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Making it in the Java world

The Java programming skill set has been the most resilient in the technology downturn of the past two years. While many coders are having trouble finding work, well-rounded Java programmers remain in

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demand. Java's reputation as a secure, scalable low-cost platform for multi-tier enterprise applications ensures it will only deepen its penetration into corporations in the coming years. While the outlook for Java developers remains bright, success -- and good assignments -- won't come without some effort on your part. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Your technical toolbox

When companies come to us seeking Java developers for their database management initiatives, they most commonly request professionals with experience in Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) and a major relational database, such as Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server. (If they're a Microsoft shop, they'll need J# skills, Microsoft's implementation of Java for the .NET platform.) Based on these same requests, programmers seeking work in Web-based data entry and retrieval should augment their J2EE toolset by becoming more familiar with Java servlets, Java Server Pages (JSP) and XML. To increase your marketability even further, develop your expertise in UML, Unix or tools such as IBM's WebSphere or BEA's WebLogic. The combination of these skills should set you apart from most Java specialists.

Whether you take classes or gain experience on your own, staying competitive in the Java world means continually improving your coding proficiency. Technology managers favor hands-on experience, and your resume should reflect this. Another way to impress business-oriented interviewers is highlighting -- with specifics -- your contribution to the bottom line with previous employers. If you created a program that streamlined a process and saved a company thousands of dollars, note this accomplishment.

Soft skills count

More and more, the requirement for "experience in all phases of development" in a job posting is followed by a stipulation for "superior verbal and written communication skills," "ability to provide ongoing guidance for less-experienced developers" and "team leadership." Of these three, the first is most critical. A developer who asks the right questions and writes well does a better job of gathering and translating user requirements. Among techies themselves, there's a general belief that a developer with good communication skills writes code that's easier to maintain because it is better documented.

Employers need people who work well in groups, both in their area of specialization and on cross-functional teams. This is especially true in Java-related jobs where your "customer" is often an internal client such as the human resources or accounting department. Help motivate your peers in engineering, and you're valuable; work well with your non-technical colleagues as well, and you're gold.

The developer community

One Java programmer I spoke to recently noted that "technical skills are the easy part; the hard part is professional networking." It's no mystery that the same personality that allows you to withstand long hours of coding in isolation might make it difficult for you to chat with strangers at a party. But networking is essential for technology workers. It's the most effective way to learn about the best jobs, get the latest information on new tools and methods, and stay current with market trends.

The developer community can also help raise your visibility by giving you the chance to speak before user groups or write articles for journals. Volunteering, perhaps at a computer camp for young people, is another way to get involved. All these efforts can establish you as an authority, thereby increasing your marketability.

Remember to use the Java community to move your knowledge forward, too. Sun's JavaOne conference is the biggest, but you can find listings of smaller conferences focused on specific topics at DevTownStation. JavaPro and Java Developer Journal provide paper and online editions with information on salary, trends, tools and techniques. Several Web sites are devoted to Java, such as JavaWorld.com, and many of them offer newsletters. And don't limit your self-education to new coding techniques. Keeping up on trends also means maintaining a big-picture perspective. Your ability to speak knowledgeably about the business implications of a company's (or industry's) Java solutions can be very useful in an interview.

Taking Java into the future

Java programmers will continue to be in demand for the development of multi-tier, Web-based enterprise applications for the foreseeable future. To make sure you are the frontrunner when interviewing for the best positions, stay ahead of the curve with training and certification, develop your soft skills, and make the most of every professional encounter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, formerly RHI Consulting, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.

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This was first published in August 2002

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