Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Dear Career Adviser:

I am a 58-year-old male who started as a computer operator, eventually rising to programming manager in 1976. That company was sold, and I obtained my certified network administrator/Certified NetWare Engineer certification, working my way back into programming.

Until last February, I was at a consulting firm doing Y2k remediation on Cobol and Assembler programs. Now I don't get interviews, and when I do, I'm told I don't have enough experience.

-- Confused

Dear Career Adviser:

I am a newly trained low-level Visual Basic programmer seeking an internship with a firm that uses Visual Basic. How do I start looking for a job?

-- Newbie

Dear Confused and Newbie:

You have something in common! Whether overly experienced in an older job market or just coming in, you both have skill sets that typically don't generate jobs through Internet job boards or by applying via a company's Web site.

In fact, recruiters searching résumé databases will be unable to find your résumés or will screen you out. Additionally, at job fairs, you're at a disadvantage against competitors with skills that better match companies' requirements.

The solution: Increase both your personal contacts and your energy. Take courses, go into online discussion groups and attend every technical event, user group meeting and trade show you can. When you talk about your skill set, exude commitment!

Do you program at home, figuring out solutions to complex problems? Can you pull apart a particular application and show you really know it inside out? If so, this kind of passion - plus a person to help you - will transcend the rough sledding you're both experiencing now.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I have a bachelor's degree in computer science with a background in C, C++ and Windows NT networking. I've been working with hardware but still focusing on software. Now I want to get into an e-commerce company and work on software applications. Do I have a chance?

- Transaction-Oriented

Dear Oriented:

"Oriented will need to learn that, for e-commerce applications jobs, the challenging part is the speed [at] which you're doing the work and the fact that you're operating in [an around-the-clock] world where you can't be down even for a minute," says Joe Kwan, vice president of technology at CareGuide.com in San Francisco, a company specializing in elder- and child-care resources.

Kwan says the logic itself in a dot-com world is a lot easier and that there is some overlap between the dot-com and electronic design automation worlds, such as configuration management and version control. But you will need to at least "talk the talk" regarding software applications specific to dot-coms, plus demonstrate some sensitivity to issues such as transaction databases and publishing and e-commerce software if you want to get hired. The bottom line is that once a manager gives you a chance, with three to six months of hard work, you could re-emerge as a competent e-commerce technocrat, Kwan predicts.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I have a bachelor's degree in computer science and work in information technology. I was thinking of getting a master's degree in information systems, but what I really want is to work in some leading-edge technology such as speech recognition. What do I need to do next, and where should I look?

- Free Speech

Dear Speech:

You'll most likely need to move back to your computer science origins to pursue this hot field. Companies like AT&T Corp., IBM, SpeechWorks International Inc., Nuance Communications, Tellme Networks Inc., BeVocal Inc. and TelSurf Networks Inc. are all seeking people who are well-versed in platforms and standard application programming interfaces, and for those who can work on programming applications using emerging standards such as VXML, Java, ECTF S.100, CTMedia,C and C++, says Jay G. Wilpon, director of advanced speech technologies at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

For these firms, a prize hire has those skills, plus a background in either digital signal processing, linguistics and computer science or human-factor design. This is the "art" that's used to build complex applications, since any successful application of speech has a strong human-factor component.

If you're interested in inventing the best speech recognizer in the world, join the Signal Processing Society, which is part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (www.ieee.org), and expect lots of change.

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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