You’ve got tech skills. You know how to use Facebook and Twitter, can assemble a WordPress blog in minutes, and your iPhone talks to your thermostat.
As useful as these skills are, they aren’t the technical abilities that are most sought after by Canada’s largest employers. If you’re looking to enter the world of IT professionals, here is what you need to know.
According to Paul Farkas, a National Practice Leader at Aplin, one of Canada’s leading recruiting firms that specializes in placing Information Technology professionals in the Greater Toronto Area, the real demand is for experience with the plumbing of enterprise software, specifically .NET, C# and Java.
“The demand for talent is high,” says Farkas, “with salaries ranging from $55K at the junior level, all the way up to $130K+ for executives.”
Farkas sees the need for these skills across a wide array of industries including: consulting, business process outsourcing, financial, energy and utilities, manufacturing, technical support, software development, pharmaceutical and medical.
He also highlights one area of development in particular: ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). ERP encompasses a huge variety of software applications that all fit together to give companies of all sizes the ability to see the moving parts of their business and make informed decisions about how and where they can make changes. There are as many kinds of ERP implementations as there are companies.
And although there are some big names in the ERP space such as Oracle and SAP, even their highly sophisticated ERP products require knowledgeable and experienced developers to customize them and provide ongoing support for the businesses that buy them. Thus the need for people with the skills to shape ERP components.
.NET, C# and Java
So what, exactly are these technologies and how are they used?
.NET is an application development framework that was created by Microsoft. It’s essentially a very large library of pre-written code chunks that developers can use and re-use again and again to create new software. According to Microsoft, using .NET has big advantages in terms of speed, simplicity and reliability. Because of that, many companies have used .NET to create entire ERP systems from scratch.
While you may have run into .NET already (some programs for consumers are written using .NET and require that the code library be installed on your computer before you can use it), it is primarily used in an enterprise setting.
When .NET was created back in 2000, Microsoft also created a programming language so that developers could create actual programs using those pre-written code chunks. That language is C#. And while C# isn’t the only language that you can use to develop .NET with, it’s by far the most popular. C# and .NET are designed to run primarily on computers with the Windows operating system.
Java, on the other hand, is a truly cross-platform programming platform and language that has a lot in common with C#. In fact James Gosling, who created the Java programming language in 1994, and Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, the originator of Java, called C# an “imitation” of Java. Be that as it may, the important thing to know about Java is that it is a language that can be used to create software that is written only once, yet can be run on a wide variety of operating systems. When used as a development platform, Java is a direct competitor to Microsoft’s .NET.
How to acquire these skills
Farkas’ clients are typically looking for people who have worked with these programming environments before, “the minimum is 3-5 years and as the salary band increases so does the demand for experience,” he says.
Building that experience starts with the right education. You can acquire certifications in these skills online — O’Reilly School Of Technology for instance, offers several certificate courses. They aren’t cheap (The C#.Net certificate will cost over $2,000 U.S.) and they take time (360 hours at a minimum), but Farkas feels that a “focus on certifications and courses that lead to them” is the best way to demonstrate your knowledge to prospective employers.
Once certified, you will need to find a company that will give you your first programming assignment. One way is to offer your skills for free for local charities. Another is to build your own website and assemble a portfolio of projects that you designed yourself to show off your talents.
But remember, it’s not always about what you know. Farkas reminds potential job-seekers that employers are always screening candidates for “chemistry and cultural fit” which means you’ll need to work on your soft skills while you’re enhancing your technical chops. The ability to work well within a team and contribute in a positive and proactive way can often be the characteristic that sets you apart from other, more experienced candidates.
Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced Consumer Tech voices. He created Sync.ca, an award-winning Canadian technology blog which had an audience of over 500,000 monthly visitors. He has appeared as a guest numerous times on national TV and radio programmes, including Canada AM, Sync Up (a weekly segment on CTV News Channel) and App Central. He is currently an independent writer and editor contributing to various publications, but you can always find his thoughts and musings on his blog at excitable.ca.