Nov 01 2006

What's Hot and What's Not?

Business executives and recruiters reveal the top IT skills in demand in today's job market.


Photo: Robert Houser
"You have to have patience because you can't compromise with what you believe you need," Krugle's Steve Larsen says.

Web designers and Internet application developers, who were a dime a dozen after the dot-com bust, are back in vogue.

Many Web coders, who commanded big salaries during the Internet frenzy of the late 1990s, were forced to seek refuge in other lines of work when the bust occurred. But they are in high demand again as companies increasingly rely on the Web for marketing, messaging and growing their businesses.

Recruiters say hot Web skills include PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor), an open-source scripting language for building Web sites; Microsoft .Net development tools for building Web applications; and search engine optimization, a method of refashioning site content to improve a company’s ranking on search engines.

“We’ve seen a resurgence in Internet-type programming in the past year, and it will continue to grow as more businesses run online systems and want to increase their Web visibility,” says Amy Fulmer, director of recruitment for Futuretech Staffing in Marina del Rey, Calif.

The skills that provide companies with nuts and bolts technology, such as hardware, software and networking, also remain in demand, recruiters say. In a recent survey asking 1,400 CIOs about their technical needs, 80 percent cited Microsoft Windows administration, 79 percent picked networking administration and 71 percent said database management skills, according to Robert Half Technology, an information technology recruitment firm in Menlo Park, Calif.

Overall, businesses are growing and that’s increasing demand for skilled IT workers, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology. “It’s a strong, active IT job market as companies appraise their current systems, purchase new technology and further Web-ify their systems.”

The Waiting Game

Small businesses have different IT staffing needs and hiring practices, which depend on size. Very small companies typically start out by hiring part-time IT contractors, says Craig Stone, chief executive of HireNetworks, a recruiting firm in Morrisville, N.C. When companies begin growing, they hire their first IT manager who serves as a jack-of-all-trades, handling everything from servers, networking, e-mail and help-desk support. As businesses grow further, they hire additional IT staffers, which allows each IT person to specialize, he says.

Krugle, a 15-employee specialized search engine startup also in Menlo Park, wanted to add a second IT staffer for help-desk support, Web site maintenance and network administration. The company posted the job in February but didn’t find the right candidate until September, says Krugle chief executive Steve Larsen.

Krugle needed an experienced IT person with broad tech skills, including experience building data centers, the ability to install and configure Linux and Windows-based hardware and the knowledge to write scripts in Perl, Python and other programming languages to automate tasks.

“When you’re an early-stage startup, hiring is probably the most important thing you ever do,” Larsen says. “You have to have patience because you can’t compromise with what you believe you need. You must have high standards. Otherwise, it will hurt you.”

In contrast, LS3P Associates, a 225-employee architecture firm in Charlotte, N.C., has grown large enough so that its five IT staffers can specialize. Two IT staffers run the Windows server and workstation environment, while another two focus on networking and security, says management information systems manager Uai Godwin, who handles several Microsoft SQL Server databases, including an accounting database.

Databases, Hardware and Networking

The most sought-after database skills are Oracle and SQL Server, with the open-source MySQL becoming increasingly popular, says HireNetworks’ Stone.

In the hardware realm, more companies are investing in new servers, necessitating the need for more Windows, Linux and Unix server administrators, says Chuck Ransom, vice president of business development at Rezult IT Sourcing Solutions, a recruiting firm in Brentwood, Tenn.

Another hardware skill becoming more important is configuring and managing personal digital assistant devices, such as BlackBerrys, that allow employees to make phone calls and check e-mail, says Spencer Lee.

On the networking side, IT administrators skilled in Cisco networking gear are always in demand because of the company’s large market share. But because most small companies can’t afford a chief security officer, network administrators must have the skill to secure networks, such as installing virtual private networks, firewalls and intrusion prevention technologies from the likes of Check Point Software Technologies, Spencer Lee says. Another popular skill is the ability to build wireless networks, she adds.

Internet Skills


Fluidesign's Michael Schneider says, "People are definitely savvier and more aware of the potential of the Web, and they're reacting to it."

Web designers are highly sought after as companies seek to build sites that are well designed and easily navigable. Business owners also are beginning to blog, so they can communicate with their customers as well as attract new ones, recruiters say.

“We’ve definitely seen an upturn in business,” says Michael Schneider, president of Los Angeles Web design firm Fluidesign. “People are definitely savvier and more aware of the potential of the Web, and they’re reacting to it.”

Schneider, who has 14 employees, hires Web designers who have the basics down, such as Hypertext Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets, but he also looks for people well versed in Macromedia Flash, eXtensible Markup Language and LAMP, a set of open-source applications that includes Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL database and the PHP, Perl and Python scripting languages.

80% Windows administration
79% Network administration
71% Database management
56% Wireless network management
56% Firewall administration
35% Business intelligence
23% .Net development
20% XML development
19% ERP implementation
19% Linux administration
19% Unix administration
19% CRM implementation
18% Java development

Software developers are also in demand to build in-house and Web applications, recruiters say. Web applications, for example, can include discussion forums and online stores. Internally, companies also can build internal Web sites that allow businesses to automate certain tasks such as Web-based employee time cards.

The Java programming language and the .Net tools are hot, particularly the Microsoft Visual C# programming language, recruiters say. A Java developer who earned $65,000 annually just 18 months ago can now command $90,000, Stone says.

“It’s been an employer’s market for a couple of years now, but IT workers are starting to control the market again,” he says.

In contrast, the need for Visual Basic, C and C++ programmers is declining. “If you’re one of those developers, you better start taking some classes and get other skills,” Stone says.

Another trend is the merging of the IT and finance departments, adds Fulmer of Futuretech Staffing. For example, one of her clients, a small business with about two dozen employees, went public, forcing the company to adhere to the accounting reporting requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Such cases are creating a new breed of employee — one with a heavy background in both IT and finance who is adept with enterprise resource planning software from Oracle and SAP. “IT is merging with finance and creating a hybrid position,” she says.

In recent years, companies began requiring IT workers to have college degrees. They are also seeking people with good communication skills, recruiters and small business executives say.