Is There Life After Y2K for Bug Fighters?

The worst thing about being a contracted Year 2000 bug expert is that even though you may have saved the world from chaos, you're still out of a job.

As companies leave the old millennium apparently unscathed, contract bug fixers are quickly finding themselves as much yesterday's news as the Y2K hype itself.

"I've been getting resumes from Y2K experts as far as London, Singapore and Bangalore. They really have to get off their butts and focus on the new technologies," said Shyle Gautama, director of recruitment firm Top Executive.

"My advice to them is to get some retraining and pick another field. What they were doing was finding [bug-related] problems, and thus missing the flow for the industry. They need to go back and get new skills."

"What you had was a programmer who might have been a hotshot, but because they were too focused, they missed the e-commerce bandwagon," Gautama said.

However, depending on what a company considers the end of the Y2K war, bug fixers could still find some work.

"We can probably see another year of mileage out of this Y2K bit," said Bettina Schreiber, Morgan & Banks Asia's advertising and marketing coordinator. "Is [the closing date in] January 2000 or 2001? I don't think we've heard the end of it."

The placement agency said that from its experience in the past year, there wasn't much of a market for Y2K contract programmers in the first place.

"It seems like a lot of companies had decided to do these things in house.

They've done patches, got their software updates, or just hired someone for one or two weeks; there wasn't a lot in it," Schreiber said.

Some recruitment agencies argue that now, more than ever, there's an increasing need for more IT people -- even if they had only focused on Y2K bug fixing.

"I think things are really picking up," said Rick Krauel, general manager at IT professional job placement agency Juno Systems Asia. "The job market in Hong Kong is now better than it was in 1997."

Krauel said that in the run-up to the millennium rollover, companies held back budgets for new expenditures, focusing resources instead on fighting the Y2K bug. All that has now changed.

"Here in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo, everyone is going all out to (make up for lost time). Everything is starting to pick up. There's the upgrading of networks and (the implementation of) new systems," Krauel said.

He argued that Y2K troubleshooters wouldn't be swept off the shelf, thanks to their thorough knowledge of corporate systems.

"They know these systems inside out. They've gone through the code, (worked with everyone in the organization) and now they'll be rewarded. Their skills are still transferable. A lot of these guys will be great business analysts," Krauel said.

For the short to medium term, Y2K experts could still have jobs cut out for them in specific hard-to-fill sectors such as banking and finance.

"There are still some vacancies for them in mainframe development," said Maggie Lee, a client service manager at Gemini Executive. "At the moment, we don't have any contracted (experts) looking for new jobs."

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