While devices like connected toothbrushes, washing machines, and the like often come to mind when thinking about the Internet of Things, the technology’s greatest promise likely lies in the industrial realm. While IoT could make certain types of jobs redundant, it could open up many opportunities as well.
Unleashing the potential of the Industrial Internet requires understanding all of the components at work behind the scenes. It involves collecting data, storing it, and analyzing it to make sense of it.
Those looking for a career in the field should get their hands dirty and build IoT projects, recommends Dhiren Raval, program manager at Softweb Solutions, which specializes in IoT and data science applications. “Sensors are the initial building blocks of the IoT,” he says.
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Rohit Bandi, a student who co-founded an IoT club at Carnegie Mellon University, agrees. “We learn about the Internet of Things by working on projects where we decide where to position a sensor and determine what kind of data we want to collect,” he says.
Another element involves working with development boards such as Qualcomm’s Dragonboard or Raspberry Pi—both of which Carnegie Mellon’s IoT Club uses for education and prototyping. “The ‘things’ element involves designing your sensors and figuring out which components you need on your board. You need to figure out where to place a chipset and how you want to collect data,” Bandi says. “Then there is the matter of circuit design and microcontroller programming with languages like C and C++.
The subject of data collection is yet another different dimension. “A business perspective is helpful here,” Bandi says. “What do you want to do with that data? Do you want to track your customers and how do you want to use that data for business decisions?”
It is also necessary to become familiar with cloud platforms. “There are a lot of cloud platforms on the market now. Microsoft Azure IoT is one of the leading ones. Amazon is the other market leader currently,” Raval says. “If somebody wants to work on the platform side, they could work on a C# sharp cloud platform.”
Bandi recommends learning about database management systems such as Cassandra for handling large amounts of data. “Once you know how to manage your data, you need to know how to analyze it,” Bandi says. “Data mining is important, but if you want to go deep into the data, you need to learn machine learning. You can use machine learning to not only analyze data, but you can make machines learn from and make decisions on data.”
Raval agrees on the importance of machine learning. “People wanting to learn about IoT should learn about data science tools such as R and Python,” he adds. “Data science is a field that has taken off, and there is a lot of demand for analytics work for people that can create algorithms to identify insights from data.”
Finally, IoT developers should become familiar with data visualization tools. “You should be able to create dashboards where management or shop-floor managers can see the data and understand it,” Raval says. “For that, you have tools such as Tableau, Power BI, D3.js, and IBM Watson.”
Because there are so many moving parts in IoT projects, being skilled at project management is essential. “Knowing how to Implement a project is a critical skill that they don’t always teach in college or technical schools,” says Tripp Braden, managing partner at Strategic Performance Partners. In a professional setting, there are important soft skills including obtaining a clear picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish, problem-solving, and working with an array of different people with sometimes competing interests. The team working on an IoT project will be responsible for getting early successes to lay the groundwork for future IoT projects, Braden says.
Ultimately, an engineer or project leader must possess strong questioning and influencing skills. “They must know how to influence many different stakeholders in their organization,” Braden says. “If it’s a smaller organization they may also have to negotiate to get the best price from their supplier.”
Another important skill is learning how and when to delegate projects. “So many of these projects fail because the leader of the team tries to do everything themselves,” Braden says. “In many cases, it’s because they have strong technical skills but have limited management or leadership experience. Some of this can be offset with having good project managers or group managers or additional training.”
Ultimately, the more complicated the project, the more critical it is for the members on a team to have both technical and management skills. “Many great engineering colleges focus on the technical aspects of the job, with limited time spent on the people part of the solution,” Braden says.