Software Development

Identify the programming skills that will make you most marketable

As a developer, you need to continually assess your skills and your career. But what languages should you be considering for your technical toolbox? Lamont Adams offers a lineup of what's hot in programming right now.

There’s been a lot of talk around Builder recently regarding “reskilling,” or updating your technical skills to match the job market. So what skills are currently in high demand? In this article, I’ll look at some of the more important programming skills that may make a developer more marketable. Along the way, I’ll provide you with links to Builder features that will help you get started with or improve your knowledge of each language. First, let’s discuss a few primary, or “main” languages with good marketability prospects.

Java
Java, Java, Java. It’s possibly the most in-demand skill right now, with experienced developers demanding premium salaries. According to Java-Pro magazine’s recent salary survey data, the average Java developer in the United States makes around $83,000, with the Northeast running the highest average at $140,000 and the Midwest the lowest at $74,000.

With IBM leading the way, Java has quickly become the language of choice for so-called legacy integration projects and has moved away from its original intent as a desktop application language and expanded from its initial niche as an Internet programming language.

Java development is still mostly a server-side-only affair. This focus makes the language a nice fit with the general move away from fat-client system architectures and toward the slim-client, distributed model, which is where the industry has been headed for some time.

If you’re looking to get started with Java, you might want to check out these articles:

Visual Basic
By Visual Basic, I mean “VB.NOT,” the soon-to-be ”legacy” non-.NET language. Yes, the VB world is in a little turmoil now with the upcoming release of VB.NET, Microsoft’s recurring legal troubles, and recent enterprise defections to other languages. So if prospects are so bleak, why even consider VB at all?

Gartner cites three reasons:
  • More Visual Basic code is in existence than in any other programming language.
  • VB programmers make up approximately half of the worldwide population of programmers.
  • Only about one-third of today’s VB developers will make the change to VB.NET.

It’s also been suggested here and by other media outlets that acceptance of Microsoft.NET is by no means certain, and even if widely accepted, not all existing VB code will be immediately ported (if at all).

Now, there are two ways to make a commodity more valuable: You can lower the supply, or you can increase the demand. In this case, we have a decreasing supply of active VB developers, who still are going to be maintaining essentially the same amount of VB code. There is potential for the growth of a “legacy” maintenance industry here, although probably not as large as the COBOL project boom of the late 1990s. That’s why VB is on this list.

For a good Visual Basic resource, try this:
  • "Demystifying version compatibility settings in Visual Basic"

  • Microsoft.NET
    Now, don’t flame me and say that .NET is not a language—that it’s instead a platform, API, object library, or marketing ploy. You’re right; it’s all of those things. I’m using the term here to refer to the group of languages that use the .NET framework (VB.NET, C++.NET, C#, and others). Microsoft.NET is the common denominator for the functionality of a system that uses it, so for the purposes of this article, the languages are interchangeable.

    As I mentioned earlier, acceptance of Microsoft.NET is by no means certain, especially with Java already firmly entrenched. However, Gartner’s research suggests that over the next five years, .NET and Java will split roughly an 80 percent market share, with no more than a 10 percent difference in respective shares. If Gartner’s figure of two-thirds of today’s VB developers not making the transition holds true, then tomorrow’s .NET developers would command salaries commensurate with today’s Java developers.

    Also, .NET won’t just be confined to the server; Microsoft seems to want to make it the development language of choice for desktop development as well. Considering the overwhelming domination Windows enjoys in the desktop market, if you get your kicks building desktop apps, you may want to consider entering the .NET arena.

    Builder has some articles of interest to you if you’re looking to get started with .NET:

    COBOL
    Yes, COBOL. As recently mentioned in articles and discussions here at Builder, the COBOL programmer appears to be a dying breed. Many current programmers are nearing retirement, and many colleges aren’t turning out skilled COBOL developers anymore, for a variety of reasons. The popular conception seems to be that COBOL is an outdated, dead-end language for poor saps who can’t get jobs doing something “modern.”

    The reality is, these “big-iron” mainframe systems aren’t going anywhere anytime soon: They usually represent huge capital investments for the companies that own them. The mainframe applications that companies were rushing to make Y2K compliant a few years ago haven’t gone anywhere either and still need to be maintained. Consider that a recent survey conducted by Cutter Consortium cited an overwhelming majority, 86 percent, of respondents reporting a shortage of knowledgeable mainframe programmers as one of their biggest business problems.

    Add-on skills
    Everyone knows you shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket, so a variety of skills is certainly a must. Let’s look at a few extra, secondary skills that should add value, regardless of your primary language.

    HTML
    Those people who called the Web a fad in the early 1990s should now be eating their words: The Web is here to stay. So regardless of your platform or language of choice, knowing a little HTML can only help your prospects.

    XML
    XML is a buzzword that’s been in circulation for quite a long time, at least in computer years. It’s been referred to by various parties as “the Lingua Franca of the Web” and “the next ASCII.” Sure, such labels may slightly overstate the importance of XML in the development world, but it still is a highly marketable skill, with importance outside just Web development—like systems integration, database access, and communication.

    C/C++
    Forget Java and Python. C was one of the world’s first cross-platform languages and is still at the technical heart of many systems. C and C++ put the programmer at a lower, less abstract level than many other popular languages and can teach you volumes about how your chosen platform works.

    Don’t forget nontechnical skills
    Honing your so-called soft skills can also make you more attractive to a potential employer, so don’t neglect them. For instance:
    • According to the recruiting company Manpower International, IT workers fluent in Spanish or Chinese should be in high demand in the near future.
    • Many employers look for interpersonal and communication skills before looking for technical skills.
    • The line between business analyst and developer has blurred in recent years, so developers with good business, marketing, or accounting skills are sometimes highly sought after.
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