Employers look to Asia to fill posts while staff command high salaries - especially when they have business knowledge, reports Ross Bentley.
The demand for Java skills is soaring, creating a boom for programmers and causing headaches for employers and IT directors.
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Java is now the second most sought-after skill in the IT recruitment market, according to Computer Weekly's Survey of Appointment and Trends. Demand for the five-year-old language is second only to C++.
Corby-based food distributor Pauleys is in the process of rewriting its Windows systems in favour of a Java-based thin client environment. The paucity of Java programmers forced David Lane, research and development director, to seek developers from India.
"We are looking for permanent employees, not contractors," said Lane.
"I tried recruiting through graduate programmes and advertised the positions in the national press, but all to no avail, so I made contact with an Indian colleague through a Java newsgroup on the Web. It then took six months to get him a work permit despite his exemplary record - this has obviously put our project behind schedule," Lane said.
He has now shortlisted four candidates for a second position: one from India, one from Malaysia and two from Indonesia.
In May, e-commerce systems supplier Entranet advertised a £50,000 bounty to anyone who could find a team of 10 Java developers.
Chief executive officer Nick Spooner said the campaign had been a success but said the retention of Java developers was his key task. He emphasised the need to keep Java workers satisfied, not only financially but also through a constant stream of challenging, exciting projects.
"Companies are finding that after year 2000, they want to get a Web site up and running and they all want Java developers," said Bola Rotibi, a research consultant at analyst group Ovum. "There are not enough around so they are commanding high salaries."
The SSP survey found that nearly two-thirds of Java vacancies were with software houses. Rotibi said this is because many firms just cannot afford to do Java development in-house and are farming out the work to suppliers.
In the contract market, demand for Java and e-commerce skills has rocketed.
Dave Pinto, director of contracts at IT recruitment specialist Computer People, said, "The market has picked up considerably during this quarter. The Java programmers who command the highest salaries are those who have complementary skills, for example Oracle or XML.
"Those with business analysis knowledge also bring added value and can command up to £70 per hour in the City."
At IT agency Knight Munro, general manager Mark Smith was asked to name the top three hot skills of the moment. "Java, Java, Java," was his reply.
What the Java programmers say
Graham Allathan, 30, Java contractor with agency Computer People. London/M3/M4 corridor
"I taught myself Java three years ago, while working as a permanent employee at Oracle. At that time the company was switching from C++ to Java. I entered the contract world and first worked with a software house called Insignia Solutions, writing a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) for a handheld device. I spent six months with BA on its e-commerce Web site and am currently contracting with JP Morgan Bank programming a fixed income bond trading system."
How did you learn Java?
"I was originally a C coder and then I moved on to C++ and from there I taught myself Java. Moving from C to C++ is the major paradigm shift - it's making the mental leap from structured programming to the object-oriented world. From C++ to Java is fairly simple - the syntax is similar. I taught myself by downloading basic Java tools from Sun's Web site while also using a series of "how to" books published by Sun and a company called O'Reillys."
"Learning Java is relatively straightforward but what will set you apart is proving commercial experience. It is worth taking a pay cut initially just to get some experience of working with Java. A year down the line, you will find that the wages you can command will more than compensate.
"I suggest that those studying at university try and get Java positions as part of their work release."
Stephen Nadin, 24, Lead systems engineer in ICL's Innovations department, Bracknell
"I have been with e-business services company ICL for four years. Initially, I was a C++ developer but then moved to the Innovations part of ICL. Here the focus is on e-commerce and new markets and Java is the programming language of choice."
How did you learn Java?
"I learnt Java as part of a dissertation I was writing at university. I did work on the Web using applet downloads. I also taught myself using books and bit and pieces from the Sun library. When I moved to Innovations, this stood me in good stead."
"It is important that anyone learning Java also gets to grips with the object-oriented methodology of programming. To a certain extent they go hand-in-hand, but if you haven't got a good understanding of object-oriented design you won't use Java to its full potential."