5 Steps to Energizing Your Development Career

If you feel like your enterprise development career has hit a rough patch, Ed Roman, CEO of The Middleware Company, has 5 Steps to Energize Your Career.

Tags: Developers, Roman, Technologies, Success, Architects, Java, Winning Horses,

with Ed Roman
CEO, The Middleware Company

The economy has hit everyone hard. But the impact on IT developers has been staggering.

Integration Developer News spoke with Ed Roman, a thought-leader among J2EE developers, author of Mastering Enterprise JavaBeans (Wiley, 2002) and CEO of The Middleware Company to get his take on what developers should be doing now to prepare to safeguard -- even boost -- their careers.

Roman firmly believes there are opportunities for those developers willing to "look and think outside the box." The keys, Roman says, will be for developers to look closely at where the company's needs are, what new technologies are winning and how to improve their value-add.

Here is his 5 Step Survival Guide.

Step #1: Understand Today's Supply and Demand
Growing supply and pressure on IT budgets are pressuring developer salary and career options. Citing a recent report in InformationWeek, Roman said many Java programmers in the Northeast are working for $50 to $65 per hour, down from $70 to $85 per hour last year.

"Companies are also raising the bar on what they expect from developers," Roman said. Simple Java coding skills, for instance, may no longer be enough to guarantee a developer's value to a company.

Despite the current downturn, Roman also said, jobs are always available because the supply doesn't always meet the demand. "Developers need to look at how they can best add value to a company's application development and business process. That means knowing more about a wide range of technologies and how to evaluate them," he added.

Networking with others is key to uncovering these open jobs, Roman said, pointing out a recent JavaPro study that found almost one in 3 developers are in their job because of word of mouth.

Your action item: Take the time to become well-networked within your community. Focus on knowing the right people and staying in touch. "Developers will learn about what jobs are open, and also what companies are looking for-- which is just as important," Roman said.

Step #2: Focus on the Winning Technologies
Developers need the ability to identify which technologies are going to be winning horses and which will be losers. Then, place your bet on the winners. This way, you build a skill set that is potentially reusable and useful for years.

Two good examples of technologies that are successful and will continue to be successful are J2EE and Microsoft.NET.

J2EE will continue to succeed because an entire industry has bought into the technology and is marketing it. .NET will be successful because Microsoft has what Roman calls "it's A-team" focused on marketing it, and because it replaces an existing successful technology.

"I know many Java developers would rebel at anything Microsoft, but many large companies will use both," Roman said. "And today, there are too many companies asking about .NET and not enough developer professionals to help them. At the very least," Roman said, "Java developers should know how to technically evaluate the differences between Java and .NET, and even how to make the two work with one another."

Your action item: Think about, research, and analyze which technologies you feel are going to be winning horses. Look for technologies that:

  • Few other developers know today
  • Are well-marketed and endorsed by industry leaders
  • Add immediate value that is far beyond existing solutions at a reasonable cost
  • Do not have a 'chicken and egg' paradox
  • Have an unfair advantage over other technologies
  • Will be popular 2-4 years from now and have positive momentum

Step #3: Become an Architect
Roman says one of the best ways in today's economy to "improve your value" to a company is to "take steps to put yourself on a par with the best of the best--architects."

"Even though architects may cost a bit more," Roman said "organizations wish they had more of these architects, because the total cost of their projects are reduced when smart, educated developers are at the helm."

So what's the secret of the architects? Roman says it's actually quite simple. They gain this knowledge and experience because they are always positioning themselves to learn new things. "By far the best way is to get experience in thinking and acting like an architect is to get on a complex project that involves pushing the envelope," Roman said. Look for a project that will prove you are a valuable developer, and gives you regular contact with analysts, developers and architects higher than you.

Your action item: Seek out the best teams within your organization. If you don't have a job, ask around industry organizations, SIGS, and JUGS for companies that unconditionally support top-notch teams. This willingness to learn can stage you to become an architect over time.

Step #4: Put Yourself in the "Critical Path" of the Best Projects Even if you are the best developer on the planet, one day your job could in jeopardy. Your project could get cut. Your company could change direction, reorganize, downsize, or merge with another company.

The key is to avoiding these risks, Roman said, is to realize that "every organization has a critical path." This is the one or two new IT initiatives that are absolutely necessary for the business to achieve its goals. These initiatives must succeed because the business depends on it.

For example, if your organization plans to save 5% of its annual revenue through an integrated, electronic supply chain, then that has substantial value. If you are a member of this team, then you may become a rare and valuable commodity because few developers may understand the domain of the critical path. This gives you much more negotiating power.

Your action item: Be inquisitive. Ask around and find out what initiatives are the most important in your company or in an organization you would like to join. Network with developers on those teams, and prove to them that you have what it takes. First have a sit-down discussion with them, and try to find a mutually beneficial role for yourself. If they're not interested, then offer to help out in any way you can by taking on side projects. All it takes is courage.

Step #5: Focus on Team Success
Many corporations are institutionalizing team power across the enterprise. The priority from management is clear: team players lead to team success.

When the job market is tight, learning to like being a team player is paramount to both professional and personal success. "These types of projects also give developers a broader glimpse into how applications and networks work with each other, and this will also lead to broader skill sets, including integration," Roman added.

Your action item: Focus on both the team's success in addition to your own success. Try to focus on being teachable and willing to learn from others. Read about teamwork online or in any number of books that detail the principals of effective team play. Seek out classes that help you internalize the basics of being an effective team player. And even if your team doesn't exhibit team-play characteristics, you can still champion the idea and set a shining example. This positions you as a true leader--one whose power is derived from team loyalty, rather than title.