Amazon Echo, Google Home Drive Demand for Natural Language Processing Skills

With more people using voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, developers with natural language processing skills have vaulted into the No. 1 position on a hottest-skills index catering to freelancers.

Published quarterly by jobs firm Upwork Global Inc. -- which matches employers with freelance developers and other workers -- the Upwork Skills Index, just published today for the fourth quarter of 2016, measures the fastest-growing freelance skills in demand by its stable of companies.

Freelancers, according to Upwork, now account for 35 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Also, they seem to be in increasing demand, as the company said all of the 20 fastest-growing freelance skills in Q4 2016 saw more than 100 percent year-over-year growth, while the top 10 fared even better, with more than 200 percent year-over-year growth.

Those fastest-growing skills seem to be in constant flux, though, as the latest report differs markedly from the Q3 report, which listed machine learning as the hottest development skill. In the new index, machine learning has dropped to No. 12. In fact, the whole top 20 has changed markedly from Q3 to Q4:

Rank Q3 2016 Q4 2016
1. Machine learning Natural language processing
2. Tableau
3. User experience design
4. C++ programming
Amazon Marketplace Web Services (MWS)
5. MySQL programming
6. Pardot
Instagram marketing
7. Social media management
MySQL programming
8. Project management professional (PMP)
9. Swift development
Social media management
10. Chat support
11. Android development
Business consulting
12. Unity 3D
Machine learning
13. Shopify development
Brand strategy
14. Video editing
3D rendering
15. AutoCAD
Information security
16. Facebook marketing
R development
17. API development
Node.js development
18. Content writing
User experience design
19. .NET framework
20. WordPress development Zendesk customer support

"As products utilizing intelligent, voice-activated assistants like Amazon ($AMZN) Echo and Google ($GOOG) Home see increased adoption, natural language processing took the No. 1 spot on the list of fastest-growing skills," Upwork said in a statement today. "Developers are leveraging development kits to build new skills and products. Sales for the most popular voice-controlled devices surged over the holidays. Whether you want to start watching a movie without moving a muscle or voice-order your next meal, now there's an app -- and a voice command -- for that."

According to a GeekWire article just published yesterday, more than 8 million people now own an Amazon Echo.

Upwork also highlighted other key findings from its most recent data, including:

  • Swift, which is used to develop the popular Apple Watch, followed close behind natural language processing in the No. 2 spot, due to record sales during the holiday season.
  • Tech skills, including data science, engineering, IT and development skills, account for nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the top 20 fastest-growing skills.
  • Data science is the fastest-growing category on Upwork for the second quarter in a row. Machine learning moved from the No. 1 spot in Q3 to No. 12 in Q4 but continues to see rapid growth.
  • Information security secured a spot in the top 20 list this quarter, as Internet outages brought on by DDoS attacks last fall changed the threat matrix and raised alarms from board rooms to living rooms.
  • Among the new skills that made this quarter's list are 3D rendering, information security and R development.

Here's the requisite infographic summaring the findings:

Fastest-Growing Freelancer Skills in Q4 2016
[Click on image for larger view.] Fastest-Growing Freelancer Skills in Q4 2016 (source: Upwork)

"Freelancers represent the future of not only the U.S. workforce but also of many of the innovations we're seeing globally," said Upwork CEO, Stephane Kasriel. "The skills on this list are a snapshot of new and emerging technologies that will shape our world and create more job opportunities. As society becomes more and more specialized, businesses will rely on freelancers with the most current skills. Take natural language processing, for example -- hiring freelancers allows businesses access to sharply honed skills that simply aren't available elsewhere."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.