What are you worth?

What are the skills you need to keep in demand? We asked employers, recruitment agencies and training companies what skills will be in demand for 2006 and beyond.

What are the skills you need to keep in demand? We asked employers, recruitment agencies and training companies what skills will be in demand for 2006 and beyond. Software development is a unique profession in that there is no set path to become a qualified software developer. Unlike doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professions no set qualifications are legally required. It's an unusual situation in a country where bartenders require a qualification so they are legally allowed to pour a beer at the local pub.

As a relatively immature industry software professionals have undertaken training from a variety of sources including tertiary education in the form of University degrees, TAFE qualifications, private training institutes, and industry certifications. Many selftaught developers have no official certification to their name at all.

What matters more than certifications to prospective employers is experience. Certifications can be impressive and add that extra touch to a resume but there is little substitute for experience in the driver's seat of real-world software development. Whatever path a developer has chosen to enter the industry one thing is sure ââ,¬"software developers can rarely rest on one set of skills for an entire career. For better or worse technology changes and the skills to write software for new platforms is one of the most dynamic of any profession. Whether you choose a job on the basis of money, culture, job satisfaction, creativity or all of the above having the right skills allows for greater options when choosing prospective employment opportunities.

Hot skills
Builder Magazine talked to employers, training companies, and recruiters and found that just about all were seeking developers with experience in technologies such as C#, .NET, J2EE, Java, XML, and a variety of open source Java frameworks.

According to the 2005 survey by recruitment company Hays, there is a high demand for developers with a -strong understanding of [software development] methodologies, .NET and Java architects.

Another salary guide survey by Hudson in late 2005 showed a similar picture with a high demand in the skills mentioned by Hays and added that that enterprise architects and business intelligence experts were highly sought after.

While various surveys conflicted in their reports of whether .NET or Java/J2EE skills were in higher demand, it seems both are highly regarded and both fetching similar remuneration packages. Packages for .NET/J2EE developers ranged from analyst programmers starting at $50K per anum and moving up to $90K per anum for more experienced developers.

Sun and Microsoft are taking an aggressive stance to get more developers certified and trained using their technology.

Alan Cory, business development manager for Sun Microsystem's education services admitted many Java developers have no official certification with many being self-taught. Sun are focused on rectifying that by introducing new exams to get developers, especially entry level programmers and non-technical managers up to speed with the latest versions of Java and the J2EE platform.

In particular, Cory hopes to see a rise in the amount of entry-level developers and project managers to the newly created Sun Certified associate certification. In contrast, Microsoft and its education partners have revamped their certification efforts around the release of their new development tools, platforms, and database that were released in November of 2005.

Dimension Data Learning Solutions, a Microsoft gold partner that offers various courses and training for software developers said that for developers to have up-to-date certification many will have to take the new exams to be officially qualified in the new Visual Studio 2005 development tools and SQL Server 2005 database.

While the company have been offering workshops to get developers up to speed on the new products, it plans to offer the new certifications in 2006.

Skillsoft, a company off ering both Microsoft .NET and Java courses told Builder Magazine that neither was more popular than the other with development courses in VB.NET, C#, Java and MCSE as their most demanded developer subject.

Looking ahead
While there is a lot of buzz around Web 2.0 applications and development techniques such as AJAX within the last year, there has been little evidence in official statistics to support a large demand in Australia for such skill sets as yet.

One large Sydney-based Web development who wished not to be named for this story because they are about to launch a new AJAX product in early 2006 told Builder Magazine the skills required to build these applications were self-taught by a team of 12 developers.

-The use of AJAX-type technologies is really just a shift in the way we were using existing Web developer skills. The technology is too new to be included in any certification or course we were aware of and most of the developers got up to speed with AJAX by researching articles online and using trial and error."

In a bid to create more interactive user interfaces on the Web another technology that was sought after amongst development shops we interviewed was Flash developer skills, in particular knowledge of Flex and Laszlo.

Developers who were certified and skilled in business intelligence and reporting were also highly sought after, especially in the financial services industry. While no one particular technology could be identified in research figures as being more popular or in demand than another consultants who could offer a range of skills in this area could easily fetch a minimum of $90K per anum.

Supporting legacy code
Having the right skills in the software development world doesn't always including having the latest skills. Many recruitment and training companies said it wasn't necessarily about learning the latest development trends, but being able to support aging code and systems that companies are happy to run, for example VB6 and COBOL applications. In particular, many recruiters said they were starting to see a decline in the pool of software developers skilled in COBOL as they hit retirement age and younger developers not learning the language or environment in which it runs.

When asked about how courses are chosen, Dimension Data said they will offer training courses that will meet with the demands of the market and customers. For example, Dimension Data Learning Solutions recently trained developers on Visual Basic6 because a team who were not familiar with the aging skill set were taking over a contract.

-As a professional training company we will change to the demands for our customers," says Brent Challis from Dimension Data Learning Solutions.

Soft skills and suits
If you are sick of being knee deep in code, and feel a move away from a hands-on technical role there is a high demand for technical experience in non-technical roles. If you are a good leader, think you have what it takes to manage a team of developers, and understand the needs of clients project management skills are highly sought after.

-The Project Management Institute certification courses have been very much in demand by our customers. Project management is amoung our very mostdemanded certification courseware," says Skillsoft's Rebecca Nicholls. Financial rewards for project managers are also high with figures averaging just above $100K per anum.

Other less technical hands-on roles, which both Hays and the Hudson surveys cited as being in high demand included technical business analysts, technical pre-sales positions, and project team leaders. Enterprise architects were also high on the hit list of many recruitment agencies with many finding it hard to find qualified professionals to fill the roles.

While having the right technical skills could land you a job, many employers are more and more asking for soft skills, especially communication. In many cases behavioural tests are becoming common practice during the interview process. Employers value customer service, team skills, and developers who can understand the business needs of clients.

Two bodies that claim to represent Australian IT professionals, The Australian Computer Society (ACS), and the IT Pro program by CompTIA both agree that Australian developers need to continually upgrade their skills, both technical and soft, to keep competitive in the local and international market. While only recently launched in October this year, CompTIA's new IT Pro program is looking to take on the ACS by attracting members with special deals, access to the latest data in job vacancies, salary scales, and access to training and other discounts.

-The pace of technological change is so fast these days that organisations need to make a substantial commitment to boosting and refreshing the skills base of their ICT workers, or face a drastic fall in the quality of their technical workforce,'' said ex ACS President Edward Mandla before stepping down from his position in November.

Skills in demand
National Average
Analyst Programmer - Client Server
Analyst Programmer - Web
Analyst Programmer - .NET
Analyst Programmer - .Legacy
Senior Analyst Programmer - Client Server
Senior Analyst Programmer - Web
Senior Analyst Programmer - .NET
Senior Analyst Programmer - .Legacy
Systems Analyst
Functional Business Analyst
Technical Business Analyst
Database Developer
Datamodelling/Datawarehouse Consultant
Business Intelligence Consultant
Development Team Leader
Project Manager
Project Coordinator
Project Administrator
ERP Consultant - Technical (tier 1 products)
ERP Consultant - Functional (tier 1 products)
Systems Tester
Test Team Leader
Technical Writer

* Source: Hudson Salary Guide, Spring 2005