Last year was a tough one for many IT professionals. And while there are early indications that the job market has stabilized, 2002 may be another rough year. If you began the new year searching for a position or wanting to switch jobs, it’s time to decide which IT skills will carry you through 2002’s rough spots.

If you’re on an involuntary respite from working or want to move into a different segment of the IT industry, deepening your existing IT skill set or picking up a new skill, one that will be in demand, is a good idea.

Knowing which skills are in demand now and which skills will become hot may help you get a jump on the rest of the IT pros also looking for positions.

Pair tangible skills with smarts and flexibility
So what will it take in 2002 to find that job and what skills should managers look for when hiring full-time, long-term employees?

The CEO of ParaSoft, a provider of error prevention and error detection software solutions, has a few basic ideas that, while exuding common sense, are easily passed over.

Adam Kolawa said he looks for employees with intellectual, thought-solving skills who also have the ability to adapt to change.

“The problem with the skills in IT is that they are constantly changing,” said Kolawa. “The most important skill I am looking for is a good brain. The second skill I am looking for is the ability to learn.”

Kolawa suggested that IT managers who want to build a solid staff should look for candidates who have a flexible attitude and the ability to learn.

If you’re looking for a position, having a positive attitude and demonstrating that you are constantly evolving your skill set will work in your favor. You don’t want to get bogged down in one skill set or in one language, said Kolawa.

“What I’ve found is that a lot of IT people, [for example] a lot of programmers are kind of getting stagnated in the skills which they have learned,” said Kolawa.

He suggested that programmers should become well versed in one language, if they are not already.

“You’ve got to really master one language, because then you (will) really understand how computers work and how programming works, and then you can translate these skills to any other language,” he said.

Kolawa’s example implies that mastering one language or skill set makes it much easier to learn and master a second.

Know one skill inside and out, and you should have a deep enough understanding of how it relates to different IT skills, Kolawa said.

So now what?
IT pros with a good understanding of IT and how the tech business works should then target the skill sets most in demand.

Terryn Barill, the CEO of Terryn Barill, Inc., a management and IT consultancy, works with large organizations and knows which IT skills are most valued by employers.

“I think (that) the certifications are becoming more and more important,” she said. “There is a growing need for certified networking professionals and more server-side expertise.”

Extensible markup language (XML) is also at the top of her list of hot skills. “(XML) is getting into anything and everything,” said Barill. “But XML…is going to end up being as hot as Java was a few years ago.”

Barill also said organizations are looking for more server-side application expertise. “We’re seeing a move back to the server-side and enterprise-wide applications,” Barill said. “If you have a high-level certification in any of those enterprise-wide applications, you’ve got yourself a job.”

But Barill advises that you should evaluate your long-term goals before you decide to specialize. Specializing in one area of IT may restrict you to large organizations.

If you want to work in smaller organizations, flexibility, adaptability, and ingenuity are even more important, because IT pros in smaller companies usually perform many different tasks.

“There are basically two different directions—one is broad and one is deep,” Barill said.

“If all you do (for example) is messaging in a Microsoft environment, and that’s all you can do, you can’t go work for a small- to midsize company, because they need a wider range of skill sets,” Barill said.