Thursday, August 27, 2009

Take the Technology Job Trend Quiz

Here is a quiz you will not see in Cosmopolitan: How much do you know about today's technology job market?

In each of the following pairs of career activities, there is an A and B option. See if you can select the one in which you are most likely to find a job today:

1. Building computer applications using A) RPG or B) the iPhone programming language?

2. Writing A) COBOL programs or B) Business Objects ad-hoc queries?

3. Creating A) SQR reports or B) ESRI online maps?

4. Writing web applications in A) .NET or B) Java?

In 1980, I encountered my first computer programming job when a friend took me to his workplace to see RPG coding done on an IBM mid-range computer. For decades, RPG developers were in demand. However, if you had searched for RPG job postings at the beginning of 2009, you would have only found 117 openings across the entire United States. The number of openings has steadily declined and in August of 2009 was down to 88.

The correct answer to Question 1 is B -- in August of 2009, there were over twice as many Monster postings for people who can develop handheld iPhone applications than for RPG programmers. Apple has sold millions of iPhones and the demand for new applications grows daily.

If you went to college for computer programming, you probably took COBOL. In 1997, Gartner Group estimated that 80% of the world's business applications were using COBOL. But if you picked A for Question 2, you would be wrong. Demand for COBOL programmers has been steadily declining. Monster started the 2009 year with 348 COBOL job postings and went down to 286, an 18% decline. The Business Objects business intelligence product, however, has seen solid demand despite being acquired by SAP, going from 729 job postings in January to 771 in August 2009, a 6% increase.

Specialized technologies for report writing have been popular. For example, the SQR language is a mix of SQL (structured query language) and COBOL. Today, however, you would have troubles finding a job writing reports using SQR. Monster postings declined from 86 at the beginning of 2009 to only 45 in August. Jobs to create geographic information systems using the ESRI technology, on the other hand, increased from 150 to 165 in the same timeframe.

Question 4 is tricky. The jury is still out for standards for building web applications. Possible winners are Windows products such as .NET, C++, and C# or non-Microsoft technologies such as Java. But if you base your guess on the number of Monster job postings, the verdict seems to be Java. At the beginning of this year, there were 3885 .NET job postings. Today, that number has dropped 9%. However, Java jobs have consistently stayed above 5000 most of the year (Monster caps the number of hits at 5000).

As you evaluate your skill sets, here are some things to keep in mind about today's technology trends:

Most companies prefer packaged applications over custom applications.
Companies want low headcount, hence they are willing to buy and implement systems developed by third-party vendors. Applications such as human resources, payroll, accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and so forth are standard and easily acquired. Few firms are so unique that they cannot use a packaged ERP from a mega-vendor such as SAP or Oracle. You are better to have skills related to software package implementation, project management, and functional know-how than in custom application development (unless you want to work for the software vendors).

When companies have troubles finding resources for a legacy technology, they move away from it.
Organizations with mainframe computers were unable to find technical people who knew how to run their large platforms. The result? They looked for alternatives such as small, distributed systems. IBM was forced to try to switch from their proprietary operating systems to an industry standard such as Linux which had a broader knowledge base. It may be counter-intuitive, but you are better to have fewer skills in emerging technologies than be an expert in legacy ones -- don't get suckered into being the old-time guru who is honored today and discarded tomorrow.

To reduce costs, companies consolidate multiple technologies.
Over time, companies collect a variety of technologies. There comes a time when they have to clean house. For example, large firms purchase a myriad of report-writing technologies -- for example, COBOL, RPG, EzTrieve, FOCUS, Crystal Reports, SAS, and Oracle products. It becomes too expensive to deal with multiple vendors, pay lots of annual maintenance fees, perform multiple upgrades, and support and train employees on so many different technologies. At some point, companies select a winner and eliminate the other similar products. You are better to build expertise in the clear leader within a technology segment.

Companies are moving away from host-based and client/server technologies.
Today's applications must be integrated with web technologies and ubiquitous desktop products such as Microsoft Office. Stand-alone platforms will continue to decline. Even the popular client/server reporting tool Crystal Reports experienced a 30% drop in Monster job postings this year. If your skills are limited to legacy technologies, it is time to renew yourself.

Companies are moving away from paper-based and manually-intensive systems.
Systems that are heavily paper-based and require people are quickly becoming obsolete. Online systems and forms will replace paper. If a person's manual process can be automated, it will be. If your job is repetitive and time-consuming, find a way to automate your tasks and move yourself into a more essential and protected position.

Companies are offloading work to the customer through web-based and mobile applications.
For example, instead of having employees take telephone orders, pizza shops provide customers with an online ordering website and an iPhone app in order to reduce operating costs. Keep an eye on emerging cost-saving technologies and change with the times.

Companies will still build applications if those will save them money.
Application development is not dead.  Companies will gladly fund development initiatives that promise to save them money.  For example, executive dashboards with key performance indicators that visually point out positive and negative trends are popular projects.  If you love creating computer applications, be sure to have current web application development skills.

If you picked B for all 4 questions, you are aware of technology trends and probably keep your job skills fresh and in demand. If you guessed A for any of the options, you should investigate current technology trends and consider making some changes to protect your job (and stop wasting your time with quizzes in Cosmopolitan).

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With over 20 years of industry experience, Doug Lautzenheiser has provided business intelligence services for well-known organizations such as Procter & Gamble, JPMorgan Chase, Omnicare, Wendy’s International, the State of Indiana, and the State of Oklahoma. ComputerWorld recognized one of Doug's projects with honors for innovative use of technology.  Doug is a featured blogger on BI software at Smart Data Collective.

With his broad knowledge of technologies, business processes, and industry best practices, Doug provides client value by performing strategic advisory services; leading tactical BI application development projects; and enabling dramatic reductions in time, cost, and risks through his unique automated BI consolidation application.

Doug has hands-on experience with a variety of enterprise applications. He is degreed summa cum laude in Information Systems from the University of Cincinnati. An experienced trainer and mentor, Doug has provided educational services to organizations such as National Semiconductor, Ford Motor Company, Northwest Airlines, Principal Financial Group, and Target Stores. Doug is the owner of Kencura Systems.

Talk to Doug before manually performing a large BI initiative. Doug will show you how other smart companies saved time and money by following proven methodologies and automating BI processes instead of letting somebody "wing it" with a manual approach.


B2B software vendor leadership. BI implementations, standardization, and consolidation; data warehousing; WebFOCUS; iWay; BI vendors (Cognos, SAP Business Objects/Crystal Reports, Microstrategy, Actuate, Hyperion/Brio, SAS, Tableau Software); ERP; and full SDLC.