Lucrative Y2K opportunities await the suitably skilled

The year 2000 holds a strange kind of appeal, auguring both apocalyptic mayhem and social renewal. For people in the IT world, 2000 is exciting and threatening for other reasons, such as the potential for disaster if systems which aren't 2000-compliant fail, causing unprecedented chaos in systems vital to modern life.

The year 2000 holds a strange kind of appeal, auguring both apocalyptic mayhem and social renewal.

Who’s to blame for all the hype and confusion? Is it that some religious cults predict the end of the world? Is it that people are already arguing about where the sun will rise first? Or is it that Prince once sung about it while wearing purple tights?

For people in the IT world, 2000 is exciting — and threatening — for other reasons, such as the potential for disaster if systems which aren’t 2000-compliant fail, causing unprecedented chaos in systems vital to modern life.

So, do you want to be a part of all that excitement, literally racing the clock to fix systems so others can breathe easy in 2000?

Wellington-based Gary Collier, of recruitment firm Doughty Group, says a lot of New Zealand companies are still planning, and haven’t reached the conversion stage yet.

If you’re a recent graduate, Collier suspects it’s unlikely lucrative opportunities await you in the year 2000 game. “It depends on your skill set. A lot of the technologies requiring conversion are older technologies. Many of those skills aren’t taught any more.

“On that basis, you’re not going to have the appropriate skill set and probably we’re at a time now where it would be impossible to train someone with the right skills to tackle this work.”

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely off-limits to recent graduates.

“It will place a huge strain on resources as the bulk of the market undertakes some initiatives,” he says. “People will be creative with how they fill those resources — they may get people from tertiary institutions, three or four of them, and put an experienced team leader with them to get them through.”

He believes some people will come out of retirement to do year 2000 work. “There’s a lot of banter in the market about being able to retire on the year 2000, and I’m sure that will be the case for some people, because, as shortages become prevalent, the market tends to do silly things.”

Already there has been a shift in rates in the programming side, but so far only a moderate one. It has been more noticeable for project managers.

In the UK, some year 2000 project management people are earning as much as $NZ1100 a day.

Collier says the rates in New Zealand will depend on the size of the project, but that the project manager of a year 2000 project with one of the larger companies could be looking at a six-figure income. Rates will increase as the gap between the supply and demand of skilled people starts to widen.

“We really think that the proverbial will hit the fan in the middle to the latter part of this year. But companies still have options, and one of those is taking systems off-shore.” He says the difference could be between paying someone in New Zealand up to $70 an hour, or someone in the Philippines or India about $35 an hour.

Doughty is dealing with one bank for which the bulk of its conversion is being done off-shore because of cost. The bank’s smaller systems are being managed on-site.

Collier says the programming work associated with year 2000 projects is reasonably mundane, with a lot of testing. And, working with old technology doesn’t add much value to your career.

“There’s not a lot of upside in that end, apart from earning a bit more money.”

However, if your role is in project management or test management, then it should contribute to your career.

“This whole process makes certain individuals extremely knowledgeable in organisations’ systems. It’s a big and complex project.”

If there’s a redevelopment those people will have the in-depth, detailed knowledge of how everything works and what’s going on.

“People who have that knowledge are going to be in pretty strong positions.”

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