Originally published in the January 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.

Career Advisor

Precision job titles

Whatever the definition, open systems professionals are in demand.

Open Systems \'oř -pen 'sis-temz\ n 1 : a term Information Systems professionals use endearingly to describe the ideal computer system 2 : IBM's worst nightmare. antonym see Macintosh.

Actually, there is little agreement on a (serious) definition of open systems. But whatever it is, everyone sure seems to want it. There are entire magazines and thousands of computer hacks out there devoted to the subject. For the purposes of this column, though, I'm defining open systems as an integrated computing environment where the user has complete "plug-and-play" abilities with respect to hardware and software. That was a pipe dream 20 years ago. Today, it's closer than ever to reality.

As a veteran in this business, I've witnessed the evolution of the computer industry. That doesn't make me an expert, but it has given me an insight into this open systems question as it relates to career opportunities.Thus, how I selected this month's letter: It reflects many of the questions I get concerning where advanced systems professionals fit in the open systems job market and what software skills are needed to land a good job -- and a long-term career -- in this field.

Dear Career Advisor,

I am very confused about some of the terms you have been using in past columns. For example, who qualifies as an open systems professional? Are there any industry guidelines that define open systems careers, and what experience is required to obtain jobs in those areas? Also, what is a Systems Architect?


Openly Confused

Dear Confused,

Job titles and descriptions vary a lot, depending on how the company defines your role in the organization.What further complicates the job market today is that the technology is rapidly changing. That's why, as these firms migrate from mainframe to open systems environments, their hiring managers and HR departments are struggling to define staffing needs.

This wasn't always the case. Those of you who have been around as long as I may recall that in the mid to late '70s, software and operating systems were all built around proprietary monolithic hardware systems. If you were an IBM software engineer, for example, you were only trained to work on IBM systems. Chances are you devoted the better part of your career (and possibly your life) to a technology from a proprietary system.

In the '80s, that began to change as proprietary computer manufacturers jumped on the open systems bandwagon by developing their own implementations of Unix.

During this period, technology was rapidly reinventing itself. Computers became powerful and affordable enough to distribute throughout the organization. MIS professionals saw inexpensive computers placed in front of every bank teller and throughout the factory floors. Suddenly it was their responsibility to make all these different hardware and software systems work together.

Systems architecture
The first task involves turning functional requirements into design specifications. The systems architects we place have to be able to see the big picture, that is, understand all aspects of the system implementation including functionality, specifications, and design, as well as the business implications associated with the system. They have to know how to translate "systems" into dollar costs and gains. They need to know how to do business analysis and modeling, benchmarking, migration performance, forecast scalability of systems, etc. The systems architect typically has 8 to 10 years of experience, has gone through several project life cycles, has two degrees, and has worked in both mainframe and desktop environments.

In a large organization, there will be specialized systems architects to deal with each level: a communications architect, a business architect, a modeling architect. In a smaller organization, one person with more generalized knowledge will serve in this capacity.

Design and implementation
The next area of development takes the architectural specifications and writes the application. This person typically has a degree and three to five years of experience. Titles range from Systems Analyst and Applications Programmer to Software Engineer. Experience usually falls in the areas of application development, object-oriented programming, database development, or transaction processing. If you are involved in this portion of open systems development, you must have exposure to Unix, Microsoft Windows, and relational databases; otherwise your future looks dim.

In terms of language, the inherent advantages of rapid prototyping and reusability are driving the adoption of object-oriented technology. This is creating a strong demand for professionals skilled in a variety of object-based languages and techniques, as well as database-application developers. Demand for talent in traditional structured languages, like Cobol, is on the decline.

Support and maintenance
This is one of the fastest growing areas of open systems. Support personnel provide upgrades, sysadmin support, and training. These people do everything from designing and installing the wiring system to designing and implementing the network. Professionals in this field average 3 to 10 years experience with an associate or a college degree. The new generation of sysadmins not only has a college degree, but excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to deal effectively with users.

The status of this position is changing from one of the least desirable to one of the most desirable because user software skills are in extremely high demand, yet people with such skills are difficult to locate. These are critical positions within open systems organizations.

Where the jobs are
The move away from monolithic computing is responsible for the decrease in mainframe-related technologies.

Currently, these are the industries with the greatest demand for open systems professionals:

Financial Banking/Brokerage. This field is leading the open systems migration trend. Our recruiters report that professionals with significant expertise in object-oriented programming and/or transaction database development can essentially write their own ticket in the large financial centers.

Insurance. The insurance business uses applications that are heavily tied to funds management, transaction processing, and reporting. There will always be opportunities for object-technology programmers and transaction-database developers in this field.

Transportation. Transportation in this country, particularly in the areas of shipping and airline travel, is also very transaction oriented. System administrators do well in this field because of the constant need for data maintenance.

Telecommunications. The tremendous growth of wireless communications, the information superhighway, and multimedia capabilities has created a huge market again for those skilled in transaction processing and analysis.

Government. The government has always been and will continue to be the largest user of computer systems. The applications are extremely large, requiring professionals skilled in all three phases of open systems development.

If history has a lesson for us, it is that the open systems market is a dynamic one. Continuing increases in computer performance will one day allow a desktop system to be wrapped around your wrist. This will, in turn, create a demand for advanced systems professionals who can design, develop, and maintain integrated productivity tools -- only this time with application-development expertise in audio and voice-pattern recognition. So here's a warning: If you don't already have a working knowledge of these newly emerging technologies, now is the time to begin to acquire one. Those who are flexible and can adapt their careers to keep up with the changes in technology will always be welcome in business.

Remember, I'm always interested in your career questions and I will answer the most frequently asked questions each month. I can be reached on the Internet at career@advanced.com or fax me at 415-267-1732.

About the author
Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. Reach him at career@advanced.com.

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Last updated: 1 January 1995.