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Careers: Merger Casts Cloud Over Future For PeopleSoft Specialists

A megaconsolidation like Oracle-PeopleSoft forces PeopleSoft specialists to look a few years ahead and assess their careers.

This was supposed to be a really great December for Steve Klingemann. Fried on the gone-on-Monday, home-on-Friday consultant life, he landed just the kind of job he wanted, starting later this month as a developer with the La Quinta hotel chain in Dallas.

Then Larry Ellison rained on the PeopleSoft developer's holiday. The Oracle-PeopleSoft deal doesn't affect Klingemann's opportunity with La Quinta, since the 560-hotel chain is actually upgrading to a new PeopleSoft financial system. Still, it sends a message to the veteran programmer that, as he closes in on his 50th birthday in a couple months, he's once again looking at a major re-tooling of his technical skills over the coming years, as PeopleSoft opportunities shrink.

"It's a knock in the teeth," Klingemann says.

A megaconsolidation like Oracle-PeopleSoft sends IT executives into long-term planning mode, looking over the horizon to assess a company's needs and whether a given technology will be relevant. And it's doing the same thing for individuals looking at their careers, people who've hitched their futures to those platforms.

PeopleSoft-related skills will certainly be needed for some time to come. Even if Oracle takes the most-aggressive path to shedding PeopleSoft applications and support (and it's suggesting of late it won't), companies with tens or even hundreds of millions invested in them won't be in a hurry to junk them, and will look to specialists to keep them vibrant, either with internal talent or through third-party service providers. Offshore outsourcing firms such as Satyam Consulting were touting their PeopleSoft and Oracle skills as soon as the deal was announced, anticipating a spike in integration work ahead. Still, there seems a clear signal that the total demand for PeopleSoft specialists will fall, even if the time line is uncertain.

David Foote offers evidence that PeopleSoft specialists should've been thinking about re-training already. "PeopleSoft skills have been declining in value," contends Foote, president and chief research officer of the IT-HR research and consulting firm Foote Partners. Foote says its research finds the typical employee who receives extra pay for PeopleSoft skills gets a 7% premium, whereas people who get extra pay for Oracle skills get closer to 10%. Plus, the PeopleSoft premium has declined the past two years, according to Foote Partners research, which also does a regular rating of hot jobs . (For InformationWeek Research's take on salaries, check out the 2004 Salary Adviser.)

There's certainly no shortage of people who expect to need PeopleSoft talent for some time to come. Donald Spicer, CIO of the University System of Maryland, says the company has a 10-year maintenance agreement on its extensive PeopleSoft suite, and it intends to stick with the applications. Spicer says the higher education community--a huge PeopleSoft customer base--could even move to self-maintenance, either through some sort of cooperative or a for-profit third party, if the company support they need withers. All that speaks to needed PeopleSoft developers.

Yet Spicer expects the flow of people getting into PeopleSoft will dry up, especially as Oracle transitions off PeopleSoft development tools. "I think that'll be a problem five, six, seven years down the road, because it'll be hard to attract people into developing in obsolete tool sets," Spicer says.

For pros such as Klingemann, who says he's done IT "since the punch-card days," it's no surprise to see a particular technology or software come and go. And he's already done a lot of the right things to keep himself from being pigeon-holed as some sort of super-specialist; he double-majored in information systems and accounting back in college and he's earned an MBA, so he considers himself at least as much a financial-systems specialist as a PeopleSoft specialist. He's doing some Sarbanes-Oxley-related compliance work for a California utility at the moment.

Still, he sees the value of his hands-on PeopleSoft experience fading, even if he's optimistic about his future. Says Klingemann, "It's just the idea that I've invested eight years, now it's probably going to go away in 18 months or so, depending on what [Oracle] does."

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