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IT career outlook -- Companies want communication skills as well as technical ability

While employers are looking for skills in .NET, C++, RAD, SAP and Oracle, the demand for leadership and communication skills is on the rise, as well as broad knowledge of the entire software development life cycle.

It was a good year to be an application developer, and 2007 looks to play out much the same. But while employers are looking for developers with skills in hot areas such as .NET, C++, RAD/Extreme Programming, NetWeaver, Oracle and Eclipse, they also want professionals who have broad knowledge of the entire software development life cycle and are well-rounded in terms of leadership and communication skills.

"A lot of companies are looking for broader sets of development skills, from requirements writing through coding and implementation, to working with end users through the rollout of the system," said Paul Melde, vice president of technology at Dice Inc., provider of the online career site for technology and engineering professionals that is based in Urbandale, Iowa. "It looks like they're more interested in hiring people with more well-rounded backgrounds."

A lot of companies are looking for broader sets of development skills, from requirements writing through coding and implementation, to working with end users through the rollout of the system.
Paul Melde
Vice president of technologyDice Inc.

Melde said his site is seeing as many job descriptions looking for presentation, communication and leadership skills as some mid-level and high-end technical skills.

"I suspect it may be the next stage of maturation in the industry. We've seen a lot of lower-level programming jobs of the past several years move to shops focused on grinding out code -- the off-shoring and outsourcing waves," he said. "People are figuring out that a lot of work has to happen to interface with those groups. They need somebody who can understand the project life cycle from start to finish -- and manage it effectively and deliver it."

Hot skills bring in the money
Organizations are also willing to pay more for employees with in-demand technical skills -- over and above base salaries. According to the latest quarterly edition of the "Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index" from Foote Partners LLC in New Canaan, Conn., of the 55,000 IT executives and professionals surveyed, 51% were receiving some form of tech skills pay as part of their overall compensation.

"IT salaries in general are growing about 3% a year, but more people are using skills pay to inflate base pay, and application development skills are booming right now," said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer for Foote Partners.

Foote Partners tracks both certified and noncertified IT skills. According to the latest survey, pay for IT certifications continued to decline in value, dropping 1.2% for the year, while pay for noncertified skills increased 7% in value.

Value in SAP, Oracle and RAD/Extreme Programming skills
Among the noncertified IT skills, the application development skills categories showed the strongest gains in value this past year: 13% for enterprise business applications; 11% for Web/e-commerce development; and 9% for application development tools and platforms.

RAD and Extreme [Programming] are the highest paying noncertified skills, going back to 2000. It's a rare skill, but companies can't get enough of it.
David Foote
CEO and chief research officerFoote Partners

Within the enterprise business application segment, SAP and Oracle skills experienced the greatest increases in value. In the application development tools and platforms segment, hot skills included RAD/Extreme Programming, NetWeaver, Oracle, C++, Eclipse and MQSeries.

"RAD and Extreme are the highest paying noncertified skills, going back to 2000. It's a rare skill, but companies can't get enough of it," Foote said.

Oracle developer, VB, C and C++ are all growing in value, Foote added, with the value placed on C++ skills growing well above average. Dice's Melde also found demand high for C++ skills, saying it was the most requested skill at year-end.

Java value drops, while .NET value skyrockets
While need for Java skills continued to grow, Foote said overall value for Java skills is down from six months ago. At the Dice site, demand for Java and .NET skills is now about equal, Melde said. He said the amount of .NET jobs posted grew two and a half times over the demand two years ago.

Melde said he sees two factors contributing to this. One, Java has been in the marketplace longer, and two, maturation of the .NET technology. "Microsoft has spent a ton of time getting it right, and it's being reflected in the jobs [posted]," he said.

In the Web/e-commerce category, skills increasing in value were WebSphere, followed by Microsoft Commerce Server, Microsoft .NET (Visual Studio .NET, Visual Basic .NET and ASP.NET), Microsoft Identity Integration Server 2003, BEA WebLogic and Microsoft BizTalk Server.

".NET is really on a tear," Foote said. "We saw 10% growth [in value] in just the last six months, and 22.2% in one year. That's a monster number."

Some certifications holding strong
Looking at certified IT skills, while most areas experienced declines, application development and programming languages and Web development certifications increased in value 4.9% and 3.6%, respectively, for the year. IT certifications in security also showed strong performance, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP). Melde said Dice has also seen an increased demand for CISSP certifications.

Foote added that while the value of white hat hacking skills had "a real run for a while, it's cooled down. The real interest is in internal threats; companies are telling us they're putting more money into catching employees screwing around. So, internal threat analysis will be a hot area in 2007, which includes forensics."

Melde also expects an uptick in the demand for experience with service-oriented architecture (SOA). "There are certainly more postings now asking for people with SOA skills, and they're specifically looking for architects with SOA skills, so we're starting to gain some traction. We don't have year-over-year numbers, but we have more postings for SOA today than we did two weeks ago."

Skills to improve your career outlook
Secure development certifications required 

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Project management training, certification

Knowledge of company's industry a boost
While Foote expects companies to continue investing in application development skills, he noted a change in employment practices that Foote Partners saw in 2006, and is expected to continue in 2007. Companies, he said, are hiring staff not just on their technical skills, but how those skills can support the employer's specific industry. Foote said employers will be looking for IT professionals with customer experience as well as solution experience within an industry.

"It continually comes up that companies don't have enough people who are quick studies in their business," Foote said. "They're saying, 'We need people who can reduce the amount of time we go down blind alleys, and people who understand our business and our customers and what the competitors are doing that's working.' "

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