Dear Career Adviser

I've spent 12 years working in the insurance industry and the past four years programming insurance applications in Micro Focus Cobol. My company was recently sold, and I want to get out of Cobol programming and into Web technologies and e-commerce. I have Java training but no experience. I have two job offers. One job involves working on the support team for Web application servers. This includes networking, TCP/IP, firewalls and security. I have good customer support skills, and the company is willing to train me. The second job involves doing system testing on a Web application. Java developers do the coding. Which is the better choice?

- Premium Position

Dear Premium:

Testing is probably the weaker of these two choices, says Susan Cole, a recruiter at technology placement firm Donahue & Moore Associates Inc. in New York. While Web initiatives are hot at financial, brokerage and insurance companies, your second choice only involves testing Java applications using automated tools, and you wouldn't be getting any hands-on Java development experience.

To make this choice worthwhile, you would really need to be offered hands-on Java development training, says Cole. Furthermore, you should learn automated Web testing tools such as Mercury Interactive Inc.'s WinRunner and LoadRunner and Segue Software Inc.'s Silk to increase your value in the quality-assurance testing marketplace.

Alternatively, knowing how to secure networks and handle the risks of doing business on the Web are key to the e-commerce initiatives at major banks, insurance companies and brokerage firms.

Your career would blossom, Cole says, by learning firewall packages such as Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.'s FireWall-1, SonicWall Inc. Pro and Cisco Systems Inc.'s Secure Pix, including how to install them and how to secure a network. True expertise requires two years of increasingly responsible security roles, learning different packages and becoming certified.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I'm a vice president of network server operations at a Fortune 100 company. I have an engineering degree, some graduate computer studies and more recent courses in technologies relating to e-business such as infrastructure design and security. I'm an avid e-business technology follower, but given the recent "dot-bombs," I fear e-commerce is in a downward trend.

- eMover

Dear eMover:

Many new e-commerce companies are doing just fine, and more mature companies are rapidly adopting e-business initiatives, notes John Roberts, CIO of diCarta Inc., a Redwood City, Calif.-based company that provides Web-based business-to-business contract management software that automates the contract process from negotiation through renewal.

You might find interviewing at young e-commerce companies exciting. But realistically, because of your technical skills, compensation and large-organization political savvy, your career is more apt to grow at larger venues rather than smaller e-commerce vendors or Web implementations.

Direct your search toward larger e-commerce technology vendors of the magnitude of Commerce One Inc. or Ariba Inc. or companies like Amazon.com Inc., whose network-critical e-business implementations have huge needs for high uptimes and scalability.

Or, with your organizational savvy, expand your choices by moving out of network operations into a CIO role or by moving into the realm of big consulting companies.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I have a compensation question. I'm a CIO becoming a chief operating officer at a $40 million company whose revenue we hope will expand to $100 million over the next two years. The company's product set is in the database product development and data mining arena. What are the standards for negotiating a senior compensation package?

- Top Gun

Dear Top:

Compensation at this level may involve some or all of these components: base salary or cash compensation, sign-on bonuses, stock options, warrants convertible to stock, immediately vested stock, performance rewards, severance packages and other perks.

Not every company provides all of these elements, and they can vary widely. Base cash compensation may vary from a low of $100,000 to more than $300,000 annually. Some companies provide sign-on bonuses of $50,000 or more and immediately vested stock; others don't.

Ownership percentages also vary. Your best gauge is to find out the compensation packages, stock included, of the company's vice president-level hires. If vice presidents have 1 percent to 2 percent of the company, an incoming CEO might garner 8 percent to 10 percent of the firm, which might ultimately become 3 percent to 4 percent of the company fully diluted.

Finally, make sure to get a lawyer's advice, urges San Francisco-based venture adviser Irv Weiman. Your employer may choose to reward you within or outside of its current incentive stock option plan, and there could be tax consequences for the company and for you.

Fran Quittel is an expert in high-tech careers and recruitment. Send questions to her at www.computerworld.com/career_adviser.

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