a very small pool of experts who possess the most in-demand skills, many Unicorns looks for tech specialists who they can mould and train. This often translates into meaning people who have an inquisitive mind and the willingness to learn (quickly).

An ability to understand the world around you and how technology can solve problems is just as important as experience in coding artificial intelligence. A burning desire to create an impact through your work, either on end-users or your industry, is extremely attractive to potential employers.

Obviously any evidence of working with artificial intelligence, natural language processing or machine learning will help – even if these projects are conducted outside of work.


Where do we think the next Unicorn will come from?

Predicting the next unicorn is as hard as picking the correct lottery numbers, which is why so many promising start-ups disappear into obscurity. The trick is to spot gaps in the market that are waiting to be filled, create products that are user-centric and maximise on them.

Our (non-binding, finger-in-the-air) prediction is that the next Unicorn will probably appear in the medical field. We reckon there is plenty of potential to apply technology to the challenge of remote diagnosis, applying machine learning to the challenge of identifying symptoms and prescribing the correct treatment without having to visit a GP.

It may be a little while before we see such a service in our everyday life yet though!