Microsoft admits .Net skills shortage

With government agencies struggling to find people with .Net expertise, Microsoft’s answer is to retrain Java and Visual Basic developers

Microsoft has suggested that companies who can't find programmers skilled in .Net should consider retraining their Java experts.

Mark Quirk, Microsoft UK's head of technology for development and platforms, admitted on Monday that there aren't enough developers in the market who can help companies migrate to .Net.

As ZDNet UK reported last week, the UK's Highway's Agency embarked on a move to .Net, only to discover that finding .Net-skilled staff was a real challenge. Quirk acknowledged that this illustrates a wider problem.

"Clearly there aren't [enough .Net developers]. If the Highway's Agency can't find them, then there need to be some more," Quirk said.

Quirk claimed that Microsoft is working with a number of training companies to address the problem.

"We recognise that this is becoming very popular, even faster than even we would have dreamed. So we've spent a lot of time, particularly during the beta programme for the 2005 products and .Net version two, working with training companies," said Quirk.

But companies may still have to look at their own resources and see which staff can be converted into .Net experts.

"It's a modern platform, and if people have looked at the other modern platforms in the marketplace then they can move over and migrate to the .Net platform relatively straightforwardly," suggested Quirk. "Look at your existing skills base that you have —it may be those Visual Basic 6 developers...The 2005 products provide a much better opportunity to take the things that people were used to with Visual Basic, the RAD environment, and there's many more of those things in the Visual Basic.Net environment in 2005."

But some industry experts believe that the cost and complexity of learning .Net is a key reason behind the skills gap.

Julian Divett, chief operating officer at IT training consultancy FDM, said that learning .Net was not as simple as attending a five day course or reading a book but re-learning from scratch an entirely new way of doing things. This complexity combined with a lack of job opportunities is preventing IT staff developing .Net skills.

"It's a Catch-22 situation, to learn .Net you need to work on a project rather than attend training, but to work on a project you need experience in .Net, so it's a vicious cycle," he said.

Getting work on a project when you are inexperienced is virtually impossible according to Divett and this has led to a lack of opportunities for graduates to learn .Net skills.

Another.Net developer suggested that .Net simply can't compete with the popularity of Java.

"There is a general feeling that open source and Java are anti-commercial and altruistic compared to .Net," he said.

It's also possible that .Net is the victim of its own success.

".Net is something that's been moving forward quite steadily and moving closer to achieving critical mass," said Dale Vile, research director at analyst Free Form Dynamic

The adoption of .Net has been led by application vendors and systems integrators whose programs have now found their way into mainstream businesses, Vile said.

"Vendors have been working on product development, building solutions around .Net, but it wasn't until .Net started hitting the market that we began to see the outcome of all that work," Vile added.