Stay with Windows or switch platforms?

A developer is thinking of a career switch, but she may be better off continuing to build her career in Windows development, industry practitioners say.

Looking for IT career advice? Post your question here, and we'll get our experts to answer.

Q. I have been working on Visual FoxPro applications for the past eight years.

Recently, I have had a chance to work on Visual Basic 6.0 applications. I do not have any working experience in object-oriented technologies like Java and C++. I also do not have any working experience in other technologies and platforms like HP Unix, and have spent the past eight years supporting and developing applications running on the Windows platform.

Therefore, which certification should I pursue to stay relevant in today's job market and to add value to my employer? My recent job search experience further proves my limited skill sets. I am currently studying, and hope to pass the PMP (Project Management) certification exam in September. What should I do to stay competitive in the IT job market? Please advise.

Career advice from Miko Matsumura, deputy chief technology officer at Software AG, who is also a Java and SOA expert:
I know that Java and Unix systems are very hot, and I suppose I'm very biased because of my days working with Sun Microsystems and watching all of the excitement around the JavaOne conference. But from my perspective, it's going to be very important for you to play off your own strengths, rather than to follow the herd.

I think you're very wise to anticipate that Visual FoxPro isn't going to feed your family in the future, however, there is a ton of Microsoft development still happening. At the risk of challenging my own Java roots, I would say that working with the Windows platform is a shorter "hop" for you, compared to switching to, say, Unix and Java.

Sounds like you're familiar with database driven applications, so may want to consider working with Microsoft SQL Server and doing some coding on the .NET platform. There is a variety of languages you can use in .NET, and they are pretty well-considered as first-class citizens of the .NET world. C# is probably the most popular language for .NET, but if you're going to learn C# you might as well learn Java, it's equally complex.

You're going to have to decide whether you want to take the plunge and learn object-oriented programming. It's not for everyone. If you're getting into the .NET platform, be sure to familiarize yourself with the WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) libraries which are the Web Services platform for Microsoft programmers. That way you can put all of the alphabet soup of Web Services on your resume, which can then be picked up by software shops looking for people with SOA (service-oriented architecture) expertise.

Career advice from Thomas Choong, director, Elipva:
Given that you have spent eight years working on and developing for the Windows platform, it is worthwhile to continue to focus on it. However, the Windows platform has progressed significantly over the years with many new applications and technology. On that front, it is wise to review your technical skills sets versus the key maturing or even mature technologies available on the Windows platform that are increasingly adopted. Object-oriented programming language skills are also essential. Give this some thought and select areas that will widen your job opportunities in the development space.

As for certification, you are on the right track with PMP as it equips you with functional skills that are less technology- or application-dependent. This will also serve as a good start to go beyond the technology, especially considering that you do not have Java, C++, object-oriented technologies, or Unix skills. Picking up these skills should help enrich yourself, enhance your value, and widen your job opportunities in the long term. However, like all things, you do need to apply your project management skills to become effective. For project manager roles, project experience is vital.

Career advice from Roger Olofsson, associate director of executive recruitment agency Robert Walters:
I certainly think your recent experience in Visual Basic 6.0 is a clear step in the right direction. With regards to certifications and future career track, my advice would be that you try to align it with your strengths and interests. If you have demonstrated a talent and above-average capability (compared to your peers) when it comes to coding, and you have a strong interest in technology, I would suggest you continue to focus on a hands-on technical development career and try to cross-train into new tools and platforms, as well as pick up object-oriented concepts.

As you have been developing on a Windows platform until now, the most straightforward toolset to move into would be Microsoft's .Net suite including VB.Net and ASP.Net. Following this track it would be an excellent idea to get yourself MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) certified. Equipped with these skills there would most certainly be opportunities for you in the current buoyant marketplace. However, if you have doubts in your technical skills and your talent and interests are leaning towards coordination, planning, communication and people management, I think the project management track would be a better option. The PMP certification is an excellent and well-regarded credential for project management professionals and would definitely be an asset if you chose this as your career path. For your project management career to take a successful turn you would need to try to gain as much practical project management experience as possible. All the best in your future career whether it be a technical or project management one.

Editor's note: Refer to ZDNet Asia's IT Salary 2006 survey results for the most popular IT certifications in Asia.