Service-oriented architecture is hot, but landing a gig may take some maneuvering.   by John Moore | February 2008
  Service-oriented architecture, or SOA, became hot a few years ago and continues to exert influence on software design and development. In contrast to rolling out a monolithic application, the SOA approach builds software as discrete units called "services," which represent various business processes - customer billing or payment processing, for example. In SOA, services are assembled to create applications. Advocates of the approach laud its agility and the potential it offers to reuse work. Gartner predicts that by 2010, SOA will be employed in more than 80 percent of new mission-critical operational applications and business processes. SOA's maturation as a technology seems on track. But has the job market matched that trajectory? The answer is a qualified yes. SOA jobs exist, but may not explicitly appear under that label. A spokesman for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half International tells us the staffing firm hasn't placed a lot of people with SOA skills. Kerry Paris, director of staffing services at Atlantic Associates, Inc., in West Roxbury, Mass., makes a similar observation, and adds: "I've not ever seen a request that came in that specifically wants an SOA expert." That said, aspiring SOA mavens can still find work. Ronald Schmelzer, managing partner at ZapThink LLC, an SOA research and advisory firm headquartered in Baltimore, Md., suggests the enterprise architect job category is an important place to look. Design Skills a Plus   "The big need in SOA is around SOA analysis and design," notes Schmelzer. "That is something that is done by enterprise architects. We are definitely seeing more focus on enterprise-architect level hires." The labor market harbors many IT workers equipped with the skills organizations needed to build services, Schmelzer observes. Those skills tend to be vendor specific. A developer may focus on building and managing a service based on the BEA platform, for instance. While SOA developer skills abound, the same can't be said for SOA design experts, Schmelzer says. The resulting gap spells opportunity for architects who can work with line-of-business managers to determine requirements and define services. Paris, meanwhile, says the clients she works with don't necessarily seek people skilled in SOA, but rather IT professionals skilled in areas encompassed by SOA. Microsoft's .Net Framework, for instance, is not strictly an SOA product, but it may be used to develop applications within an SOA environment. Paris identified .Net as an SOA-related skill-set now in demand. She said healthcare organizations in particular are interested in .Net experience as they move away from such programming languages as MUMPS and Cache. Other industries, however, are more than tangentially involved with SOA. Schmelzer lists financial services and insurance as sectors working aggressively with SOA. He also cites telecommunications and government, noting the public sector "is very heavily invested in SOA." Marketing SOA Skills   SOA experts should identify themselves as such on resumes and CVs, Paris says, even if prospective hirers lag somewhat behind the technology's curve. The use of SOA terminology may help job candidates stand out from the crowd. But to portray oneself as an SOA professional requires a certain base of skills. An SOA architect, for example, needs to focus on such areas as project requirements development, iterative design methodologies, extreme programming, or agile methodologies, Schmelzer says. Knowledge of industry-specific approaches may also prove useful, he adds, referring to the Telecommunications Interchange Markup as an example. Last year, ZapThink launched a credentialing program to help cultivate SOA architects. The company's Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) program revolves around a four-day boot camp, the agenda of which covers planning and running SOA projects, creating SOA infrastructure and building a governance framework among other topics. Beyond credentialing programs, SOA practitioners can differentiate themselves by contributing to architectural bodies such as Object Management Group and Open Group, Schmelzer says. The latter group, for example, runs an architecture forum that works on developing an enterprise architecture framework. Schmelzer says the SOA architect position represents a planning and management role distinct from traditional business management and IT management. This management tier could prove "a huge area of growth within enterprises" if organizations choose to invest in it, he believes. John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.