March, 2003

Skills to Watch in 2003

"Technical skills to watch in 2003
By M. Susan Hodges

We know technology keeps moving, even in a stagnant economy. Many of the things to watch in 2003 are extensions of existing technologies, but, as usual, new ideas, concepts, and systems are starting to make an impression. Some technologies that have been around for a while, but have finally jumped in popularity, are Microsoft’s .NET environment, the wireless world, Web services technologies, and certification programs. New areas to watch include virtual databases and grid computing.

Microsoft .NET
.NET has been a confusing proposition since it was first announced in 2000 and it’s taken a while for it to be adopted. Now, however, developers are starting to use .NET languages and tools. Microsoft is releasing new .NET tools, and third party vendors are releasing products that interface with the .NET framework.

The Visual Studio .NET environment includes C#.NET, C++.NET, Visual J#.NET, and VB.NET, and all these languages are growing in popularity. Visual Studio .NET 2003 will be released this year and adds increased support for building applications that run on mobile and embedded devices under the Windows CE platform. Borland just released Optimizeit Profiler for the .Net Framework which is used to detect problems and optimize performance of .NET applications. Borland is only one of several companies releasing tools to work with .NET. Look for an increase in demand for any of the specific languages, the entire Visual Studio .NET development environment, and an overall understanding of the .NET framework.

The Wireless World
It seems that the wireless world has finally hit corporate America. We've been hearing for years that wireless is here, and this year might make that true for most of us. In fact, a recent article in Computerworld advised that the three technologies to pursue in 2003 are corporate instant messaging, Wi-Fi networks, and streaming video. All networking; all wireless.

Wi-Fi, or 802.11x is proving to be the wireless choice for providing connectivity without having to find a wired connection, although Bluetooth (802.15) networks are also in use. Companies have found it invaluable to provide employees with the ability to carry a laptop that can be used in different locations. This has lead to the need for not only network specialists that understand both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks, but also for more security specialists and both wireless and embedded developers.

Wireless communications requires even tighter security measures, and knowledge of protocols including EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol), LEAP (Lightweight EAP), RADIUS, and WTLS (Wireless Transport Layer Security). These skills are an add-on to the skill set of a security specialist who already works with RSA, PKI, LDAP, DES, AES, IPSec, PGP, SSL,SHTTP, etc. In addition to these specific skills, security specialists must know VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), firewalls, and IDSs (Intrusion Detection Systems). Keep an eye on the security area as predictions state there will be more job openings for security specialists than for any other job type in 2003.

There are new tools used to develop mobile applications for wireless devices. WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) is one environment that uses WML (Wireless Markup Language) and uses a WAP Gateway to execute applications. J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) is another environment and it has developers create a MIDP (Mobile Information Device Profile) and download midlets to the wireless device. A third development environment, iMode, is used in Japan, but could easily become a skill developers soon need.

Web Services
Web services are modular applications that conform to standard technologies and perform a specific business task. For example, a bank could build an application that would amortize a loan. As long as the application conformed to the standards and could be invoked over the Internet, it can be defined as a Web service. Web services can be this simple or could be as complex as car rental companies being able to invoke auto insurance by a simple click. In either case, the standards that have been accepted are SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), XML (eXtensible Markup Language), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), and WSDL (Web Services Definition Language). These are the skills in demand.

In addition, development tools following these standards are being used more and more. Microsoft’s .NET, IBM’s WSAD (WebSphere Studio Application Developer), and Sun Microsystem’s SunONE, J2EE are all used to develop Web Services.

Certification programs, which combine training and testing, are growing in number and in acceptance. These programs have existed for many years, but not many of them appeared on job requirements as anything other than “would be a plus” in any area but networking. Now certifications are often a non-negotiable requirement, and are available for a range of technologies. Valuable certifications defined by increasing compensation are Project Management Professional, MCT Microsoft Certified Trainer, and CIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst.

The hottest certifications for 2003 according to CertCities (online magazine for IT professionals) are:

1.CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
3.RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer)
4.CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)
5.CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
6.CCSA (Check Point Certified Security Administrator)
8.MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator)
9.Sun Certified System Administrator for Solaris Operating Environment
10.CCEA (Citrix Certified Enterprise Administrator)
11.MDCBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator)

This list was built comparing the number of those holding the certificate with those who said they would be getting the certification within the year.

Virtual Databases
In 2002 when management was asked what its biggest technical problem was, the almost unanimous answer was “integration.” Companies purchased a lot of software in the 1990s, and now have ERP, CRM, ecommerce, ebusiness, business intelligence, and portal software in addition to their corporate systems. And, all of these systems maintain their own data. The technology that lets one program access data from multiple data sources builds a virtual database – a database that doesn’t physically exist.

Because the different systems store data in different formats in different databases, querying, e.g., inventory data from a business intelligence system, requires connectivity. Providing customer data from a legacy system to a newly purchased CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system usually requires some conversion, and a common solution has been to have middleware, usually EAI (Enterprise Application Interface) systems reformat data and provide the connection. IBM has taken another approach, which is to leave the data where it is, and in its original format, and provide the software to let programs access different sources through a single query.DB2 Information Integrator (tailored for SQL databases), and DB2 Information Integrator for Content (for unstructured data) are built on this concept, which is known by several names. IBM’s research project is named Xperanto, and the data is referred to as a federated database. Any or all of these terms can appear in a skill set.

Grid Computing
Grid computing is a technology that’s been used in scientific processing for many years. It’s effective when vast amounts of data need to be processed. Probably the most well known project is the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project. PC users worldwide donate unused processor cycles to listen for signs of extraterrestrial life by analyzing signals coming from outer space. Only recently have commercial applications processed enough data to utilize this technology, but data mining and automated testing are both likely candidates.

Grid computing is just emerging in corporate processing, and like all new technologies does not yet have a definitive definition and set of standards. IBM, however, has already released a set of packages for different industries including aerospace, automotive, financial markets, government and life science. Sun Microsystems has released a Grid Engine in its Sun ONE environment. Watch for this technology, it’s coming.

Obviously there are other areas that could suddenly become popular, or take a technical turn that changes the way IT works. Laws could be enacted that require companies to revise business practices, or that next “killer app” could appear. And, don’t forget voice technology. One of these days we’ll all interface with our computers through voice, and we don’t really know when. In the meantime, keep your eye on the above skills."

<Note from We've added links wherever applicable so that you can learn more about these new technologies.>