Skills You Need (Parts 1-4)
© Douglas E. Welch 1998
When you are wandering through the want ads looking for that next
great job, you can also divine information far beyond what jobs
are available today. The want ads are a great source for finding
out what technical skills are most in demand in today?s workplace.
Keep an eye out for the number of ads that call for C++ programming
skills, Windows NT network management experience or the ability
to support users on MS Office. These ads are pointers towards
future employment opportunities for you and should not be ignored.
This month I will use the Jobs Offered listings provided online
by http://www.careerpath.com to draw some conclusions about what
skills you should be developing if you don?t have them already.
It used to be that programming was one of the few computer careers
available. If you were working towards a computer science degree
it was assumed you were a programmer. While this attitude has
changed considerably today, programming is still one of the most
important technology careers.
In the past, if you knew COBOL, you were set for life. Every large
corporation used this language to develop their large systems
to perform billing, manage stock portfolios and a host of other
services. Companies were always clamoring for COBOL programmers
to enhance and extend the capabilities of these systems.
Today, though, the choice in computer languages has narrowed considerably.
While many languages are available most companies have standardized
on the "C" programming language and its object-oriented counterpart,
"C++." Most companies offering programming jobs today are looking
for people who are experts in these languages. If you are considering
a career in programming, "C" would definitely be an area to focus
Programming and the Internet
While "C" is achieving a dominance, it is not the only programming
language worth your attention. PERL and Java languages are rapidly
gaining acceptance in the corporate works due to their adaptability
to Internet services. Both are used widely in developing interfaces
and services for World Wide Web sites. Growth in the Internet
sector has increased demand for PERL/Java programmers dramatically
over the last several years. A dearth of people with these skills
has led to dramatically high salaries and lucrative deals being
used to lure programmers from other companies.
Microsoft?s Visual Basic is also widely used for developing custom
corporate applications in larger companies. VB has many features
that make it easy to develop programs that take advantage of the
full Windows interface.
Anyone who is versed in one or more of the above languages is
well-positioned to take advantage of the current technology marketplace.
This is not to say that new languages and programming systems
won?t be developed but "C", PERL, Java and Visual Basic will be
the most important for the foreseeable future.
Next Week: Local Area Network Systems
Last week, I discussed the most important programming languages
to a new computer careerist. This week I review the most important
network operating systems and technologies for someone interested
in becoming a network manager or expanding their skills in that
Network Operating Systems (NOS)
Just as in the realm of programming languages, network operating
systems have undergone a consolidation over the last several years.
Where there used to be four or more NOS available and in use the
field has been reduced to basically 2 market leaders.
The old standard NOS is Novell Netware. This was the NOS for large
companies that were moving to PC?s from large mainframe systems
during the 1980?s. Netware is still being used by a large number
of companies and continues to be a worthwhile subject of study.
As with all NOS?, Novell continues to upgrade and expand Netware
in hopes of fending off competition from the new kid on the block
, Windows NT.
Microsoft?s Windows NT Advanced Server has been around for several
years but is just now making major in-roads into corporate networks.
Since it is developed by Microsoft it integrates more easily into
Windows desktop environments. It provides the same file and print
sharing capabilities of Novell Netware but also adds additional
services like the System Management Server, Microsoft Exchange
Email server and others. Windows NT is also slightly easier to
setup and maintain in small office environments.
There will be a need for experienced Novell Netware managers over
the next several years but the Microsoft juggernaut is building
the importance of Windows NT on a daily basis. You would be well
advised to investigate Windows NT if you haven?t already. It appears
today that it will be the NOS for the next century.
In addition to Netware and Windows NT server, there is a subset
of tools that every network manager needs to know intimately.
The TCP/IP protocol stack has swept through both corporate and
personal networking as the Internet has gone from a cliquish academic
kingdom to a public information conduit. Today, people who didn?t
know what a file server was yesterday are spouting info on subnet
masks, domain name servers and point-to-point protocol.
Any knowledge you gain of TCP/IP and its associated technologies
will server you well in the foreseeable future. The Internet will
only continue to grow in importance and this knowledge will position
you well for the future. You only need to peruse the current Jobs
Offered section to understand the importance of TCP/IP to corporate
NOS?s are one area that will see dramatic changes over the next
several years. The IPv6 protocol standards, new Internet services,
cable modems and wireless Internet services are leading the way
into new, ubiquitous networking systems where a person can be
connected wherever they may be. Keep your eye on the horizon and
stay aware of new developments in the networking realm.
Next Week: Technical Support Staff
In the past weeks I have used the want ads to illustrate which
skills are currently in demand for programmers and network managers.
This week I attack a more problematical career area, that of the
technical support person.
Unlike the other two groups, support people can?t necessarily
focus on one or two products. Their career opportunities are enhanced
by their wide-ranging knowledge and the ability to support products
they are only tangentially familiar with.
This said, there are a few areas of focus that can increase their
employment possibilities. It is important to remember though that
concentrating on one area at the expense of others can actually
hurt your employment potential.
As most of you already know, Microsoft Windows is the operating
system of choice in most large corporations. I don?t deal in absolutes
very often in this column but if you want a career in technical
support, or any other computer career for that matter, you must
be familiar with Windows. The shear number of computers running
this operating system dictates this.
While it is rare that you will be asked to support a DOS-only
environment in today?s job market, you will be well served to
have a deep understanding of it. DOS is still the underpinnings
of MS Windows and many quirks of this operating system are based
on its lineage. A working knowledge of DOS will assist you greatly
in supporting Windows environments.
If you have a working knowledge of MS Windows then you would do
well to expand your knowledge of Macintosh Operating System (MacOS)
and UNIX. Since fewer companies are using MacOS, and there are
fewer MacOS support people, there is actually a shortage of people
in this area. You might be able to parlay your Macintosh skills
into a better position than if you are Windows-only.
The need for UNIX support people is growing quickly and will soon
eclipse the need for Macintosh people, if it hasn?t already. It
is more difficult to support UNIX systems due to the number of
UNIX varieties, but as companies expand further into the Internet
world, UNIX skills will be in even more demand.
One the biggest software sellers in the corporate market is Microsoft
Office. This package includes MS Word, MS Excel, PowerPoint and
the MS Access database. Companies often standardize all their
computers on this suite of tools and it makes sense that anyone
who is versed in these products is in demand. Your ability to
support these products doesn?t necessarily demand expert knowledge
in all these products, but an overall knowledge is nearly required
for any position you might be currently seeking.
Other software products
Specialized knowledge in other software products like graphics
programs, database systems, and Internet tools will make you even
more marketable. Many companies are using software that fall outside
the normal office automation tools like MS Office mentioned above.
Being able to support more esoteric software can help clinch a
job interview. That said, you will want to focus on the most popular
software packages, even in this specialized area.
Next Week: What technology managers need
In the past several weeks I have used the want ad listings at
http://www.careerpath.com to seek out those skills that are most important in today?s job
market. While programmers, network managers and technical support
people can focus on specific hardware and software knowledge,
technology managers must develop less tangible items to increase
their career possibilities.
Seeing the forest for the trees
Whereas programmers and others can focus on one computer language
or one operating system, technology managers need to understand
the benefits and costs of one technology over another. They may
not know how to program, but they need to know the best way to
approach a particular problem. They need to understand enough
to be able to communicate with their employees, but they also
need to be able to look through the forest and provide a vision
for the others who have their heads buried in their monitors.
Managers should utilize their employees as technology advisors
that can help them understand the technology issues involved.
This knowledge, combined with their understanding of the business
problems will lead to integrated and creative solutions that neither
could accomplish on their own.
Like any technology careerist, managers need to stay abreast of
the most current innovations and how they can be used to provide
solutions. If your technology knowledge is out of date, your technology
solutions will not measure up to your company?s needs. Don't let
the fires of today blind you to the needs or tomorrow.
Browse the Internet, read trade magazines, subscribe to technology
mailing lists. You do not necessarily need to know the nuts and
bolts of every technology but you should be aware of what that
technology can offer to you and your company. Make it known that
your staffers should bring new technologies to your attention.
Never stop looking for the next great solution to your computer
Technology managers must also develop extremely good skills for
project management. Even something as relatively simple as a software
upgrade can consume hundreds of man hours and tens of thousands
of dollars. You can?t just jump into a project like that unprepared.
Again, use your staff to gain an in-depth knowledge of the technical
issues involved so that you are not blind-sided by the "rule of
unintended consequences." Nothing is more damaging to your credibility
than problems cropping up when you are half-way through a project.
Develop your stories
When you go in to interview for a new position or for your yearly
review it is important that you be able to tell your success stories
clearly and quickly. When you complete a project, take note of
what worked and what didn?t. Would a different technology worked
better or worse? What would you have done differently? These stories
allow you to quickly communicate your skills at managing technology
and technology staff in a concrete fashion. Develop your stories.
Your next job or promotion could depend on it.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org