The Practical Mac

A Look at the IT Job Market

- 2002.10.15 - Tip Jar

There is no doubt that the economy is in a downturn. Jobs are harder to come by, and the Information Technology sector has not gone unaffected. I have been closely involved with some IT employment-related studies lately and have made a few observations which may help job-seekers.

State of the Market

Although there has been an across the board downturn in the number of IT jobs available, some areas have been harder hit than others. The employment prospects of any given individual depend on a number of factors: The kind of job they are seeking, qualifications, education, and experience.

1. Programmers

One of the least hard-hit areas. Demand for programmers with "old-world" skills (Fortran, COBOL, etc.) spiked in advance of Y2K as managers realized the need to update systems that had been written and forgotten about years or even decades earlier. The demand dropped off significantly in 2001 and is not anticipated to rise again.

The most in demand skills are in C++, Visual Basic, and Unix (including Mac OS X). In the last six months, I have seen more ads for Mac programmers than in the previous six years. Demand for Windows programmers remains steady. It is too early to tell for sure whether increased development on the Unix and OS X platforms will come at the expense of Linux.

2. Entry-level Technicians

This area has seen the largest drop-off in demand for new personnel. As recently as a year ago, we were hiring entry level people with little more than an interest and aptitude for IT. No longer. Getting a foot in the door these days generally requires at least a couple of certifications (A+, Net+, etc.) and some formal education and/or experience in the field.

3. Hardware Technicians

Demand has remained steady here. Let's face it, for the foreseeable future at least, computers will continue to break periodically. Skilled hardware repair techs will be needed. On the PC side, the A+ certification is the standard. For Apple products, it is AppleCare Technician Training.

4. Network Engineers

As the huge dot-com companies shut down, a lot of network infrastructure engineers found themselves out of work. This is one of the hardest hit areas of the downturn, as not only did demand for new personnel decrease, but for a while there was actually negative job growth in this field. Exactly one year ago, I searched for a senior level Network Engineer and received over 100 resumes. Of these, about four were qualified.

Last week, I repeated the same search and received over 200 resumes, with about 9 qualified applicants. The key to finding a job in this area is to be willing to relocate and even accept a job at a level below where you believe you should be in order to get in the door and hopefully advance later.

5. Senior Management (IT Manager/Director, CIO, etc.)

Hundreds of these jobs were eliminated with the .com bust. However, upon closer inspection, most of the .com jobs with these titles were not in fact the jobs they claimed to be. Most of the e-companies may have had someone with a title of Chief Information Officer or IT Director, but the job description for the position was actually more akin to that of a lead programmer. This is largely attributable to the fact that most of these companies placed all of their hope for survival in the elusive chase to develop some "killer application" - to the almost total neglect of infrastructure.

Generally, only one of these positions exists at each company, though very large corporations may have a separate senior IT management position for various divisions or units. When an entire e-enterprise goes bust, they may displace dozens or hundreds of programmers and engineers, but only one IT Director, CIO, etc. Consequently, the market has not been flooded without of work IT Managers. Demand has continued to grow, albeit more slowly.

The .com Bubble Examined

A lot of the .coms were staffed by people who had not been working previously. When many of these companies folded, a large number of the staff did not attempt to reenter the work force and thus did not compete for the decreasing pool of jobs. As one observer quipped, "These people went from living in their parents' garage playing Doom to Internet millionaire to living in their parents' garage playing Doom."

Next week's column will look at ways to increase your chances of success in your job search. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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