The growing services industry is hiring, but tech workers looking for a job may need to do more than brush up on their coding.
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Need a job? The growing technology services industry is hiring.
But services employers these days want more than the programming chops of unemployed software developers—they're looking for business smarts as well.
This hiring profile is a change from the past, said Marianne Hedin, an analyst with researcher IDC. Services companies like Accenture and IBM used to be more content to hire tech specialists separately from business consultants, but now they're looking for broader skills and more versatile workers.
The shifting landscape means out-of-work tech workers or rookies to the field may need to get business training or experience if they want to snag a job at a services company.
"What they are looking for is a professional who can understand the technology issues that a company faces...and also understand what the business issues are, and be able to link the two," Hedin said.
Brian Stein embodies the new ideal. Stein, 29, majored in computer engineering as an undergraduate, spent some time doing systems integration work and then decided to go to business school. His employer, consulting firm DiamondCluster International, helped him pursue the master's degrees he finished this summer—in business administration and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University. Earlier this month he returned to the Chicago-based company as a senior associate.
Stein said the extra schooling helped him bump up his salary by 15 percent and prepared him to be a leader in the field down the line.
"The tech skills are great," Stein said. "But they can only take you so far. They don't really allow you to see the big picture and understand the business problems."
Employees at services companies handle tasks ranging from installing business software programs to writing applications to helping clients streamline the way they procure goods—the sorts of project that require some business acumen.
Exact figures on the number of new jobs in the IT services industry are hard to come by. But the money is there to pay for new hires—research firm IDC projects technology and business services spending will rise 5.6 percent this year, to $553.3 billion. And anecdotes show companies are on the prowl for new people.
To be sure, some of the hiring is abroad, as the "offshoring" trend continues to ship tech work to such lower-cost locales as India. But services companies are hiring in the United States as well. IBM recently said strong demand from its professional services business prompted it to boost its forecast for new hires this year from 15,000 to 18,000. About a third of that hiring will be for jobs in the United States.
BearingPoint, which provides consulting, systems integration and outsourcing services, is adding about 350 to 400 people worldwide each quarter. The company, which had about 16,000 employees as of June 30, did not specify the number of jobs open by region. But many of BearingPoint's openings are in the United States, according to the career section of the company's Web site.
DiamondCluster is looking to hire 100 to 125 employees in the United States between now and April 1, 2005. The additions should help the 500-consultant company regain some ground when it comes to employees—it had about 1,000 consultants at the peak of the technology boom several years ago. "We've definitely taken our lumps," managing partner Tom Weakland said. "But we like to say, 'We're back.'"
Hewlett-Packard, which has been expanding its services business, is interested in adding people with a blend of business and technology knowledge. "Both skills are part of the resume of any services professional we would bring on board," company spokesman Ryan Donovan said.
Some of the job openings at services firms still are focused on technical skills. Accenture is looking for an Oracle developer in Chicago, and BearingPoint has an opening for a .Net developer in Dallas.
But companies are pushing for candidates with more than just coding capabilities. A "Senior Java Developer" position at BearingPoint requires the "ability to work with both internal and external customers and meet project deadlines." BearingPoint prefers someone with "prior exposure to retail systems and use or knowledge of Association of Retail Technology Standards."
DiamondCluster is searching for people who combine computer design experience with business savvy, Weakland said. "Everything we do is grounded in 'What's the business value?'"
The hiring push by services companies comes as tech workers are still recovering from the massive jobs losses of earlier this decade.
Longtime computer programmer Bonny Berger is trying to adapt to the era, in which software skills alone don't always cut it. The New Jersey resident worked for AT&T and IBM for 24 years before getting laid off in 2002. Since then, she's landed two consulting jobs that have tapped her expertise in accounting—a field she majored in as an undergraduate years ago. When she markets herself these days, it's as a business expert first, computer specialist second. "My heading on my resume is not computer programmer or software engineer," Berger said. "It's accounting and billing analyst, with a subheading of computer applications experience."
Tech workers can take steps to upgrade their business abilities. Some employers offer training programs, or will support efforts to take specific classes or attain higher degrees, as DiamondCluster did for Stein, covering tuition and book costs as he gained his MBA. Stein's deal came with a contract to return to the firm or repay a sum if he went elsewhere.
Sometimes it may be a matter of just picking up some experience, rather than acquiring an advanced business degree. IDC's Hedin said actual exposure to business affairs counts more at services firms than an MBA. "They're not telling us they're looking for the education so much as they're looking for the experience," she said.
Tech professionals already in a services company can gain such expertise by joining a team focused on a client's business problem. But it's not very easy for programmers in an internal IT department to pick up firsthand business know-how, according to Hedin. Tech workers, she said, "tend to be pigeonholed."
Even coders with more than programming languages on their resume may not have it easy, however. Berger, who has helped develop and install accounting computer systems, largely fits the mold of today's demands for tech workers. But for her, the job market is grimmer than it used to be. Working part-time and billing $25 per hour for her consulting work, she's making far less than she used to earn, and without benefits.
"It's not much money for my experience and education," she said.There's also the question of whether those who have made a career in computers even want to add business expertise. The two fields are notorious for being at odds, with techies having a reputation of caring more about the cool stuff they create than customer service.
Hedin, who used to work as a corporate educator at Digital Equipment Corp., tells a story to illustrate the point. She arranged lunch meetings between engineers at the computer company and clients who had "issues" with Digital's technology, but had to lure the engineers in with cookies and other food. Otherwise, "they would never come," Hedin said. "They told me the clients don't know what they're talking about."
Tech workers who don't have that attitude can find satisfaction as well as a paycheck when they broaden their skills.
Stein doesn't get into the nitty-gritty of patching software systems together anymore—one of his most recent programming projects involved a Web site for a band he likes. But he doesn't regret the move he made to expand his abilities. "I still enjoy coding from time to time as a hobby," he said. "But I enjoy seeing my work have a bigger impact."