Name: Sheila Davis
Title: Manager of IT, PowerPad project
Employer: FedEx Corp., a Memphis-based international express delivery company
Number of IT professionals: 5,000-plus
30-second resume: Davis joined FedEx eight years ago after spending five years on the technical staff at Morristown, N.J.-based Telcordia Technologies Inc. (formerly known as Bellcore). She started in FedEx's messaging infrastructure group, then transferred into application development. Davis moved into management two years ago, working with Java and WebLogic servers. She now manages the team that's creating applications for a new wireless device, called PowerPad, for FedEx's couriers.
Skills boost: "Wireless doesn't have a real big learning curve," says Davis. FedEx sends programmers for specific training as needed. The developers generally rely on their basic programming backgrounds as they create object-oriented applications for the PowerPad. Davis says she's learning to work with development, testing and debugging tools that are less mature than those available for client/server development.
Davis says she has especially enjoyed working with the PowerPad's Bluetooth interfaces to phones and printers. "It's nice getting into new wireless technology," she says. The Bluetooth capability will allow couriers to transmit data without docking their devices in their trucks.
Davis says she expects wireless programming opportunities to grow as the cost of personal digital assistants drops, but she doesn't foresee wireless devices becoming a specialized area. "In my own group, some [IT workers] have said they don't want to do only communications-interface work," Davis says.
Instead, she envisions wireless programming skills as additional layers on top of core skills such as C++ and Java. Developers with such combinations of skills can move into project management or systems architecture analysis, troubleshooting wireless projects, Davis says.
Wireless projects also bring developers closer to business users, says Winn Stephenson, senior vice president of IT at FedEx. "Wireless applications solve a business need, so you're on the front line, not in the bowels of the shop," he says. Thus, collaborative and listening skills are key. "You must understand what the customer needs in response times," says Davis. "We can develop it, but if the performance is slow, they won't want to live with it."
Last year, developing wireless applications was considered an esoteric art. Potential industry standards such as the Wireless Application Protocol required specialized knowledge and treated wireless programming as unique. Recruiters boasted of snagging six-figure salaries and large signing bonuses for those few individuals who could tackle wireless projects.