Carving out a niche for Web developers

The Software Human Resource Council, which helps define IT job parameters in Canada, is for the first time recognizing Web developer as a job category.

Over the years, the SHRC has added job definitions as the IT field has expanded, but deliberately held off on the term Web developer, according

to the organization’s president, Paul Swinwood.

“”I’ll be very blunt about it. We’ve been waiting for things to settle down a little bit before implementing something,”” he says.

“”Five years ago, (Web development) was an extremely technical job. Today, if you give me 10 minutes over the phone, I can probably have a Web site up and running with you as the Web manager,”” he says.

In order to come to grips with what the job entails, the Ottawa-based SHRC will be sending out surveys to 21,000 IT professionals across Canada through its affiliations with organizations such as the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), the Information Technology Association of Canada and the Canadian Information Processing Society.

What Swinwood says he expects to see is less emphasis on the technical aspects of Web development and more on the creative.

“”What do you need to have? One of the things (is) artistic capability,”” he says. “”I can look at a Web site and tell you if the techie who put the Web application up also did the content.””

Max Haroon, president of the Toronto-based Society of Internet Professionals (SIP), says it’s difficult to pigeonhole Web development since the occupation is made up of so many skillsets and competencies.

“”If you try to put together in one compartment anything to do with the Web, it doesn’t work. If you look at the Web designer job, it’s not only one aspect,”” he says.

The SIP offers a variety of Internet-based certifications for professionals in the field, one of them for Web developers. “”I would think he still needs the skills of a graphic designer, but he is (also) a technology person,”” says Haroon. “”He has to know the tools and the templates and the resources to do it.””

Often Web development is accomplished by teams of people, he added — some with graphic design backgrounds, others with more of a technical bent.

The SHRC’s definition of what it means to be a Web developer should be completed in about three months. The organization is also updating two of its existing categories: project management and database administration.

The SHRC updates all 25 IT job definitions which comprise its Occupational Skills Profile Model (OSPM) on a rotating basis. It picks three or four a year based on the recommendations of its steering committee. The last time project managers and database administrators were looked at was in 1998.

Despite the six-year gap, Swinwood says job definitions are stable over long periods since the SHRC is more concerned with essential skills than the rapid pace of technology.

“”Don’t forget, we’re looking at the skills and the competencies of these people, not the tools they use,”” he says. “”While a database administrator today may be using a totally different tool, it’s the competencies of the people . . . we’re worried about.””

“”We’re in a situation where new jobs and new types of jobs are popping up all the time,”” says Barry Gander, vice-president at CATA. “”If we don’t stay on top of what is being done by whom, we won’t be able to adjust our school curricula, we won’t be able to turn out the right people. We won’t be able to know what the forecast shortages are going to be and whether we’re offering the right kinds of compensation.””

Gander adds that in an ideal world, the SHRC’s job definitions would be updated more frequently than every six years, but if updates were too frequent, the results could be a statistical quagmire.

The SHRC works not only with industry associations such as CATA, but also Statistics Canada and numerous schools and colleges to ensure that the definitions are workable.

In 2002, StatsCan and the SHRC jointly conducted a national survey to better understand the job categories of Canada’s IT workforce. Last year, the SHRC published a study examining 40 years of StatsCan census data to determine the differences over time in gender roles and salaries in IT.

In September, the SHRC started its process of inviting professionals to attend sessions to flesh out definitions for project managers, DBAs and Web developers. The agency wants input from those who will be affected.

“”We extend an invitation to anybody that wants to put their two-cents-worth in,”” says Swinwood. “”We encourage people to say, ‘I am one of those. I’m a Web developer. Those are my competencies.'””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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