Web 2.0 skills that advance your career and where to get them.

“Web 2.0” is a phrase that’s been around for a few years, but it still has some uncertainty around it.

Is it just marketing hype, or does it represent a substantial change in the way companies approach Web technology?

More to the point, what does it mean for your career?

If you’re a regular Computerworld reader, chances are good that you already know that Web 2.0 generally refers to Web-based applications and services that provide for greater collaboration among people and organizations.

Web 1.0 comprised static content for site visitors, but Web 2.0 trumpets enhanced user experiences through mainstays like blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums and other such features.

Mashups, another Web 2.0 staple, combine two or more separate elements into a single application, such as an interactive map overlaid with sortable restaurant locations.

Web 2.0 hasn’t overturned most companies’ fundamental Web strategies, but it has created an ongoing need for particular types of skills.

Web 2.0 skills

It’s important to know that Web 2.0 isn’t made up of a specific set of technologies, languages or tools, but rather a set of traits that make a Web site feel and behave more like a desktop application.

It’s about a rich, dynamic user experience that includes an open-source model at its core — that is, users contribute to the experience.

There are no hard and fast programming languages or protocols that define Web 2.0, but many Web sites that fit the category make use of the Microsoft .Net Framework, AJAX, XHTML and HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and support for user-generated content such as wikis or forums.

Many firms are embracing Web 2.0 to create and improve their Web-based applications and Web sites. Companies are increasingly using AJAX, for example, to enable visitors to access new data on a site without having to refresh the entire page.

Employers of all sizes are seeking IT professionals who have Web 2.0 development skills and experience.

Organizations look for individuals who have expertise with Web design, programming and applications creation.

Candidates with Web 2.0 development skills are typically offered higher starting salaries than their counterparts who lack that expertise, according to the Robert Half Technology 2008 Salary Guide.

How to gain Web 2.0 expertise

If you haven’t developed the right skills for Web 2.0-related initiatives, it’s not too late. Because experts in this area are still in short supply, some firms are willing to invest in training for promising employees.

Even if your employer isn’t currently pursuing Web 2.0 technologies, it will likely do so in the near future, so you may be able to make a persuasive case for building your expertise now.

Getting up to speed may require less work than you anticipate. AJAX, for instance, is not a new technology, but rather a new take on established ones. Learning to leverage this tool may mean simply enhancing your knowledge of JavaScript, DOM, XML/XHTML and CSS.

As with most IT skills, many training options are available. Universities and private providers offer formal on-site classes and online training courses that you can take at your convenience.

Entire Web sites are devoted to Web 2.0 development, offering resources ranging from research articles to message boards where people share information about the uses and challenges of the technology.

Putting Web 2.0 to work

You’ll need more than just solid programming skills, however, to make Web 2.0 stick. Web 2.0 is about serving the needs of clients and customers, which requires an understanding of what appeals to specific audiences. Experts in Web 2.0 often collaborate with marketing and other non-IT staff members to develop a company’s online strategy.

Basic classes in business communication, project management, Web design and consumer marketing can be wise supplements to technical training.

The hype surrounding Web 2.0 may fade, but the real changes it represents won’t go away anytime soon. As a result, taking the time to acquire or improve your Web 2.0 skills can be beneficial to your career.

With skilled developers in short supply, you’ll be of greater value to your current firm and put yourself in a stronger position when searching for new employment.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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