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need career advice/opinions, please

Maria Sills
Greenhorn

Joined: Aug 25, 2004
Posts: 12
I am a programmer with an AS degree in Computer Programming Technology. I have 6+ years experience, mostly in mainframe-related technologies (COBOL CICS, etc), with about an 18-month foray into Lotus Notes development. I then moved, and had to take a job doing mainframe work again. I was beginning to experience severe burnout/boredom with the mainframe stuff, and was considering changing my career.

Then, I lucked-out and was asked to be one of two developers on a sort of pilot project. So, for the last 8 months, I've been developing a Java web application using the Struts framework. Now, I actually look forward to coming to work, and am tremendously excited about Java development. I have even been motivated to begin preparing for the SCJP exam.

However, circumstances are far from ideal. Among other issues, I work in a government position (typically low pay) in the 2nd lowest paid state in the US (according to the US Census Bureau). I do not enjoy living here, and am seriously considering moving to another state sometime within the next six months or so.

My questions are: 1) What are my chances of getting a job as a Java Developer with my mainframe/Lotus Notes experience, plus what little Java experience I have? 2) Will having the SCJP significantly increase my chances?
Homer Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 26, 2004
Posts: 311
Depends a lot on your appearance. Six years experience would make you about 28 and that's good. SCJP could not hurt, but won't be a big help either. You need more Java experience.

If you work for the Feds, then of course you have seniority.

Look for a job while you continue to work. If you find something, then you just have the risk of losing your new job.
Maria Sills
Greenhorn

Joined: Aug 25, 2004
Posts: 12
Thanks for your reply, Homer.

Couple more questions:

Depends a lot on your appearance.


Is that based on the theory that the interviewer makes up his/her mind in the first few seconds of an interview?

Six years experience would make you about 28 and that's good.


Actually, I was out of school for a few years before I went back to get my degree, so you're off by about 7 years. Is that going to hurt me?

You need more Java experience.


How much more Java experience would it require before I can go job hunting without looking like a starry-eyed teenager in Hollywood for the first time thinking she'll get an acting job in the first week?

I have a fear that the Java development will not last long here. As I said, it is a pilot project, and could be pulled at any time. Or, even if this one goes into production, they could decide there will be no more Java development. I don't want to wait until that happens to start my job search.

If you work for the Feds, then of course you have seniority.


Nope. State worker.

Look for a job while you continue to work. If you find something, then you just have the risk of losing your new job.


That's exactly what I plan to do. I just hope the Java development is not yanked anytime soon. I'm not sure I could ever go back to mainframe dev.

Again, thanks for your reply.

Regards,

--ms
Homer Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 26, 2004
Posts: 311
Things depend on the demand for software developers, of course. Most would agree, things are better than they were. It's hard to judge but, IMO, they have gone from bad to poor. When new college grads quit complaining then they are up to fair.

The sweet spot for hiring is 3 - 5 years experience. That hides their unstated objective that the candidate be about 25 to 30 years old. 35 is very borderline.

The closer you get to three years experience the better your chance. Some certs will help get them to talk to you. But SCJP by itself is not real strong.

Razor sharp interviewing skills will help.

If your domain knowledge is transferable to your prospective employer that could be a big help.

You don't have to look like a stary eyed teenager, you need to look like a TV news anchor person.

If you've got the looks, the winning personality and some ambition there's probably a lot of other careers that you'll find more rewarding long term.
Even if you don't, software developement is not a field that offers much to most at 45+.

Mainframe experience is and has been marketable.
Homer Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 26, 2004
Posts: 311
If I was on Who wants to be a Millionaire? I would guess Missisippi was the lowest paying state and Arkansas was second from the bottom. Would I be close? Did the second lowest ever fly the stars and bars?
Maria Sills
Greenhorn

Joined: Aug 25, 2004
Posts: 12
Sadly, you would have blown your million right there. Actually, I believe West Virginia is #50, Mississippi #49. Probably, the only thing keeping MS from being #50 is there are a few people here that make a great deal of money, which skews the numbers. Mostly, the people making the money are PI attorneys. It seems like I heard/read somewhere that Jackson, MS has a corner on the market of richest law firms in the country.

Anyway, to make things worse, the cost of living here is ridiculously out of proportion. I've lived in other states where the cost of living was comparable, but average salary was higher. Unfortunately, a lot of things are out of balance here. I grew up here. I call it home. It's a beautiful state, and, I think, has a lot to offer. But it's very hard to live here.

Probably more than you ever wanted to know, but there it is anyway.

Regards,

MS from MS
Mark Phinney
Greenhorn

Joined: Aug 04, 2003
Posts: 2
Maria,

Lotus Notes is an important platform used by a number of the agencies in the Intelligence Community. The combination of Lotus Notes development experience with some serious Java development experience might open some doors in the Washington, DC, area, if you are interested in moving to the Mid-Atlantic region.

Pluses:
-- the work is fascinating
-- the salaries seem astoundingly high

Minuses:
-- the cost of living is astoundingly high
-- potentially lots of unpaid overtime
-- normally requires active high-level security clearances
-- traffic is for the most part abysmal

If you have access to a public or college library that subscribes to the Washington Post newspaper, the Sunday issues for 12 Sept 2004 and 19 Sept 2004 contain special employment sections. Check the position ads to get an idea of who is looking for people with what type of qualifications.

If you prefer the Rocky Mountain West, you might consider metro Denver and Colorado Springs. Again, there's a significant amount of intel work being doone in Java; there may be some need for Lotus Notes experience.

Pluses:
-- fascinating work
-- beautiful country

Minuses:
-- relatively high cost of living
-- lousy traffic that's getting worse (primarily Denver)
-- potential for lots of unpaid overtime
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I disagree about Homer's comments on appearance. I can't say it never matters, but it is wildly less important in our industry than in many others, e.g. sales, marketing, finance.

Likewise the sweet spot isn't 3-5 years. It's that software engineering jobs are pyramided, i.e. more entry level jobs than upper level jobs. However, in the last few years companies got scared and recognized that colleges don't prepare you fully for work. Rather than take the risk, it was safer to hire the lowest experenced people out there. 3-5 is the "sweet spot" for entry level, but not for architect or other positions.

I also think it offers plenty to 45+ people. Remember that our industry has boomed for decades, so it often drew in a younger crowd at every turn. I suspect it looks like a young man's game only because that's what we see.

I would recommend talking to consulting companies. Many do work on legacy systems, so your background with mainframes would be very useful to them. I wouldn't just send a generic resume, but instead find specific groups in consulting firms doing that kinda work and trying to get in touch with the manager directly. He'll probably still send you to HR, but now he'll know to look for your resume.

--Mark
 
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