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Web application developer is here for the long haul

Web application developer is here for the long haul
By Leslie Goff

Is Web applications development still hot or not? Rest assured, despite the dead-pool of dot.coms, business, entertainment and education over the Web is here to stay. While layoffs and closures abound, talented Web developers remain highly employable.

Job title:
Web applications developer.

E-commerce applications developer; software engineer.

To build, customize and maintain Web-based applications for Web sites, intranets and extranets, including transaction-oriented applications, customer relationship management systems, content management systems, knowledge management systems and more.

In environments with a multi-tier applications architecture, development responsibilities may be split among the various tiers. At Send.com, a high-end online gift-giving service, developers specialize in either the back-end, functional layer of an application, built with Microsoft's COM objects, or the front-end visual layer, built using MS Active Server Pages (ASP), explains Ken Surdan, vice president of technology.

Skills required:
Key skills for development in Windows 2000 or Windows NT environments include Visual Basic, ASP, COM objects, FrontPage, Visual InterDev, MS Site Server and familiarity with SQL Server or other relational databases. Complementary skills include HTML, Java, JavaScript, C and C++.

As for soft skills, self-motivation and a predisposition for teamwork are essential, Surdan says: "When someone is self-motivated, gets their stuff done, and then looks around and asks who else needs help, that's when you have a really high-performance team."

Certification requirements:
Certification is a plus but not required. If you're coming to Web development from another discipline, certification can boost your credibility by showing that you're not just hopping on the gravy train.

For example, after working for nine years as a graphics specialist in the IT organization at Harrah's Entertainment Inc. in Memphis, Debbie Lynch decided to leverage her design skills to join the company's Internet/intranet development team. In addition to taking HTML, MS FrontPage and JavaScript classes, she's also completing the Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) certification program developed by ProsoftTraining.com Inc. "It helps others see me as not just `Debbie the graphics person,' but as someone who's helping lead our Internet development," Lynch says. "And it builds my own self confidence."

Typical day on the job:
The surest thing that can be said of a day on the job as a Web applications developer is that it will be long. It's not uncommon for Web developers to put in 10 or 12 hours plus, especially when preparing for a new site release. In October, when Send.com was working furiously to relaunch in time for the holiday shopping season, developers were in the office until 10 p.m. and later; the company paid for motel rooms across the street from its Waltham, Mass., offices for developers who had long commutes.

In addition to the actual coding, expect to spend time in team meetings, conferring with database specialists, preparing for quality assurance testing, and working with business units such as merchandising, customer service, human resources, public relations and others.

Career path options:
Solid experience as a Web applications developer positions you for project manager, E-commerce architect or Internet/intranet development manager positions. In the long-term, as companies move to become totally Web-enabled organizations, Web applications developers could continue the management track up to the IT executive office, including CIO and CTO.

Even with the dot.com demise, demand for Web developers is as strong as ever. "It's definitely a job seeker's market," says Allen Ackerman, CEO of Indigo Technology Group Inc., a new media industry recruiting firm in New York. "There may be fewer companies and fewer jobs, but there are still more jobs than people available to fill them." The outlook is especially good for developers in the Microsoft environment, he adds: "Windows 2000 is getting high accolades, and companies are really starting to use it as an industrial-strength server operating system."

Salary range:
Programmer/developers in the NT 2000 environment earn an average of $63,414, according to SearchWin2000's ongoing salary survey. Web applications developers can expect a premium: The mean salary for Web developers who have two to three years' experience is $74,055, according to Dice.com's ongoing salary survey.

Best types of companies to work for:
E-commerce companies are still your best bet for leading-edge work if you're willing to take a risk; in a pure-play dot.com venture, Web development will be a strategic priority. But with so many pure-play dot-coms here today, gone tomorrow, you should also consider clicks-and-bricks. Consulting firms are also a top choice.

Leslie Goff is a contributing editor based in New York.

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