Programmer shortage slows wireless development

A shortage of programmers and architects trained in building wireless applications is hampering some ventures and making IT leaders more cautious about taking the wireless leap.

          A shortage of programmers and architects trained in building wireless applications is hampering some ventures and making IT leaders more cautious about taking the wireless leap.

          Statistics are hard to come by, but recruiters, analysts and e-commerce workers say the new skills required for wireless technologies and the fast-changing nature of the field could spell trouble ahead.

          The shortage of wireless skills is "tremendously delaying projects" for end users, says Charles Moore, president of recruiting firm Active Wireless in South Daytona, Florida, though he declines to be specific.

          Moore says he also believes the shortage has affected the quality of projects for some companies that deliver wireless services for their customers.

          "If you’re a company selling wireless services and some of your features don’t work, you can’t tell your customer that you don’t have enough people in-house to [make it] work properly," he says.

          Major wireless vendors, including Aether Systems in Owings Mills, Maryland, and 724 Solutions in Toronto, say they haven’t had difficulties finding good workers. Aether says it has acquired companies with needed talent; 724 Solutions says it draws talent from local universities.

          But some recruiters and analysts say other companies are struggling to fill wireless positions. Recruiters say it typically takes two to three times longer to fill a wireless programming position than other types of IT jobs. It’s hard to find developers with experience in both the Wireless Application Protocol and Wireless Markup Language, the two dominant languages for wireless application development, says David Chamberlain, an analyst at Probe Research in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.

          Wireless development is "fairly arcane and complex coding with little resemblance to the HTML programming that most developers are familiar with," says Chamberlain. "It’s not easy to get data onto a wireless device from a technology standpoint, and as a result, developers must go through a learning curve."

          Other analysts and recruiters say wireless architects are even tougher to find than programmers. Architects provide the "nuts and bolts" of how to get a wireless project up and running, says Jack Gold, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Meta Group.

          As a result of the talent shortage, some companies are more cautious about doing projects at all, while others are holding off on full-fledged wireless deployments until the market has matured, Gold says. And though some cutting-edge companies — such as Memphis-based FedEx — have performed their development in-house, others have chosen to outsource.

          "I think a majority of financial institutions are outsourcing wireless" projects, says Joy Marshall, a senior vice president at Wachovia. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based bank outsourced its wireless banking initiatives to integrator 724 Solutions because it thought it was a better investment decision to go with wireless specialists rather than build its own group in a new and constantly changing area.

          When the Washington Redskins football team moved to offer wireless access to its website and other mobile services in October, the team would have had to outsource the development work if Ztango in Herndon, Virginia, had not offered to do it for free. The team didn’t have the "manpower to handle developing and supporting the application in-house," says Jason Gould, director of Redskins.com.

          Steve Zerby, e-business technical strategist at Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, says the building materials maker has a few wireless prototypes in the works. "But typically, whenever we [implement] a technology on a significant basis — enterprisewide — we involve a third party because we have a small IT staff," he says. "We also want to take advantage of the fact that there are people out there with specialised skills."

          That means the skills shortage is a problem for the vendors that companies want to hire to do the work. Josh Leet, director of recruiting at Flying Star, a wireless application services start-up in Watertown, Massachusetts, says he wants to fill seven wireless developer positions by next month. But Leet says he’s coming up short on US candidates and has instead decided to look in Europe and India.

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