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Your Tech Skills Have a Two Year Half-Life

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the use-it-or-lose-it dept.

Programming 289

itwbennett writes "Eric Bloom, an IT leadership coach and former CIO, has answered that eternal question 'does working on old software hurt your professional marketability' with a somewhat surprising 'no.' But, Bloom adds, 'a techie's skill set from a marketability perspective has a two year half-life. That is to say, that the exact set of skills you have today will only be half as marketable two years from now.'"

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289 comments

Depends... (3, Insightful)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847586)

Depends really on how specific your skills are.

Knowing, for example Java or .NET programming languages won't decline in value that fast. Perhaps specialising in certain specific products will- and certainly the development environment will.

On a non-programming side- knowing the basics of computer hardware doesn't decline in value that fast. Perhaps specialising in certain models does.

Re:Depends... (2)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847644)

I was going to make a similar but converse point... as a tech generalist, much of what I do is bleeding-edge. Old knowledge is as irrelevant to me as it would be to a potential employer.

Just as doctors are supposed to keep up to date on their skills through continuing education, technologists are expected to keep fresh on new tech trends.

Re:Depends... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847762)

however, that you have a track record of working on bleeding edge is very marketable.

so it's not irrelevant that you used some dead sdk's, it's quite relevant that you could work with them in the short timespan they were relevant at all.

sure, it makes no difference now that I once installed os/2 as a teenager.. but it makes for a good conversation when sprinkled with the reasons why moving to linux on desktop made sense for the time.

Re:Depends... (5, Interesting)

SoothingMist (1517119) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848142)

My experience has been that one has to balance keeping up with one's technical field and avoiding chasing fads. Too often "keeping fresh on new tech trends" boils down to chasing fads and, for instance, using a new language because it is there. What I have concentrated on are the technologies needed to solve difficult customer problems as they push their own application and technological domains. To make this work I keep up a constant cycle of study-learn-work-produce. That has worked well for 35 years and keeps me in demand as a senior research engineer (Ph.D.) at 60 years of age.

Re:Depends... (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848340)

I'd be wary about that "old knowledge". It may prove useful. There's LOTS of legacy software out there. I stay familiar with Fortran because it's still bloody good for numeric computations and it's uneconomic to translate old Fortran codes, which means I'm going to encounter it. I spent time learning about Intels iWARP chip (brilliant design, naff implementation) and Content Addressable Memory because these are ideas that have appeared multiple times and will therefore appear again. Understanding the principles now saves me time and effort for when they become important later on.

That's not to say I stay from the bleeding edge. I try to split my time 50:50 between the past that I may well encounter in the future (a trait that secured me my current job) and the future that I will certainly encounter in the future (a trait that secured me my jobs at NASA and Lightfleet). Both will come up, that is inevitable, but it's not possible to know in advance which one will come up first or in what way.

Generalizing is best done by making the fewest assumptions about the past, present and future that you can that will leave you enough time to learn the skills well.*

*This is important. 100 half-baked skills are of equal value to 100 highly-tuned future-only skills that turned out to be a dead-end. None whatsoever. Mastering a smaller set of transferable skills, legacy skills and future skills, thus being totally generalized, is the obvious ideal.

Re:Depends... (1)

jaymz666 (34050) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847716)

I think the point is that if you are an admin of a specific release of a product from a vendor, the further behind on the upgrade path you are the less useful your skills are.

Re:Depends... (1, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847800)

If you only admin one product, from one vendor you are a glorified user.

Re:Depends... (3, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848374)

Not sure about glorified. Users get to scream when the feature sets change. Admins can't. Users often get to practice in other environments, it's much harder for admins to. Users get to blame admins when things fall over. Admins get to.... ....well, turn into a paranoid, schizophrenic wreck of a human being.

Re:Depends... (-1)

WaterDamage (719017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847760)

.NET will be on a decline as Microsoft loves to gut programming languages every few years. Just look at how many programming languages MS has had in the past and look at their life-cycles.

Re:Depends... (0)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848112)

I've never made a .NET app, but I was under the impression that it's a VM framework similar to Java's VM, rather than a language. It has been around for a while and works with a few different languages. Any programming language MS creates will probably have a .NET compiler.. if I was going to write a Windows only app then I'd look at. NET in more detail, but who wants to write Windows-only code? I know there's Mono, but who wants to use a framework that's based on an API developed by a company known for embrace/extend/extinguish?

Re:Depends... (3, Informative)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848444)

.Net is not a programming language. Two of the most popular languages used with .Net are C# and VB.Net. C# is new with .Net and is still around. VB.Net is an evolution of Visual Basic, which has existed prior to Windows 3.0. (I don't know exactly how old it is, but VB 1.0 was in text mode, and created apps for the then-current version of Windows.)

Re:Depends... (1)

Kagato (116051) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847766)

Knowing Java ins't good enough anymore. For instance, a developer who just does AWT or SWING is going to limited use for potential employers. You have to keep up to date on the common frameworks. What's SpringSource, Hibernate, Apache, etc. up to lately in the Java Space? What about other languages that execute in the JVM (i.e. JRuby, Clojure).

Re:Depends... (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847938)

I've never seen a job with JRuby, Clojure or Groovy requirement. (But certainly not in my country, Hungary.)

Re:Depends... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847962)

But this has always been the case regardless of what language you use. The strength of any language is not in it's syntax, but in the libraries and frameworks. I've seen many C programmers claim to know Java and write C in Java (they're notorious for reinventing the wheel).

However, I agree that tech skills have a limited lifetime. How many managers or B.A.s do you see buying new books on how to do their jobs? Not many. There's the occasional, "From Good To Great," but techies are constantly working on their skills. Those that don't, are the ones that complain about being out of work for X years. Looking back, I wished I had gone into management.

Re:Depends... (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848430)

The strength of any language is not in it's syntax, but in the libraries and frameworks.

Sadly, must compilers do not really do 'DWIM', even if you got it 'conceptually right'.

CC.

Re:Depends... (4, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848148)

It also depends on when you're talking about. After the Dot-Com crash, Java programmers were hurt FAR, FAR worse than C or Fortran programmers. Shortly before Y2K, Fortran and Cobol programmers were in massive demand. (For those who argue Y2K was a hoax because nothing happened, I'd point out that after a large fortune and a larger army of coders went to work on fixing the bugs, you should have EXPECTED nothing to happen. Fixing problems after the disaster is too late.)

So the decay curve isn't a simple one. It has bounces and bottomless pits along the way.

However, and I can't stress this enough, staying current isn't merely a matter of learning the next feature of the old language set. To stay relevant, you MUST diversify. A coder should also be a damn good system admin and be capable of database admin duties as well. Being able to do tech writing as well won't hurt. You don't know what's going to be in demand tomorrow, you only know what was in demand when you last applied for work.

Programmers and systems admins shouldn't specialize on one OS either. As OS/2 demonstrated, the biggest thing out there in week 1 can be a forgotten memory by week 12. The market is slow at some times, fickle at others. You don't know how it'll be, the best thing you can do is hedge your bets. If you've covered (and stay current on) Linux, a BSD Unix variant, a SysV Unix variant, Windows Server, and at least one RTOS (doesn't matter which), you'll know 98% of everything you'll need. You can learn the specific lingo needed by a specific OS implementation quickly because that's only a 2% filler and not a 100% learn from scratch.

Although workplaces don't do sabbaticals (which is stupid), you should still plan on spending the equivalent of 1 study year for every 7 work years. (If you spend 1 hour a day practicing, relearning, or expanding your skills excluding any workside stuff, you're well in excess of what is required. I can't guarantee that an hour a day will make you invulnerable to downturns, but I can guarantee that there will never be a time, even in the worst recession, that your skills aren't in demand.)

Re:Depends... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848274)

Actually, it will. Not that .NET or Java are going away within two years, but they'll evolve and develop. What you know today about them is only worth half as much in 2 years when new libraries are out and the next version of .NET requires you yet again to relearn half of what you know.

What about languages? (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847590)

Suppose I know some amount (X) of C now (Just out of college)
Will that be less valuable after having 2 years experience in the field?

Re:What about languages? (2)

dcavanaugh (248349) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847658)

I don't think the theory applies universally to all tech skills. C has endured well over the years. So has SQL. Other languages, not so much. I don't see many ads for Ada or Lisp these days. Your actual mileage may vary.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Lennie (16154) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847856)

But how marketable is SQL ? Most of the people already know SQL. Lets say you apply for a programming job at a web-development company and they are all using fancy "noSQL" databases. The question is if you know all the new stuff and when to use it and when not to use it.

IT is more than coders... (5, Interesting)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848306)

I suspect that the Bloom is referring 'tech' skills in a general sense. Most IT people are not programmers, and thus consume rather than create software products. If you have 'skills' using Office version X, it will probably not be as valuable in two years when a new and improved product, Office X+1 comes out.

Obviously, if you think of IT as just programers, what he is saying makes no reals sense, since staples like C, Java, and .Net have been around awhile and are not going to go away.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848342)

It's not just the "barebone language". It's the various libraries and other tidbits that are considered "essential" today because the allow rapid development. The C standard didn't change in ages. Still, if our programmers didn't know their way around the various libraries we have collected in the past years (and we're still collecting, adding to, replacing and eliminating) they'd be worth less than half of what they are.

Various other things also apply. Security is one aspect that becomes more and more important, and that area changes in a MUCH faster pace.

Re:What about languages? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848502)

C has evolved over the years. C99 updated the language a little and updated the libraries a lot more, especially things like stdint.h. POSIX has grown threading APIs, and various other things that weren't present in the mid '90s.

I don't see many ads for Ada or Lisp these days

Look at Rolls Royce. They're hiring SPARK Ada programmers like crazy, as are a lot of other aerospace companies. It doesn't really have any competitors for systems where failure is not an option. As for Lisp, the last job offer I got to write Lisp was for an investment bank.

Re:What about languages? (4, Insightful)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847680)

Suppose I know some amount (X) of C now (Just out of college)
  Will that be less valuable after having 2 years experience in the field?

No, it wont. He's talking about *certain* IT skills. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet he's referring to the kind of tools you learn in a simple ITT-Tech type certification program.

Re:What about languages? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847790)

I'm going to go out on a limb and bet he's referring to the kind of tools you learn in a simple ITT-Tech type certification program.

One simple way to avoid that type of shit from entering the workplace, refuse to hire anyone that has a technical certificate of any kind along with those with a degree from the diploma mills such as ITT Tech and Conservative err Community Colleges. Community Colleges are a fancy way of saying trade school. Employers should only hire the truly educated and those are only from the major Universities.

Re:What about languages? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847848)

Actually, I would say the truly educated are the ones that show competence in the skill set without having to have the hand holding of a college education. After all, if one has mastered the current tech stack on his own, then he is more likely to be able to keep up with new tech when it comes out.

Re:What about languages? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848100)

Techs have to self educate themselves, unless they want to spend 4 years in university every 2 years of work. And if they can self educate, they don't need the training at uni...

Unless the business plan is to use em up, burn em out, send in another replaceable cog every two years...

Re:What about languages? (4, Insightful)

SteveFoerster (136027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848256)

One simple way to avoid that type of shit from entering the workplace, refuse to hire anyone that has a technical certificate of any kind along with those with a degree from the diploma mills such as ITT Tech and Conservative err Community Colleges. Community Colleges are a fancy way of saying trade school. Employers should only hire the truly educated and those are only from the major Universities.

I work in higher education, and not for a for-profit or a community college. Your belief that graduates from "the major Universities" are somehow better than those from other institutions, especially for something like application development, is hilarious to me.

Re:What about languages? (2)

The name is Dave. Ja (845139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848496)

"Employers should only hire the truly educated and those are only from the major Universities"

What a pompous ass thing to say. If/when you get out of mom's basement and into the real world, you may see that many jobs/careers are perfectly suited for trade school graduates. Like maybe, umm, trades? Technicians? It doesn't take a rocket scientist .. etc.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847690)

Suppose I know some amount (X) of C now (Just out of college) Will that be less valuable after having 2 years experience in the field?

If you haven't learned anything new in your first two years as a professional c programmer, you might want to try another discipline.

If I haven't learned anything new in any particular two year period, I get bored. Best option there is to either shake something up with my current venue, or quit.

Re:What about languages? (1)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847726)

Suppose I know some amount (X) of C now (Just out of college)
  Will that be less valuable after having 2 years experience in the field?

School related C skills without work experience... no... it won't be worth less in 2 years. It will be worth exactly the same... which is diddly.

Only the 2 years field experience will mean anything when you apply for another job. And that field experience will decline... usually because a great deal of knowledge around programming is not about knowing the language but the framework, modules and libraries your project uses. And those are continually changing.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847734)

The headline is retarded bullshit.

  Any serious interviewing manager will tell the nervous potential hire that it's not the specific skillset, it's the ability to apply their knowledge to solving other problems that makes them valuable. That skill transcends obsolescence as well as lame attempts by HR bean-counters to quantify skills. That's why you have liberal arts grads programming and engineers for salesmen. The best news is that any sufficiently intelligent and motivated person can work their way up from nothing, provided that they get the job.

Take it from an uneducated but decently-paid slob - Experience is much more valuable than education in this economy. Ex-military from technical specialties have the ultimate edge in this job market.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:What about languages? (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847964)

Depends who interviews you really. If you're interviewed by someone who was a developer once- sure.

However, it's just as common to have someone with a non-programming background being the person involved in running IT departments. (especially in manufacturing- if you're working at a mid-sized company in manufacturing- almost all the IT managers came from sales or accounting and know very little about computers).

Quite frankly- IT is not a career to take if you ever want a promotion. Sure, it can happen- but you'll lose out to other departments time and time again.

There are too few IT managers that know IT.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848378)

Experience is more valuable than education. No doubt about that. Problem is, though, unless you're very lucky you won't get the experience without the education. HR first and foremost looks at your CV. Nothing in your CV that suggests you know a thing about programming, no chance to get programming experience. There's one position to fill and hundreds of applicants. HR will simply toss out everyone who doesn't have a relevant degree without even hearing the applicant.

Re:What about languages? (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847752)

With what libraries and languages what you worked in C? Won't those change? If you're a games person, are you up on DX9? DX10? 11? Database backends? SQL? NOSQL? Have your version control skills expanded to match existing systems? Still using CVS? SVN? Git? "The Cloud" ... have any of your applications been designed with that kind of focus in mind of starting and stopping at any point and being part of a model with dynamically changing resource allocations?

Evolving skills are a demonstration of the ability to continue tackling new problems. I personally don't care less what knowledge you're exhibiting as long as I see things that are on the leading edge still showing up on your resume.

Re:What about languages? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847810)

Not less valuable, but less marketeable, as the article says. Both are different things. Also, I don't belive it. But the working environment around here (that I've already jumped out of) may be unusual.

TFA sounds absurd, as it claims that markeability depends on the specific version of softwre you have experience. Like if somebody would hire a person that knows JSF 3.1* (it claims that small numbers aren't as important, but puts some importance on them) but not 3.2*.

Have you ever seen a CV that tells versions of plataforms?

* Really, I have no idea what version JSF is in. Please, don't complain about the numbers.

Re:What about languages? (1)

Edgester (105351) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848200)

Yes, I have seen versions numbers for platforms on CV's. I have them on my CV and I look for them in applicant CV's. I'm a Linux admin who manages two student interns (Jr. Admins). I do the screening of my interns as well as helping to screen full-time co-workers. When reading CV's, I give a higher weight to those with version numbers. I'm not too worried about minor numbers (i.e. RHEL5.4 vs. RHEL5). I'm not too worried about older versions. Version numbers act as a shibboleth to weed out the posers from those who have actually worked with a technology.

When interviewing a potential Linux admin, I always ask what version and flavour of Linux that they have experience with. If they can't give something credible, then I don't rate them as having that skill.

Re:What about languages? (1)

WaterDamage (719017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847814)

Possibly, but it depends on what you're coding. If you're a developer creating low level code like drivers then C and even assembly are your only real choices but if you're an app developer you must follow the latest trends and move to the best language that supports the codebase.

Re:What about languages? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848454)

In some cases, yes. C coding style recommendations have changed over the years. Some C dialects have died (K&R, for example) and others have grown. The standards have shifted, so those who have learned C99 will be at a disadvantage to those who know C1x for newer code -- though the reverse will be true for middle-aged code. Ancient code could be in any of a thousand dialects.

The market for C is growing, but the number of shifts from C to C++, C# or Java (or other languages) is also growing and the value of C in general in 2 years time will depend on which of those two trends grew the faster.

But - (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847594)

That is to say, that the exact set of skills you have today will only be half as marketable two years from now.

But taken together with Moore's law, you can market them twice as fast. So everything works out the same.

Huh? (2)

Xugumad (39311) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847620)

As a general rule I don't even list things on my CV (resume) that I have less than two years experience in, these days...

I'm willing to accept this is the case for startups wanting the latest buzzword filled technology, but a LOT of places are happy at a much slower pace.

Re:Huh? (2)

Edgester (105351) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848294)

On my CV, I list things that I have less than 2 years experience, but I put skill level qualifiers like "Novice" ,"Intermediate", and "Expert"

Half as marketable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847628)

Take this with a grain of salt, because every two years another set of software is old in absolute IT terms.

This made slashdot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847638)

Uh, this article has a catchy subject but very little content and nothing to back up its claim. C'mon slashdot! Go to reddit for stuff like this...

Tell that to a COBOL programmer ... (2)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847662)

.. an IT leadership coach ... uh-huh. Veiled message is "take my course, buy my book". I'm still employed using skills I learnt in 1980. Eric Bloom can get the hell off my lawn.

Re:Tell that to a COBOL programmer ... (1)

Sez Zero (586611) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847758)

I whole-heartedly agree.

I'm jealous my Perl lawn isn't as old and mature as your COBOL lawn.

Re:Tell that to a COBOL programmer ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37848028)

I graduated college in the late 90's and was hired on to update systems for the Y2K bug. I have been pigeonholed in Mainframes ever since, but as I get older, fewer and fewer mainframe programmers are out there and I become more valuable with the same old skills.

Re:Tell that to a COBOL programmer ... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848448)

It is highly field dependent. I traded the front line trenches of IT-Security for a comfortable management position not even a year ago, and I'm already struggling to stay current with the various threats coming our way. I simply don't have the time anymore to concentrate on it as much as I used to. I'd guess in a year, what I knew a year ago is not only obsolete but simply laughable.

Of course, COBOL won't change in the foreseeable time, or maybe ever. For most, the reality will be somewhere in between.

I call bullshit (4, Interesting)

cartman (18204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847664)

I still program in Java which I've been doing since 1998. I also sometimes program in Python which I've been doing since 1997. Obviously some things about those languages have changed, but many things haven't.

OO languages are fairly similar to what they were 10 years ago. As is OO design, etc. There have been large changes to frameworks etc, but there is a significant "core skill set" which transfers over.

In my case, my skills have not become become less marketable at all over the last two years. Recently I spent two years out of work (voluntarily), and when I returned to the job market I had no problem whatsoever finding a job.

I think the half-life of skills is more like 15 years.

Re:I call bullshit (2)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848032)

If you take the time to read the article, you'll see he's actually talking about how long your skills in customizing a particular release of software are viable, not about how long languages or operating systems remain relevant.

As many companies stick with the same release of software for even longer, I question his numbers, but I don't question the theory. The lifespan of customizable products is much shorter than the tool-related skillsets required to do that customization. Your skills as a programmer don't become obsolete, but the APIs of the software often become obsolete as updates are released.

Re:I call bullshit (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848228)

Have you seen the articles with titles like "Finished at Age 35"? It is very true. Consider: Most statistics I see say that the half-life of a technology degree is five years or less. If a person starts college at 19 and spends five years (not at all uncommon) then the technology learned is half old at age 29 (five years after graduation). Five years after that the person is 34. That is how people at that age end up out of work if they fail to continue their education and training.

That long? Optimistic, aren't we? (3, Interesting)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847668)

That said, I've been coding QA software in some VB-Form language since 1994. My pay during that time has only increased. This is the first year that I've had to do anything in a C-form language.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that a lot of new technologies are horse puckey. C++ was an actual improvement over C. The .net platform, for all its many faults, has actually increased my productivity, but much of the rest, Windows Presentation Foundation, Python, Ocaml, Ruby, Silverlight, et. al are nifty, but nobody *needs* them. Frankly, if the world standardized on Java tomorrow, and we just used extensions thereof for different platforms and purposes, we could all concentrate on getting useful work done and quit dicking around with learning the latest obscure and allegedly more elegant syntax. The best language and syntax isn't the most logically consistent one, it's the one you know. In productivity terms, human factors trump formal systems elegance every time.

Re:That long? Optimistic, aren't we? (0)

ronabop (520121) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848204)

"Frankly, if the world standardized on C tomorrow, and we just used extensions thereof for different platforms and purposes, we could all concentrate on getting useful work done and quit dicking around with learning the latest obscure and allegedly more elegant syntax."

FTFY

Re:That long? Optimistic, aren't we? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848398)

I used a few basics as a teenager, as well as C, C++ & Delphi. Then I tried Perl, which I absolutely love. I've tried a little Ruby, it was okay. Currently learning some lisp, and going to have a look at Python soon. At work I mostly use Perl/HTML/JavaScript/SQL, with a little legacy maintenance of a Delphi app that we've thankfully just sold off the source to someone else, so I can use whatever the hell I want for future desktop-only apps.

If you're going to stick with your "one size fits all" mentality, you should at least use something cross platform. Preferably something like Perl or Python.

What is it you like about VB? Does it even have regular expressions?

sounds about right (2, Interesting)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847672)

This certainly fits my experience. I'm "over 39" and have specific tech skills that date back to the early 80s. Those are worthless. I continued doing highly technical work and staying current into the late 90s, when I went back to school to build up some of my non-technical skills. Not such a good idea as it sounded. I emerged from school several years later with just enough still-marketable skills to land a tech job that offered little opportunity to further advance my skills, then got laid off from that, took a retail job as a life raft.... and now my "freshest" marketable tech skills are a dozen years old, and close to worthless. I guess it's time to get out the paintbrushes and see if I can swing a new career as an artist; at least the half-life on those skills isn't as short.

Re:sounds about right (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847714)

I have some specific tech skills from the early 80's as well... and some are not remotely worthless.

For instance, I learned C in 1982.

Or isn't knowing a specific programming language considered a specific tech skill?

It depends (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848078)

If you are trying to market yourself with buzzword technologies and languages, then yes, your marketability decreases over time. On the other hand, if you are marketing yourself for less trendy technical work, maybe not. There are still a lot of COBOL and FORTRAN programmers out there, and they command some pretty competitive salaries. There are a lot of systems that were installed over decade ago that work just fine and just need people to support and maintain them, along with occasionally adding an interface for some newer system.

Re:sounds about right (2)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848116)

Interesting. I learned C, Unix and RDBMSes back in the early 80s. I only use C at home for hobby projects, but I still use Unix and SQL professionally. I learned Java back around the turn of the century and it's still paying my mortgage. Franky, I'm disappointed I can't seem to find any new positions that use any of the technologies I've learned lately (like OSGi, SOA or NoSQL databases). It's different if you're a front-end guy, I guess — I have seen some places looking for jQuery and HTML5 experience, but there's nearly as many that still want Struts or MFC. Hell, there are still shops that haven't migrated to Java 6 yet, and that's five years old!

If you're obsessed with the latest shiny, then yeah you'll probably only get two years out of it. I know all the extJS guys I work with moved to Silverlight, and they're bitching that MS has abandoned it so now they'll all have to learn HTML5...

Consider the source - no wonder it's garbage! (5, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847676)

an IT leadership coach

.... riiiiight. In other words, a buzzwad!

Even COBOL refuses to die. C, C++ and it's variants are still everywhere (Objective C for Apple's iPhone App Store) decades later. Java has outlasted the fads of Ruby and Rails. HTML has been around ... well ... since the Internet. Javascript continues to be the #1 web scripting language.

So no, your skills don't have a half-life of "X" number of years.

Re:Consider the source - no wonder it's garbage! (0)

snarfies (115214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847908)

HTML has NOT been around as long as the internet. Its been along as long as the world wide web.

>thinks WWW = internet
>I seriously hope you don't do this

Re:Consider the source - no wonder it's garbage! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37848436)

>writes I seriously hope you don't do this
>I seriously hope you don't do this

Re:Consider the source - no wonder it's garbage! (1)

Dhalka226 (559740) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848212)

Well, I actually agree with your point that skill marketability does not degrade so quickly. Perhaps more importantly, I think that good employers recognize that it is far more important to be able to quickly learn new skills than it is to already possess them; being largely self-taught and having a fairly wide skill set has impressed employers more than any single point on my resume in my experience.

I do have to take some exception with one of your points though:

Java has outlasted the fads of Ruby and Rails.

It has "outlasted" it because it existed first, but you make it sound as though Ruby and Ruby on Rails have died out. On the contrary, they are going quite strong. I can't speak to how many websites actually get written in it, but I can tell you after a recent job search that it remains a very much in demand skill that people are willing to pay for.

Re:Consider the source - no wonder it's garbage! (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848330)

Languages do evolve. Even if you continue to program in an existing standard such as Java or C++, you need to keep up with the latest standards. Fortran especially has evolved a great deal since its origination. Then there is the matter of new applications to which a language is applied. It is important to know how companies are trying to apply computers and what problems they are trying to solve. So, while the language survives by name, the language itself and its application evolves. The technologist must undergo a similar evolution.

Gross oversimplification (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847684)

It depends on the specific skills and industry specialization. Among (many) other things, I've been intermittently doing embedded C code for 2+ decades. If the half-life rule applied here, then my embedded C coding skills would be roughly 1/1000th as marketable today as they were 20 years ago. Embedded C is still used in the defense and avionics industries (among others)... there's still fair demand for it (though admittedly not the sort of demand there was 10 or 20 years ago).

The decay period (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847688)

You are not having the point. He is making comparison with the nuclear half-decay rate, which says in general the same, that your skill will have be decreased half in 2 years, and then another half after 2 more years, etc.... Here you could calculate when your skill would become worthless, if you have some math skill of course (which in general has a bigger half-decay period)

Totally incorrect... (1)

WaterDamage (719017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847696)

I can play pong just as well as I did in 1984! I took my Atari 2600 out of the basement, fired it up and hit an all time high score again. Time to hit the Wall Street Occupy protest to complain about evil CIOs and how their greed is destroying my reputation as a highly qualified gamer from the past.

Depends on the field (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847724)

For software engineering, I could agree with him that languages, IDEs, paradigms, etc., are still evolving very quickly. For all I know, they will be evolving at that speed in perpetuity.

On the other hand, I don't think this is true for all "techies." The tools for electrical design, for instance, haven't changed much since the introduction of 2D CAD tools for PCB layout in the 1980s. If you've been soldering, prototyping, debugging, and laying circuits out for the last 20 years, chances are pretty good that your skillset is still market competitive with people who've just been trained. If you've been out of work for the last two years, I doubt that you are any less good at doing those things than a fresh college grad. Perhaps more so, since there are many finer points of electrical engineering that only can be learned via experience. You might still have difficulty getting a job in the current environment, but it won't be because your skills are out of date.

And although new versions of SolidWorks (for instance) come out every year, the tools for 3D mechanical modeling haven't changed since the introduction of parametric modeling over twenty years ago. If you were designing manufacturable parts five years ago, and were able to produce quality detailed drawings and discuss designs with other people, you should be able to jump right back in and do that today: you haven't missed anything substantial. The biggest change, perhaps, has been the introduction of rapid prototyping machines. You can approach them differently than you would traditional manufacturing, but that's hardly necessary to start making use of them.

Half as marketable... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847746)

...but twice as profitable?!?

You might be the only one left who understands RPG III, laughing on your bed of C-notes, dressed in clothes made only of diamond, flying around in your hover-car made of pure aerogel, and renaming nation states with a click of a mouse!!! LOL!

Wut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847756)

Well if the "leadership coach" says my current skills are only good for two years I guess it's time to ditch Linux, Apache, PHP and MySQL.....

Perhaps that's why he's a "former" CIO...

My skill set (1)

Sez Zero (586611) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847780)

My skill set includes excellent problem solving ability, communicate effectively and work hard.

That skill set seems to only get more valuable as I get older.

Technic / marketing (3, Insightful)

Cigaes (714444) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847786)

"a techie's skill set from a marketability perspective has a two year half-life"

Well, a marketie's skill set from a technical perspective has a zero year half-life.

Programming only, I suppose (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847804)

My unix "Tech Skills" are still quite marketable after more than a decade. Sure, specifics like futzing with IRIX software streams might not be useful any more, but a good 80% or more is still standard.

Re:Programming only, I suppose (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848416)

* chuckle * A company once wanted to hire me because I had spent several years programming DEC PDP 8 computers. Turns out they were running their assembly line using those things 15 years after DEC went out of business. I promptly took all that old stuff off my resume. It does not do to get identified with ancient technology if one wants a cutting-edge career.

Bullshit (4, Interesting)

cjcela (1539859) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847806)

I do not know why this is in the front page, and I do not know why the educated crowd of Slashdot listens to BS from the CIO/CEO/CXO of the day and his new genius theory to quantify things he should not, mainly because he does not understand what technology is about. These guys should be in marketing. There are new technologies and old technologies, and jobs for all of them if you are good and know the right people. If you are very good at Fortran or Cobol you can get a job. If you excel at Java or C you can get a job. None of these are new technologies by far, and the skills are highly portable from one to the other. The basic knowledge you need is always sort of the same, a mix or common sense, knowledge of the basics (algorithms, data structures, and a brief background on the problem domain you are working on), and some minimum social skills.

Who's he to judge (1)

MrSmith0011000100110 (1344879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847836)

What if your tech skills are troubleshooting and adopting new technologies rapidly? What if your tech skills really have nothing to do with a particular piece of software? This former CIO wouldn't understand that by being a CIO he knows less than the people he had working for him. Which to me makes his opinion on how long someone's skills are "valid" invalid.

Eric Bloom should go to Maine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847842)

In Maine, the technology is 10-15 years out of date, so even with 4 year old skills you'll be like a person from the distant future.

Guess he is expired. (1)

bongey (974911) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847850)

CIO more than 2 years ago , so what is his half life relevant CIO experience .

all about repetition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847886)

Tinfoil hats, everyone, please.

Has anyone noticed how often you see expressions like "erosion of skills" in the popular press? In a "Who Moved My Cheese?" sort of way, it won't belong before every schmoe quietly accepts the idea that, if you're unemployed for one @#$%ing day, YOUR SKILLS WILL HAVE ERODED. ALL OF THEM. In IT it will be worse. "I don't care if you're a Java expert. Because you were using it 2.5 years ago, you're only 50% of a Java expert. Accordingly, I will pay you only 50% of the going rate. Anyway, those skills can be acquired in 21 days, so why should I think much of your expertise?"

Do I not really understand him... (1)

Tanuki64 (989726) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847932)

...or is it most of the poster here, who bash him?
Did he say that C/Java/whatever decays, or only the worth of people who use this skills?

I can imagine an interpretation of his statement, which would make sense. In my youth I coded in BASIC, Forth, PASCAL... This was somewhen in the middle ages. I was ok for that time, but today those skills are decayed to nothingness. I made some money in JAVA projects. Only a few years ago. Since then I didn't use JAVA at all. I image it would be much more difficult for me to find a JAVA project now.

So the marketability skills certainly do decay, but usually only if they are not constantly used.

Non-high-tech skills don't count, right? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847956)

Soft skills like playing well with others, selling ideas and products, listening, etc. and "non-HIGH-tech" technical skills like driving, using a pen and paper, typing, etc. probably have far longer half-lives.

Some do, some don't (1)

theswade (2020510) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847972)

The primary skill at my embedded software positions for the last 20 years has been C. It's what I use most of the time and what I'm quizzed about in interviews. However, I continually need to pick up new skills to supplement my toolkit.

This is one persons opinion. (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847986)

With exactly zero evidence to back it up. The faster we ignore this entire story, the better.

Look at windows xp that lasted 5 years and win 7 (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848056)

Windows 7 may go just as long.

Some industrial systems still have windows 9.X, ISA cards and other older stuff.

2 years is to quick and lot's of places may do long testing time of new OS's / software any ways before roll outs.

speak for yourself nodejs boy (1)

joss (1346) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848062)

Totally flawed analogy. The figure might hold true for latest fashion in development technology, but its insane to think that fortran skills for instance will be half as marketable 2.5 years from now. They will probably have declined by a few percent but difference in value of 40 year old tech versus 41 year old tech is negligable. Its more like the value of a technology falls by 100/(2+years-since-hot) percent every year.

Xp End of Support (1)

justdiver (2478536) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848102)

This may have been less the case for someone that knew the ins and outs of Xp a few years ago, since the platform has been around for 10 years (almost to the day). But Xp is being phased out in many business markets and many say that an operating system will never have such dominance again, I could definitely see a 2 year half life sounding appropriate. Couple that with ever changing technologies and software and this sounds right on the money. Further illustrating this is how Microsoft and other vendors offering certifications (Cisco is another example) are now putting an expiration on their certs. You may get your CCNA or MCP now, but if you don't take another test for 3 years (I think that's the average now) and your cert expires.

If all you have is coding skills ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848132)

The article is mostly about IT in the sense of database/SQL skills. When all you have to sell is the ability to code in some vendor's API, and when new versions keep appearing at some regular intervals, you need to keep running to keep your place, like in a treadmill. But there are many jobs where the coding skills are essential/necessary but not sufficient. In scientific application development (CAD developers like AutoCAD, Ansoft, Ansys, Fluent, Cadence, Mentor etc) the marketability could improve with experience, if you could demonstrate that you other skills have benefited by experience. I am very sure the analysts, architects and other higher level workers in IT will see their value and marketability improve with experience and demonstrable successes. But if all you have skill are the ability to program in Oracle version XYZ, your marketability will be tied to that version of that software.

Read the "6 ways": this guy is incompetent (1)

bADlOGIN (133391) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848218)

Every single statement referenced the "software vendor". Every software vendor's goal is to lock you in to not thinking and just buying your way out of any problem. Saying you have technology skills because you know some software from some vendor is like saying you can play guitar since you've got such high scores on the XBOX/PS3/Wii for Rock Band. Even if you know something from that "software vendor" inside & out, you don't know shit unless you understand the fundamentals under the hood of what the toolset is doing. That's why so many Windows "Administrators" are idiots - unlike the harsh world of *NIX, they don't (think they) need to understand what's going on under the surface. Just point & drool.

Marketable vrs. Useful (2)

jasnw (1913892) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848242)

This is a reflection of a serious problem in the area of hiring decent techie folks. There's a difference between a "marketable" skill and a "useable" skill. A marketable skill gets you hired by people who are clueless about what makes a good techie (hardware or software) and only know buzzwords, whereas a useable skill is what the people who you're going to work with and for HOPE you have. Sometimes skills overlap between marketable and useable, but my own observation is the larger the company doing the hiring the less overlap there is.

Huh ? (3, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848252)

im earning my living from php/mysql/html/css for the last 6 years. and im earning even more today. and having to turn down potential new clients.

Are they changing the laws of physics again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37848376)

The bastards told me I'd only ever have to learn electrical engineering once, or does he mean "tech skills" for certain specific values of tech.

Being able to think makes you valuable. (5, Insightful)

eriks (31863) | more than 2 years ago | (#37848432)

As a programmer, I can say that programming itself, that is, *how* to write code, in terms of methodology -- is a skill that will never leave you once you have acquired it (so long as you keep using it).

Almost any programmer worth their salt can learn a new language in a few weeks, if not days. Granted it may take more time to develop understanding of any idioms or warts the language may have, but you can learn that stuff on the fly, unless you're writing HA/mission critical code, in which case, there'd better be a review process, and it's reasonable to expect that someone on the team will be an expert in the technology being used.

So I'd say unless you've given up programming entirely and have moved on to a different career, your skills are still valuable, and will stay reasonably "fresh" even if you're writing code in a 30-year-old language (as the article says), as long as you actually think while you write code, and aren't just a copy/paste/munge wizard, not that there's anything wrong with that, for certain kinds of things.

This of course doesn't even consider the (imho) much more valuable part of being a software developer: being able to converse with non-technical people, in whatever human language you use, and then translate that into some sort of actionable programming work. That's often more than half the battle. Then of course there is testing, testing and testing.

The article isn't completely wrong, but (like much of the "IT industry") I think it missed the point of what skills are actually important to doing software development. Knowing how to use a specific bit of kit is pretty far down on the list, I think, for any reasonably competent programmer/technologist.

I treat anything with the word "marketability" in it with suspicion.

Sorry but he's stupid... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37848478)

I've been using Unix & SQL for over 20 years now and still make good money doing so.

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