It’s no surprise that the demand for Java programmers increases each year. The higher you go on the experience scale, the scarcer the talent pool. Employers are willing to pay premium dollars for experienced Java programmers, and some technology recruiters say that salaries have jumped almost 40 percent in the past year. Many companies are luring candidates, however, by offering signing bonuses, stock options (although they don’t carry the same clout they did a year ago), and even perks like BMWs.

Shortage will subside as Java education becomes more prevalent
The roots of the Java programmer shortage start in academia. The Gartner Group, a technology consulting firm headquartered in Stamford, CT, reported that companies “should expect relief when educational and training institutions fill in the job market with an abundance of Java developers. That time is surely approaching.” Gartner surveys show that 78 percent of colleges have already made Java a mandatory course for their computer science and MIS departments, 55 percent of colleges have replaced Pascal courses with Java classes, and 22 percent have replaced C++ classes with Java seminars. (TechRepublic is an independent subsidiary of Gartner.)

Peter Freeman, dean of Georgia Institute of Technology’s (Georgia Tech) College of Computing and coauthor of The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States (Computing Research Association; first copy is free, each additional copy is $15.00), says all computer science students should know Java.

Lyle Carlson, executive vice president of eBusiness Design, Inc., a software consulting company in San Jose, CA, hires only college grads with computer science degrees for entry-level positions. The firm employs 100 software engineers, 65 of whom are Java programmers, to build custom systems. Carlson also points out the difficulty in finding talented American Java programmers. “It’s easier to find academically trained software engineers overseas,” he says.

According to Gartner, companies should be more successful at finding and hiring Java-educated graduates by 2003, as entry-level candidates will have been using Java since their first day in college (or even earlier) and will have training in all Java-related disciplines.

Experience is the needle in the haystack
If you think finding entry-level Java programmers is tough, it’s even harder to find qualified programmers at the high end of the Java skill range. Chris James, vice president of marketing and development at AltoWeb, a company that installs and manages Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) applications for large companies, says searching for J2EE programmers is like “searching for needles in haystacks.” James may exaggerate, but the shortage of these highly skilled Java programmers is no less real. The shocking reality is that many experts and academicians have no idea what J2EE programmers do, although it’s quite apparent from a visit to any technical job Web site to see that J2EE experience is one of the requirements for many job openings. The main problem is that J2EE is an advanced and highly sophisticated application with which most Java programmers are not yet familiar. It takes about two years of experience to become a competent Java developer, and according to James, the estimated cost to train a programmer to migrate to J2EE is $18,000–$60,000.

“A good J2EE developer typically has an extensive object-oriented (OO) programming background as well as C++ skills; a deep knowledge of OO development and design; and two years of experience with Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), CORBA, and distributed applications,” James said.

Joseph M. Firestone, a widely respected IT consultant in Wilmington, DE, disagrees with James. “It’s not that J2EE programming is so hard to learn. The real difficulty is transferring [the programmers’] skills to server-side programming,” he explains. “That’s the big issue. Many Java programmers are working on front-end objectives. That’s very different than working on interfaces with databases to build transaction servers. The methods and design patterns differ widely.”

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
While nuances vary among various skill levels, the fact is that Java programmers are scarce at any level of experience. CIOs and managers would be well advised to create new positions at varying experience levels. This way, the full talent pool is available to you—from new graduates to workers with experience at companies specializing in Java to top-end performers with the precise skill set needed at the highest-level positions.

What has worked for you?

Have you gone to great lengths to find experienced Java programmers for your organization? What techniques have worked well? Any tips on time-wasters or other mistakes to avoid? Send us an email or post a comment below.