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Try Something New

I'm not big on making New Year's resolutions. Instead, every year at this time I make a promise to myself that I will try something new. That thought struck a chord last week when I was chatting with independent consultant Don Demsak, a Microsoft MVP.

While we were talking in general about these tough economic times, Demsak lamented if you're a .NET developer with a broad set of skills you may be better off than many others in the IT profession these days. However just being a .NET developer won't necessarily make you stand out in the crowd, he warned.

"Right now anyone that's done real WCF [Windows Communications Foundation] work, doesn't have a problem finding a job," he said. "The average ASP.NET Web Form developers are having a harder time finding a job." Who else is in for a hard time? "The general .NET developer who doesn't know good object-oriented programming practices are the ones I see having the hardest time," he said.

Specific product certifications aren't enough in this day and age. "That's why I am thinking along the lines that people learning ASP.NET MVC, that's going to be a delineator on your resume," he suggested. I asked, isn't that going to appeal to a small percentage of development requirements? The point, he said, is that whether or not it applies to the work you are doing, it shows that you are learning new programming habits.

Scott Hanselman, a principal program manger at Microsoft, who two years ago made the now oft-cited comment that every year developers should learn a new language is good advice, according to Demsak. "If you're a developer who does a lot of functional programming via SQL, go learn an imperative language, like C# or Java," he said.

Another example: Database developers with expertise might want to learn business intelligence. Learning things like Multidimensional Expressions, or MDX, the language for creating cross platform OLAP cubes is going to be crucial. "More and more companies are trying to add BI capabilities to their applications both public facing and internal, and it's a big leap to actually get there," he said. If you're not familiar with Microsoft's BI strategy, Redmond Developer News columnist Andrew Brust gave a good synopsis last month.

For his part, Demsak recently gave jQuery a shot. Microsoft thrilled a lot of developers back in October when it said it will package the lightweight and simple JavaScript library that enables interaction between JavaScript and HTML with Visual Studio and ASP.NET.

"I love it. I am switching all my stuff over to it now from standard ASP.NET Web forms," he said, adding that a large population of developers may want to do the same.

Want to give it a spin? You can find some good tips here from Microsoft corporate VP Scott Guthrie and from Rick Strahl, president of Maui-based West Wind Technologies, which specializes in distributed application development.

In any case, these are uncertain times: Make it a point to try something new this year.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/14/2009

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