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Which Level Of Engineer Are You?, by Bill Baloglu & Billy Palmieri

The high-tech employment marketplace has been rocked by the failure of hundreds of start-ups and dot-coms. The stock market seemed to turn and attack the "hot" new companies that it celebrated just months ago.

Analysts estimate that this past year in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area 30,000 people lost their jobs; 15,000 of them are engineers and 1,500 are senior Java engineers. Similar metrics can be applied to other regions where dot-com fever spread like wildfire.

How will all this market change affect engineering rates, salaries, and opportunities for the future? A lot depends on your level.

Which level of engineer are you? Take a stab at these questions that are among those we use to qualify Java engineers and determine their level of expertise:

  1. Should a class file name appear in the classpath (e.g., should MyExample .class be in the classpath?)?
  2. Does Java allow multiple inheritance among Java classes?
  3. Which directory of the JDK 1.2.2 (or JDK1.3) contains the file rt.jar?
  4. Which file, in which directory, contains a list of Java security providers for Java 2?
  5. In JDK1.2.2 (or 1.3), what's the default garbage collection algorithm?
  6. Which Java extension package supports HTTPS protocol?

Check your answers in the box below.

  • If you got only questions 1 and 2 correct, you'd most likely qualify as an entry-level engineer.
  • If you got questions 1-4 correct, you may qualify as an intermediate engineer.
  • If you got questions 1-6 correct (without consulting a book), you'd most likely qualify as a senior engineer.
When contemplating the future of a high-tech career, keep two things in mind:
  • Like it or not, the world is changing to an Inter-/intranet-based economy.
  • The Internet economy should continue to grow and be healthy in the long term.
Here's our compensation forecast for senior, intermediate, and junior engineers:

Senior engineers are likely to see contract rates and full-time salaries leveling off and possibly going down from where they've recently been. We're seeing this as a reality check time for both senior engineers and companies that employ them.

The most savvy of senior engineers recognize that there's a change going on in the marketplace and they need to be flexible in considering opportunities. Many are looking at the long-term value they can get from a particular contract or full-time position as opposed to being "sold to the highest bidder."

Companies are becoming more cost-conscious as "money is no object" spending is replaced by real budgets and head-count issues. For full-time positions, managers might hire engineers who are a bit less experienced and less expensive, but trainable.

Because so many Java engineers are back in the job market, hiring managers are reviewing more résumés and interviewing more people, which gives the false impression that there's suddenly a glut of senior engineers to choose from.

In reality, senior engineers are still the smallest percentage of all engineers and the best ones are not much easier to find than they ever were. Many of those new résumés are actually from junior or intermediate engineers who were snatched up by start-ups or dot-coms in the recent hiring frenzy.

The bottom line for senior engineers is that the time between jobs is likely to get longer, compensation will become more competitive, and managers will have more hiring options to choose from. It's important to stay flexible, keep an open mind, and sharpen your negotiating skills.

Intermediate engineers are likely to see rates and salaries go down, but they're also likely to find more opportunities as companies look to hire more mid-level, affordable engineers for full-time positions.

If you've been burned by a pre-IPO-gone-bust experience, look for a full-time position at a mid-sized or well-established company, especially one with exciting technology that will enhance your skill set.

Contracting opportunities are likely to become scarcer for intermediate engineers as companies balance their budgets by using fewer, but more senior contractors for specific projects. But full-time positions should be available.

Junior engineers will see shrinking contract rates and fewer contract opportunities, but they're likely to find more full-time opportunities open to them. This is actually a healthy scenario, because a permanent position at a strong company is the ideal way for a junior engineer to develop his or her skills.

Junior engineers benefited from the contract hiring frenzy of the last few years, when companies were forced to pay inflated contract rates and salaries for anyone who knew anything about Java. But without enough time to gain much meaningful experience at that short-lived start-up, many junior engineers still lack the skills to succeed as contractors.

Today the smartest junior engineers are less concerned with retiring before age 30 than they are with expanding their skills, their knowledge, their résumé, and their long-term marketability.

Pre-IPOs will need to be more creative and aggressive than ever to attract good Java talent. You'll need to prove that your business plan, funding, and technology are sound and that your start-up is more than another flash in the pan.


  1. No
  2. No
  3. /jre/lib (not /lib),
  4. /jre/lib/security/java.security,
  5. Incremental collection, or Train collection, or Hotspot algorithm, or short (time-bound) and frequent collection.
  6. Java Secure Socket Extension (JSSE) package or javax.net.ssl package.

Author Bios
Bill Baloglu is a principal at Object Focus (www.ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Prior to that, he was a software engineer for 16 years. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.
[email protected]

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal of ObjectFocus. Prior to that, he was at Renaissance Worldwide, a multimillion-dollar global IT consulting firm, where he held several senior management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations.
[email protected]


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