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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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 9, Issue 16, August 20, 2013




Tech Workers Gain Confidence as Employment Prospects Lift
Network World, August 15

Confidence levels among IT workers improved in the second quarter, buoyed by reports of employment gains in the U.S. tech sector. The IT Employee Confidence Index, created by Randstad Technologies, increased five points from the previous quarter to 53.6 points. Tech workers are particularly optimistic about their employability. 47% of IT workers said they feel confident in their ability to find a new job, which represents a gain of nine percentage points compared to 38% in Q1. When asked about the economy, 30% of IT workers said they believe the economy is getting stronger (up from 27% last quarter), while 39% said the economy is getting weaker (down from 46% in Q1).

Despite greater signs of optimism about the workplace and the economy, IT workers’ confidence trails the national index, which measures U.S. workers’ attitudes across a range of industries. Some IT employees remain leery about the security of their current position: 25% say it’s likely they'll lose their current job in the next 12 months (58% say it’s not likely). While the survey shows some improvement in confidence and in the desire to find a new job, IT workers are often in precarious situations within organizations, working on temporary projects or jumping in to fix problems. As a result, employees may be feeling a level of insecurity around that.


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More Women Finding Jobs in Tech Sector
USA Today, August 13

Within the tech sector, there has been an emerging demographic shift, as women increasingly take on jobs that are technology-focused. According to women who are now entering the tech sector, there’s just not that mental block that women in previous generations held when it comes to tech careers. Even with advances, a gender gap still exists. According to a recent report, women represent 23% of the workers in STEM professions, compared to 48% of workers in all occupations. Men still out-earn women in the tech industry sectors; however, the compensation gender gap has narrowed, with average salaries equal for male and female tech pros with comparable levels of experience and education and parallel job titles.

According to a Georgetown University survey, the top tech positions for women are project manager, business analyst, quality assurance tester and technical recruiter, while men tended to hold job titles such as software engineer, systems administrator, project manager, IT manager and applications developer. Education is the key to encouraging more female interest and participation in these types of careers, especially in engineering jobs. Also important are new types of programs, such as youth entrepreneurship initiatives, in which students shadow mentors and have an opportunity to participate in a business plan competition. Technology can be a natural fit for either gender as long as they are passionate and enjoy what they are doing and it gives them opportunities to develop role models in the industry.


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Jousting for Jobs
Computerworld, August 12

Over the past few years, coding tournaments and similar tests of IT professionals' abilities have emerged as a means of identifying skilled technical staffers. These competitions can help employers identify world-class talent and find people with highly specific technical expertise, especially when it’s related to programming and computer science. These competitions take the form of predefined skills tests, timed problem-solving challenges or online tournaments, in which winners can garner financial rewards, job interviews or consulting contracts. As the article suggests, a “virtual joust” could provide an effective solution for just about any technical staffing need.

Companies in need of top tech talent can check out the leaderboards that some of these tournament organizers maintain to see who's at the top in various categories, such as UI design, bug fixing and chip design. Student competitions also allow companies to identify rising stars. Winners are frequently rewarded with summer jobs, internships or offers of jobs after they graduate. Most university-affiliated student competitions are face-to-face events and therefore prove to be excellent venues for recruiting and networking. And some companies that have highly specialized technical needs have designed their own customized competitions for specific positions. In addition to finding talented IT professionals or garnering creative solutions to vexing problems, a company that sponsors a tech tournament has an opportunity to present itself as an appealing workplace where employees encounter interesting technical challenges.


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How LinkedIn Has Changed the Way You Might Get Your Next Job
Washington Post, August 4

As LinkedIn has increased in popularity, there has been a major shift in the way employers find new workers. Gone are the days of a recruiter simply advertising a job opening and then idly hoping that good candidates will appear. Now, the process of talent acquisition is something of a hunt in which any employee at any time is vulnerable to being poached. According to a 2013 study, 77% of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56% who reported doing so in 2011. And among the recruiters using social tools, 94% said they are using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has also shaken up the job candidate experience for workers. Satisfied employees in high-demand fields are frequently getting unexpected nibbles to gauge their interest in new opportunities. And active job seekers might now face increased competition, as they’re often vying with candidates who don’t necessarily need a new job. Recruiters say they are especially likely to use LinkedIn to fill mid-level and senior professional positions, precisely the kinds of jobs that are in great abundance here. While a basic LinkedIn membership is free, many employers are paying thousands of dollars a year for a special suite of “talent solutions products” that LinkedIn has built for HR professionals. The most distinctive of these offerings is a tool called Recruiter, which allows users to conduct sophisticated searches of member profiles based on a variety of characteristics.


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Nine Ways to Ace the IT Executive Interview
CIO.com, August 12

Interviewing for executive positions requires intense preparation and the ability to deal with a variety of questions and interview formats. There are normally several people or groups to interview with and the process can be much longer than for a typical IT management role. How you prepare and conduct yourself is the key, as in any interview, but at this level your presentation has to be perfect. With that in mind, CIO.com has put together a list of nine ways to help you prepare for your next executive interview.

First, focus on what’s important to employers. Underneath all the resumes and interview questions, employers are essentially after three critical questions: Are you capable of doing the job? Will you fit in with our culture? Are you passionate about what you do? When you get to this level in IT, it becomes less about technical skills and more about your leadership and ability to influence people. If you've prepared yourself correctly, the career achievements you highlight will showcase the answers to these questions. Next, know what you should expect in an IT executive interview and arm yourself with information about the business and the company. You should be able to discuss industry trends and major events and unique challenges that the company has faced. The more you know about the person sitting across from you, the more comfortable you will feel having a conversation with them. The deeper the insight into the company you are targeting the easier it becomes to be the solution to their problems.


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IT Certifications Are Finally Helping Your Paycheck Again
InfoWorld, August 15

After years of decline, employers are beginning to pay more for some IT certifications. The increase isn't much, but after dropping nearly every quarter since 2007, the recent change in direction is notable. According to Foote’s latest report, the 2Q turnaround can be attributed to certifications in several key areas, ranging from project management to information security, increasing in value approximately 1.5%. Those increases refer to premium pay and do not represent an increase in base salaries, so overall gains are fairly small. According to Foote, certifications pay will not go any lower if the economy stays healthy.

To be sure, the employment picture for IT professionals is better than it has been for some time, but getting the most money for your labor still requires smart career planning. Despite the one-quarter improvement in certification premiums, noncertified skills still command a greater premium. That's a long-term trend, and it remains to be seen if it will change. In 2004, noncertified skills premiums hit a 13-year floor of 6.59%, compared to certification-related premiums of 7.79%, according to Foote Partners. By the spring of this year, the balance had shifted, with noncertified skills commanding a premium of 8.71% compared to 6.69% for certified skills. The bottom line: If you look at what employers want, you'll see that many of the skills and competencies that they need are not easily certified, or certifications for them simply don't exist.


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Why Unqualified Candidates Get Hired Anyway
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, July 25

In the hiring process, businesses tend to evaluate candidates solely on past job performance, failing to consider the job's difficulty, and that’s leading to some inconsistencies in the types of candidates that get hired. Citing the phenomenon of the fundamental attribution error, an associate professor at Harvard Business School explains how and why people make mistakes in their assessments of others. The fundamental attribution error is so deeply rooted in our decision making that not even highly trained people-evaluators, such as hiring managers, can defeat its effects. As a result, businesses repeatedly promote or hire less-qualified managers who benefit simply by being associated with a high-growth group.

The researchers devised a set of experiments to measure executives' resistance to this phenomenon. The researchers asked business executives to evaluate twelve fictional candidates for promotion. In this scenario, certain candidates had performed well at an easier job, while others had performed less well at a harder job. Yet, the executives consistently favored employees whose performance had benefitted from the easier situation. When executives promote employees based primarily on their performance in a specific environment, a drop in that employee's success can be expected once they begin working under different conditions. Having determined that executives are likely to commit these logical fallacies, the researchers turned their attention towards ruling out alternative explanations, and verifying these results outside of the lab.


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How to Turn the Job You Have Into the Job You Want
Fast Company, August 13

Once you land a job, you may be able to change your job description and transform a routine job into the job of your dreams. While we tend to think of jobs as fixed things, people actually do a lot of innovating within their work. In fact, a group of researchers have developed a process called the Job Crafting Exercise designed to help people start thinking about how malleable their jobs might be. People “job-craft” in three ways: by changing tasks, by changing who they work with, or changing the meaning assigned to the work. The last two have a great impact on happiness, but it’s the first that people often think about in terms of career advancement.

The first step in starting your journey is to figure out what you’re interested in, and what might be part of your ideal job. In each job you’ve ever held, you can figure out what you didn’t enjoy and what you did, making your perfect job simply a process of elimination. None of that is easy, but it’s harder to turn the job you have into the job you want if you don’t know what you want. Step two is to figure out how some of your interests might reasonably intersect with your employer’s interests. Think about where you fit best, and where you can make the biggest difference. Use your internal social networks to figure out what matters in your company and how you might help fill gaps. Smart companies may even have internal project boards that help you figure out what’s going on elsewhere.


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Computer Science Education Revisited
Communications of the ACM, August 2013

Vinton G. Cerf, ACM President, weighs in on why computer science should be considered a core discipline, just like physics or biology. Cerf starts off by noting that ACM members have a wide range of academic and professional paths that have led them to become computer science practitioners. As a result, at this stage of computer science's evolution, it seems appropriate to reflect on what we should learn about computing and how we can or should learn it. The key, says Cerf, is to make computer science a core science along the lines of other STEM disciplines so that even people who have no intention of entering the field have some idea of programming, operating systems and networks.

Among the initiatives that ACM has been pursuing is to make computer science accepted as a core science along with mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry. This is especially critical in secondary schools where, with few exceptions, computing classes tend to be optional. In many advanced programs, it is a requirement to have a certain number of credits in science, for example. It is ACM's position that computer science should have equal standing. Moreover, the curriculum should include some serious exposure to programming, systems, languages, and computer architecture. The idea is not necessarily to turn students into professional computer engineers and scientists, but to expose them to the richness of computer science and to help them appreciate the potential nascent in computers and programmable systems. In many advanced programs, it is a requirement to have a certain number of credits in science. It is ACM's position that computer science should have equal standing.


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People of ACM: Marie-Paule Cani
ACM Bulletin, August 8

In this member profile, Marie-Paule Cani, professor of Computer Science at Grenoble Institute of Technology, comments on her work with virtual environments, computer graphics, 3D modeling and human computer interaction. With a background in Shape Modeling and Computer Animation, she has contributed to several high-level models for shapes and motion and has been searching for more efficient ways to create 3D content. Cani has served on the steering committee or chaired programs of several major international conferences (including SIGGRAPH Asia 2010), and recently joined the editorial board of ACM Transactions on Graphics. Director-at-large within the ACM SIGGRAPH executive committee from 2008 to 2011, she now represents Computer Graphics on ACM's publications board.

As Professor Cani explains, the dream that drives her research is to develop more expressive ways for people to share and refine their vision of 3D shapes by enabling them to seamlessly model, convey and refine them. In addition to purely creative goals, the resulting tools will provide strong support for cognitive tasks by making visual thinking more generally available. The growing public interest for authoring favorite 3D environments, made easier by the spread of interactive tablets, makes her confident of the strong potential impact of this new generation of tools. With that in mind, she describes new high-level models for geometry and animation and new techniques to create 3D content from 2D sketches. She also shares her ideas on the challenges for widespread application of these modeling and animation techniques to fields ranging from digital entertainment to medicine.


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