Web Services and Your Skills

The next technology shift will be to Web services, and you'd better be ready for it. What skills will you need to work in this burgeoning field? Get tips and advice here.

The burgeoning world of Web services is already starting to intrude upon the lives of technology professionals, leading them to wonder: What types of expertise will be necessary as the field matures?

Web services technology is all about allowing disparate computer systems and applications to communicate and interoperate. Not surprisingly, a number of standards have emerged. The four building blocks (to date) for Web services are:

  • XML (Extensible Markup Language): The structured language for identifying data under Web services. XML is the underlying technology enabling other Web services standards to function.
  • SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): The messaging protocol for exchanging information in a Web services environment.
  • WSDL (Web Services Description Language): The language used to describe the specific services being offered.
  • UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration): A registry of business services and products designed to enable companies to find and exchange resources.

"These are the key standards," says Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink, a research firm specializing in XML and Web services. "Anyone creating Web services of any type needs to understand them."

As this technology gains traction within the IT world, understanding those standards will become a part of the basic arsenal of skills for software developers. And while software developed under a Web services paradigm will -- at least in theory -- function with any Web-connected device, the platforms being used to create the software will vary.

Thats where much of the battle is currently being waged, with a struggle between Microsofts .NET and Sun Microsystems Java. Each platform has its own set of development tools, application servers and related technologies. Do you need to choose one or the other? More than likely, the answer is yes. "Theyre evolving, and theyre both changing quickly," says Schmelzer. "How can you become an expert in both? You kind of do have to pick a side."

.NET? Or J2EE (as in Java 2, Enterprise Edition)? Its a debate thats just heating up, especially with so much at stake. For technology professionals, the crucial step will be to extend skills already developed from working with Microsoft technologies or Java-related tools. "Ultimately, unless you are starting your system from the bottom up, your choice of Web services implementation is more than likely going to be influenced by your present system," wrote J. Jeffrey Hanson, chief architect at Zareus, in an article comparing J2EE and .NET. "If you have a team of skilled programmers, with an existing business system, realistically youll want to continue using that system, be it J2EE based or Microsoft based," he added.

Though the companies hawking Web services solutions, from Microsoft, Sun and IBM to an assortment of startups, are adamant that its the next big thing, it remains to be seen how soon "next" will be. The Web services arena, everyone agrees, is still a work in progress. Much work remains, even at the level of standards. "Web services technology must deal with important issues, such as security, quality of service and transactions," says Colin Adam, editor of WebServices.Org, an online community devoted to the topic. "Although we already have a good understanding of these issues from e-commerce, this understanding has yet to be mapped onto an internationally agreed architecture."

If you learn the building blocks now, youll be able to take advantage of that knowledge, and stay ahead of the curve, as new standards and related technologies are added to the mix. "Technology professionals will need to be comfortable with Web services, and in the difficult IT jobs market we currently have, knowledge of cutting-edge technologies is an important differential," says Adam.

Web Services Resources

The world of Web services is constantly evolving. How do you keep up? Here are resources to help out:

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