How You Can Solve the SOA Skills Shortage

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A recent IBM survey announcing a SOA skills gap has caused quite a blog brouhaha.

I hate to criticize others, because every time I do, I have to snap my arm with this rubber band I'm wearing -- Hey, bad habits are hard to break -- but here goes ...

Is there really anyone in IT who didn't see this coming?

A simple Internet query shows this has been an issue since at least 2005. Isn't it pretty obvious you're going to have a hard time finding workers with service-oriented architecture experience, given how few organizations have built SOAs and how many are starting to build them? It's simple supply and demand, people.

If, for some reason, you haven't puzzled that one out for yourself, the IBM survey queried Fortune 1000 CEOs and found 56 percent say a shortage of SOA skills is the number one obstacle to "launching and delivering SOA projects with strong business impact."

OK, the SOA skills shortage is a problem. Got it. Now what are we going to do about it? That's what I want to know. So that's the question I've been researching.

Frankly, it seems like people are more interested in pronouncing there's a skills shortage gap than in offering solutions. So, many of the articles I'm referencing are 6 to 8 months old, but they're still pertinent.

As I read through the information, a few patterns emerged:

  1. Start small so your internal staff can make mistakes and learn.
  2. Get training through conferences, certification, books, and maybe vendors.
  3. Hire a SOA mentor.
  4. Pool resources, preferably in a SOA center of excellence.

Sandy Carter of IBM and Joe McKendrick of ZDNet recommend starting small. McKendrick points out starting small is a particularly good option when you couple a budget crunch with a lack of SOA skills. In the survey article, Carter shares how IBM developed its own SOA skills by starting small on horizontal projects that drew in a vertical team.


If you're short on time, the best article on the skills problem is, "SOA Talent Clearly Lacking...Now What?" by David Linthicum. The article covers three of the four tips I've mentioned.


His mantra is "SOA -- an architecture you build, NOT a product you buy," and his advice reflects that. Linthicum believes your first step should be to train or hire a good architect, which he defines as someone with a holistic understanding of IT architecture, which includes networking, database, systems, application development, user interface design, testing, the whole works. (Linthicum is a managing partner of ZapThink, which offers a license program for architects.)


I particularly liked his discussion of the SOA center of excellence, though I wonder how you'd do that in mid-size companies. If you don't have enough SOA experience on staff, how are you going to staff a SOA center of excellence?


That's why I've amended this tip to "pool your resources." My thinking is perhaps some organizations -- government agencies and perhaps user groups -- could pool their resources to create a regional or industry-specific SOA center of excellence.


Pay attention, too, to Linthicum's caution about vendor training. He fears you could otherwise stray into what he calls vendor-driven architecture.


He also recommends hiring a mentor, which is basically hiring a consultant who will guide your work, not do it for you. Rachel Reinitz at IBM made a similar suggestion last year in her excellent article, "Developing skills for the SOA world -- an expert who's been there tells all."


Reinitz is a Distinguished Engineer with IBM Software Services for WebSphere focusing on Web services and now a SOA expert for IBM. She lists a plethora of resources in explaining how how she developed her SOA expertise. Her top suggestion is to find a mentor:

"In my opinion, there is no better form of learning than executing projects under an experienced leader or consultant. ... Your education can be greatly accelerated when you have an experienced person to check in with or to lead you. It is much easier to learn the right way, the wrong way, and the best way through mentorship."

That said, Eric Roch over at IT Toolbox has a list of cautionary advice about finding and hiring a SOA mentor.


Finally, check out this April 2007 article from BEA. Nearly a year ago, BEA warned old tactics -- outsourcing, hiring consultants and hiring in new skills --- wouldn't work with SOA. Instead, BEA outlines a more strategic plan for developing in-house SOA skills.