Monday, April 23, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0041---Update on VB.Net

Developer Career Tips #0041

Update on VB.Net

As I mentioned in my last article, I'm seeing more and more attention focused on VB.Net. Conferences are teaching courses on it--despite the fact that Beta1 of the product is just a few months old, and Beta2 isn't due out until May. Several books have been published on the Beta itself (I've been tempted and ASKED to write one myself). Personally, I just don't get it.

I understand the need to be 'up' on a product more than most people---I make my living as a consultant and author, and the need to stay current is crucial---but I can't ever recall this much pre-hype over a software development product.

I receive at least ten emails each week from readers asking me if they should begin learning VB.Net right now (presumably from the Beta), how much worth I think the VB6 Certification exam will carry (I can't even guess), and whether there will be Learning Edition, Professional and Enterprise editions of the product.

And now the picture is even more complicated. It's no secret that Microsoft intends to 'retrofit' Beta2 of VB.NET to be more compatible with Visual Basic 6. As far as I'm concerned, the waters are now more muddied than ever.

The bottom line is to stay the course: if your goal this year was to learn Visual Basic 6, or become certified in the product, then that's exactly what you should do. Timelines indicate that VB.Net--when it appears---will probably be available in early 2002. You'll have plenty of time to learn it at that point--hopefully with books and courses that are at least based on Beta2.

Monday, March 12, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0040---Should you turn your attention to VB.Net?

Developer Career Tips #0040

Should you turn your attention to VB.Net?

I'm seeing quite a bit of attention to VB.Net recently. More than one book has already been published on it already, plus I've received several email solicitations to attend classes on VB.NET, and the product hasn't even been released yet--in fact, it's in Beta1. Beta2 is schedule for release sometime this quarter. If all goes well for Microsoft, the production version will be ready before the end of the year. This is an awful lot of hype for a new version.

I've been using Beta1 now for the last four months as I write the update of my Visual Basic 6 book for VB.Net. I signed a non-disclosure statement to work with the Beta, so I can't speak about the details of the language, but I can tell you that in my opinion, it's much too early to start working with it, but let me give you some information which may help you make up your own mind.

First, don’t consider VB.Net a new version of Visual Basic. Although a knowledge of previous versions of Visual Basic will serve you well while learning it, there are enough dissimilarities to make you believe you are dealing with a new language altogether. This may well be a reason to be the first kid on the block to know the language---that knowledge could make you very valuable to employers--provided they adopt the language.

Secondly, if you believe that it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to be forced to learn VB.Net, and you may as well learn it sooner than later, you may want to rethink that position. In the latest edition of the Visual Basic Programmer's Journal, the editor indicates that Microsoft has informed him they intend to 'support' both VB6 and VB.Net. The key question---what does 'support' mean.

The bottom line is that at this point there's no rush to learn VB.Net.

Monday, March 5, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0039---The IT Training Academy

Developer Career Tips #0039

The IT Training Academy

I've written twice about a company called, a company with headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, about 45 miles outside of Manhattan, that will provide you with a 13 week intensive Visual Basic training program---in exchange, you agree to work for them for the next 9 months as a paid consultant.

Many people, discouraged at the prospect of having to relocate to the Manhattan area, have written me emails asking me if there are other programs like SetFocus anywhere else in the country. To date, I've had to answer 'no'---I hadn't heard of any others until one of my students brought to my attention the IT Training Academy

The IT Training Academy, part of the FDM Consulting group

is similar in many ways to Setfocus, but not identical.

As was initially the case with SetFocus, about all I know of the IT Training Academy is what I can glean from their Web site---they offer an intense, six month training program (they concentrate on Web technologies such as Java and Oracle). Unlike SetFocus, the training is not free for everyone. The cost for the training is $11,000, and according to their web site, they will waive this fee from time to time as part of a sponsorship. If your training costs are waived, you must commit to work for the IT Training Academy at the end of your training period. Even if your training costs are not sponsored, you may also be asked to work at the end of your training period, but it's not guaranteed. SetFocus, on the other hand, guarantees you a position if you pass 2 of the 4 exams necessary to achieve the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer Certification.

What apparently differentiate the IT Academy from SetFocus is that you don't necessarily have to relocate in order to take part in the training, but this can be deceiving. You have a choice of training at their facility (located in Raleigh North Carolina), or doing the majority of your training at home via the Internet--but you are required to spend some time at their North Carolina facility at the end of major potions of the program, and for the final few weeks of the program.

After that, if your training costs were sponsored, you'll be expected to commit to 1 year or so (really, until your training costs are paid) as a consultant--and travel is expected and customary. The bottom line: if you want to consider the IT Training Academy over SetFocus because you hope you won't have to relocate, that won't be the case. As I've mentioned, even if you study from home, you'll still need to travel to North Caroline, and if you accept a training sponsorship, you'll most likely be placed as a consultant somewhere on the East Coast. Even without a sponsorship, if you accept a position through the IT Academy, you'll be doing some traveling--they even provide you with a company car.

Monday, February 26, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0038---Behind the scenes with Bob Lautenbach of Bayside Technology

Developer Career Tips #0038

Behind the scenes with Bob Lautenbach of Bayside Technology

This is the second in a series of periodic 'behind the scenes' looks at companies and individuals using Visual Basic. It's sometimes an 'eye opener' to see how others are actually using Visual Basic in their work.

For this tip, I interviewed Bob Lautenbach, who is the President of Bayside Technology, located in Marmora. New Jersey. You can visit the company’s Web Site at:

Question: What is your job at Bayside Technology?
Answer: I'm President of the company. At Bayside Technology, we do a little bit of everything, but recently have been heavily involved in PC-based and Internet based Benefit Administration.

Question: How does your company use Visual Basic?
Answer: We use Visual Basic as our primary development tool. We use it in our PC-based and Internet-based development, and rely on it to produce reusable components to interface with n-tier architectures with which we must interface.

Question: How did you and your programming staff learn Visual Basic?
Answer: Most of it is self-taught, along with an occasional supplemental course on specific development issues that are evolving quickly and with which we need to be immediately familiar.

Question: Do you use other languages besides Visual Basic?
Answer: Yes we do. We also use JavaScript, Java, VBScript, and ASP.

Question: Do you use third-party tools?
Answer: Yes, we buy and use various tools as they are needed. Most of the third-party tools we have purchased are reporting tools: Crystal Reports and ActiveReports. A word of caution: you need to bear in mind the viability of various third party companies. Know your vendor well--you don't want to purchase a third-party tool only to find out that the company has gone out of business, or doesn't have the resources to support changes to Visual Basic--such as VB.NET!

Question: What's it like to work at your company?
Answer: Our company is an incredibly exciting one to work for since our work is so cutting edge. We try to balance the unique needs of our developers and our client's needs with flexible working hours and telecommuting.

Monday, February 19, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0037---Put yourself to the test with

Developer Career Tips #0037

Put yourself to the test with

I've made no secret that I think it's vital that candidates for Visual Basic programming careers take and pass the Microsoft Visual Basic Certification exam. I consider passing that test to be the ultimate proof of your mastery of Visual Basic.

If you are looking to prove your Visual Basic mastery, and avoid paying $100 to take an exam, you may want to consider

Brainbench was founded in 1998, and offers online certifications in over 200 different skills. The exams are free to take, are web-based, and you have the added advantage of having your score results made available to companies who may be looking for someone with the skills in which you have been tested and or certified. The site also has a bunch of 'extras' that are worthwhile checking out.

Every person who takes a Brainbench exam receives a Brainbench account. All of your test and certification data are then posted to this account, and you can also enter other information, such as your resume, third party certifications, and your career preferences (all optional). From within your account, you decide which information should become a part of your public transcript.

What’s the process?

You need to register before using Brainbench for the first time. You supply an email address, a mailing address (in the event that you pass the exam, you'll be mailed a Brainbench Certificate), and be asked if you want your results posted privately (you can change your mind later). Once you're registered, you can take an exam.

The Visual Basic exam is a 40 question multiple choice test. When you begin the exam, a window appears warning you that you are 'on your honor' to complete the test without any help from anyone else--you may, however, refer to reference manuals if you wish--although the time limit of 3 minutes per question can discourage that.

How does Brainbench compare to a Microsoft Certification exam?

I took the Brainbench Visual Basic exam myself earlier today and easily passed. I suspect that if I had actually used the permitted reference materials, I would have gotten close to a perfect score. I thought the exam was easier than the Microsoft exam. Unlike the Microsoft exams which test Desktop and Distributed VB separately, there's only one Brainbench VB exam, and as a result, I noticed some topic areas on the Brainbench exam that are covered on the VB Distributed exam,. There were also one or two questions on IIS, and some questions about some obscure controls I never use.

In short, the Brainbench VB exam is not quite the feather in the cap that passing the Microsoft Certification exams is, but it is an attractive low cost alternative. I think it's true value may be in the testing of some other skill sets, where there's no other assessment alternative. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone whose employer uses Brainbench certifications as a criteria in hiring.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0036---Behind the scenes with Stephen Caffery, a SetFocus consultant

Developer Career Tips #0036

Behind the scenes with Stephen Caffery, a SetFocus consultant

I've mentioned in two of my tips during the last year. For those of you not familiar with SetFocus, it's a company that will provide qualified candidates with a 13-week intensive Visual Basic training program and in exchange, they agree to work for SetFocus for the next 9 months as a paid consultant.

I was recently contacted by a graduate of the SetFocus program, Stephen Caffery, who is now working through his 9 month consulting term. Stephen spoke highly of SetFocus, saying that it's a company that puts the welfare of its employees first.

The training program itself is no piece of cake---you need to relocate to the company's Parsispany New Jersey location (SetFocus will help you find housing), and you can expect to put in some long hours during the first four weeks of the program. He told me he put in 15 hours per day, plus some study time at home. There are weekly exams, plus generally two assignments per week. Working in teams is emphasized during the last few weeks of the program.

At the end of the program, your next logical step is to pass all four exams necessary to achieve the Microsoft MCSD Certification. SetFocus will pay for four exam attempts, and as soon as you pass two of them, you are eligible for placement as a consultant. Your salary increases when you pass the third and fourth exams. However, failure to pass two exams means you won't be placed as a consultant.

Stephen is a highly motivated individual, with an obvious love of IT. Right now he's enjoying a successful and highly visible consulting assignment with Roper Starch Worldwide in Princeton, New Jersey as a SetFocus consultant. At this time, SetFocus does not retain staff consultants beyond the nine month program---but Stephen told me that approximately 85% of the program's consultants stay on with the client, either as an employee or a consultant. Of course, with nine months of working experience as a consultant, Stephen could also opt to find another company to consult for or go out on his own. Either way, to me it sounds like a no-lose proposition.

Stephen has graciously volunteered his email address
in the event that you have questions about the program.

Monday, February 5, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0035---Find a mentor to give your new career a boost

Developer Career Tips #0035

Find a mentor to give your new career a boost

A few tips back, I gave some advice on being the 'new kid on the block.'--what to do in those first few critical weeks on a new job. Recently, one of my readers, Gene, sent me an email with some additional advice on how to advance in your new job--and in a nutshell, it involves finding the superstar in your IT department, and developing a mentor relationship with them.

What does this mean?

Almost every IT department has a superstar---a person who is extremely knowledgeable, good at what they do, respected (and in some cases revered) by their peers and supervisors, and who are obviously going places.

Gene suggests that you do your best to become associated with these individuals. Try to get on the same projects together. If appropriate, volunteer to be on any committees on which they serve. Offer to do work on the side (on your own time) that they may need done for a particular project. Essentially, do anything you need to do in order to establish a working relationship with them.

What will come of this relationship?

Gene suggests that at a minimum it allows you to see and learn what it takes to be successful in your new company. Secondly, it also shows these revered colleagues that you are eager and anxious to grow--this can lead to them taking you under their wing which can supercharge your career.

Monday, January 29, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0034---Job Interview Practice

Developer Career Tips #0034

Job Interview Practice

A few weeks ago, one of my students was preparing for a job interview for a Visual Basic programming job, and asked me for some advice. I had some free time, and so I spent about a half hour with him conducting a simulated job interview. Last week I saw him again and he said that the interview I had conducted with him was right on the mark. This didn’t surprise me, as I've conducted many real interviews like that in my career. While I would love to be able to conduct these same simulated interviews with all of my students, time doesn't permit it. I recently came upon the next best thing---a web site that can help you prepare for that upcoming job interview called

This site features mostly free information, and includes mock interviews for a variety of jobs, interview tips, interview do's and don'ts, job interview questions and answers, and links to other good sites. I found this link on their site

to be particularly useful for first time IT job seekers. Most IT job seekers have the skills to get the job they're seeking--what they lack is the perspective of the 'big picture' that employers seek. This link can help prevent the typical derailment that occurs when a job interviewer asks the novice programmer about Systems Development--not programmer specific questions. For instance, describe the Systems Development Life Cycle (something most of them have never heard of), or discuss the role of the user in the development of a new Visual Basic application.

In the next few months or so, I hope to develop a list of questions that prospective Visual Basic programmers have been asked during a job interview. I welcome your contributions---if you'd like to contribute, please send me an email to

Monday, January 15, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0032---Finding a high-tech job---Part 3

Developer Career Tips #0032

Finding a high-tech job---Part 3

In my last tip, I listed some popular job-finding Web Sites, and I promised to discuss how to write a resume to post online--and the pros and cons of doing so.

There are probably as many resume-writing Web Sites as there are job-finding Web Sites, and they're all loaded with good advice---just search for resume+online in any search engine and you'll get dozens of sites. I can summarize, in one word, the advice that these sites will give you when writing your resume---keywords.

In the past, those writing resumes were advised to include lots of action verbs. Resume search engines aren't looking for verbs--they're looking for keywords to help match candidates with positions, and Keywords are generally nouns. You should load up your online resume with as many nouns as you reasonably can---but don't go to extremes as some of my students have. Remember, if the resume search engine matches you with a job position, a human being will ultimately read your resume--and it better make sense..

The pros of posting a resume online? They are countless. More and more companies are searching for, and finding their candidates, online. Any more, if you don't have a resume posted online with one of the major job-finding Web Sites, it's a tremendous opportunity lost.

The cons of posting a resume online? There are several.

First, if you currently have a job, and you post your resume on-line, there's nothing to prevent your resume from being seen by your current employer--and this can make things very uncomfortable for you to say the least. Always date your resume. If two years from now your current employer sees your resume online, you can always explain you posted it when you were at your former job.

Secondly, there have been stories about headhunters finding attractive resumes on-line, and marketing them to potential employers, hoping to cash in on a lucrative finder's fee. This practice can set up a big conflict of interest (through no fault of your own) if the resume search engine matches you up with an employer to whom your resume has been sent via a head hunter. It could even cost you a job. For that reason, include with your resume some wording that forbids unauthorized transmission of your resume by headhunters.

Monday, January 8, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0031---Finding a high-tech job---Part 2

Developer Career Tips #0031

Finding a high-tech job---Part 2

There are literally hundreds of job-finding Web Sites, and in this tip, I thought I would highlight several nationally known Web Sites that have good reputations. All of these sites allow you to post a resume and be notified when a job matching one you looking for is posted. ( may be the most recognized name on my list, and it's worth a look. The site is nicely organized, and boasts a list of nearly half a million posted jobs. permits you to post your resume on their site, and much more. The site has a bunch of job seeking material, ranging from articles on how find one, online chats with job seeking experts, tips on creating your resume, and something I think is extremely worthwhile, a virtual interview that allows you to practice 'interviewing' for a job, and even provides feedback on how well you did. (, like the more well-known, also has a large number of posted jobs, about a quarter of a million as of the writing of this tip. Its site is not as full featured as, although it does provide some job searching tips, and does permit you to post a resume. An interesting sister site you may wish to check out is, which is aimed at marketing those interested in finding freelance and contract work.

America's Job Bank ( claims to have 1.2 million jobs posted, with about half a million resumes available for viewing by prospective employers. Although this site has the most posted jobs of the sites I've reviewed, it's easily the most 'bare bones'. The U.S. Department of Labor developed this site in partnership with the states and private sector organizations. Anyone can search for jobs, but you'll need to register in order to get into the 'meatier' portions of the site, such as posting a resume. ( unlike the other sites I've reviewed concentrates solely on IT jobs, and currently lists over 100,000 high tech jobs. If you are looking for a job in IT, I would start with this full-featured site that has great links, and a bunch of worthwhile information.

In Part 3, I'll discuss how to write and post a resume online---and the pros and cons of doing so.

Monday, January 1, 2001

Developer Career Tip #0030---Finding a high-tech job---Part 1

Developer Career Tips #0030

Finding a high-tech job---Part 1

With the New Year upon us, I thought I would do some research on Job Searching strategies. I wasn't planning on starting with Internet-based Job Searching strategies, but then I came upon an article on ZDNet which cited a higher than expected success rate for job seekers who used the Internet to find a job. According to the article

just over 40% of job seekers who used the Internet to post their resume or retrieve job listings received interviews as a result. I think that's an outstanding rate of success, and one that surprises me a bit. The article went on to say that it's not only IT workers finding jobs via the Internet, but others job seekers as well. Surprisingly, the highest percentage of job seekers getting interviews is in the Human Resources area---most likely because they know best where to look and post their information on the web.

I'm always skeptical about claims such as this---as the particulars about the job seeker's situations are not noted in the survey. For instance, what were the respondent's years of experience? I've known beginner programmers with no work experience who have posted their resumes on the various search sites who haven't gotten a nibble.

Still, there's no doubt in my mind that finding a job via the Internet is a viable alternative to the more traditional methods of job searching such as scanning classified ads in newspapers or using an employment agency. Companies seeking qualified candidates find it a useful alternative as well.

In Part 2 of this article, I'll list and discuss the popular Job Search Web Sites, along with the pros and cons of posting your resume on a Job Search Site.