In-Depth

Java skills market a complex picture

If gentler RAD-style Java tools arrive and, as Sun's VP of Product Marketing Joe Keller says, the tools "give CIOs the ability to apply people with other programming skills to generate things using Java," will more Java jobs remain on U.S. shores?

That is a hard question to answer. J2EE skills have remained expensive and necessary in recent years. As a result, overseas software shops have continually tried to enter the Java market with upgraded skills.

IDC Analyst Stephanie Torto said her recent study of global integrator businesses did not look at specific language demand. But, she noted, many skills are becoming commoditized and, where there is sufficient supply outside of the U.S., companies will migrate that way.

Geoffrey Eckler, principal at Eckler Personnel Network Inc. in Woodstock, Vt., said that notwithstanding the generally poor market conditions for developers of any type, "Java and Java-related tools remain at the core of Web-based development." He predicts healthy demand for at least several years to come.

Jeff Markham, metro market manager at Robert Half Technology in San Francisco, said that Java developer rates are starting to pick up after the boom and bust of the dot-com years, despite the emergence of offshore competition.

Experts note that all Java skills are not created equal. Its popularity has moved Java into more complex, enterprise-type apps, allowing those with domain-specific knowledge to command a premium. And the tools that have made Java apps easier to create are, according to some, segmenting the skills market.

Len Vairo, partner, technology and board services in the Boston offices of Christian & Timbers, said the Fortune 1000 market "is demanding that apps be J2EE-compliant." On the other hand, Vairo noted the way Java skills stack up at different points in the market. He said that "plain vanilla" Java programmers are "a commodity." However, in his searches for CTOs or VPs of engineering or product development, strong Java experience is crucial.

And for individual contributors, Java skills alone are no longer sufficient, said Robert Libby, director of business development at Greenbrier & Russel, a consulting firm in Schaumberg, Ill. "It needs to be coupled with some kind of application server experience," he said.

Tom Flynn, director of Greenbrier & Russel's Training Division concurs. "The market is full of people who just know Java. It's a basic skill and you need other skills to complement it."

Joseph Feiman, a research VP at Gartner Inc., said a global survey he conducted two years ago and is in the process of updating showed Visual Basic and Java tied in their roles as "strategic" languages for larger enterprises. In the future, he said, Java is likely to be the single most important language for enterprise development.

Also see:
In search of a gentler Java

About the Author

Alan R. Earls is a technology and business writer based near Boston.

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