ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, May 09, 2017

ACM CareerNews is intended as an objective career news digest for busy IT professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of ACM. To send comments, please write to careernews@hq.acm.org

Volume 13, Issue 9, May 9, 2017


For recent graduates looking for entry-level IT jobs, the industry is still a seller's market and provides a target-rich environment. That's according to a new survey of 250 IT hiring managers across the U.S. However, new graduates should still expect to be offered the types of junior or entry-level roles where they're primarily being asked to maintain, update or fix currently deployed software programs. Applications developer emerged as the best job for entry-level job seekers, according to 60% of hiring managers. Other jobs that rated highly include technical support (54%), business or systems analyst (52%) and web developer (48%).

Other popular entry-level IT jobs include network or systems administrator (39%), network or systems engineer (37%), data base administrator (35%) and quality assurance engineer (27%). Hiring managers overwhelmingly (83%) said that generalized or traditional degrees, such as CIS, computer science and software engineering, are more valuable than specialized degrees. Only 17% of hiring managers said that degrees in data analysis, human-computer interaction, AI and game development are valuable for entry-level workers. Hiring entry-level workers with generalized degrees is more attractive to employers because it's an investment. A capable individual with a generalized background can be trained overtime to fill specialized requirements in the company.

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Should Your Next Big Hire Be a Chief AI Officer?
Computerworld, April 28

As companies increasingly turn to artificial intelligence to run their businesses better, some are now thinking about hiring a chief A.I. officer. A chief artificial intelligence officer (CAIO) would join the ranks of the traditional C-level execs: CIO, CFO, CTO and CEO. Even if they do not hire a chief officer to oversee A.I., companies increasingly want every top executive thinking about how A.I. can improve what they do. It's not just tech companies, either: airlines, food manufacturers, mining companies and pharmaceutical companies might want to hire a CAIO.

With interest in the use of A.I. growing at companies, it could make sense to have a senior executive in charge of its use. According to a Forrester Research 2016 survey of 3,343 global data and analytics decision-makers, 41% of companies around the world are investing in A.I. and 20% are planning to invest in the technology next year. A.I. is still immature and evolving quickly, so it is unreasonable to expect everyone in the C-suite to understand it completely. But if your industry generates a large amount of data, there is a good chance that A.I. can be used to transform that data into value. To the majority of companies that have data but lack deep A.I. knowledge, one idea is hiring a chief A.I. officer or a VP of A.I.

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5 Ways Your Company Can Find and Retain More Tech Talent
Tech Republic, April 10

The major obstacle keeping CIOs from achieving their objectives is a lack of the right talent, according to a recent Gartner survey. And the biggest talent gaps are around information, including big data, analytics, and information management. To win the IT talent war, businesses must start by building an IT talent brand. If that brand is strong, companies will be attracting top talent, developing it, and retaining it. Organizations that are more proactive with talent initiatives, building a better talent brand and doing something different are going to win the war for talent.

Employees are always seeking more clarity in their role, and in their future at the company. Only 36% of people working in tech feel that they have a clear career path, versus 50% of people working in fields such as marketing and finance. High-potential young employees want regular feedback and career progression advice, not just one-and-done annual reviews. They need at least monthly conversations. Most organizations do not keep strong data on employees, making it difficult to make better decisions about people. One way to track talent is to create heat maps with core competencies and the strengths and weaknesses of each employee. That way, CIOs can better tailor development opportunities.

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Cybersecurity Has a Serious Talent Shortage: Here's How to Fix It
Harvard Business Review, May 4

One of the big reasons for the cybersecurity skills gap is that businesses tend to look for people with traditional technology credentials - college degrees in tech fields, for example. But security is truly everyone's problem; virtually every aspect of personal and professional data is at risk. So why are we limiting security positions to people with four-year degrees in computer science, when we desperately need varied skills across so many different industries? Businesses should open themselves up to applicants whose nontraditional backgrounds mean they could bring new ideas to the position and the challenge of improving cybersecurity. That need to taking a big view of the problem is especially salient, given the growing risk from cybercrime, which is now a $445 billion business.

Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly more organized and aggressive, while the teams defending against these attacks are struggling to fill their ranks. One way to fill these jobs is by creating "new collar" jobs around cybersecurity. These roles prioritize skills, knowledge, and willingness to learn over degrees and the career fields that gave people their initial work experience. Some characteristics of a successful cybersecurity professional simply can't be taught in a classroom: unbridled curiosity, passion for problem solving, strong ethics, and an understanding of risks. People with these traits can quickly pick up the technical skills through on-the-job training, industry certifications, community college courses, and modern vocational and skills education programs.

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We Can't Keep IT Jobs In the U.S. If We Can't Fill Them
The Hill, April 7

Paula Stern, former chairwoman of the U.S. International Trade Commission and senior adviser to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), weighs in on the IT talent gap, suggesting that businesses cannot attract or keep jobs in the United States if they cannot fill them. Simply put, workforce preparation is just another word for education. If Americans are going to fill the over 500,000 job openings in the United State's digital economy, responsible policy makers and education officials must provide them the opportunities to learn computer science in primary and secondary school. With its current education trajectory, the U.S. cannot manage to fill the computing jobs currently open, and is not on track to fill the 1.1 million predicted by 2024.

The solution to the IT talent gap will require national political leaders to act quickly to correct decades of neglect by encouraging every state and local school authority to offer school children courses in computer science. Currently, only 34 states allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation. There are some states that are making concerted efforts to bring computer science into their education curriculum, such as Virginia. However, local programs alone won't be able to successfully and expeditiously address this challenge. There is a clear need for, and bi-partisan support of, federal involvement in advancing computer science education.

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Be Wary of IT Employment Contracts
IT News, May 1

IT employment contracts may seem to be one-size-fits-all, but there's actually plenty about them that are negotiable, especially when it comes to issues like intellectual property and non-compete clauses. However, the IT industry in particular can be especially rigid in its collective enforcement of employment agreements. IT companies are very protective of their intellectual property and wary of conceding issues in employment agreements that might jeopardize that IP. Therefore, it is always recommended that IT professionals use an experienced attorney to let the employer (or prospective employer) know that the IT professional is just as serious about exercising his or her rights during this process.

There are some terms that might be encountered in an IT employment contract that many people are unfamiliar with, such as "restrictive covenants." This category includes "noncompetition," "non-solicitation" and confidentiality clauses. Each of the aforementioned clauses is an attempt to restrict an employee after (or during) employment. Noncompetition clauses are likely the most important because they affect an employee's ability to work in the industry for a period of time after the employment term ends. Noncompetition clauses vary in their enforceability throughout the country, and, again, it is highly recommended that any IT professional find an attorney capable of assessing such clauses. Additionally, the "solicitation" provisions can change an IT professional's ability to do business with former colleagues or clients of their employer.

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Women in IT: Better Educated, Paid Less
Datamation, May 3

According to a new survey from Spiceworks, the gender pay gap continues to be an important issue for women with careers in IT. Full-time women IT workers receive 6% less in compensation than men. That figure is especially puzzling, given the fact that 82% of women in the survey had college degrees, compared to only 69% of men. That being said, the pay gap is narrower in IT than in other careers. Across all industries, women typically take home paychecks that are 20% smaller than those of their male colleagues. Tech-savvy women are also likelier to become "accidental IT pros," with 53% of women falling into the role compared to 26% of men.

Although IT skills are in demand and can often lead to well-paying jobs, Spiceworks' data suggests that not all technology professionals (and especially not all women in IT) are living large. Most IT professionals earn less than $75,000 a year and only 3% take home salaries in the six-figure range. Ten percent said they make between $75,000 and $99,999 per year while 34 percent said they earned between $50,000 and $74,999. Another 34 percent said they took home between $35,000 and $49,999. Seventeen percent earn less than $35,000 a year.

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3 Things Millennials Want From Employers
Information Week, May 3

For employers, hiring and retaining young employees has become more difficult than ever before. Today's young IT workers are often looking for different things in a job than their older counterparts are. Both research and anecdotal evidence suggest that members of the millennial generation behave and think quite differently than previous generations. Stereotypes often paint these young people as entitled and disloyal, apt to change employers for little or no reason. But this stereotype isn't entirely deserved. What they are looking for, though, is flexibility. They understand the opportunities available and have greater awareness of how to find them.

Employers should keep in mind what they can offer millennial workers. Today's younger employees are searching for several key things, chief among them flexibility. Millennials like to be able to work from home, and they want diverse job responsibilities that may change over time. Their intrinsic sense of self has not been tied as much to their career. Because of that they want to be doing a lot of things inside the office and outside the office, and they want an employer who supports those endeavors. They are also looking for a support base. That idea of support is also critical for young workers. They want to get the training and job experience that they need to move to the next stage of their careers. In addition, they are looking for an environment where they get along well with their co-workers and management.

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Evaluating Computer Science Undergraduate Teaching
Blog @ CACM, April 23

When it comes to evaluating undergraduate teaching, student evaluations do not always correlate with desirable outcomes and, in some cases, can be biased. One alternative is the Teaching Practices Inventory, which might offer a better way to evaluate undergraduate teaching. According to some scholars, using more practices that are evidence-based is likely to lead to better outcomes. However, that idea has not gone over particularly well on college campuses, where student course evaluations are the norm rather than the exception. In short, student evaluation of teaching is relatively easy, and it's current standard practice.

Unconscious bias is a factor in women's under-representation in STEM generally, and computer science specifically. The idea is that we all have biases that influence how we make decisions. Unconsciously, many of us are biased to think about computer scientists are mostly male. Unless we consciously recognize our biases, we are likely to express them in our decisions. A 2013 multi-institutional study found that undergraduates see computer scientists as male. That, unfortunately, is a source for bias. Women in computer science report on biases that keep them from succeeding in computer science. Studies how that female science students are more likely to be interrupted and less likely to get instructors to pay attention. Generally speaking, the tech industry recognizes that unconscious bias is a significant problem and several companies are taking steps to reverse or eliminate these sources of bias.

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The Debugging Mindset
Queue, March 22

In order to become more efficient in their jobs, programmers should embrace debugging as an exercise in problem solving. That's because the cost of debugging, testing, and verification is estimated to account for 50-75 percent of the total budget of software development projects, amounting to more than $100 billion annually. Developers spend as much as half of their time validating and debugging software. Thus, it is more appropriate for programmers to focus their efforts on acquiring and encouraging effective learning strategies that reduce the time spent debugging, as well as changing the way they perceive the challenge. In short, effective problem-solving skills can be learned, taught, and mentored through applying research on the psychology of problem solving.

In many ways, debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. That's especially true when programmers falsely believe their mental models to be complete. This is the core of the problem: they have assumed correctness in their implementations and by definition do not know where they went wrong. The only way programmers can hope to solve such bugs is through knowledge acquisition. Since solving bugs requires learning, the debugging process can be made easier by better understanding effective learning and teaching strategies.

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