Java is hot, or so says the IT media. Certainly, advertisements are starting to appear in the situations vacant columns for contractors and Java courses are now being offered at universities and technical institutes.
Barry O’Brien, of Auckland-based agency Enterprise Staff Consultants, agrees demand for Java skills is growing.
“We have client companies going over to Java holus-bolus and using it to replace C++. The only problem they are having is they can’t find any Java developers. Some of the big Internet providers are also looking to do quite a bit. If you’ve got Java skills there’s definitely a job for you in Auckland.”
But, as always, doing a course will not guarantee work.
“People just doing courses is a help,” O’Brien says, “but what our clients really want is skilled developers. It’s easier for them to take a skilled developer and teach them about Java than to take somebody from a Java course and teach them to be a developer. Experience is what counts and experienced people with Java are definitely in demand.”
Dr Rick Muggridge, of Auckland University’s computer sciences department, says his impression is that there’s a lot of interest.
“I know of quite a few companies doing development with it. It’s a bit like in the US where a survey showed a large proportion were doing something with it, probably animating Web pages rather than doing anything serious, but many were planning to put mission-critical systems into Java in the next 12 months.”
Muggridge agrees courses can’t provide certain types of experience.
“They need experience of large-scale projects,” he says. “Internally we find that, hiring our own students, we know what their capabilities are. They are generally much quicker at picking things up. To my mind it may take a couple of months before they’re producing well, but by the end of the year they may well be twice as productive as somebody who is already experienced.”
O’Brien warns that Java still has to beat off the Microsoft challenge, but Muggridge says this may not be an issue.
“They’re not necessarily incompatible in the sense that Visual J++ [Microsoft’s product] has support for ActiveX along with Java. They’re not competing technologies. What is competing potentially is whether ActiveX is the component model or Java Beans, which is set up to work with a range of component models.”
Muggridge says the university has 180 students who have studied Java at stage three and are now ready to enter the workforce.
Internet consultant Phil Parent, of Auckland-based Creative Data, warns against the hype.
“All the hype says Java is there. It is growing because there was none a year ago and there’s some now and more and more people are going that way. But how fast is it growing and is it financially viable?
“Would you personally put all your eggs in one IT basket? Next year Java might be passé. It’s good stuff to know but it’s like being a propeller technician on an airplane.”
Parent sees other less talked about technologies as offering better career options.
“The things that are not overhyped are OLAP and lightweight directory access protocol, which is the way to tap into your corporate databases over the Internet. That’s just as hot as Java and it’s a practical application.
“The problem with Java is it’s so wide that all you’ve got to do is mention it and people go, “Oh, yeah?”. It’s a programming language and pretty soon it will be all drag-down, drop and drag and visual-type stuff. Where would you be if you were a professional assembly-language programmer about 15 years ago?
“Java’s not a career yet but it could be a career stepping stone,” he says.