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This past year has been a tumultuous one, initially for our high-tech industry, and then for our nation and the world at large. We don't presume to know what the coming year will bring.

But in the 12 months we've been writing this column, we've covered many topics and offered some professional advice to Java engineers that we still think is pretty sound. So here are some highlights of the subjects that we've touched upon over the course of a challenging year.

Types of Engineers
In several columns we focused on defining the types of Java engineers working in the industry. We initially categorized them into two groups: the Knows-Java engineer and the Under- stands-Java engineer.

The Knows-Java engineer may have a strong background in networking or databases with skills in SQL, Oracle, or PowerBuilder. Aware of the strong demand for Java skills, these engineers pick up a Java book, take a Java course, or "teach" themselves Java.

While these skills may be sufficient for basic Java projects, on mission-critical positions the Knows-Java engineer often discovers the limits of his or her Java skills quickly, resulting in bad blood and burned bridges with the hiring manager and client company.

The Understands-Java engineers typically have a background in C++ programming and a strong grasp of object-oriented methodologies. They have Java programming experience (more than two or three years) and have worked with J2EE (EJBs), among other skills.

The Understands-Java engineer has experience with large, scalable, multithreaded applications. He or she knows what can be done and what can't be done in a Java environment. If there's a problem or a bug, he or she knows how to fix it.

A senior engineer who's on top of the industry and in highest demand has experience and skills in the hottest technologies, such as J2EE, EJBs, XML, XSLT, and application servers (like WebLogic, WebSphere, iPlanet, or Tomcat), and experience with servlets.

J2EE has a high learning curve, so a lot of experience is required of an engineer who claims to be at the senior level. J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) and WML are important for writing applications for small and wireless devices.

Books and courses on these technologies are a good place to start. But on-the-job training, either full time or contract, is still the fastest, most effective way to pick up real-world experience with a variety of new technologies.

The Hiring Process
We've covered many of the steps in the hiring process, from the résumé to the interview.

The most common problem with résumés is that they either misrepresent candidates as being more experienced than they really are or misrepresent seasoned candidates as less experienced than they really are.

A good résumé details who you are, what you've done, and what you want to do. It highlights how your skills and experience are relevant to the position you're applying for, and provides lots of specific detail - especially on skills you've used, what you've done with them, and where.

The goal of the résumé is to get you a phone screen interview. The goal of the phone screen is to get you a face-to-face interview.

Throughout the process, be prepared to answer questions about your technical expertise and work experience, as well as career-focused questions about why this position is a good fit for you right now. Be prepared to explain why your last job ended, or, if you're currently employed, why you want to leave.

The single most important element that turns a job applicant into a "new hire" is the level of preparation before the interview. Research the company's Web site, print a copy of the job description, and tailor your "interview pitch" to the specific needs of the position and the company.

For a face-to-face interview, know the names of the people you'll be interviewing with, arrive a few minutes early, and always look sharp (a little sharper than you might dress for a typical day at work).

Working with Agencies
There are many good, reputable agencies that provide valuable services and opportunities for engineers. But there are many more agencies eager to make a "quick sale" without much regard for solid business ethics or an understanding of who you are and what you do.

Since you're known by the company you keep, run the following qualifications by any agency that wants to represent you:

  • Does the agency ask detailed questions about your skills and background and how well they fit the position?
  • Does it ask to meet you in person or speak with people who can verify your expertise?
  • Is it interested in building a long-term working relationship with you?
  • How long has it been providing candidates to that client?
  • How many of its consultants are currently working with that client?
  • Ask to speak to one of the engineers who currently works with the agency. You can get valuable insight from someone else who walks in your shoes.
What's in Store for the New Year
As we look to the new year, we'd like this column to address your specific questions and problems as a Java professional. Please e-mail us at [email protected] with your questions and concerns, so we can have a collaborative, productive new year together.

Happy holidays and our best wishes to all of you.

Author Bios
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Previously 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.

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior position 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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