Legacy systems, OSes low on skills list

Denise Dubie outlines five areas of decreasing demand

Technical skills may never die, but areas of expertise wane in importance as technology advances force companies to evolve and IT staff to forsake yesterday's craft in favour of tomorrow's must-have talent.

"There is less need for system-side knowledge. In the past, IT folks had to understand a lot about memory, drivers and address locations, and what used which interrupt, but nowadays that stuff is plug-and-chug even on many Unix systems," says Brian Jones, manager of network engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Tech Communications Network Services unit.

Industry watchers would be hard pressed to name specific IT skills as entirely dead or completely useless, but some skills are well on their way to being considered a thing of the past. As hot skills like virtualisation rise to the top of company must-have lists, high-tech talents in certain operating systems and specific vendor products fall to the bottom. Here are five high-tech skills that don't demand the pay they once did.

1. Plain old HTML

As companies embrace Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX, demand for skills in HTML programming are taking a back seat. According to IT recruitment researcher Foote Partners, IT managers say they don't see a demand for technology predecessors such as HTML.

2. Legacy programming languages

Skills in programming languages such as Cobol,  Fortran, PowerBuilder and more don't rate like they once did.

"Certainly the Cobol people that had a resurgence with the Y2K bug aren't in demand," says John Estes, vice president of strategic alliances of Robert Half Technology. "Certain other applications such as Delphi  and PowerBuilder,  [which were] very big in the '90s, are no longer in demand."

IT work-force and compensation research conducted by Foote Partners revealed that Cobol, PowerBuilder and Jini non-certified skills were among the lowest-paying skills in the second half of 2007. David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners, says the research shows not that such skills aren't in use today but that companies aren't willing to pay for them. "There is still a lot of C and Cobol around, though these skills are worth very little pay-wise," Foote says.

3. NetWare

Operating system know-how continues to be in top demand among hiring managers, but expertise in Novell's network operating system NetWare isn't keeping up with other technologies in the same area. "Networking software such as NetWare isn't near what it was in the '90s," Estes says. And Foote adds, "Windows Server and Linux skills have replaced, or are replacing, NetWare skills" in terms of demand.

4. Non-IP network

IP and internet skills have usurped non-IP network expertise. Know-how in technologies such as IBM's System Network Architecture (SNA) continue to rank among the lowest-paying skills. "For networking, IP skills have replaced SNA skills," Foote says.

"Mainframe computing skills, including network components such as SNA, are no longer required in a server-based IP networking environment," says Martin Webb, manager of data network operations at the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services in British Columbia.

5. PC tech support

The Computer Technology Trade Association (CompTIA) reports that hardware skills and knowledge, including expertise with printers and PCs, are on the decline in terms of demand. CompTIA surveyed 3,578 IT hiring managers to learn which skills would grow in importance over time and the industry organisation found: "The skill area expected to decline the most in importance is hardware."

"The 'move, add and changes' PC tech function isn't quite what is used to be," Robert Half Technology's Estes says.

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