Skill set v rate of pay

skill set graph

I’ve been thinking about which direction to go in next. A key factor for me is rate, I’m in business and I expect a reasonable rate of return on investments I make. That applies for tangible investments such as property and less tangible ones like training. Training is critical for me, as I am basically in the knowledge business.

I’ve come up with the graph above to demonstrate how rates of pay change according to skill set, well at least how I think they do. What so you think? Is there a better chart?

The basic idea is that good business knowledge or good IT skills get a reasonable rate, but a strong combination is much more valuable.

The issue I have is in looking for the right IT skills to develop next. My experience so far seems to be that Excel VBA is the tool of choice for people with decent business skills. .net seems to be further away from the business and it worries me that it is moving too far to the right on the graph – ie potentially declining pay rate (a poor investment). I wonder if VSTO or VSTA will overtake VBA in that regard in the next 5 years? Do you think so? (Personally I doubt it, in 10 years maybe, but I think its pointless trying to think that far ahead in IT).

Another option would be to go for a none programming option such as Analysis Services or Essbase. These almost ‘super power user tools’ seem to sit around the top of the chart from what I have seen. A few of the Excel heros from when I started seem to have gone this way (OLAP). I would say that SQL server or Oracle may take things too far to the right. Although I have noticed that non Microsoft technologies seem to demand a premium, eg and Oracle DBA is likely to be on 10/20% more than a SQL Server DBA. Here is a UK site to waste hours on what to learn next:

http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/contracts/uk/oracle%20dba.do

Could we influence the market? What if all Excel VBA developers suddenly started recommending and pushing and demonstrating VSTO/.net solutions (or Excel services) and talking them up as being so much better than VBA? I’m not saying they are of course. Sadly I remain to be convinced on the whole .net thing. It all just reminds me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor’s_New_Clothes, maybe I’m too cynical (or maybe I’m just one of the numpties that can’t see the benefits).

My next post will look at project types because I’ve been involved in some interesting discussions about that recently.

Have you got any development plans? What things would you like to look at in the future (from a commercial POV rather than for interest/personal development)? I did a Flash/Action script project years ago, I’d love to do some more of that.

Cheers

Simon
 

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11 Responses to “Skill set v rate of pay”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Hi Simon,

    I’m going through exactly the same process at the moment. My experiences have shown me that my technical skills are crucial but my domain (business) knowledge is even more so. My premise is that I’m there to solve business problems using technology, not solve technical problems for the business.

    Nearly all of my work is in banking & finance, for the business (rather than the IT dept.) so being able to demonstrate an ROI is important. It also means that the business is usually after solutions which require minimal involvement with the IT dept. This means that the primary platform is VBA with one or more of the MSO apps. The business also feels comfortable with this as they ‘understand’ it. The next natural step is one of scalability which is where SQL Server or MSAS come in. For mid-range I’ve used MSDE which effectively requires SQL Server skills.

    I’ve also talked to clients about the technological future. The most common sentiment is: “whatever gets the job done.” I’m also conscientious of pursuing technologies which may be vetoed by the IT department – many bank IT depts don’t like Access (although they’re in abundant supply) or which may take too long to build sufficient demand (Office 2007).

    I’m also looking for versatility; Delphi for example allows me to create COM Add-Ins (currently using VB6), DLLs as well as GUI’s. I’m also doing some homework into Excel Services.

    Has anyone had any positive experiences incorporating .Net (say via VSTO) with MSO?

  2. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    “I wonder if VSTO or VSTA will overtake VBA in that regard in the next 5 years? Do you think so?”

    – VSTO : no because of the mixed mode deployment hell. VSTO requires you to worry about native deployment problems plus .NET deployment problems, instead of just .NET deployment problems. Huge mistake that has plagued this stuff since day one. Oh, and add Vista deployment problems to this. VSTO is the excuse the Excel and Powerpoint teams use to avoid putting native support for content controls in Excel and Powerpoint, thereby leading Office developers to buy licenses of Visual Studio and the likes. Have you noticed that in Office 2007, only Word supports design-time and run-time content controls?

    – VSTA : it’s not free. The VBA license is $150,000/year, I expect the VSTA license to be somewhere near that, even though Microsoft does not give the numbers in public.

    You know where all this .NET initiative is headed…

  3. Dermot Says:

    For the past 20 years I’ve worked in finance consulting, where spreadsheets are the primary tool for most jobs. I’ve used Excel throughout and I’ve tried everything, from VBA in the nineties to dotNet. What I’ve concluded (and I’m talking about tools for workgroups, not mega-systems) is that
    1. business logic should be kept out of code if possible
    2. spreadsheets should be made easy to use, check and maintain by non-experts, ie no black boxes

    Recently, I’ve helped design both a complex multi-level valuation system and a unit pricing system, both of which use VBA only for automation and for shielding of critical data. All the crucial business logic is set out clearly and openly in spreadsheets, and even complex queries like “list all the managers who are used by this client, sorted alphabetically” are done with cell formulae. I am amazed by how powerful and flexible these models are, compared with the pure code or pure worksheet solutions I would have built in the past…. and they are much easier to build, too.

    So my answer is that once you have the technical Excel skills, one should develop appropriate technique, which comes with business experience, and which may involve other tools, depending on how you specialise. In my case, Excel is enough on its own.

    I’d add one more thing, that I only get the jobs I want (which typically take 1-3 weeks to build) by being embedded in the business. I’d never be given the same work if I were outside, but by being inside, I can see the need, make suggestions, and put forward solutions. I think the problem is that users think they can do it themselves, and their bosses don’t want to spend money on spreadsheet solutions.

  4. Steve Hansen Says:

    Just a quick FYI, the VSTA licensing prices are public and listed here:
    http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/vstudio/bb407600.aspx

  5. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    IT exist to support the business, more specifically for making decisions and to meet the fiscal demands.

    Over the time the business needs tend to be the same while the applied technology tend to be changed.

    But the major challenge is that the complexity of the business has increased and the speed of change has also dramatically changed.

    So what do the customer pay for?

    – In some cases to get a better understanding of their business processes
    – In some cases to get technical solutions that support the business processes
    – In some cases a mix of the above

    It’s difficult to predict what kind of technology to learn next. In my opinion it’s a question to add more tools to the toolbox and use each tool for specific needs, i e different tools for different needs.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  6. Simon Says:

    from the link VSTA is 50 dollars a seat or 1-5% of revenue, your choice.
    I couldn’t just find the VBA figures.
    Not sure how well it will take off considering its not used in the main office products. Yet!
    I thought it would be in 2007 I was surprised when I heard it wasn’t.

  7. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Hi Simon…..

    I have always thought that my big advantage right off the bat was having spent 10 years as a Commodity Trader before becoming a developer of Spreadsheets and Databases. I have always looked at solutions from a business perspective first, technological second.

    I also look at each “gig” on its merits – “Can I do it for a price that the client can justify?” also how much do I need to make for every hour I work to end up making a decent living at the end of each year. It’s always an issue of the “worth” of the job but I NEVER lower my rates.

    I choose to be a spreadsheet developer (and a departmental database developer) because I can bring all my skills into play for the client in a way that gives them the most value for their money and me enough money to justify my effort.

    I am VERY concerned that the traditonal professional developer rate is going to continue to degrade. Frankly in a market where the chief technology (the Internet) is practically free, where communications and technologies are getting cheaper and cheaper and faster and faster, the human component WILL be driven down as well. Sure it’s a stupid thing to do when companies are getting more and more dependant on technology all the time but corporations are fundamentally stupid when it comes to valuing the people who do the REAL work (unlike their managers ;-)).

    So the answer is to be a specialist at “Solutions” to smallish problems. This means:

    1. using technology that is as available as possible (Excel anyone?)
    2. using technology that involves the least contact with the corporate IT infrastucture (Excel anyone?)
    and
    3. approach solutions from the “Business” side not the technology side.

    You will never “out tech” an IT developer who knows how BS baffles brains. But if you can talk to his/her clients and help them get real solutions you WILL get enough business (Excel anyone?). Remember every success leads you deeper and deeper into each client and eventually they will appreciate your value.

    This is ALWAYS going to be the case and that is why I believe that Excel development will ALWAYS be an opportunity for a career (that is unless Microsoft screws it up for us by killing VBA without providing and equivalent replacement – and I mean “equivalent”).

  8. Marcus Says:

    Hey Biggus how’s Incontinentia treating you? (Monty Python joke for the uninitiated),

    I’d agree that having been a Commodity Trader is a huge advantage. You can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

    I’d also agree that in ‘general’ that the traditional professional developer rate will decline for all the obvious reasons.

    My experience has also been that of having business knowledge with technical skills attending to problems the business doesn’t want to escalate to IT. While I’ve referred to them as covert, one IT manager called these projects ‘under the radar’. Being client facing, at an executive level, I’m ironically finding my opportunities and rate at their highest. I doubt I would be in my current position 10 years from now had I entered the industry today – it’s a combination of my business experience, contacts (networking) and thirdly technical skills which allows my current position.

    On the flip side there are fewer opportunities for new entrants to build up these skills and relationships. I also don’t believe that these are projects are easily outsource as they require a great deal of client contact and hand-holding.

    As an aside, I’d be cautious of using terms such as ‘always’ or ‘never’. Call me paranoid :P

    Cheers – Marcus

  9. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Marcus:

    >

    I have thought that too and try hard to determine whether my opinion is just self-serving and I don’t think it is. It IS going to be hard for young people to get into the game.

    >

    I use the word ALWAYS because business is business and the needs of business will always necessitate the kind of business-driven, flexible, cost-effective solutions you and I provide. Why would that change just because Microsoft says so?

    The fact is that in any company I have seen that tries to limit custom departmental development (by insisting on Enterprise solutions only) the result is a proliferation of bad spreadsheets because people need to get their work done. In the end that works to my benefit – but not in the way I would like to see things go.

    I think MS should be promoting Spreadsheet development with VBA in parallel to things like VSTO. Frankly they’re two separate markets. Microsoft has proven that they aren’t very good at parallel tracks – they seem to get on one bandwagon (remember Smart-Tags?) and drive that as the only message.

    I hope some day they get it – beofre it’s too late.

  10. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Marcus:

    Let’s try these quotes again :

    “On the flip side there are fewer opportunities for new entrants to build up these skills and relationships. I also don’t believe that these are projects are easily outsource as they require a great deal of client contact and hand-holding.”

    I have thought that too and try hard to determine whether my opinion is just self-serving and I don’t think it is. It IS going to be hard for young people to get into the game.

    “As an aside, I’d be cautious of using terms such as ‘always’ or ‘never’. Call me paranoid :P”

    I use the word ALWAYS because business is business and the needs of business will always necessitate the kind of business-driven, flexible, cost-effective solutions you and I provide. Why would that change just because Microsoft says so?

    The fact is that in any company I have seen that tries to limit custom departmental development (by insisting on Enterprise solutions only) the result is a proliferation of bad spreadsheets because people need to get their work done. In the end that works to my benefit – but not in the way I would like to see things go.

    I think MS should be promoting Spreadsheet development with VBA in parallel to things like VSTO. Frankly they’re two separate markets. Microsoft has proven that they aren’t very good at parallel tracks – they seem to get on one bandwagon (remember Smart-Tags?) and drive that as the only message.

    I hope some day they get it – beofre it’s too late.

  11. Simon Says:

    Excel 2007 was a real wake up call for me.
    It really feels like a user toy and not a development platform.
    cheers
    simon

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