Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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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 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 your attention.

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.

Getting started
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 direction.

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 America.

The Future
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.

Operating Systems
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.

Microsoft Office
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 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.

Staying Current
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 problems.

Project Management
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:

He can reached via email at