In “Document now or pay later,” I told you how a small pile of easy money fell right in my lap. A friend (and former coworker) knew a friend from church whose business needed a dBASE V programmer in a bad way.

I got the gig because I make sure everyone I know in IT knows that I’m “a dBASE guy.” (I was a dBASE/FoxPro developer for years.)

I have many friends in IT who are “network guys.” They sell and install the boxes, but they don’t do databases. So they call me when one of their customers (or fellow churchgoers) says, “Hey, do you know anybody who knows dBASE?”

This week, my message is for everyone who has development or system administration experience dating back 10 or more years: Brag about it. Publicize it. Even if you’ve upgraded your skill sets and are working as a Java developer or a Windows 2000 network administrator, get the word out about your expertise in so-called “ancient” technologies.

IT dinosaurs are alive and well, thank you
When I went to the initial meeting with the client, I invited a friend to come along and observe. He’s a thirty-something newcomer to IT who is pursuing a Java certification. He watched me run the legacy application, locate the source code, and discuss the options with the client.

This newcomer’s comment on the way out of that first meeting was, “It was interesting to see such a dinosaur.” We laughed about the client’s 386-class machines and his naive perceptions about hard disk space issues. We joked about the 80-column by 25-row programming environment. Nevertheless, I challenged my friend to a programming duel: I bet he couldn’t duplicate in C++ the functionality I was going to create for this client using dBASE V.

But the real issue was that this businessperson was in dire need. He was running a dBASE V application that had served him well for years. All he needed was the right kind of help—10 to 20 hours by my estimate—and he would be set with a custom software module for a new client. The money he was investing in my time was a fraction of the income he’d realize from using the custom software.

So what can you do?
Because I made sure my IT cohorts knew I that I knew dBASE, I got to collect a nice check for a couple of weeks of moonlighting. And I got to knock the dust off my developer skills.

My goal is to inspire some of you to find your own pots of gold at the end of the legacy-system rainbow. If you do freelance IT jobs on the side—and I’ve met few among us who don’t—don’t limit yourself to the current technologies. Sure, you need to keep your skills up-to-date and learn new technologies, but don’t assume your legacy skill sets are obsolete. For every company (potential client) that is rushing to upgrade to the latest and greatest database and network tools, there are countless companies that don’t have full-time IT people on staff, and they’re running legacy systems that need patching or upgrading.

The only way you’re going to get on the gravy train of supporting those legacy systems is if you get the word out:

  • Tell your IT friends. Create a business card that lists COBOL developer along with Web developer, if you have those credentials.
  • Join IT organizations. Make time to be part of user groups and professional societies where you can meet other IT people. (I’ve received referrals because I was the only person who listed dBASE in the club biography!)
  • Register with the headhunters. Many businesses turn to IT recruiting and headhunters when they’re looking for specific skill sets—for people who were IT experts in technologies from 10 or more years ago.

What’s your line?
Am I the only one who’s noticed that there are a lot of businesses out there that need help supporting their legacy systems? Please start a discussion below or follow this link to drop me a note. I’ll publish the best stories in an upcoming View from Ground Zero column.
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