Y2 K Jobs: A Chance That Comes Once In A Millennium

When assistant vice-president Lauris Ann Nance volunteered a few years back to help solve Atlanta-based Equifax' Year 2000 computer problem, she had no idea the move would change her career. In January, Nance, 47, was lured away from Equifax, a credit reporting service, to take the top tech job at Public Service Co. of North Carolina. "Without my Y2K experience I would have never had the confidence to do this," says Nance.

The Year 2000 bug that threatens to shut down computers when they fail to read the correct date at the turn of the new century is providing a bumper crop of job openings in the information technology field. The trick, of course, will be parlaying your Y2K opportunity into a long-term career path. Says David Reingold, vice-president of marketing and strategic planning for Computer Horizons in Mountain Lakes, N.J.: "The challenge will be to stay and grow once Y2K is fixed."

Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn., estimates corporations and governments will spend $600 billion to fix the Y2K mess worldwide. Much of the job involves searching through thousands of lines of code to fix two-digit dates affecting critical business functions--such as interest calculations or safety inspections. Demand is so hot that Georgia-Pacific and Andersen Consulting each offered up to $85,000 to a prospective manager. Andersen upped the ante to $110,000, with a $40,000 signing bonus. The candidate went with Andersen--but ended up assigned to Georgia-Pacific under a contract. "These jobs are sucking up all the people," says David Pollard, director of recruitment at Keane Inc. in Boston

"BOOT CAMPS." If you're technically oriented, be sure to grab any opportunity to manage a Y2K project, regardless of scope. But you can also use a Y2K assignment as an entree into information technology jobs even if you're a nontechie. Some universities and companies offer 12-week "boot camps" that give liberal arts majors or other career-changers the skills needed to perform entry-level debugging in older computer languages.

Once you get on a project team, Nance says you should negotiate to get training in modern languages, such as Java or C++. Lou Marcoccio, research director at Gartner Group, says that because Y2K work is such a large undertaking, cutting-edge projects are being put on hold until staff becomes available. Project managers can groom themselves for these plum, post-Y2K assignments by staying current in Internet and electronic commerce developments.

Even lawyers and insurance agents may garner opportunities from the millennium bug. Gary Craft, an analyst with Banc-America Robertson Stephens in San Francisco, thinks that litigation of lawsuits stemming from Y2K foul-ups could cost "two to three times" the price tag of fixing computer code worldwide. Technology-savvy attorneys will be needed to sue and defend companies. Specialty insurers, concentrating in risk and liability, also will need to crank out policies protecting corporate America from expected Y2K litigation. "All the bugs won't be fixed" says Craft. The Y2K mess is "expected to dwarf environmental suits of the 1980s." Even if Y2K doesn't breed that enormous a windfall for lawyers and insurers, it's certain to create plenty of career breaks that will last well after the millennium celebrations fade.

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