A light switch is just a light switch—until it gets smart. Connecting that switch to the internet or a private network may let you dim the lights from an app on your phone or track how much electricity you’re using, improving its capabilities and making your life that much easier. There are more than 30.7 billion digitally connected items like these within a realm known as the Internet of Things (IoT), and the industry is growing every day thanks to the skills of trained professionals.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things connects digital data to the physical world. Through this network, items like fitness trackers and alarm systems use embedded sensors to exchange information with each other. Because of the IoT, your FitBit can track and store information about your health in a profile, and your doorbell alarm can keep surveillance video in the cloud. Devices within the IoT are often called “smart,” like smart locks that you can engage with the tap of a button in an app.
In addition to these daily applications, IoT devices have been designed to meet specific industrial needs. These include pressure sensors on oil and gas pipelines that allow for remote monitoring, moisture sensors that track water levels, and even drone technology that provides information for data-based decision making.
“The IoT is really about providing solutions to problems,” says Peter O’Reilly, program director for Northeastern’s Master of Science in Cyber-Physical Systems program. “These can be cost-effective solutions, or solutions that are better or more efficient.”
Careers for professionals designing these solutions are expected to grow as the Internet of Things continues to expand, O’Reilly says. Explore some of the top careers defining the IoT industry below.
Top IoT Industries and Market Outlook
The Internet of Things offers a range of career opportunities in embedded systems cybersecurity (a particularly hot market), software development, and more. Some of the top IoT industries include healthcare, manufacturing, utilities, transportation, agriculture, and consumer products. Jobs are expected to increase in the coming years across industries, though growth may be slower in some sectors than others.
“In some areas, it’s definitely going to flourish, and in other areas, it might be slow and run into issues with things like security and privacy,” O’Reilly says. “But in every single industry you could think of, IoT connections are happening.”
IoT Careers and Salaries
The following guide will introduce you to some key IoT careers, their outlook, and the training required for each. Note that salaries may be higher depending on the location in which each role is based and your level of training, among other factors. The chart below illustrates average salaries in major cities around the world:
1) IoT Developer
IoT developers create the applications that allow devices to function. They use standard APIs and programming languages, such as Java and C++, in their day to day work, so strong programming skills are a must.
Responsibilities: As an IoT developer, you’ll oversee the creation of software used to support specific IoT applications. Other duties may include using algorithms to analyze data, using software tools to manage large amounts of data, and filtering out unnecessary data early on so that systems don’t get overwhelmed.
Software development roles as a whole are expected to grow by 21 percent in the 10 years to 2028, representing a strong outlook for IoT developers.
Education and Training: Aspiring IoT developers will benefit from a master’s degree and extensive coding skills. Those with a background in engineering, software development, or computer science will be able to enter the IoT field most easily.
2) IoT Architect
IoT architects provide a comprehensive perspective on company-wide strategy. This role typically requires a PhD or extensive experience in the field.
Responsibilities: IoT architects are responsible for developing strategies surrounding which IoT platforms, sensors, and actuators should be built; which connective technologies should be used or developed; and how to best meet potential client needs. These roles are typically found in larger IoT development companies and revolve around long-term company planning.
“An architect has more of the high-level responsibilities, as opposed to others who are dealing with the nuts and bolts of the technology,” O’Reilly says.
Jobs for IoT architects are expected to continue growing as more devices become attached to the IoT network.
Education and Training: A master’s degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, software development, or cyber-physical systems, is helpful. Strong interpersonal, communication, and management skills are also important to this career path.
3) IoT Embedded Systems Designer
Embedded systems in IoT-connected devices consist of sensors, microprocessors, and software that help run the systems. These are essential to facilitating communication through IoT networks, and embedded systems designers work on the firmware that helps them function.
Responsibilities: An IoT system designer is in charge of creating device-specific firmware using Python, C++, and other programming languages. Designers work closely with the hardware involved as well, necessitating deep knowledge of the devices on which the firmware is intended to work. According to O’Reilly, the job market for these roles is steadily picking up.
Education and Training: An understanding of embedded systems, computer architecture, hardware security, and software (such as C and C++), will be helpful in this career path. You can learn many of these skills with a master’s degree in a relevant field.
4) IoT Solutions Engineer
IoT networks can easily be customized to meet a range of needs, and solutions engineers are tasked with helping customers find the solutions to their business challenges.
“They’re providing solutions using existing technologies, like wireless networking, for a particular customer who wants to deploy something,” O’Reilly says. “Sometimes customers don’t know what they want specifically, but they know they want something better than what they have.”
Responsibilities: IoT solutions engineers must work closely with customers to identify their needs, taking a hands-on approach to determine what types of sensors, wireless technology, and other components would work best for them. Engineers may suggest the use of off-the-shelf components, or work with developers to create a customized system if needed.
Engineers with an IoT specialty secure high salaries, and as more companies realize the value IoT connectivity can bring to their customers, the demand for solutions engineers is likely to grow.
Education and Training: An IoT solutions engineer should be able to clearly explain various IoT features to clients, necessitating strong familiarity with applications, devices, servers, cybersecurity, and more. A master’s degree in cyber-physical systems can provide you with the necessary training to thrive in this role.
4 Essential Skills for IoT Professionals
Whether you approach your IoT career from a hardware-focused perspective or prefer to work on the programming side, familiarity with a range of skills will be important to your advancement. Note that each role within the IoT field will require mastery of unique skills, though an understanding of the following can help you develop a strong foundation for your career.
1) Embedded Software Development
IoT devices rely on a combination of software and hardware to function, and most require embedded processors as a result. These processors contain the software needed to facilitate communication between devices and the firmware required to enable sensors and actuators to function correctly. Popular development languages include C and C++, and Northeastern students also use Raspberry Pi to develop their skills.
“Students who come in without an undergraduate degree in engineering or computer science but who have basic quantitative skills and have done some programming of their own can quickly pick up what’s [covered in Northeastern’s cyber-physical systems program],” O’Reilly says.
Most IoT devices use wireless networking systems to communicate with applications and services in the cloud as well as with other devices. The design and management of these networks are essential functions of IoT professionals. IoT networks can be complex because of the volume of connected devices, and each network design decision will be impacted by the various standards, protocols, and technologies available to support them. An understanding of each of these facets, in addition to design and wireless security, can set professionals apart.
3) Data and AI
If it seems that artificial intelligence is everywhere in the tech world, that’s because it has quickly become a critical component of old and new devices alike. Within the IoT network, AI helps devices make decisions in response to data, identify patterns and anomalies, and filter or discard irrelevant data. Developers with a strong foundation in AI programming and analysis can help improve how the IoT and AI work together. O’Reilly notes that while this information isn’t necessary for most IoT roles, basic familiarity with AI can be helpful.
4) Software Skills
As with all software-based positions, coding and programming skills are important. According to O’Reilly, proficiency with Java, C++, and other basic coding languages will position you for an IoT career.
Advancing Your IoT Career
Northeastern’s unique master’s in cyber-physical systems program offers a concentration in the IoT that combines expert-taught classes, real-world learning, and research opportunities to prepare students for careers in the IoT sector.
“The program leans on a lot of other programs around the College of Engineering—in particular, electrical engineering, information systems, [and] industrial engineering,” O’Reilly says. “The skills involved in the IoT are interdisciplinary and involve skills in other areas.”
Students’ in-class learning can be supplemented with support from Northeastern’s newly-launched Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, which hosts world-class experts, facilities, and technology dedicated to making wireless communication faster, more energy-efficient, and more secure. The space positions Northeastern as a leader in IoT research, providing ample resources to support faculty and student projects.
Student groups, such as NU IoT Connect and the Mon(IoT)r Research Group, further expand opportunities on campus. These organizations give students the chance to network with colleagues in the IoT space and make connections that can boost their academic and post-graduate careers.