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Experts to Domino pros: A specialty is a must in down economy

With jobs disappearing, Domino programmers and consultants would be wise to pick up new skills or specialties. Insiders offer advice on the most valuable things to learn.

Uncertainty is the new reality for Notes/Domino developers, as freelance contractors struggle to find new gigs, and those lucky enough to have jobs watch their co-workers disappear through attrition.

"The economy is difficult for us right now," said Dan Velasco, senior consultant at Echo Technology Group, in Folsom, Calif. "Not impossible, but difficult." Velasco, who is also a technical editor for a magazine, took his job with Echo last December. He and his wife moved to Sacramento after his former employer, San Mateo, Calif.-based IDG Global Communications, disbanded. "I was the last person hired by [Echo] in December," he said, "and there have been others who have left since I arrived."

Successful consultants and analysts say that, by acquiring new skills -- especially Java -- and choosing a specialty, Domino professionals can prepare for the freelance consulting jobs that will come when the market loosens its purse strings. But for the moment, Domino pros like Velasco are holding on to, or snatching up, whatever full-time positions they can find. "I know quite a few independent contractors who are giving up for lack of work and looking for regular jobs," said Chuck Connell, president of Woburn, Mass.-based CHC-3, a Domino consultancy. "It's preferable to sitting around and doing nothing as a consultant."

Full-time technology workers may also be feeling more secure than freelancers. While salaries for full-time technology workers increased slightly in 2002, a Dice Inc. survey found that independent contractors saw their revenues decline by 5%.

The Domino job market is a buyer's market. With few Domino job openings, either freelance or full-time, listed at technology Web sites, hiring managers have more applicants than ever to choose from. "Competition is exceedingly tough out there, and many employers are choosing between several candidates with stellar technical skills," said Allan Hoffman, technology jobs expert at Monster.com, which has precious few permanent Domino job openings.

Both full-time job applicants and consultants must approach employers and clients with a specialty, such as security or Web services, that distinguishes them from their competitors. Connell's Domino security expertise is starting to pay off, especially with jobs in the health care industry. "HIPAA's privacy rules went into effect in April," Connell said. "But the security rules are just becoming part of the picture." Connell recently completed Domino security audits at client sites in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The health care and financial services sectors are among the highest paying for technology jobs overall, according to Dice. Defense, computer software and telecommunications also showed strength in 2002.

Name your specialty

The Domino development market, meanwhile, is moving more toward specialization, said Frances West, director of channels and alliances for business development at IBM Lotus. "In general, we advise our partners that it is important to have a specialization," she said.

West, not surprisingly, pointed to WebSphere/J2EE integration as a useful new specialty for Domino professionals. Domino developers agree. "Java is a safe bet," said John Vester, principal analyst at Meritage Technologies in Indianapolis. But Vester believes the popularity of Microsoft .NET will surge over the next six months.

"For developers raised on Notes/Domino, I often recommend taking a C course to become truly familiar with object-oriented development," Vester said. "Developers with a good handle on C generally have an easier time picking up C#, .NET and Java."

Dan Velasco has his own list of must-have skills for Domino developers: Java/J2EE, relational databases and XML. "Domino developers who don't grow in to one or more of these areas risk having their careers grind to a halt," he said. "Five years from now, I would be extremely surprised to find someone working at a company doing strictly Domino development."

Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Read the full Special Report: Domino career outlook

The Best Web Links on Domino salary and hiring

Dig Deeper on Domino Resources - Part 4

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