As the World Wide Web has become an essential business positioning tool, a new profession has been created - Webmasters. Hiring and training Webmasters is becoming an increasingly difficult task because their profession is evolving in much the same way that the role of PC manager did during the '80s.
The majority of today's Webmasters are spawned from marketing and communications departments. But as companies move to develop more extensive Web sites and mission-critical intranets, there is a rapidly growing need for Webmasters with more than just HTML editing skills.
In the past six months, technical book publishers and training companies have been racing to keep up with the intense pace of change. Publishers have kept up with the pace by offering a never-ending stream of publications that deal with Internet and Web technology. But trainers are just now starting to catch up by offering a range of training and certification programs that give IS managers a place to send their budding Webmasters and a way to assess the skills of potential new hires.
The title of Webmaster has become fairly commonplace, but no two people can agree on what skill set the title stands for. Creating static HTML pages might have earned someone the title six months ago, but today a Webmaster is expected to understand server OSes and more robust languages, such as Sun's Java.
Today's Webmasters tend to be a rather industrious, self-sufficient group. Self-sufficiency is important, because the interest in Web technology has exploded so rapidly. Also, Web technology changes so frequently that training programs have been woefully behind when it comes to meeting the demand for them. Therefore, most Webmasters are self-taught.
Although traditional training programs are starting to appear, Webmasters have relied mainly on the Web to help them get up to speed.
On the Web, Webmasters can find a plethora of information on HTML and other Internet and Web technologies such as Common Gateway Interface, Perl, and HTTP.
The US National Center for Supercomputing Applications' site (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu) explains HTML's history, how the programming language works, and the impact of future enhancements. Vendors such as Microsoft, Netscape, and Sun also offer technology primers. At Sun's Web site (http://www.sun.com), programmers can sift through descriptions of Java capabilities and download software for test applications.
Although HTML is usually the foundation for a person's first Web page applications, Webmasters need to have a broader knowledge base than HTML to put together sites that will let a com-pany market its wares and enable potential customers to leaf through features and functions. In many instances, a company building its first Web server does not have the right skills in-house, so it cruises the Web to find Webmasters.
Traditionally, programmers sat for days in training classes, listened to experts outline how a language worked, returned to work to test it on small company projects, and later worked on more important applications.
The Web has obliterated that process. Now, a programmer can cruise the Web in the morning and build Web pages in the afternoon. When approaching a potential new hire, how can a company be sure the person possesses the necessary practical experience? Corporations want to guard against hiring one-Web-page wonders.
"Companies want gatekeepers," says Ellen Jullian at IDC. They want to ensure that their employees have the proper skills, Jullian says.
Even Novell is getting into this area of the certification game with its own Internet Manager certification program. As you would expect, Novell's training focuses only on building applications with its own Web servers. The program consists of six courses, including NetWare 4.0 and Web Publishing and Authoring, and five examinations. In the long term, the company is working with Netscape to offer the training program via the Web.
Despite their progress, certification programs are not a cure-all for the current dearth of Web expertise. None of these programs can keep up because Web technology is changing at such a blistering pace. In addition, Webmasters must keep pace with the ever-expanding number of server operating systems, programming tools and languages, and new standards and protocols.
Unix still commands a large share of the Web OS marketplace, so companies or departments that rely on NetWare or NT Server have had to seek Unix skills outside their organisations. But after a slow start, Windows NT is expected to increase its market share over the next few years, adding yet another technology to the list for Webmasters to learn.
As a final thought, another method is for an organisation to bring in a hired gun, such as a consulting company that can build a Web server and train employees. But hiring consultants may not appeal to all companies, especially where confidential information is involved.