Editor’s Note

Coming out the Other Side

Keith WardTyping in “ASP.NET” at the popular employment site Monster.com brings up 1,848 hits.Typing in “C#” brings up 3,247 matches; “SQL programmer” returns 874 openings.

Do figures like that mean anything in this job market, with many companies still handing out pink slips left and right, and continuing to outsource development jobs?In short—is the recession really over, as the experts claim, or are the hard times going to loiter awhile, like a 19-year-old on a Baltimore street corner?

The software development community, thought to be mostly immune to the unemployment line, has felt the stinging lash of the bleak economic picture as well.If you haven’t lost your job, chances are good you have a colleague or friend who has.

Because anecdotal evidence is of little value on matters like these, I went to an expert to get his take.Tom Silver is the senior vice president, North America, at tech job search Web site Dice.com.On the whole, he’s optimistic about the outlook for software developers going forward.

Silver gave me a “state of the state” rundown of the current situation.“The market is definitely improving for software developers,” he says. “There are currently nearly 8,500 open jobs being advertised on Dice.com. That’s up 7 percent year-over-year and has increased more than 20 percent in the last six months. We see opportunities in a wide variety of industries, and 45 states and the District of Columbia currently have openings.”

That optimism applies to salaries as well, Silver says, which are trending up—only a bit, but in this environment, that’s good to hear.“Software Engineers enjoyed a slight increase (1.5 percent) in average salaries to $91,342. That compares to a 1 percent increase for tech in general between 2009 and 2010. Software Engineers continue to be paid well—16 percent above the overall tech average salary of approximately $78,000,’’ according to Silver.

But what if you’re on the outside of those rosy statistics, looking in?What do you do to make yourself more employable?For one thing, Silver says, don’t focus only on your programming chops; sharpen your communication and people skills, the so-called soft skills.

“Soft skills are important, but don’t replace the appropriate experience and skill-set,” Silver says.“However, most companies want excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Software developers have to have the ability to present ideas in a business-friendly and user-friendly language. They have to be highly self-motivated and -directed with excellent analytical and problem-solving capabilities. If you can combine excellent technical know-how with soft skills, it’s a killer combination.”

In general, Silver continues, it’s better to have a big toolbox with a lot of gadgets than a small one with many specialized tools. “Broadening your skill-set is the most important. Also, our research shows that having more skills typically begets a higher income.”

So, what does the immediate future hold for developers?Does Silver expect 2010 to surpass last year?“Hands down, better,” he gushes.He sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but does have numbers to back up his statements.“We think 2010 is going to be about retention,” Silver says. “With confidence returning and the number of available jobs improving, software developers should be willing to go fight for what they want, whether their preference is more compensation, training or career growth.”

And although it may be small comfort to the developers still knocking on doors, Silver continues to believe that this industry is the right one to be in.“Companies forget that the unemployment rate for technology professionals is 4.5 percent, as compared to 10 percent overall—and well improved from the peak [6.2 percent] in this cycle.Technology professionals told us very clearly that they don’t think their companies did any of the ‘soft’ items to keep them motivated during the downturn.It’s simply a matter of time before technology professionals start looking around.”

Does this outlook cheer you?Or are you out of work and as discouraged as ever?Tell me your story at mmeditor@microsoft.com.