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The Gap Make That Canyon Between Java Jobs and Skilled Practitioners

More and more Java-related projects are on the drawing boards, but the number of qualified programmers is not keeping pace.


ill the increasing importance of the Java programming language in the IT world eventually stunt its own growth? Ironically, the answer may be yes.

Why? Because there aren't nearly enough qualified people creating things in Java. The difficult-to-learn, cross-platform programming language may become a victim of its own success because trainers are not turning out enough "Java grads" to keep up with job openings. Time and money are lost while companies invest to retrain developers.

A study released in April 2001 by the Information Technology Association of America has determined that the national IT workforce numbers about 10.4 million people. According to the ITAA, U.S. companies would like to hire an additional 900,000 workers this year. Of this total, 425,000 positions will go unfilled because of a lack of applicants with the requisite technical skills.

Definitive numbers on Java-related job openings that go unfilled aren't available. However, we can get a pretty good estimate from the ITAA report. Even though there is a dropoff in overall openings due to the slowing economy, the percentage of unfilled IT jobs remains consistent; in most categories—and this includes Java-related areas, such as Web development and database administration—approximately half the positions go unfilled.

ITAA's U.S. Jobs Breakdown Chart

Sector 2001 2000
  Job Openings/Gap Job Openings/Gap
Overall Software Development 134,637/69,292 213,890/109,928
Web Development and Administration 120,982/56,957 161,301/90,137
Database Administration 110,184/46,166 271,047/147,490

Jobs involving the programming of Java make up one out of eight new software projects, Howard Rubin of META Group said recently in Java World. Rubin's META Group colleague, IT analyst Tom Murphy, told DevX that most new hiring involves people with Java, XML and .NET-type skills. "A high percentage of those 56,957 Web development jobs (see chart above) that will go unfilled this year are not being filled precisely because the candidates lack the Java or Java-related skill set," Murphy said. Same with the overall software development job numbers, he said.

In Part I of "Judging Java," DevX asked a large sampling of developers (2,600) to determine just how well-equipped they believe they are to handle the current demands in the marketplace. The results show (see Figure 19 on this page) that indeed there is a real skills gap when it comes to the highest level of expertise in key categories. Java showed a 33 percent potential gap in available expertise. XML development showed a more than 40 percent gap between currently skilled developers and upcoming hiring demand.

So, the message looks pretty clear: If you're thinking of moving into the software development world—or laterally from another sector of the business—you are hereby advised to get certified in how to program Java or Java-related (Enterprise Java Beans, JINI, JSP, JMS, etc.) applications. If you're a particularly hardy soul and don't mind programming with a lot of restrictions, you might want to consider embedded Java development. Those are the future growth areas, as identified in studies by Gartner, IDG, META Group, and other industry researchers.

In our interviews with a number of CTOs and high-level IT hiring managers, three key points were made, almost across the board:


  • Java skills of any kind: Good.
  • Deep-development (EJBs, servlets, business-logic modules) Java skills and good knowledge of best practices: Better.
  • Deep development, best practices, UML (Unified Modeling Language), and server-side Java skills: Best.

There was another point that came up fewer times, but nonetheless with strong conviction: Experience in the extreme programming (XP) environment not needed. Those who subscribe to this school of thought should apply elsewhere. The word on the street is this: Companies want their custom-built e-business and Web-server Java applications as bulletproof as possible and very scalable, even if it takes weeks (or even months) longer to do the job right. And they're willing to pay top dollar for those who can deliver the goods.

(Go here to find the Java Pro 2001 Java Salary Survey.)

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