Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - I'm a risk and credit analyst at a Fortune 500 company. I was recently given the opportunity to devote approximately 30% of my time to developing our business unit's e-business strategy and initiatives. I love working on e-business issues and want to do it full time. I've got a good business background, but I feel like I need to develop my technical skills. How should I go about this? What skills should I be focusing on? What's the best format for developing them? - E-Business InitiativeDear E-Biz:

You don't necessarily have to become a hands-on techie, but you must become tech-savvy enough to ask the right questions.

Can you look at various technology choices and platforms, such as Webridge vs.

Commerce One Inc., and understand the implications, rewards and risks of each, as well as why one system is selected and another isn't? That's the level of learning "granularity" you'll need.

So while you won't need to learn to program in Java, New York-based recruiter John Bongiorno advises that you dig deep into e-commerce software, tools and implementations. "Learn to understand the different versions of software and the different tools available so you can see not just the differences between a product upgrade - e.g., Oracle7 vs. Oracle8 - but the actual differences in the product itself," says Bongiorno, CEO of Myrecruiter.com.

Given this input, your best career choices are either in business development, where you'll be developing your employer's electronic-business strategy, or in product management, where you'll be organizing a project, making sure development goals are met and acting as an intermediary between the technical and business staff.

For either route, start by working at a company that can provide you with a good mentor to upgrade your technical skills, where you'll start by learning the right questions to ask. Learn to understand what the technology means relative to the business goals you're trying to support at a deep, specific level.

"Dear Career Adviser:

Everything you write about emphasizes Java and Oracle Corp. rather than Microsoft Corp.'s Active Server Pages, SQL Server and Windows NT for future career growth. Do you think Microsoft-related technologies are becoming less important, particularly for Internet-related developer careers?

- Microsoftie

Dear Softie:

Not at all. It all depends on whether your choice is to join the developer community using Windows, SQL Server or Visual Studio. The latter certainly offers well-respected technology for e-commerce applications and is used for Web initiatives at companies such as Ask Jeeves Inc., Stamps.com Inc., Buy.com Inc., Barnesandnoble.com Inc., Dell Computer Corp., J. C. Penney, Ticketmaster Group Inc. and many others.

If you choose the Microsoft path, take the advice of Barry Goffe, group manager for Windows Distributed Internet Applications Architecture at Microsoft.

"Most high-end e-commerce applications are built with Visual Studio, using a combination of Visual Basic and Visual C++," says Goffe. "Visual Basic allows people to rapidly build complex business components and Visual C++ allows people to build the highest-performance business components possible.

"Moreover, Microsoft recently introduced yet another development language known as C#," he adds. "It offers better productivity for C and C++ developers and is a language optimized for Internet application."

More About DBA Opportunities

A Sybase database administrator asked about opportunities as an Oracle database administrator (DBA). Reader Krishnamuirthy Iyer wrote in to offer an alternative career path.

"I would suggest instead that the professional move to [Microsoft] SQL Server DBA, which is in great demand currently," Iyer says. "Many corporations are choosing this database for lower-volume database usage and for Web applications using [Active Server Pages]. Moving into MS SQL Server will be a breeze, as essentially both the products have evolved from the same engine. This is similar to another current trend of C++ programmers moving to Java."

While ease of transfer is a great boon, Stormtech Search LLC's Kerry Morris, a recruiter based in San Francisco, says there are a few things you should be aware of before making this move.

I probably get about 10 times the number of job openings for companies needing Oracle DBAs, but there are not as many candidates for MS SQL jobs," says Morris. "As MS SQL DBAs are harder to come by, companies using MS SQL are willing to pay for them, but there are more e-commerce jobs using Oracle."

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