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Does SOA threaten developer jobs?

Since service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a philosophy of business computing rather than a tool or technology, where do people fit in? And what do you do if they feel confused or threatened by the coming changes?

Lost sometimes in the technical discussions of service-oriented architecture (SOA) is the human factor.

In a roundtable on governance sponsored by the OMG's SOA Consortium, Fill Bowen, SOA governance marketing manager at IBM, raised an issue not heard very often when he asserted that some IT professionals believe SOA threatens their jobs.

We've had some companies that said, you know, going to SOA is a way to downsize.
Fill Bowen
SOA Governance Marketing ManagerIBM

"A lot of concerns we've seen is in development organizations and in IT shops is -- is their job going to go away when we move to SOA," he said in the roundtable podcast recently released by the consortium. "So a lot of discussions early on when you're putting your governance in place is to say, okay, your job is not going away. It may change, but it's not going to away. This is not an effort -- we've had some companies that said, you know, going to SOA is a way to downsize. That is not the intent of SOA. It's not intended to downsize your IT shops. It's intended to make your business more productive."

Asked about Bowen's comments, Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst, ZapThink LLC., said the fears may not be entirely groundless and agreed that for SOA to move forward they need to be addressed.

"I think there's some valid rationale to the reasoning that IT folks who have development-only skills should feel threatened by the movement to SOA," Schmelzer said. "After all, the SOA movement is architectural, not technological, and this means that folks who have skills only for developing or building new assets will be at a significant disadvantage in an environment that demands greater reuse and loose coupling in an environment of heterogeneity and continuous change."

Tony Baer, principal analyst at onStrategies, sees a further problem in a lack of understanding about SOA between the IT people and the business people they are supposed to be working with on emerging specifications such as BPEL4People.

For more information
BPEL4People adds human factor to SOA

SOA worst practices, part 2: People skills needed

"The problem is that both sides have dug in their heels," Baer said. "It's the latest manifestation of the culture divide between business and IT. Business stakeholders maintain that IT does not know what in reality comprises a business process, whereas the IT folks claim that the business folks wouldn't know the last thing about getting their processes to execute on IT systems."

One solution might be the development of architectural skills in IT, that are currently missing, suggests Schmelzer. Architects with some management skills might be able to bridge the gap between IT and business by taking a larger view. Also, developing architectural skills might provide more job security and even upward mobility for developers who currently feel threatened by SOA.

"There's a dramatic and significant lack of architecture talent and skills," Schmelzer said. "So, while development skills may experience a long-term decline in demand, architecture skills will experience a long-term heightened demand. So, I can also agree with IBM that IT organizations have an opportunity to learn new skills to make them increasingly relevant. That doesn't mean that IT firms will necessarily downsize, but the nature and scope of such organizations will clearly be changing. Don't fight the change - flow with it and prosper!"

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