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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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

Volume 6, Issue 16, August 17, 2010

How to Thrive in Today's Job Market: Five Tips for IT Professionals
eWeek, July 29

In order to improve their career prospects and thrive in today’s job market, IT professionals need to seek out leadership roles, take initiative when making decisions and understand the core business of their organizations. In addition, employers are more likely to hire and retain IT workers who are able to carry out multiple technical functions in the business. They value those who understand how to leverage their knowledge to deliver the right technology to achieve company goals. With that as background, the article outlines five practical tips on how to position yourself as a valuable IT professional within your company.

One of the most effective ways to increase your job security is to understand the strategic direction of your company and how it relates to your position so you can make the most impact on the bottom line. As an IT professional, you are much more valuable if you understand project management, business process reengineering, and can effectively work and communicate with the management team. These skills allow you to be more self-directed and not only do your job, but make decisions on how to tailor your work efforts to directly affect the profitability and success of the company. Make sure key areas of the business understand what you do and the role you play in the organization's success.

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Improving the Odds For Changing Jobs
Wall Street Journal, July 20

Encouraged by signs of an improving hiring environment, many people are actively seeking out new career opportunities in the hope of landing a new job. However, employment experts caution that moving too quickly could land you in a new job that you dislike even more. To improve the odds of finding the right job opportunity, first re-evaluate your current employment situation and consider the pros and cons of your current job. Then, reach out to your network and do your homework on the companies that interest you. When you do get an offer from a company that interests you, carry out the appropriate due diligence about the company as well as your future job functions.

First, re-evaluate your employment situation and think about why you're dissatisfied at your current job. If you aren't challenged enough, there might be a way to make a change without leaving. Look for job openings in other departments or at higher levels that you may qualify for with some additional extended education or skills and ask your manager to support your effort to get the training you need. If the opportunities just aren't there or you're simply dissatisfied, tap your personal and professional network for information on who is hiring. Many job postings go up with a candidate in mind already, if you know someone at the companies you are targeting, work to get personal referrals.

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Are Biases Keeping You From Hiring the Best Candidate?
Network World (via Computerworld), July 30

Hiring managers and recruiters need to guard against common preconceptions that simply don't apply in today's job market. For example, sometimes it pays to bring in a candidate even though the applicant has no directly relevant technical experience. A candidate’s unique background could signal a unique ability to think on his or her feet and have a broader view beyond just technology. In a similar way, IT managers need to push beyond preconceived notions about factors like education and age. To make a great hire for a tech position, they need to avoid bringing their professional biases to the hiring process.

The most common assumption is that good IT workers always have tech-centric backgrounds. However, if your bias is that candidates have to have a purely technical background, then you could eliminate a pool of good talent. Another mistaken assumption is that the best hires come from big-name technical or engineering schools. People who didn't attend these schools had to work a little harder to get that experience and to get the recognition. Another assumption is that intensive tech backgrounds are best. Yet, workers who know a particular technology very well aren't always the best people for IT jobs over the long term.

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Learning to Fit in a Smaller Company
California Job Journal, August 1

Especially for experienced IT professionals, transitioning from a large company to a smaller company may not be easy. However, if you can make yourself look like a good fit during the hiring process and adjust your attitude and performance accordingly, you may find yourself in a great position in the small company of your choice. Many smaller companies may feel intimidated by a candidate with an important title and significant work experience at a large company. However, there are several ways that you can reposition your resume and make transitioning from a large company to a smaller one easier.

One of the fears that smaller businesses have when considering big-business veterans is their ability to adapt to a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment in a short period of time. Very often, larger businesses narrow down the list of responsibilities given to its employees because there are so many others to fill the roles. A smaller company wants to know that a big-business vet can handle the multi-tasking, problem-solving attitude that is required in a smaller setting. Another requirement that you very often find in smaller businesses is the need to demonstrate troubleshooting skills in a variety of areas.

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Closing the Gender Gap in the Tech Industry
Washington Post, August 3

Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Microsoft Federal and recently named one of Fast Company's 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology, discusses ways to narrow the gender gap within the IT industry. Over the past two decades, women have increasingly taken on leadership positions across all sectors of society and are well on their way to impacting the most influential industries of the future. Yet, according to the White House Project, women account for only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 16% of corporate officers. By re-focusing efforts on initiatives for women, Carlson notes, we can dramatically increase these results.

In the technology sector, statistics are promising when it comes to business jobs in technology, with women bringing their diversity of thought and ideas to the table. Not only do women know how to get things done, but they also blend efficiency with creativity to positively impact their businesses. On the engineering side, female representation is more challenging. For the technology industry to truly thrive, it needs more women serving in leadership roles. The U.S. needs to create corporate cultures that include females with technical skills and business savvy. The need for engineering technology skills is on the rise, and women must prepare to participate in the 21st century economy.

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Higher Education Is Overrated: Skills Aren't
Harvard Business Review, July 29

Two Harvard Business School professors weigh in on the interrelationships between education, skills and employment. As they point out, there is a misconception that higher education invariably leads to higher employment and better jobs. Many employers are finding out that there are serious gaps between elite educational credentials and actual individual performance and productivity. As a result, the informal networks of friends, alumni and connections that are fostered by education may be more valuable than the actual curriculum requirements of education. Time spent cultivating Facebook or LinkedIn networks may be a better investment than taking a course elective, especially for candidates considering a career with a technology startup.

While policymakers often focus on the need to educate people to compete in knowledge-intensive industries, they should instead be focusing on skills. In short, the issue isn’t quality education in schools but quality of skills in markets. In computer science, for example, a computer science PhD doesn't necessarily make one a good programmer. Getting high marks in a class is not the same as winning a real-world competition. There are still graduates who find adapting their superb technical expertise to real-world problem solving extraordinarily difficult. Focusing on formal educational accomplishments misrepresents their skill set in the workplace.

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Don’t Let Your Resume Age You
Yahoo (via Woman’s Day), July 26

After years of steady employment, older IT workers may find themselves unexpectedly back on the job market. To overcome the job search obstacles created by new approaches to technology, networking and self-branding, start with the basics and revamp your resume. Remember that you have desirable skills and experience, you just have to package them in a way that will make you seem relevant, not dated. Relatively simple adjustments to language and resume format can get you in the door with employees.

It may seem counterintuitive, but a list of 20 to 30 years' worth of experience is not what prospective employers are interested in. Avoid listing experience that dates back further than 15 years. Instead, emphasize your most recent positions. Also, instead of using words such as "seasoned" and "veteran," freshen up your text with action-oriented words that carry positive connotations, like "versatile" and "adaptable." Resume formats are constantly changing, so be sure you are up-to-date on current styles. It’s ideal to keep your resume to a single page; however, if you have more than 15 years of experience, it’s acceptable to add a second page. Structure your resume by function or skill set instead of chronology. Spotlight the last 10 to 15 years, highlighting your skills and responsibilities. Be as specific as possible, showcasing how valuable you were in each role.

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ACM and IEEE Computer Society Take on Management of Software Engineering Curriculum Recommendations
Ascribe News, August 2

ACM, together with the IEEE Computer Society, will oversee curriculum guidelines for graduate software engineering programs in universities that grant master's degrees. The goal is to further the guidelines' acceptance and adoption by graduate programs around the world. The Graduate Software Engineering 2009 Guidelines were developed to improve existing software engineering graduate programs from the viewpoints of universities, students, graduates, software developers, and software buyers. The guidelines are intended to increase enrollment in graduate software engineering programs by making the programs more valuable to potential students and employers.

These recommendations reflect new understandings in how to build and maintain large software systems and how to educate the next generation of software engineers. They also illustrate the growing integration of systems and software engineering education, including how software engineering depends on systems engineering, and how software engineering education is influenced by specific IT domains such as telecommunications and defense systems. The guidelines will foster formation of new graduate programs in software engineering by providing guiding principles for curriculum content and advice on how to implement those guidelines.

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Learning Within and Beyond the Institution: Interview with Anya Kamenetz
eLearn Magazine, July 14

The current model of higher education in the U.S. is deeply flawed and unsustainable, says journalist Anya Kamenetz. Her critique includes both economic and social components, encompassing such topics as the cost of tuition and textbooks, loan-based financial aid, admissions patterns, and the difficult job market. Despite her criticisms about traditional higher education, Kamenetz is fundamentally optimistic about how technology is lowering barriers and presenting greatly increased opportunity for a "do-it-yourself" education.

After explaining how her background as a journalist and futurist has influenced her views, Kamenetz discusses current trends in higher education. As she sees it, we are transforming from a view of higher education that is identified with one primary institution, the university, to one that includes every example that isn't in a university. After all, community colleges have half of all undergraduates, and yet they're not considered to be integral to the notion of higher education. This requires a huge shift in perspective about higher education. According to Kamenetz, the degree to which we focus our attention on the 20% of students at selective institutions is too high.

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