If the latest Global Innovation Index is of indication, Hong Kongs tech sector is in a healthy shape going into 2020. Aside from climbing one spot to 13th in terms of economic innovation — out of 129 economies assessed — Hong Kong is also among the top three in the indexs Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania category. Considering the scale of the sector, here are Hong Kongs most sought-after tech jobs come 2020, and the specific skills that will help tech professionals get ahead of the curve.

Hong Kongs high-tech ecosystem

As optimistic as Hong Kongs tech sector is on paper, there is no denying the elephant in the room: the economy at large is facing some troubled times ahead. In mid November 2019, the Hong Kong government confirmed that the city had indeed entered its first recession in a decade. According to reports, the economy shrank by 3.2% in the July-to-September period compared to the prior quarter. Local protests, arguably more than other reasons, account for the economic slowdown as a whole.

With that said, businesses must go on, at least in the tech industry. Take the start-up ecosystem, for example. In 2018, the number of start-ups grew by 18% to 2,625, with the total employment expanding by 51% to over 9,500 employees leading to an increase in vacancies at startups. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council further earmarked four sectors — biotechnology, artificial intelligence, smart city and financial technologies — as areas of strength for the city. Financial technology, too, is growing in the city. Hong Kong ranked fifth in digitalisation of the traditional financial sector, and the percentage of its fintech users in Hong Kong reached 35.1%. In terms of investments, fintech firms there raised a total of US$1.1 billion between 2014 and 2018. In fact, the first half of 2019 alone saw US$152 million, up 561% from the same period the year before. 

The growth is mirrored in Michael Pages Salary Benchmark report also. The technology sector had one of the most active hiring activities in 2019, and the trends are looking to remain the same come 2020.

Going back to the specific roles and functions in demand, here are the ones to watch out for:

1. Cybersecurity Professionals

As popular as digital transformation is, the flipside of this phenomenon is that cybercrimes are also becoming more sophisticated — and the numbers show. According to this report, Hong Kong faces the second-highest risk of cybersecurity attacks in Asia. In fact, a separate report says that cyberattack-related economic losses in Hong Kong could hit a whopping US$32 billion annually — or about 105 of the citys gross domestic product — within the next few years. This mirrors the threat of cyberattacks on a global scale, with the cybercrime industry brought in US$1.5 trillion in revenue in 2018, with more than a quarter of malware attacks targeting banks and financial services.

The rise in demand for cybersecurity professionals is happening in Hong Kong as well. As businesses across various industries continue to invest in digital transformation, cybersecurity-related roles will be highly sought after by various industries come 2020. The demand is reflected in the projected salary as well. For example, an Info Security Manager can expected to take in about HK$1 million per year on average in 2020 based on our Salary Benchmark report.

2. Data-related Professionals

These days, it is impossible to drive any change without the assistance of data. In fact, from retail to financial services, the need to turn data into actionable insights has become ubiquitous across the board. As such, data-related roles and skills, such as Data Architects, Data Management, Data Quality, Data Governance, Data Analytics, Data Scientist and Data Analyst, are all critical and in high demand when building out proper data teams.

Data architects, then, are the critical link between technology and business. Aside from making sure that data centres are secure, co-located and accessible, a Data Architect is also responsible for making strategic business decisions based on all the data collected. While technical know-how is a must in this day and age, leadership skills and business acuity are perhaps even more important.

3. DevOps Roles

Traditionally, most tech talent are groomed from the bulge brackets — that is, they are very good at executive very specific sets of deliverables within massive teams. In turn, while most of their knowledge is very linear and in-depth, they are unable to stretch horizontally. This way of driving tech has proven to be bulky and inefficient, especially for current business needs. Consumers and the market are now expecting products to be delivered in much shorter and more rapid cycles. Simply put, not only are tech talent expected to build a product, they have to maintain it at the same time. In short, candidates need to be tactically hands on, with scripting knowledge and be able to utilise those skills on an operational level simultaneously.

4. Cloud Specialists

Cloud isn’t anything new in Hong Kong. However, in terms of the available skill sets, Asia does lack behind Europe and the US. When global strategies are delivered to Asia, Hong Kong — or Asia as a whole — tends to have a lack of skills on the ground. Furthermore, while there are plenty of Account Managers and Business Development talent, someone with tactical know-how is especially hard to find. Skills to look out for include: Docker, Kubernetes, JSON, Terra Form, Python and Ruby — the fundamentals to get the job done.

Speaking of reliance on cloud, many companies are moving their operations there, which in turn is driving the demand for the right cloud infrastructure to be in place. As such, talent that are experienced in migrating to the cloud or setting up a cloud environment on various platforms will continue to be sought after in 2020. Some skills that a Cloud Specialist is expected to possess include NoSQL databases, APIs, virtualisation/server engineering experience, Kubernetes, CI/CD, as well as microservices.

5. E-commerce Specialists

E-commerce, too, continues to be an expected growth area in 2020. Shenzhen, which is two hours away from Hong Kong, is already producing 90% of the worlds electronics. Combined with Hong Kongs vast distribution channel, the city readily connects Greater China to the rest of the world. For example, Hong Kong is within a five-hour flight of half the worlds population. When combined with its sea connections, the city exports to 220 countries worldwide. With the Chinese e-commerce sector projected to be valued at more than US$1.5 trillion in 2020, Hong Kongs distribution channels will certainly play a central role in its e-commerce boom.

Retail companies, for example, are actively recruiting e-commerce project managers, as well as candidates with experience working with Chinese e-commerce companies like Tmall and Alibaba. Within this specific space, software developers with a background in Java, C# and PHP web development, as well as data analysts specialised in SQL, Python, R and advanced Excel skills will continue to be in high demand.

With that said, Hong Kongs IT ecosystem does, at least for the time being, have trouble catching up with its own e-commerce developments. IT talent in this specific field is hard to come by. As such, on the backend, professionals experienced in ERP systems, VIP systems and warehouse management will likely be in high demand. In addition, IT talent with user interface/user experience (UI/UX) expertise will also be especially in demand.

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