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.