A review of current demand for IT skills gives a good indication of how the market will pan out next year:
As an IT consultant and member of UK-based parliamentary group Eurim, Geoff Petherick is well placed to comment on the various IT skills and how they fit with the bigger picture. "Java is slowing down because businesses are not starting new projects," he says. Even demand for skills in security - normally a hot area - is drying up. In Petherick's experience programming skills have been getting cheaper this year. "It's now 60% of last year's rate. I can get a C programmer with five years' experience for £175 per day." Looking at this evidence, is it time to move out of programming?
Maybe not yet. In spite of the dotcom backlash John Willmott, principal consultant at research firm NelsonHall, supports recent research which found that one of the top areas for projects in the next six months would be e-commerce. He expects to see demand for skills in customer service, Web development and middleware.
CRM is possibly one area that is less favourable than a few years ago, according to Willmott. He does not think the technology is going out of fashion but that demand will drop because people have been spending the last two years developing CRM projects.
Demand for Web services
David Metcalfe, an analyst at Forrester Research, believes there will be demand next year for skills in Web services using XML to expose application interfaces to the outside world. "Building Web services will require expertise," he notes.
His advice for anyone looking to learn a new skill is to spend next year learning Web services, as it is still early days for the technology. "We are in the charm of novelty of adoption. But in 2003 this will really take off," he says.
Metcalfe advises avoiding such technologies as the much-hyped peer-to-peer computing philosophy, as deployed by the likes of Napster. "Don't spend your weekends trying to understand this technology as it could be years before it is ready for [commercial use]," he says. He admits, however, that P2P holds a lot of promise for the future.
A commercial understanding of Ariba and CommerceOne will be beneficial, he says, because lots of companies have spent money on e-procurement and they want to see the benefits. One of the key skills in this space is tying together e-commerce applications. Higher up the food chain, Metcalfe believes change management skills will be important next year, particularly for those people working or looking to move into IT consulting.
Graduate gold rush
Tim Jennings, research production director at analyst firm Butler Group, says that while last year saw a rush for new graduates in Java, next year will definitely see a move away from Java programmers. His advice for any Java developer is that "businesses are now looking for Java 2 Enterprise Edition and Enterprise Java Beans skills". Such technologies are used to build business applications and are more complex than vanilla Java, which is used within Web site development.
Jennings believes C#, the Microsoft alternative to Java, is one skill to look out for next year. The Visual Studio.Net suite, which includes this tool, is due for release shortly. Even though Microsoft's new licensing policy has increased the cost of its development tools, he urges anyone looking to expand their C# skills to take a look at the development package. The implications of C# for C++ developers are, he says, quite profound: over the next two years there will be a transfer of skills from C++ to C#. The other big Microsoft language, Visual Basic, is also likely to remain a good bet for the future.
Focus on business analysis
Beyond developer skills Jennings believes there will be increased focus on business analysts who are versed in business process management and who have the right skills for application assembly. "You will need a fair degree of technical skills like UML [unified modelling language] tied to an understanding of business process re-engineering," he says.
Jennings describes the effect of this shift as a reduction in "raw code churn". Rather than a business employing a bank of programmers to develop systems, he suggests that they will hire specialists and re-use the code far more than is common practice today. "A Java programmer could build a service that could be re-used by other parts of the business," he adds.
For Simon Moores, chairman of the Microsoft Forums user association, one of the big skills for next year will be 801.11. Moores sees big demand for this wireless technology within corporate portal sites. But the problem for anyone planning to deploy the technology is, he says, that "it simply is not plug and play. You need skills for trouble-shooting installations." He does not expect Bluetooth skills will be in such demand next year.
While Microsoft moves onwards and upwards with Windows 2000/XP, Moores says that skills for older versions of NT will be less popular even though operating systems like NT4 will still be widely deployed. He says it is too early to make any real decision on .Net, the Microsoft Web services platform, but he is seeing growing demand for Linux skills.
"There is growing interest in Linux, especially where it plays a part in enterprise and government IT," he says. He advises people to seek opportunities in Linux, particularly given the anger among businesses over the price hike associated with licensing Microsoft software, courtesy of MS Licensing 6.0, the company's new policy on software pricing.
As the industry struggles through a downturn, it is even more important than normal for IT professional to keep their skills up-to-date this coming year. This may mean paying for IT training yourself if your employer is not able to foot the bill. Whatever the future holds, honing your IT skills is a sure bet for improving your job prospects.
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