Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (03/13/2000) - I'm a competent applications programmer in C/C++, and I'm interested in low-level programming for embedded systems and device drivers. Can I fight my way into these kinds of positions with a degree in information systems, or must I go back for hardware-relevant computer science courses?

- Not in the driver's seat

Dear Driver:

Essentially, it's a two-year switch to regain top footing. "Embedded software programming is mostly [in] C and becoming more C/C++," notes Jennifer Kopatz, an embedded software and firmware technical recruiter at Stormtec Search Recruiting in San Francisco.

If your C/C++ skills have been used in a 3-D background, the easiest path to device-driver engineering jobs involves promoting those skills to a multimedia company that's programming in Windows, says Kopatz.

Get two solid years of work experience on low-level device-driver development and take some courses in embedded systems and device-driver development.

Additionally, acquire skills in real-time operating systems, particularly with Alameda, Calif.-based WindRiver Systems Inc.'s VxWorks.

With that sort of work experience and training, you'd be in the driver's seat for jobs in networking, audio/video, telecommunications, wireless cellular, switches, data communications, DVD or digital subscriber lines, which are all hot areas.

Don't let salary stand in your way if you want to make this transition, says Kopatz, because it's hard for a company to justify paying a higher salary to someone who's coming in and learning, reading books and doing all that's needed to get up to speed. Testing might be another way into device-driver work, but if you take that path, avoid getting pigeonholed as a tester if you truly want to do development.

Dear Career Adviser:

I'm an Oracle database administrator in the military, getting out in May. I sent my résumé to several headhunters in the Phoenix area. Now I have five who want to work with me, two of whom I trust. Since I haven't been in the private sector for almost 20 years, I want to avoid having five companies submit my résumé for the same job, but I also want to be sure I have an administrator job in Phoenix when I retire in May.

- Private Sector-Bound

Dear Private:

You're correct. Only work with recruiters who know the companies you want to work for, and who are serious about representing you. Ask each recruiter these specific questions:

-- Who, in their eyes, are placeable candidates?

-- What do they see as your weaknesses, and what can you do about them?

-- How do they prepare candidates for interviews?

-- Do they know the companies and managers well?

-- Will they check with you before they submit your résumé, so there's no overlap?

Finally, in return, you must be fully honest with them about your availability for and interest in the positions they find for you.

Dear Career Adviser:

As a networking engineer (Microsoft-certified systems engineer, certified network engineer and Cisco-certified network associate) with more than 10 years of experience in support and implementation consulting, I am a broad and strong generalist. My company now requires all networking engineers to become enterprise resource planning implementation specialists, with a little networking thrown in. But I would prefer to move into security, firewalls and routing specialization.

I have a year of solid introductory experience and have deployed seven or eight firewalls. I also want some time with my family. Will potential employers see me as an entry/midlevel security engineer? What do I need to do to move into the security/firewall area?

- Security Conscious

Dear Security Conscious:

"The fact that you've deployed seven or eight firewalls gives you a good start, particularly if these were different and you've developed a good set of techniques for managing and configuring them properly," according to David Bonn, chief technology officer at WatchGuard Technologies Inc. in Seattle.

But being able to select between host-based firewalls is only one aspect of security.

You'll also need in-depth knowledge of e-mail encryption systems, such as Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates Inc.'s Pretty Good Privacy and network antivirus software packages from companies such as Trend Micro Inc. or Symantec Corp., both based in Cupertino, Calif. Expertise in security-specific hosts and overall site security is also valuable.

"If a person had also configured and installed NAI Technologies Inc.'s Gauntlet and Cisco Pix, they could have my job," adds Bonn.

Your time constraints might prove problematic, since "security requires [around-the-clock] availability," cautions Mike Peronto, WatchGuard's chief operations officer, citing recent distributed denial-of-service attacks on Inc. and eBay Inc.

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