Opportunity: Hot IT Jobs for 2002

Despite the slow economy, some IT skill sets still essential to enterprises.

Bank One Corp. made big news recently when it announced plans to hire 600 IT pros. Why was that news? Because it went against the grain of what has quickly become a buyers market for IT skills.

Given the sagging economy, there arent many enterprises hiring techies these days. But despite the gloom, some jobs remain hot. Thats because certain skill sets are must-haves in enterprises arsenals.

For example, as companies continue their e-business expansions, they must have database experts who can handle the flood of data produced by new, enterprisewide technologies.

Security experts are also essential to help companies protect systems externally and internally. Networking experts who can build and support the infrastructure that runs any technology project are crucial. Also vital are Internet/ intranet developers, who create and integrate the customized applications that power digital infrastructures.

Indeed, those represent the most numerous job listings at tech job sites such as Dice.com and Techies.com, as well as with IT recruitment companies such as RHI Consulting. Because they represent IT skill sets that are still in demand with businesses now and that will continue to be so as businesses rebound from the economic slump, eWeek chose these four titles—senior Internet/intranet developer, database administrator/database manager, network engineer and corporate security manager—to profile as hot IT jobs for 2002.

In the profiles that follow, IT pros will get a glimpse at the companies that are still hiring or plan to hire to fill these job titles in the coming year, as well as a rundown of the skills needed to transition into careers in these specialties.

Stormy Weather

And there are plenty of it pros now needing to transition into new careers. As of last month, 417,541 technology layoffs had been announced, according to CBS Inc.s MarketWatch.com site.

Still, experts say, a large number of attractive employment possibilities will be opening up once companies are over the worst of the recession. Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice Inc., said he expects to see a gradual increase in IT hiring in the first quarter of next year. Melland said a number of companies are still hiring, but theyre looking for specific skill sets.

"There is a definite upgrade in skills sets," said Melland, in New York. "The talent pool right now is very good, and companies certainly recognize that."

One company thats forging ahead with hiring because of expanding e-business ambitions is Bevcore Solutions Inc. The 75-employee startup was spun out of IMI plc., in Birmingham, England, 10 months ago with a charter to enable virtual distribution of its parent companys parts, via Web-enabled technology, to connected suppliers and manufacturers. IMI is the worlds leading supplier of beverage dispensing equipment.

According to Julie Durda, director of human resources, Bevcore over the last quarter has hired 16 IT pros, including a chief technology officer, system engineers, database architects, software engineers, data engineers and data warehouse engineers. But the company still must double that roster before IMIs dream of virtual distribution becomes a reality.

Whos on that wanted list? Practically a mirror image of eWeeks pick for 2002 hot IT jobs: IT pros well-versed in Internet/intranet applications development, as well as database managers adept at PeopleSoft 8.0, which will be the application powering IMIs virtual distribution system.

Bevcore could hire plenty more IT pros, but as all smart companies are doing in this economic climate, its taking it nice and slow. The thinking for the startup is this: Stay ahead of the technology needs of the business but not so far out that you crash and burn. "We want to be one step—and thats all, no more and no less—ahead of the business," said Durda, in Minneapolis.

One things for sure: Its not just skills that grab employers attention nowadays. Now job seekers have to prove theyve been earning their keep. "If youre looking for a job ... youre getting it because you demonstrate the returns you brought your last employer," said RHI Consulting Executive Director Katherine Spencer Lee, in Menlo Park, Calif.

It pays to keep an eye on a given industrys ups and downs. Industries now flourishing include health care, energy, mortgage and utilities. "If you know where the fish are biting, theres tremendous demand," Lee said. Countrywide Home Loans Inc., for example, now has more than 800 openings because business is "wild," Lee said. Thats not surprising, given that interest rates are the lowest theyve been in years.

Mirant Corp. is another company thats doing well enough to go ahead and swell its IT ranks. The energy company was spun off from $13.3 billion parent Southern Co. in April in a move that sparked a mass hiring, with 200 ITers coming into its ranks over the past year and another 30 to 50 hires eyed in the coming months.

Not that Mirant is immune to the economy. According to CIO Bob McClure, that 30-to-50 number has been scaled back from 100 as projects have been put on hold. But potential applicants should take note: Mirant didnt scale back hiring just because of the economy; it scaled back hiring because it can now get more productive employees.

"The productivity of our current staff has picked up some of the slack," said McClure, in Atlanta. "Weve got a higher caliber of people lately, so it turns out we need less."

How does a techie become one of the people that a company like Mirant needs? Having leading-edge skills helps. Mirant needs ITers with skills in technologies such as Enterprise JavaBeans, BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic and Web integration using Tibco Software Inc.s tool as it seeks to automate bids for energy trading in markets throughout the country.

That might point techies to additional training, the tried-and-true method of staying ahead of the pack in the skills competition.

If techies do turn to training, they should consider that only a start in the transition to a new career, experts say. The next step is networking or even volunteering to get crucial hands-on training. After all, its easy to let the depressing state of the economy turn you into a zombie—and nobodys hiring zombies, Lee said. "Dont just sit in your jammies at home getting that online training," she said.

Senior Writer Anne Chen contributed to this story.