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Retraining Developers a High Cost of Service-oriented Development

Through 2007, enterprises will spend close to a COBOL developer’s salary if they choose to train that developer in Java and then retain the developer.

That’s according to Gartner VP Michael Blechar, who spoke on the topic at Gartner’s annual conference in San Francisco last week. Blechar addressed the risks and return on investment for companies as they move to service-oriented development.

Service-oriented architecture’s use of object-oriented programming means companies will need developers with skills in J2EE and .NET, not languages such as COBOL, PowerBuilder or Visual Basic. According to Gartner, it might take an enterprise 12 months and cost an average of $67,000 to retrain a COBOL developer in Java. “It’s a combination of training costs, software costs and lost productivity,” Blechar says.

Even then, Gartner suggests, only 40 percent of COBOL developers will successfully make the transition, contributing skill levels and value to the company equivalent to their earlier positions. In addition, after training and a year of experience, those Java developers become hot commodities, forcing managers to create expensive incentives to retain them.

The cost and time to retrain a Visual Basic, PowerBuilder or other 4GL developer is less, estimated at 10 months and $52,000, with a 40 percent risk of failure, Gartner says. Least costly is retraining C++ developers, estimated to take 5 months, cost $23,000, and entail a five percent risk of failure.

The cost estimates take into account the cost of training and loss of productivity as the developer attends classes while continuing to draw a salary, as well as other factors. Not included are expenses related to organizational and cultural changes. The numbers are based on an assumption that a company isn’t training all its developers, only some it considers most likely to succeed. Gartner based the numbers on studies with clients over several years.

As more companies convert to SOA and service-oriented application development, those numbers may improve, Blechar says. That’s because companies can learn from those who have gone before, and because better tools will evolve. “You can drastically impact these numbers with RAD [rapid application development] tools,” for example, Blechar says. Companies can decrease the complexity of moving to SOA in other ways, including use of architectural RAD tools, purchasing some outside components of an SOA, using packaged products or outsourcing the most complex development aspects of a project.

Since service-oriented development assumes a heavy reuse of services and components, Gartner predicts that developers familiar with reuse methodologies and object-oriented languages like C++ will manage the transition in far less time and cost than those who are not.

Learning the Java platform, Blechar warns, is an expensive and lengthy process. That’s because Java is a nearly pure object-oriented language, unlike many widely used programming languages. Garner estimates that while providing Java training to developers may take approximately two months, achieving proficiency will take another eight.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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