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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

Despite numerous layoffs in the technology sector in Canada, there’s still a large demand for tech talent, says a veteran engineering leader and technology expert.

Where Canadian tech workers are landing after being let go

The current market has created a shift in terms of available opportunities for tech talent as companies have become more selective about the skill set, seniority and quality of candidates they want. But the upside is, through training and upskilling, job aspirants can align their skill sets with the needs of the market, said Qaiser Habib, director of engineering and Toronto site lead at Snowflake, a cloud–based data platform.

“Canada has deep technical talent which will continue to be in great demand,” Mr. Habib said. “In today’s world, you can learn almost any new skill online for free. Candidates investing in their skill development through courses, degrees and real-world experiences will find themselves in constant demand even in turbulent markets. And, because these skill sets are so critical, employers will likely be also willing to pay competitive wages.”

Some of the in-demand tech roles presently include software engineering (with a focus on distributed systems or user interfaces), security and compliance engineering and project management in technical domains, said Mr. Habib, who has founded several startups and serves as a mentor.

Additionally, tech workers looking to remain relevant in the current macroeconomic environment should focus on quality assurance and testing, security and project management because these roles are ubiquitous and exist in virtually all companies, he said.

Numbers and key markets

In Canada and the United States there are currently more than 7.1 million tech professionals working across 20 occupations, from software developers to systems and data managers, notes the 2023 Scoring Tech Talent report by CBRE which covers 75 North American markets, ranks the top 50 tech markets in the U.S. and Canada and outlines tech talent labour market trends amid economic shifts and increased remote hiring.

Since 2020, Canadian tech talent has grown by 150,000 or 15.7 per cent and has outpaced the U.S. growth rate of 11.4 per cent for the same period, the same report shows.

The top tech markets in North America are the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, New York Metro, Washington D.C. and Toronto. Canada also has five of the top 20 tech talent cities and job growth in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are among the highest in North America.

“The scorecard shows how competitive and tightly clustered the top tech markets are right now,” said CBRE Canada Chairman Paul Morassutti in a statement. “After a period of hypergrowth, the global tech sector, is facing headwinds and like many other sectors of the economy, tech has had to adjust to changing economic circumstances with office rightsizing and layoffs.”

Toronto, which was No. 3 until last year, fell to No. 5 this year. The San Francisco Bay Area retained the top spot.

The CBRE study also says Canadian tech markets enjoy a competitive advantage over their U.S. counterparts because of a more affordable cost of hiring tech talent. As Canada becomes increasingly more digital, this could stimulate new growth for the tech industry.

“Canadian tech is on a path to a more normalized, sustainable growth trajectory, which will make for a healthier sector in the long run,” Mr. Morassutti said. “You could say that Canada’s tech sector has shifted from office-market juggernaut to a sleeping giant in the short-term.”

According to the report, the highest tech job growth rates on the continent are all Canadian and include Vancouver (69 per cent), Calgary (61 per cent), Waterloo Region (52 per cent) and Edmonton (45 per cent).

AI and future

Mr. Habib believes data and artificial intelligence have massive potential for improving decision-making, services and processes across private and public sectors.

“Entire workflows, categories of software and jobs throughout Canada will be transformed in the coming year due to AI,” he said. “However, I believe AI will augment these sectors, not completely replace them.”

Mr. Habib has five pieces of advice for tech workers aiming for a successful career:

  • Take advantage of offerings of organizations such as the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Math and Computing, which offers open courseware, or platforms like Coursera or EdX.
  • Those in data engineering and data science should educate themselves on generative AI and how it can add organizational value. For example, data pipelines (built and managed by data engineers) will most likely be one of the first places for companies to connect with large language models (LLMs).

“If you can identify opportunities to automate processes, lean into, pretrain and fine-tune LLMs, it will provide a huge benefit to your organization, and your skills will be seen as invaluable,” Mr. Habib said.

  • Stay adaptable, learn new things and experiment with new technologies.
  • Find strong mentors who are accomplished in the fields you want to grow.
  • Take risks and step up for challenging assignments; this is a great way to step out of your comfort zone and learn. Failure is a natural part of life and embracing it as one of the two acceptable outcomes, builds natural grit in a person.

“Don’t be tricked by the current market’s state,” Mr. Habib said. “Downturns have happened before and will continue to happen again, however there is always recovery. Now is a great time to prepare for the future by learning new skills and experimenting. Whether it is to find your dream job or start your own company.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • This story in Inc profiles entrepreneurs Cindy and Ann Jordan, whose 21-year-old daughter called them one day from a hospital emergency room during a mental health crisis. The duo launched a platform that combines technology and peer counselling to provide interventions.
  • Gmail’s Duet AI has the capability to draft and customize emails, says this story in TechCrunch. On both web and mobile, Gmail users [testing Duet AI] will be able to access a “Help me write” button offering them writing assistance, including understanding context from previous emails.
  • LinkedIn says job postings mentioning ChatGPT have ballooned 21 times since Nov. 2022 when OpenAI first released its AI chatbot. New titles include chief AI officer, AI engineer, head of AI, AI specialist, AI adviser and AI data scientist, according to this story in Forbes.

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