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Beyond Programming, There Are Many Options

Monday, December 1, 1997; Page A16

Trying to pinpoint career goals in technology's constantly changing landscape is a daunting task.

To navigate this maze, here are some commonly asked questions.

Q. What technology skills are in greatest demand?

A. Employers say they are most in need of programmers who can handle software systems such as Oracle, C++ and Java, which solve complex business problems and allow companies to communicate over the Internet.

You can see what employers are looking for by checking newspaper help-wanted classifieds or browsing through Internet jobs and resume sites. Here are some Internet sites to try: Dr. Dobb's Web Site, http://www.ddj.com/; or The Washington Post's Careerpost guide, http://www. washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/classifieds/careerpost/ parachute/front.htm.

Q. What if you're not a programmer?

A. There is a rapidly growing demand for people who know how to use new computing and Internet technologies as well as create them, in fields as varied as auto repair, hotel management, printing and construction. Look at the courses offered at local community colleges or corporate universities to get an idea of what technology-based instruction is available.

Q. How can children who are about to enter high school find out about technology careers?

A. Many technology companies in the area are happy to send people to schools to talk about careers. Some offer internships to students who do well in technology courses. Check with your school guidance counselors.

Q. What if you've been working for more than 10 years, are not a techie, but want to know whether you can get trained to do a technology job? How do you start?

A. Not an easy question. Unless you're careful, you may wind up taking expensive courses that may not take you where you want to go. Experts say it's crucial to understand what specific skills, aptitudes and attitudes are required for different technology jobs and see where you might fit in.

Look at a skills inventory prepared by the Northwest Center for Emerging Technologies at Bellevue Community College, Bellevue, Wash., and backed by the National Science Foundation. The Internet address is http://nwcet.bcc.ctc.edu/skill/. You could ask your local library or school to purchase the full survey.

Q. What if your computer skills are getting rusty and you're afraid you'll be laid off?

A. Maybe your employer will level with you about what kinds of technology the company expects to need in the future. A community college nearby may well be teaching what you need. You could ask the company to join something called the Talent Alliance, an employer-run Web site that helps people make mid-career changes. It's at http://www.talentalliance.org/.

Q. Newspapers are always running ads for technology job fairs. Are they worth going to?

A. Most employers who go to job fairs are looking for people with very specific skills in programming, network operations and management of computer services. A typical employer at a fair may offer jobs to as few as a half dozen people out of more than 100 interviewed, so those with incomplete or out-of-date skills are likely to be disappointed.

Look at the companies that will be attending the job fairs they're usually listed in the newspapers ads. Many of these companies have their own Web sites that may spell out what they're looking for.

Q. Some programming classes cost thousands of dollars. Is there any financial help available?

A. Workers who lose their jobs or are about to be laid off can get financial help for training. So can low-income people. State employment offices can provide details.

New programs are in the works to create more loans and aid for technology training. Maryland state officials will ask the legislation next year to offer tuition assistance to students who achieve high grades in tech courses and then agree to work for a Maryland company for several years after graduation.

And the Northern Virginia Technology Council hopes to persuade its member companies to help pay for training if students agree to come to work for them. Check its Web site early next year: http://www.nvtc.org.

Q. What's the best way to keep up with this whole thing?

A. Major business groups in the region have Web sites where you can check for new training opportunities and other developments.

They include the Northern Virginia Technology Council, http://www.nvtc.org/ and click on "Workforce issues," and the Potomac Knowledgeway, http://www.knowledgeway.org/ programs/workforce/contents.html; and the Maryland High Technology Council at http://www.mdhitech.org.

Peter Behr

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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