How to avoid jobs ripe for outsourcing

Some jobs will stay an integral part of your company over the long haul; some are headed elsewhere. Here’s a rough guide to telling the difference

It's not enough to be a hot code jockey anymore. There are thousands in India and China -- not to mention U.S.-based outsourcers -- just waiting to take your job.

"Purely technical skills are the ones most likely to be outsourced," says Kate Kaiser, associate professor of Information Technology at Marquette University.

In a ground-breaking study published in 2006, Kaiser interviewed more than 100 CIOs and senior vice presidents, asking them what skills will stay in-house during the next few years and which are more likely to be outsourced.

The gist: Jobs that combined business-savvy with technical expertise will remain; purely technical positions are vulnerable.

That's not to say premium development expertise is unappreciated. Indeed, startups tend to set the technical skills bar very high. Without them, you won't get in the door. "I need someone strong in the fundamentals that come from a good school. I take that as a given," says David Smith, vice president of applied engineering at Firefly Energy.

Perhaps the best way to understand the skills you need to succeed in today's startup market is to think of a multistage rocket. The first stage -- hard skills such as a deep knowledge of programming and development languages -- get you off the ground. The second stage -- business, leadership, and communication skills -- sends you into orbit.

What's hot these days? Interviews with more than a score of senior execs and techies at startups and other young companies yield a basketful of answers. Here are some of the tools that will get you off the launch pad: Java, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, Python (popular at Google), AJAX, Flash, PHP, LAMP, and Apex (used at Salesforce.com). What's more, the very nature of successful startups -- starting from a small user base and quickly riding a hockey stick of growth -- demands programmers and developers who understand scalability and build it into their apps.

Stage two: Business skills, like project management, used to be the province of senior employees. Not any more. Startups have to be nimble, and so do you. You could be hammering code one day, making a presentation to potential angels the next -- and you'd better know how to do it.

Taking business courses while you're in school or when you have some spare time can separate you from the pack, says Stephen Pickett, former president of the Society for Information Management, which offers business-oriented training for techies.

Kaiser, who conducted the study in conjunction with the Society for Information Management, found that only the purely technical skill sets of systems analysis and systems design are likely to stay in-house.

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