For Java developers, as for all professionals, the beginning of a new year is a good time to review what new directions the technology world is moving in, what changes in the job environment those new directions will bring with them, and what changes you may need to make, as a Java developer, in order to continue conducting business successfully in this complex new world.
None of us can change the direction or trends of an industry. What we can do, however, is take control of our own future.
Inevitably, in the software engineering industry as in every other sphere of business, some of today's jobs and skills may be phased out and tomorrow's jobs will require different skills. It's therefore always wise to consider just where the future of Java jobs and Java engineers is heading and why.
One significant change in the way technology will be conducting business in the very near future is the trend among a number of large companies, such as I2, Sun, HP, and Oracle, toward moving more of their development offshore. Time and effort is being invested into facilities abroad in order to achieve payroll savings.
Of course, we've all heard outsourcing nightmare stories from VPs, directors, managers, and engineers who in the past may have been involved with groups working on development abroad. We've all heard about the logistical and managerial problems, about the lack of experienced engineers. However, today the stakes have changed and so have company attitudes.
Where previously many offshore adventures were merely exploratory - any actual success they achieved was considered an unforeseen bonus - today's companies are much more committed to making investments and changes pay off, and they make significant efforts and investments to be successful.
Where will the outsourcing trend lead? Well, one way to predict the future is to look at the past. We could look back to the industrial age, for example, and see if the histories of the garment, automotive, or steel industries can give us a hint as to what to expect.
In those instances, when the expense of doing business became prohibitive at home, companies went abroad. The jobs they moved abroad were the ones on the production line. Assembly lines were costly and the workers dispensable. They were initially replaced by cheaper foreign workers and then later by robots.
If we then look at the people who are the "production line workers" in today's high-tech world, they are coders and developers, especially in IT. Some of their jobs are inevitably headed offshore.
At the other end of the skills spectrum, one area where job demand remains rock solid is for high-level engineers and architects, specifically in product companies building enterprise-wide core technologies or core frameworks. This continues to be a strong area of employment. Such companies will always need the skills and experience of high-level engineers and architects to build their products. Companies like Oracle, BEA, and Tibco have both core and applications groups. Engineering in the core or platform groups looks stable job-wise.
Another area already experiencing new growth is customer-facing positions such as pre- or post-sales engineers, integration engineers, and implementation engineers. Just think of the automotive industry, for example. Car parts may be made abroad and the car may even be assembled there, but if customers need service or want to customize a car, they do it locally. In the high-tech world, implementation, customization, and integration contribute significantly to the bottom line of every company, so they will go on needing highly skilled engineers with excellent communications and customer skills to successfully complete the work. There should be great opportunities for a long time to come in these areas.
One final thought: doomsayers sometimes speculate that one day software developers may be replaced by applications that allow almost anyone with a high school diploma to take over the job. Or they foresee the day when developers could be replaced by applications that do the work all by themselves. That's not going to be happening in this decade though. So don't worry!
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As ever, we're very interested in your comments and feedback.
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. 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, where he held several senior
management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations.