Predicting the future often entails considering information from many different sources and looking for broad trends. When you notice that people from a variety of different areas are writing or talking about the same thing, something discernable is likely underway. Identifying IT trends is important because you can then direct your training effort and money more effectively. Here's what my crystal ball shows for 2002.

This trend might differ from region to region, but companies in the United States appear reluctant to lay off technology workers. In some cases, employees with lower salaries than others in similar positions have weathered corporate cutbacks better than those who landed the large salaries of 1999 and 2000. The justification is typically that an employee who can add 75 percent of another employee's job but who costs 75 percent less is a good deal for the company.

If you're a remaining employee, you can use training to bridge any skills gap. Those of you who understand accounting might be able to explain this phenomenon, but to most companies, training is a different—and more acceptable—cost than salary or bonus expenses. Even a large, fixed training expense looks better in the budget than raises or bonuses. If you have the option, offer to trade part of a bonus or raise for more training money. I've always thought of training as a better investment than stocks or bonds because it enhances both your ability to keep your job and, if necessary, to find a new one. In the long run, training will almost always yield greater rewards than cash alone.

As I mentioned in a previous column, all areas relating to security will see significant growth in 2002. If you like to think of ways that one might compromise a network, you'd probably make a good security administrator. Even if you're only interested in protecting your own little corner of a network, learning how to secure information, computers, and server applications is a great use of your time. Security is the hot new area in IT, and those who can prove that they can keep a company safe probably won't have to worry about their jobs or their salaries.

Another trend is that companies will begin to move more aggressively to Windows XP and Windows 2000. Many companies wait until the second service pack before they deploy a new OS, and Win2K Service Pack 2 (SP2) is out. Microsoft announced that it's ending support of Windows NT 4.0, which will further accelerate the move to XP and Win2K. NT 4.0 might seem like an old stalwart after the high-profile attacks on Win2K over the past year, but Win2K is a superior platform for most network operations. The growing understanding and acceptance of Active Directory (AD) and the introduction of Visual Studio .NET next month will further increase the likelihood that your company will upgrade its OSs.

I can't gauge how fast Visual Studio .NET will replace Visual Studio 6.0 this year, but if you doubt the power of this new development environment, all you need to do is look at the growing list of magazines that are changing their names to reflect .NET content. I just received an email from a new .NET user group that's holding its first meeting this week. When user groups begin to form, expect widespread product adoption to follow close behind. The question is simply how long that adoption will take.

These are necessarily short descriptions of what I see as the major trends for 2002. In coming issues, I'll expand on these ideas and offer new ones that emerge as the year progresses. We all have a challenging year in front of us, but looking for trends can help us make the right training choices.