Sunday, February 22, 2009

Résumé and Career Advice – A Panel Discussion

Last Tuesday at our monthly AJUG meeting, we had a panel discussion on what hiring managers are looking for in software developer candidates and what you can do to improve the odds to get hired.

The panel consisted of:

  • David Brooks - VP Technology at LexisNexis

  • Mike Nearman - Consultant

  • Deran Ross - Partner at Enablus

  • Pat Baumgartner - Director of Sales at Anteo

  • Dion Deloof - President at Anteo (Moderator)

In case you missed the presentation, the presentation was recorded and is available for download here.

It was an interesting event and the room was certainly packed. It looks like the recession is slowly hitting the IT job market here in Atlanta. There were a few more unemployed attendees than we had been accustomed to in the past. One question raised during the panel discussion was how the Atlanta job market for software developers looks like right now. The panelists thought that Atlanta, while not being perfect, is one of the stronger IT job markets in the US currently, and stressed that the situation is certainly not horrible. Prior to the start of the meeting one visiting company was actually actively looking for quite a few developers.

Anyway, the panel discussion raised a few other interesting points providing valuable career advice, of which some was new to me and some was pretty much common sense, such as not to have a résumé consisting of more than two pages—Well, some time ago I was interviewing a candidate who provided an eight-page résumé…

Some general résumé advice was that: Simple is better. Include your formal education but then show progression and growing responsibility on your résumé. Summarize your experience for specific projects. Don't put references onto your résumé. Also, references these days are a mere pro forma check for the hiring company, important but less so.

One aspect that the panel stressed more than once was to concentrate on the last five years of experience and to make sure that your career follows a holistic picture, meaning not to branch out into vastly different areas of expertise (E.g. one year I am a DBA, the other year a BA and yet another year I develop some code).

Another question that was addressed was: How important is it to know the latest and greatest technology out there? It is more important to understand the business and get the job done. The panelists made the point that it is important for software developers to be able to provide a holistic software solution, to stay current more in a broader sense, and not follow the latest greatest hype.

This also played into one of the later questions: Is it better to have a broad focus on technology or to learn a very specific set of technologies and do them really, really well instead? The panel certainly seemed to be more split on this question as the best approach depends on your career goals. It was mentioned that knowing a specific technology can be very advantageous either while it is still cutting edge (E.g. Adobe Flex) or at the tail end of the popularity curve (Ever heard of PowerBuilder?), particularly when doing consulting. For more permanent long-term employment, this may not be as significant, however.

A question from the audience was about which value do certifications have in regards to hiring candidates. All panel participants voiced the importance of experience over having certifications. Another point that was mentioned several times was the importance of soft-skills. How well developed are your estimation skills? How do you handle and execute given tasks? How well do you understand the larger picture of your business and your customers?

Also, when you are looking for jobs, don't necessarily trust the job description. Internal recruiters may use a canned job description or the job description may deviate quite a bit form the actual duties. Thus, always ask lots of questions and don't get discouraged by a bad job posting. It may be better than the posting indicates.

When asked about contracting and the advantages and disadvantages of Corp-to-Corp versus W2, the panel was not too excited about Corp-to-Corp contracting but they noted that as long as your corporation consists of just yourself you won't run into too many issues.

Someone from the audience asked about current hot technologies. The panelists thought that while there are still good opportunities in custom software development, there are even better opportunities around business intelligence projects. They also thought that knowledge in JBPM, Rules Engines and AJAX are very useful.

What I thought was interesting from my European perspective, was, that companies especially in the financial service industry may actually check your credit-score. Thus, don't plan on doing too many bankruptcies.

Another member from the audience asked about how companies use social networking services in order to source candidates. The panel indicated that they are not paying too much attention to it but that it might be very useful to check out connections of a potential candidates. Maybe the hiring manager knows somebody in your connection list. Therefore, pay attention to it, but keep in mind that your profile is public information and it needs to be a good and accurate reflection of yourself.

Another question dealt with the current recession and for ways to prevent lay-offs. The panel said that you should concentrate on doing a good job and not to get affected too much from the economic situation, otherwise your work quality may slip which may cause issues by itself. Notwithstanding, you want to concentrate on how to market yourself best. You may take on charity projects, contribute to user groups or write a technical blog.

In an interesting question, a member from the audience asked for advice regarding a new-hire's first couple of weeks on the job. The panel advised to use the first couple of weeks to learn. Get self-sufficient. Several panelists said that is is not good if a company does not provide any ramp up times. This may however differ when working as a consultant. Nevertheless, if in doubt regarding your performance, talk to your manager.

I think this covers the core of the panel discussion. All in all it was an AJUG meeting worth attending. See you at DevNexus next month!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Paving the Road for DevNexus

I have been busy doing my best to ensure that the DevNexus conference in Atlanta will become a big success. There is only one more month to go. I helped quite a bit with marketing lately. The latest Java Posse (Episode 229) mentioned the conference in their quick news items (Dick Wall gives it "2 enthusiastic thumbs up" and mentions that he has visited one of the previous AJUG conferences in the past).

InfoQ did us a favor today, and has sent a promotional email to their subscribers in the Southeast mentioning DevNexus.

Lastly, no conference is perfect without free giveaways. Therefore I am in the process of organizing a few free books that we will raffle off at the conference.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Struts 2.1 Java Templates Plugin

In an interview article on InfoQ regarding the latest Struts 2.1 release it was mentioned that Struts now features the Java Templates Plugin. It basically provides the functionality of the "simple" theme implemented directly in Java instead of Freemarker. Musachy Barroso states in this interview that this makes the simple them tags render 4-5 times faster. The question for me is, do you "feel" the difference? Shall I avoid the Freemarker-based templates (at least as long as I use the simple theme)?