Becoming a new-century programmer

Now that Y2K is (hopefully) taken care of, IT projects that were on hold are fast coming to the fore. Areas like e-commerce and converging technologies are going to be huge over the next few years, and skilled workers will be required.

Given this momentum, where should programmers put their money? What skills will they need to succeed in the near future? E-commerce is expanding exponentially. Beyond buying that new Ford or frock online, the real boom is going to be in on-line business-to-business transactions.

“This is key to the big transition from [electronic data interchange] to [Extensible Markup Language] (XML),” said David Grant, chief technology officer at Irvine, Calif.-based, a company that sells cars on the Internet. “This will ease the translation of data between dissimilar environments and also the presentation of published data through XML islands within a browser.”

These developments are all going to make database skills “incredibly important,” said Bruce Sink, chief technology officer at First Union Corp., a banking organization in Charlotte, N.C. “On the e-commerce side, you’ll be using databases to do things like check demographics, help pinpoint markets in ways that you couldn’t before. The data modelling systems will help businesses to understand customers better because they track behaviour, which is a much better indicator than answers in focus groups.”

Convergence Calling

Convergence of technologies is another hot spot. For example, “voice mail and e-mail will be converging into a single messaging system,” said Sink.

“You’re going to need Internet skills, Java, any of the other fourth- and fifth-generation languages. The scale is so much bigger, you’re going to need to find the common denominator, so you’re going to have to bring programming skills from different disciplines to the problem and integrate them.”

Programmers, aside from being Java- and Component Object Model-savvy, are going to need to have a better overview of the entire process. “Programmers need to know how Web servers work, how requests get processed,” said Jeff Scherb, senior vice-president and chief technology officer at Tribune Co. in Chicago and president of Tribune Interactive. “Not just from the latest hot-shot techie point of view, but even Cobol people: they will have to create back-end code that integrates with legacy order systems.”

Nifty With Networking

The Internet’s ubiquity calls for top programmers.

Mark Kortekaas, vice-president of technology at Sony Online Entertainment in New York, said, “It’s not enough just to know Java. Programmers are going to know the difference between TCP and [User Datagram Protocol]. Our programmers need to understand networks; it’s different from writing stand-alone applications because of the reliance on the network player for a large part of what the application does. We don’t have enough people who have experience on custom server-side application programs and large-scale deployment. But that’s true with every industry. It still comes down to finding programmers who can do custom back-end work, because that’s where all the logic is stored. It’s the same paradigm whether for Internet or in-house applications.”

So what skills do potential employers repeatedly claim they want to see prominently displayed on a r