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Sure-fire skills for IT success in 2004

Your time and money are limited. So we asked the experts which IT skills could mean the difference between a paycheck and the unemployment line in 2004.

In 2004, a number of high-tech skills and certifications should be helpful to IT workers looking for new jobs or trying to insulate themselves against the threat of being laid off or outsourced.

Security certifications top the list of those that increased in value in 2003, according to David Foote, president of Foote Partners LLC, a New Canaan, Conn., research firm that specializes in tracking certifications. He said that, besides trying to enhance data security, security managers are trying to comply with government regulations regarding the handling of information in the health care and financial services industries.

"Security-related skills are earning some of the highest bonus premiums," Foote said. "Overall, security skills have maintained their value equally or better than most of the other skills tracked this past year."

New security specialties in forensics and intrusion detection are hot, and having a niche certification is desirable, he said.

Although the value of database certifications is down 9.7% over the last two years, Foote said, database administration remains one of the highest certification premiums.

The Oracle Certified Professional Database Administrator (OCP DBA) was popular this year and should remain a good value in 2004, along with the Microsoft Database Administrator and Microsoft Certified Trainer certifications, Foote said.

Linux and Unix certifications also remain strong. For instance, Red Hat certifications are up 14% in value over 2002, and the Linux Professional Institute certification is up 17% in value over the last two years, Foote said.

The biggest declines were in the value of webmaster and Internet certifications, which fell as a result of the Internet balloon bursting.

While certifications make a resume stand out, IT workers who widen their repertoires should also gain a competitive advantage, according to Noel Yuhanna, senior database industry analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

Skills for wireless, Web services and Linux are likely to be most in demand in 2004, according to Yuhanna and other analysts. Industry insiders are also forecasting that IT workers who can get the most from existing systems will find it easier to land a job next year because an economic recovery may not equate to increased IT spending.

That's good news for those who can run older legacy database management systems, where retirements have caused staff shortages at many major financial companies and government agencies, Yuhanna said. These legacy DBA jobs won't be outsourced, since little expertise in these older systems exists overseas, he said.

Legacy certifications are offered by IBM and Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc. In fact, at a recent conference in Las Vegas, the DB2 certification management group administered more than 900 certification exams, according to Roger Sanders, a database performance engineer at Network Appliance Inc. and a leading IBM DB2 author and DB2 certification trainer.

"I think more people are going after certifications because it's a tight economy," Sanders said. "People [are] getting laid off, and everybody's looking for a job, so you've got to have that extra edge."

Al Lill, a group vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc., pinpointed several other areas of expertise that will be valuable: broadband, content management, real-time analytics, data mining, middleware, business intelligence and knowledge management.

Joshua Greenbaum, principal consultant at Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting, is betting on Web services.

"Having these skills will let you create and manage a new class of applications that use the Web," he said. "The demand in this space will be real."

SAP ABAP programmers should begin positioning themselves with more Web-based programming skills, since SAP's products are becoming Web-based, said SAP job expert Jon Reed.

"If companies aren't going to spend that much more on IT next year, we're not going to see a lot of exciting IT projects coming to fruition," Reed said. "Technical workers need to strike a balance between maintaining their core skills and learning more about the emerging technologies."

Reed recommends that IT workers read as much as they can about hot topics like wireless connectivity, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and embedded Web services. Training programs are just beginning to emerge in these areas, he said.

Someone looking to sharpen or expand their skills should also search job listings to see what employers are looking for, Reed said.

"Compare and contrast different skills, and then set a goal for the year," he said.


Best Web Resources: Careers and training.

Best Web Resources: Database administration as a career.

To provide feedback on this article, contact Robert Westervelt.

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