Today's Top-5 "Hot Skills" at Technology Companies

Published: April 2018


We recently surveyed 184 US-based technology companies to learn more about today’s most critical skills, especially those worthy of commanding significant base salary premiums.

In today’s super-charged job market, technology companies are engaged in a frantic battle to attract and retain people who possess game-changing skills. And as the results of our recent Radford US Hot Skills & Competency Survey show, in a growing number of cases, companies aren’t afraid to dish out significant base salary, bonus and/or equity award premiums for those skill sets. While a large number of companies still don’t believe in paying special premiums for “hot skills” (more on this below), among those that do, the five hot skills listed in this article currently command the largest base salary premiums.

Honorable Mention - Cybersecurity

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 13.0%

If this article was about listing the most critical skillsets needed at technology companies, then cybersecurity roles would win in a landslide. (We would know, as our survey also looked at the criticality of key skills.) Just turn on the news and you’ll quickly find stories about another data breach or data scandal. And as a result, on average, technology companies report paying a 13.0% base salary premium for cybersecurity skills. However, given the fact that talent supply in the cybersecurity arena is typically more robust than many of areas listed below, cybersecurity sits just outside our top-five list.

5. Data Science/Big Data

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 13.6%

Pretty much everything we do today involves the creation or collection of huge amounts of data, and by some estimates, the world now produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. While we increasingly rely on computers to synthesis this data, individuals skilled in data mining, cluster analysis and database design now command an average base salary premium of 13.6%.

4. Automated Driving

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 14.0%

The race (pun intended) to lead the development of self-driving cars is among the fiercest battles happening in the technology sector today. However, this competition for talent isn’t limited solely to major technology players. Well-established automotive companies, ride-sharing companies, traditional vehicle rental companies and hundreds of start-ups are all looking for talent with experience in automated driving technologies. As a result, the average base salary premium for this skill is 14.0%.

3. Data Visualization

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 14.9%

At Radford, we know better than most that data can’t deliver valuable insights unless it can be shared in easily consumable and approachable ways. And as we noted above, with the world creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, finding people with the skills to translate data into visual insights is needed more than ever. So, if you’re looking for a great data visualization expert, don’t be surprised if your candidates command an average base salary premium of 14.9%

2. Internet of Things

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 16.4%

When you see base salary premiums of 15.0% or more, you’ve reached rarified air. And in the case of Internet of Things (IoT) skills, technology companies report an average base salary premium of 16.4%. Of course, IoT means many different things to different companies. In some cases, it’s about designing new internet-connected hardware to disrupt traditional consumer products; in others, it’s about building app and software-enabled ecosystems for consumers to connect with and use innovative new devices. And finally, in some cases, it’s about supply chain management or large-scale industrial products that can predict problems before they materialize. As such, while IoT is a very broad category on the surface, the niche nature of many IoT applications is probably why talent is so hard to find.

1. Natural Language Processing and Voice Recognition

Average base salary premium paid for this skill: 16.5%

“Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Siri, who won the big game?” “Ok, Google…”

Ten years ago, the notion that millions of consumers around the would be talking to computer assistants in their pockets and homes every day to get directions, book appointments and buy products probably would have sounded like science fiction. Now, it’s one of the biggest emerging battlefronts to capture consumer mindshare and wallets; truly, the competition is just getting started. And so, while experience in natural language processing and voice recognition probably didn’t jump to the top of your mind when you started this article, you shouldn’t really be surprised that the average base salary premium for this skill is 16.5%.

Are Skills-Based Premiums a Good Idea?

While some technology companies provide base salary, bonus and/or equity premiums for key skills from time to time, you should always be careful when paying extra to employees based solely on their knowledge in one particular area. What happens if your business requirements change? What happens when a particular skills shortage ends? And what happens if your expensive expert in one area can’t translate their knowledge to other challenges? In every case, you run the risk of paying someone top dollar for a skillset that will inevitably get cheaper over time and may no longer be as critical to your business. This could lead to serious internal pay equity problems as well as an allocation of resources to a small group of employees with limited long-term contribution prospects.

With this in mind, we counsel companies to think beyond their short-term talent acquisition and compensation needs when considering hot skills premiums. Consider the following strategic questions before handing out oversized pay packages:

  • Where do we have skills gaps in our organization? Are these acute technical issues related to a specific project, or a broader organizational and long-term need?
  • Do we have the resources to catalogue the specific skills employees possess? Would we find this information valuable and could we integrate it into our compensation and talent programs?
  • Do we already pay employees with key hot skills more than their internal and/or external peers? Are they paid at these levels because of the specific skills they possess or are they simply performing better than others?
  • Are we losing employees at our company with key hot skills to the competition at a higher rate than normal employee turnover across the rest of the organization? If so, is compensation the problem or is it something else like team culture or product vision?
  • What mechanisms are in place to educate HR, compensation and recruiting professionals to ensure their understanding of key hot skills is strong enough that they can make informed decisions about how far to go with pay premiums?
  • If we decide to pay employees extra for their skills, what are the consequences of our decisions when those skills become more commonplace? Do we have a long-term strategy to migrate our hot skills premiums into the broader company strategy?

Technology companies of all sizes and stages of development should ask these questions to ensure their talent acquisition, compensation and business strategies align before awarding special pay premiums. Ultimately, every company will need to make its own decision around how best to reward and hire for critical skills.

Interested in Learning More?

To purchase the Radford US Hot Skills and Competency Workbook, featuring data from all 229 technology and life sciences companies who participated in the 2017 Radford US Hot Skills Survey & Competency Survey, please click here.

For general questions on this survey, other Radford survey products, or Radford’s compensation consulting capabilities, please write to our team at


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