By B.V. Uma

Fueled by media hype and corporate paranoia, there was tremendous demand for consultants and contractors who could help see computer systems through Y2K. For many IT consultants, this was a unique opportunity to cash in. But once companies realized that all that was required to fix the “bug” was a repetitive process of checking data, they put their own in-house teams in place, and the demand for Y2K experts fizzled out.

“Once Y2K was done, company employees went back to non-Y2K projects using the same technologies they did earlier,” said Natalie Wharton, regional recruiting manager for Technium, Inc., a Chicago-based e-business solutions provider. “The Y2K skill mostly involved training someone to look for all the dates and make the appropriate changes. An administrative individual could do this, or very entry-level techies. Running Y2K tests and systems analysis was done by the senior MIS people with networking and development backgrounds, again in-house.”

So what’s a former Y2K consultant to do? Read on to see where some savvy consultants landed post-Y2K and just how they made the transition, so that you can ensure that your brand of consulting doesn’t go the way of the dinosaur.

Enter the dot-com era
So where did all the Y2K heroes go?

To dot coms. After Y2K, many consultants we spoke to chose to enhance their qualifications with Web technologies relating to e-business. This skill shift was a wise choice: The Gartner Group, for example, predicted that 54 percent of the average IT budget would be directed to e-business projects in 2000 (in 1999, 40% was spent on Y2K). (Those who had come into the job market during the Y2K boom were keen on the “hot” technologies like HTML, DHTML, XML, Java, Java Scripts, VB Script Com, DCOM, JDBS, and back-end databases.)

Mary Ann Westerne, an independent Web site consultant based in Gaithersburg, MD, agrees that those consultants who updated their skills after Y2K set themselves apart. “With the trend towards click-and-mortar, established real-world companies like Barnes and Noble, for example, needed to integrate their existing (applications) with their online operations. Many of those applications were written long ago, in COBOL. Enhancing COBOL skills with at least one dot-com technology has reaped rich rewards for many Y2K consultants.”

But for many consultants, the transition wasn’t easy. “The company I was working at rapidly phased out its Y2K project, and my employer—a contracting firm—recalled me,” said Yakov Mizrachi, a Y2K consultant originally from Israel. “I was forced to sit on the bench for several months.”

Mizrachi believes that the Y2K experience shown on his resume served as a handicap. “They took a look at that, and they would assume that I couldn’t do anything else,” he said. Mizrachi later learned Oracle and SQL and opted to go into database management.

Others, like Y2K guru Peter de Jager, have turned their talents to related fields. De Jager now publishes an e-mail newsletter, Managing Change & Technology, and regularly delivers speeches on change, creativity, and management technology.

Stay on top of the game
Not everyone, however, can develop the high profile that de Jager is now able to leverage. Consultants need to take active steps to avoid becoming yesterday’s news in the fast-paced world of IT.

Vivasvat Rajdhan, a Windows NT/Network architect for Prudential in New York, offers this advice for keeping current:

  • Stay informed about market movements and technology trends. Browse the Web, read articles, subscribe to computer magazines, and speak to senior people in the industry. Then you should be able to foresee—and preempt—a shift away from your technology.
  • Identify the next best thing. If you suspect that the demand for your skills will soon drop, choose your next best skill. Make sure it is close to your area of interest, or you may end up being stuck doing something you don’t like. If you like networking, for example, don’t jump into programming just because it is “hot.”
  • Seek certification for a new skill. Once you have identified the skill, work toward picking up a certification from the right company. Fresh certifications are critical to survive.
  • Restructure your resume. Highlight your current consulting skills, as well as business skills, industry background, problem-solving capacity, or other credentials.
  • Represent your experience honestly. In an interview, don’t imply that you have more experience than you actually do. Most companies are willing to let you ease into something new, but you must be up-front with them.
  • Learn on the job. If you are working with a team, rely on its collective expertise. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek help. People are usually happy to help you out.

Finally, Rajdhan recommends, keep the learning process going: “IT is one area where you don’t stop reading, studying, and updating—you do it all your life.”

B.V. Ulma is a freelance technology writer based in Gaithersburg, MD.

Were you a Y2K consultant? What type of work are you doing now? Start a discussion below or send us a note.