TECH MONTH Sarah Mac Nulty
25 Jan 2021
Sarah Mac Nulty, Senior Consultant wihin Brightwater's IT division is in conversation with Gareth Fleming, Director of Brightwater’s IT division
GF: As part of our Tech Month, I’m joined today by Sarah MacNulty. Sarah heads up our IT infrastructure and security desk. She’s been with Brightwater for almost 5 years, 8 years all in as a recruiter in the IT and digital space. Sarah recruits for both permanent and contract roles across all industries both here in Ireland and abroad. Welcome, Sarah.
SMN: Thanks for having me.
GF: Do you want to kick this off with some information about yourself and your vertical? What area do you specialise in recruiting?
SMN: I’ve been in Brightwater for nearly 5 years, working within the tech team but specialising in the areas of cyber security, infrastructure and support, looking at perm and contract roles.
GF: How are you finding things at the moment? Are you busy? Has the year 2021 started well?
SMN: Thankfully we’ve started well. When the pandemic first hit, we did have a lull in job flow. It did slowly return to normality and now we’re in a good space. We’re actually busier than ever which is great. At the beginning of the virus outbreak, people were plunged straight into uncertainty, overnight everything changed. Staff were dispersed across the country, suddenly working from home. It put huge pressure on businesses, their security, their infrastructure, their GDPR and there was constant stop start between lockdowns. We saw two things happen (1) There was a fear of recession, businesses were asking themselves do we need as many people as we have on board, do we have enough money in the business to keep operating? The second thing we saw with clients feeling reluctant to hire when they couldn’t meet potential staff in the traditional face to face interview setting that we all know. They were facing the prospect of onboarding and training staff remotely which in most cases had never been done before. It was completely new territory which was daunting. So it did trigger uncertainty. Organisations were naturally cautious about hiring, but with news of the vaccine rollout, the mood has definitely improved. We’re feeling a lot more confidence in the market, both on the client and the candidate side.
The pandemic has affected hiring in general but IT professionals are faring far better than most. The demand for IT talent has really increased, we’re seeing really exciting opportunities steadily growing so it’s really positive and really encouraging to see. When we return to work (in offices), we don’t expect things to be the same as when we left them. Many clients felt, pre-lockdown that they needed their teams to be onsite with them all the time and this pandemic has shown that it isn’t necessarily the case. Businesses have worked just as efficiently with their teams working remotely. The opportunities are exciting. Companies that were reluctant to trial flexible or remote working are finding that it not only works but that it’s a great tool to attract and retain talent. Looking forward, I feel that recruitment processes might also change because candidates are getting used to digitally interviewing, they’re getting used to being onboarded remotely and there’s an emphasis on home working that may lead to an increase in diverse talent coming into organisations in the future which is great. We are also finding that remote working practices are allowing businesses to more easily consider talent from different geographical locations rather than the traditional catchment areas based roughly around an office’s location. They definitely have more scope for talent. It’s opening a door to looking further afield which is great. We’ve also realised that digital transformations that would have taken years in the making happened literally over the course of a few weeks, less in some cases. So the general feeling from business leaders is that businesses are and will continue to be dependent on technology in the future as a result of the shift to working from home. It’s driving the demand for this talent so I suppose to summarise, the IT sector is doing really well and will continue to do so after we recover and we exit from the pandemic.
GF: A lot of that bodes really well for your space. I know from talking to a lot of the tech leaders that we’re talking to for Brightwater’s Tech Month, they’re all saying the same. A lot of the hiring they’re going to do is within the IT security, the IT infrastructure space as more people have to work from home, they have to shore things up, they have to harden networks, they have to tighten up the areas where they might be vulnerable. I’d agree with you. I think everyone, bar one or two industries, has felt that positive start to the year 2021 even with the numbers that we’re seeing in the news every night, that the jobs market seems to be positive.
GF: Like everything else, hiring tended to stop back in March/April 2020 and it then picked up and has grown steadily as the pandemic went on. What about salaries and benefits in those areas? How have they been affected? Have salaries & benefits within these IT areas been affected?
SMN: Salaries are strong in IT. In general, we haven’t seen any notable changes. Some people took a hit on salaries in 2020, some got increases depending on the industry they’re in. In general, there’s been a differential rate of about 10% between Dublin and regional salaries. There are variations in this and it does depend on area but that would be a general estimate. A lot remains to be seen and this year (2021) will be very telling.
GF: Yes, again, I think that the forecast seems to be a bit of the same as 2020. More of a stabilisation in terms of salaries, some areas as you’ve said did see increases in 2020 so it will be interesting to see what happens in 2021.
GF: If we look at the graduate side of things, I know in your space in particular, a lot of graduates gravitate towards the busier areas like cyber-security and sometimes their first foray into that is through support. What does it look like now for IT graduates and have colleges done enough to prepare them?
SMN: I suppose, firstly how it’s going to look for IT graduates, a lot of companies are still planning to recruit which is great. It is going to be a little more challenging this year. There’s about 20% unemployment at the moment so it is going to be a challenging market for graduates. It does depend on their area of specialism, for example, software development, there’s still a huge demand at graduate level and graduates in this area will have their pick of a selection of opportunities. In general, 2021 is going to be a challenging market.
In terms of what the universities are doing to equip young IT professionals with what’s needed by employers, there’s a mixed view on that. Firstly, young people in Ireland have among the highest levels of education in the world, we’re known for our robust education system. Our education system is revered world-wide and it has contributed to a lot of our growth and foreign investment in Ireland. Anecdotally, clients give us certain feedback about candidates, perhaps not selling themselves enough, maybe their CVs aren’t written to best illustrate their experience. Often their CV needs more work, they need more work on interview preparation, interview technique. That’s often where we as recruiters come in to help on the softer skill side of things. The soft skills that have become more important since the start of the pandemic have been communication, interpersonal skills, your teamwork skills, your work ethic. People are self-managing, they’re left to their own devices. People are joining teams that they’ve never met before which is very difficult. They’re having to learn company culture remotely so it’s definitely brought challenges for everyone particularly graduates.
GF: Yes, I think that’s a really important point. As technical recruiters, we look for the technical skills that people have first. But if last year proved anything, they are still important but softer skills within IT, which was not something we ever really looked for, are becoming so important now! I think even for graduates, they’ve had to learn and study in such a difficult way, that they’ll have learned those softer skills earlier on in their careers. I think if we look at some areas of IT that wouldn’t necessarily have needed those softer skills, they need them now.
GF: If we look forward to 2021, what are the skills in demand within IT
SMN: Cybersecurity would be one of the main growth areas. We’re seeing that businesses are increasingly relying on security for their every- day business operations. Obviously this pandemic has put a huge emphasis on security, people are working remotely and have access to a range of systems like never before. They have unlimited access and flexibility so it’s literally transformed and revolutionised the world of work. I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was, there’s now a movement towards working from home but with that, we’ve seen business leaders recognise the need to protect themselves and their staff from external threats and exposure and vulnerabilities. The cost to a business, if they’ve been attacked is colossal.
Technology is a great enabler allowing vast numbers of people to make the shift to work from home during the pandemic. At one level, it’s a lifeline to help keep the wheels of a business moving and turning, but on another, it’s an opportunity for those with ill-intent to expose the shortcomings of an individual or staff member’s behaviour and their vulnerabilities in the IT system. We’ve really noticed that companies have recognised this and the need to ensure that their data is protected and resilient outside of the traditional work-place so it’s brought in an influx of these security jobs for that reason.
GF : And if you look at areas outside of security such as support? What does IT support look like for 2021?
SMN: IT Support is another key area we’re seeing strong demand in. Staff are logging on from their home office remotely. They’re working in their new environment and they need first hand support with every day things to help them do their jobs effectively. That’s another big area that we’re seeing an influx of jobs in which is great.
GF: Yes, a lot of the big support organisations like ServiceNow and Citrix who had a great year last year and really increased their profits last year because of the pandemic and because people had to work from home.
GF: When you look at these people, how important is it for IT professionals to stay up to date with new methodologies and new apps / certifications?
SMN: It’s extremely important. The development of new technology is literally improving the world. The impact of technology is higher now than we’d ever expected I think as a generation so we’re learning about how fast it’s moving. Everything in technology is moving rapidly, it’s going to continue to do so and it’s going to continue to evolve so if you don’t evolve with it, you’ll fall behind and that’s the reality. The advice is that whatever area of technology you’re involved in and if you want the best options, you have to be better and more up to date and more informed than the competition. You need to be better than the competition to stay ahead of the game.
GF: Great advice, Sarah, thank you so much. That was a really interesting insight into your desk and division. Anything you want to leave us with?
SMN: Thank you – my pleasure to speak with you. And for anybody watching, if you want to find out about opportunities or indeed as employers looking to recruit, please do reach out to myself or the team.
GF: Thank you