Grabbing Power Tools
1. Tools, Skills, and Technologies
We have talked about skills, tools, and technologies previously. Sometimes these terms are interchangeable. For example, Visual Basic can be referred as a tool, a skill, and a technology as well. Are there clear definitions to distinguish them? Yes, read this statement:
You use tools (software) to apply your skills (knowledge and experience) to build a product (an application or system) by implementing one or more technologies.
For example, you use Visual Cafe (software tool) to apply your Java skills (knowledge and experience) to build a web-based accounting application by implementing J2EE technology.
Mixing Skills and Technologies
As you see, in many cases, there is no clear-cut between skills and technologies. Given an example, the popular component based development (CBD) technology is the combination of Object-oriented (OO) development and component programming. As a middleware technology, the design, development and deployment of a component require knowledge and skills of OO Design, programming language, networking, UML design/modeling, middleware container server (i.e., BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere), development tool/IDE, and possibly third party API packages. In real world, skills and technologies are mixed together.
Distinguishing Tools and Skills
It is very important to clearly separate tools and skills in IT career, that's because:
- IT career success depends on skills, but not tools.
- True skills are technology-based skills, but not tool-based skills.
You should never be satisfied by being able to use a few tools. Skills on tools along cannot build a strong career. You must go beyond tools and focus on skills with right technologies.
What Are Power Tools
In the career point of view, power tools are those to help you build top level skills (as discussed in previous chapter). Power tools let you implement technologies in the right direction of your choice.
- Focus your career on skills, not tools.
- Learn power tools only.
- Use power tools to build technology-based skills.
2. Application Development Tools
Some of the most popular commercial application development tools are listed below:
- Microsoft Visual Studio .NET
- Borland JBuilder
- Visual Cafe
- Borland Delphi
- Sybase PowerBuilder
For those who plan career path with focus on Microsoft technology, Visual Studio .NET is clearly the power tool because the entire .NET framework technology is embedded in it. Actually Visual Studio is a toolset that contain many individual tools. Practically you only need to grab one of them as your power tool. The choice could be:
- Visual Basic (.NET): Popular and easy to use, but a kind of low-end tool.
- Visual C++: Develop C++ applications with MFC.
- Visual C#.NET: New tool for new language C#.
We recommend Visual C#.NET as the ideal power tool on Microsoft platform because C# is the core language to build the entire .NET framework.
Java development tools provide IDE to let you code and compile Java in a graphical interface. Since Java tools are mainly compilers rather than the framework, they can barely become power tools. As a Java/J2EE professional, you only need to master one development tool, and JBuilder is the best choice. Again, you should focus on Java technology rather than Java tool.
3. E-Business Integration Tools
E-business integration tools are mostly likely application server software used to build e-business framework. These tools provide server side development environment as well as middle tier administration and configuration functions. The following shows the most popular application servers functioned as e-business integration tools:
- BEA WebLogic
- IBM WebSphere
- Sybase EAServer
4. Business Intelligence Tools
Business intelligence tools are used to analyze business data and generate executive reports. In some cases data warehousing is implemented. A list of popular business intelligence tools is shown below:
- Crystal Reports (BusinessObjects)
In general, business intelligence tools only involve in query skills plus certain business knowledge. Thus, without direct tie to core technologies, business intelligence tools are not power tools in choice.
5. CASE Tools
CASE tools are used for data modelling and logical database design. These tools generate data models in the form of entity relationship diagram (ERD). Some of the more popular case tools are listed here:
- Oracle Designer
- Sybase PowerDesigner
- Embarcadero ER/Studio
Because using case tools requires data modelling skills on database technology, all case tools can be power tools to choose. In fact, database professionals must select one CASE tool as the power tool in database design area. Data modelling skill backed by case tool is what every database professional should have. Since all power tools are similar, it doesn't mater which one to pick. The general rule is to pick up the one that works best with your major database server. For instance, if you work on Oracle server, then Oracle Designer should be the best fit.
6. Software Design Tools
Software design tools covers entire software lifecycle from architecture and design to development and testing to deployment. These tools let you design UML diagrams and implements software development methodologies. Tow of the primary software design tools are:
- IBM Rational Rose
- Borland Together
Rational Rose is definitely the power tool because it not only helps you on software design skills but also provides Rational Unified Process (RUP) methodology that is widely adopted in enterprise software development practice. All IT professionals, no mater what fields you specify, should grab a software design tool and the corresponding knowledge of architecture design and software lifecycle.