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A rich niche

Data security and applications architects _ two bright spots in tech hiring _ are benefiting from the law of supply and demand.

According to a survey released by Robert Half Technology, the fields will experience salary boosts in 2004 of 2.1 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.

"Tech spending out there is focused on immediate ROI (return of investment), and at the top of the list is security," explained John Reed of Robert Half Technology.

Businesses can quantify how much money they'll lose if a hacker or natural disaster shuts down operations for even one day.

Reed called it an insurance policy that companies hope they never use.

As a result, compensation in the data security field is projected to increase to a range of $67,000 to $90,750.

Cruce Saunders, president of Ariesnet Inc., a Web interface and application developer in Dallas, attributes the upswing in salary expectations to a surge in projects.

"Projects that were shelved in 2001 and 2002 are being done now," he said.

Applications architecture is another business intelligence hot area, Reed said.

The positions are held by senior-level developers with proficiency in a variety of systems and applications in multiple environments.

Compensation packages for applications architects are expected to rise in 2004 to a range of $73,250 to $104,250.

While data security and disaster recovery are well-understood career fields, applications architects are harder to define.

Jim Humrichouse, vice president of operations at Pinnacle Technical Resources Inc., said applications architects must have a holistic view of computer systems and how they work together.

"When companies initiate new application development projects, the application architect is the senior-level technical professional who oversees the technical aspects of the project, such as gathering the business and functional requirements, designing and developing the application and subsequently testing the application," Humrichouse said.

Pinnacle is a project-based IT consulting, staffing and outsourcing company in Dallas and one of the companies advertising for applications architects.

Applications architects are often, but not always, mid-career professionals.

"Some of these folks are young but have had exposure to diverse environments," Ariesnet's Saunders said.

Revisiting "the return on investment" mode of doing business in a gently recovering economy, applications architects make data accessible and use it to answer fundamental questions.

"What it means is that we've got apps that need to talk in a secure way, because the Web is all about network-based relationships," Saunders said. "When the applications can talk to each other, then you get more value for the enterprise."

Saunders is looking for technical professionals who can marry technical knowledge with a true understanding of business.

He wants people with a generalist's exposure to technologies but a specialty programming focus _ "people whose feet are wet in as many environments as possible," he said.

Companies are looking for candidates who are conversant in Web development, database interfaces and scripting languages.

Robert Half's Reed said the most dynamic hiring areas are manufacturing, health care and energy.

Saunders said that there is a huge demand for anybody experienced with Web services.

"People need to understand that the traditional job is disappearing. The Dilbert job (as a salaried staffer in a corporate environment) is disappearing," he said.

"Programmers and architects are becoming independents who need to work for lots of companies."

The payoff is real, Saunders said.

"An employee will make $28, $29 per hour," he said. "We pay $40 to $50 per hour to virtual (free-lance) team members, but they do have to manage their own compensation issues.

"Jobs are going away," he added, "but there is plenty of work to be found."