America's 10 Most Wanted

They are the technologists that every recruiter is gunning for. From Web developers to security analysts to e-commerce developers, here's a look at the top jobs for 2001.

Patrick Matus has 10 phone numbers that he always keeps at his fingertips. These are for the staffing firms he uses to help find talent for the 900-plus-employee IT department at Freddie Mac in McLean, Va.

Some of those recruiters get him the generalists he needs. Others have expertise in finding IT professionals with certain specialties that Matus frequently needs. If you do the hiring for a large IT department, you need an army of help these days.

Today, Matus has his army out looking for several types of workers: network engineers to help put together and maintain his new Cisco routers; data security analysts to implement and test network security measures; Unix system administrators to fill vacancies from normal turnover; developers to move legacy systems onto the Web; and Sybase administrators, because his is strictly a Sybase shop.

Matus happens to be looking for the same people as many other organizations, and for the same reasons: turnover, new projects, expanding networks and development of new applications. Although every company has some specific needs, certain job titles crop up everywhere.

To find out which jobs will be the hottest this year - by sheer numbers of new hires, not necessarily by salary - we went to several national recruiters and staffing firms for their observations and predictions. The result is the following top 10 list for 2001.

Web developer

In nearly unanimous agreement, recruiters and staffers say that Web developers have quickly surpassed all other job titles in sheer demand. Companies need not just one person but whole teams of Java-experienced developers to design and build the endlessly increasing applications for the Internet.

"Everybody needs 'em. Nobody wants to try to recruit 'em," says Jeannie Jones, president of IT Search Professionals Inc., a national recruiting firm in Cape Coral, Fla.

"Everything I use to manage is a Web-based application," says George Demetriou, who manages contractors nationally for WorldCom Inc. He does his performance appraisals, processes travel expenses and almost everything else via the Web. "And most of those applications we use you cannot just buy off the shelf and use it - we either have to develop it in-house or buy it and modify it and maintain it," he says.

That means there's lots of demand for developers. "There is the whole Java and e-business area, but mainly, it's the old systems, [with businesses] looking for creative ways to Web-enable them," says Matus.

That also means that Matus is looking for someone who not only knows the Java language but who can also translate mainframe applications to the Web. That calls for someone who can think creatively, program pragmatically and understand what the Web can add to older programs.

Database administrator

"It's not that it's a hot one," Mark Krusinski at Emerald Resource Group Inc. in Broadview Heights, Ohio, says about database administrators (DBA). "It remains constant. It's not weakening."

DBAs - particularly for Oracle - can always get a job, according to recruiters. The demand for Oracle administrators is highest, but Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server is growing, even at high-transaction firms that should be Oracle Corp.'s bread and butter. And every recruiter seems to have some base of clients that use Sybase, Informix or DB2. And watch out for IBM's new product later this year.

The bottom line is that no company subtracts DBAs; they only add more, gradually, as their departments grow.

"There's actually more need for that than ever before because the rest of the organization is screaming for that data," says Jones. She points out that DBAs sometimes become necessary in new data architecture or warehousing projects.

Security analyst

This wouldn't even have been on the list a year ago, but suddenly, every technical recruiter is finding a stack of these openings on his desk. Someone has to handle all those firewall issues, access-control lists, router configurations, virtual private network setups, system penetration analysis and the various other nuts and bolts of securing networks.

Recruiters say the need for people with technical security know-how, rather than strategic planning expertise, is huge and growing. The need for security analysts has exploded at financial firms and large manufacturers and has also moved quickly into midsize companies - and, of course, the dot-coms, which have everything riding on security.

"I've talked to the CIOs and directors of the clients we work with and asked them who does their security," says Jim Constable, president of Staffing Partners Inc. in Shelton, Conn. "It's been the network administrator, but now they're creating new [security-specific] positions that pay less." They fill those positions with less-experienced people, Constable says, and treat them as lower-responsibility jobs than administrator posts.

Unix administrator

Although none of the recruiters ranked Unix administrators as their top priority, the position ranked high on everybody's want list.

"Unix administrators are very much in demand nationally," says David Meyer at CDI Corp., a recruiting firm in Philadelphia. The explosion of Web servers has helped drive the need for people to fill this job title.

Krusinski says that as the number of servers has grown at organizations, a hierarchy of administrators has become necessary. "In a large, complex Unix environment with 50 servers or more, you might find a lead Unix person making $120,000," he says.

So an understanding of complex internetworking - and managerial skills - will increasingly find a place to be rewarded; at the same time, this hierarchy will allow less-experienced people to jump into junior Unix administrator positions, perhaps fresh out of school.

E-commerce application developer

This is another job that has changed overnight from tiny niche to mainstream need. "There's an onslaught of e-commerce application development," says Constable.

"The Java demand is starting to drop off," says Meyer, who placed this job title first on his list. "Whereas the middle of last year, the Java demand was highest, e-commerce developers picked up later in the year."

Companies are "getting back to the basics of these projects on the Internet," Meyer adds. "The honemoon is over." Companies can no longer mess around, testing fun looks and designs in the name of Web presence.

Manufacturing and financial institutions in particular are looking for developers with business-to-business application experience.

"There's a big difference between that and setting up e-commerce with customers in their homes," Meyer says. "When you're talking about e-commerce between large commercial enterprises, a lot of dollars can be lost in that transaction."

C++/Object-Oriented/ Visual Basic developer

Midlevel developers are in huge demand, according to recruiters. Visual Basic remains a standard, object-oriented design is everywhere, and C++ remains the language of choice. Visual Basic work is in huge demand, according to Doug O'Neil, president of The Huntington Group in Memphis.

This demand primarily comes from the huge number of projects out there, as everyone is trying to automate every function of their businesses, from the front end of customer marketing to the back-end financials and supplier control.

In fact, 12 months ago the position of midlevel developer might have been No. 1. Unfortunately for employees in this area, the slowing economy seems to be making companies more wary of maintaining large teams of developers.

"The excessiveness of 2000 is over," says Meyer. "They are better off hiring one very good developer than two so-so ones."

If pessimism about corporate profits proves unfounded, expect demand in this category to shoot straight up by next year.

Java programmer

As mentioned earlier, the need for Java professionals may have peaked about six months ago. But just because it isn't rising, that doesn't mean it has dropped off the list. Far from it - the position has settled in as a steady, large need. O'Neil still has it in his top three. Demetriou lists it as No. 1 at WorldCom.

"We always need those," Matus says.

Programmers generally still need basic language skills and that precious combination of speedy coding with few mistakes. But if IT departments do start having to do more with fewer people as the result of downsizing, additional development skills and other languages will prove more important.

Network engineer

Here's another job that's only going to keep growing - steadily, but not spectacularly. "It's still a lot of numbers," says Jones.

The good news for aspiring network engineers is that nobody questions the basic direction in which the job market is headed: It's all Cisco Systems Inc., as far as the eye can see.

"We just bought all new Cisco routers," says Matus. "Data architecture, IP experience, certified network engineers, [Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts] - that's in the crystal ball for this year."

As companies large and small continue to invest in networking technologies to make their networks faster, more efficient and less costly, engineers will continue to be in demand, recruiters say. Wireless technologies in particular will create plenty of jobs for those who are ready for that wave.

In addition, large companies are increasingly considering private networks to replace dial-in and Internet connections, for security and long-term cost advantages. Creating and maintaining those networks is a long-term commitment that will require network engineers.

PC technical support

"PC techs are always in demand. They will always be in demand," says Meyer.

Any thought that personal digital assistants and wireless Internet and computer appliances will create a PC-less office is a distant dream. So, too, is any notion that PCs and their software will soon run in flawless harmony and never break down, or that end users will soon be savvy enough to solve most of their own problems.

Although he acknowledges that the raw numbers remain high, Krusinski says he has actually seen a decline in demand for these professionals. "Companies are outsourcing that as fast as they can," he says.

This observation holds for help desk staff as well. Outsourcers can usually consolidate several clients' jobs into fewer positions than the various companies would require separately, so the trend ultimately means fewer total job openings. In addition, many people start in PC support to get a foot in the door of an IT department, so working for an outsourcer may hold less appeal.

Quality assurance tester

None of the recruiters we polled listed this as their most-pressing need, but everybody mentioned it as a big area of demand.

"There's actually more demand for testers than security people," says Meyer. "It's just easier to fill the jobs, because there are more testers than security people available."

Nowadays, it's not uncommon for companies to create year-round testing departments, which means more full-time jobs and less contractor work. WorldCom, for example, is looking to bring that function in-house, says Demetriou.

Some other jobs that were mentioned but didn't make the top 10: help desk; supply-chain management and customer relationship management system developers; project managers; data architects; and change management specialists.

Bernstein is a freelance writer in Medford, Mass.

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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