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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, August 6, 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 15, August 6, 2013




Eight Skills You Need to Be a Successful IT Executive
CIO.com, July 22

When transitioning from an IT managerial role to an executive position, moving away from your functional expertise and forcing yourself to broaden your understanding of the company and your industry can be difficult. It is important to keep in mind that the technical skills that got you to the executive suite aren't the ones that will keep you there. The higher-level skills are those around corporate strategy, product development and customer-focused innovation. You have to empower yourself to move forward and understand what it takes to be more of a leader and less of a manager. With that in mind, the article provides a summary of eight skills you need to become a successful IT executive.

In order to transition into an executive role, first know your leadership style. Knowing what you do well and where you need work is paramount to long-term success in any field, but it's especially important in IT where things tend to move at a frenetic pace. Second, focus on strategic communication. Knowing how to deliver your message to different audiences is critical. You need to have the ability to create and manage relationships with peers, coworkers and others. You also need to learn how to develop talented high-performance teams. As an executive, a key trait is the ability to get things done through other people. The best leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.


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U.S. Workers Found to Outperform Offshore Staff
InfoWorld, August 1

U.S.-based workers show more initiative and are more innovative and more understanding of the business than offshore workers, according to a new study. These qualities of U.S. workers are helping to boost use of domestic IT services, especially as companies move to cloud-based services. Domestic workers are also perceived to work harder than offshore staff. In fact, in most areas associated with productivity, U.S.-based staff exceeded offshore staff by wide margins in this survey. When it came to cultural and communication skills, for example, U.S. based staff was rated 82% versus 33% for offshore staff.

When the survey looked at specific IT services functions, the findings narrowed some, but with U.S.-based workers maintaining the lead nonetheless. Survey takers were asked, for instance, how satisfied they were with application development work. 77% said they very satisfied and satisfied with U.S.-based staff, versus 61% for offshore. For IT help desk, it was 71% to 54%, in favor of U.S. workers. The survey found that 25% of all respondents are already tapping into U.S. based services delivery.


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State’s Students Flocking to Computer Science Programs
Seattle Times, July 6

Within the state of Washington, the field of computer science is hot again, with students signing up at a record pace for STEM majors. While the state has earmarked $18 million to boost engineering and computer science programs at state universities, that money may not be enough as public universities across the state are seeing a big increase in the number of students who want to major in STEM fields. For example, the number of incoming freshmen who listed computer science as their desired major has more than doubled in just three years at the University of Washington, which has one of the nation’s top computer-science schools.

A new effort by the government of Washington state to recognize computer science is likely to expose even more high-school students to the subject. Legislation approved by lawmakers gives high-school math or science credit to students who pass Advanced Placement (AP) computer science, and helps schools with equipment and training. Currently, only 35 of the state’s 771 high schools offer AP computer science. Anecdotally, AP computer science appears to be going from a small, unheard-of elective to something that is especially popular. Students are seeing that both computer science and “computational thinking,” a problem-solving method that uses computer-science techniques, is valuable in many fields.


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CIOs Must Help Plug the Talent Gap
Network World, July 30

The new concern among top CIOs is that, if the American education system cannot produce a workforce with the appropriate IT skills, then global competitors around the world will fill these jobs. Thus, senior IT leaders argue that the need to focus on creating career-ready individuals is not just an educational imperative, but it is also an economic imperative. America is losing the talent race, which hurts its ability to compete with the rest of the world. According to the World Economic Forum's annual competitiveness reports, the U.S. ranked #1 among 143 countries in 2007, but fell to #7 this year. Meanwhile, educators warn that we are not preparing students with the skills that high-tech employers deem necessary: not just math and science skills, but also how to think analytically, how to collaborate, and how to communicate.

Every CIO has a professional obligation to get involved in the campaign to improve our nation's education system, says the author. A McKinsey study shows the GDP of the American economy would be 16% higher if our nation's students scored as well on math and science tests as pupils in top-tier countries. At a more localized level, remember that the education system is what feeds the talent pipeline for corporate IT departments, and that pipeline is drying up. In a growing business, with average turnover rates, that fact means a company might encounter a constant talent deficit because it cannot find people with the skills it needs to fill job openings.


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When to Quit Your Day Job and Become a Full-Time Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship, July 30

Within the fast-growing healthcare field, more IT workers are looking for ways to quit their day jobs and become full-time entrepreneurs. However, working on a startup at night and working a full-time job during the day can only go on for so long. As a result, committing when you're positive you have a good startup idea should be done sooner rather than later. Using the anecdotal evidence of a healthcare IT entrepreneur who plunged into full-time entrepreneurship after seven years of developing a product on the side, the article lays out several lessons for would-be healthcare IT entrepreneurs.

Before quitting your day job, first line up research funding to support your new product. This R&D funding can help test the product and provide a proof-of-concept before trying to mass produce it and make it a full-time company. The perfect situation is to have an academic idea where the research can be funded to test the functionality. Secondly, get a feel for the marketplace. Initial marketing is critical for every entrepreneur but even more so in healthcare. The barrier of explaining and convincing the conservative healthcare markets that a disruptive idea is worth licensing is going to greatly undervalue its worth.


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Eight Steps Toward New Business Roles in IT Careers
Information Week, July 29

As information technology becomes more tightly woven into business processes and strategic business planning, IT personnel find themselves increasingly being pulled into areas such as marketing, sales, social media, finance, HR and customer service. In fact, according to recent studies, one-third of IT staffers and half of managers have formal responsibilities outside of IT, even if they're still part of the IT organization. Although some IT pros might resist these new business roles, others find that their technology skills and background align so well with certain business-focused roles that they want to pursue those jobs in earnest.

Technology might permeate every aspect of business these days, but not all business roles are necessarily suited for someone coming from an IT background. With that said, there are several that make a lot of sense, such as quality/test engineering, solutions marketing, and human resources. Of course, your experience, skills and areas of interest should guide your decision. Your knowledge of technology is one of your biggest selling points as a candidate for a business role. However, you have to be able to speak the language of tech in a dialect that the business can understand and apply. IT people who speak the language of the masses are in a much better position to make the transition because they know how to explain complex and technical things.


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What Millennials Really Want Out of Work
LinkedIn Today, August 1

Wharton management professor Adam Grant weighs in with a unique view of the workplace needs of the Millennial generation, arguing that many of their supposed differences with earlier generations may have been exaggerated. As a result, managers should avoid making wide-ranging claims about the Millennial generation: at the end of the day, we all want the same basic things out of work. Whether they are Boomers, members of Generation X or Millennials – they are searching for interesting, meaningful jobs. They are looking for challenging jobs that allow them to support their lives and families outside work, earn respect and form significant relationships, and make a difference in the lives of others.

When you look at the data on how people rate the importance of various job attributes, argues Grant, the three generations of Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials are remarkably similar. On average, all three generations rated intrinsic values the highest, extrinsic and altruistic values in the middle, and leisure and social rewards at the bottom. If you’re trying to predict what people fundamentally want at work, knowing their generation is largely useless. All generations have similar values; they just express them differently. We might have unique ways of getting there, but we pretty much want the same things out of work.


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Coding for All: A STEM Sector that Reflects America
The White House Blog, August 1

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, weighs in on changes at the national and local level that are making science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries more inclusive for underrepresented communities. As Jarrett suggests, the Obama Administration has already taken significant steps to ensure that America’s young people have the opportunity to dream big and pursue whatever they put their minds to. Creating engaging and exciting STEM opportunities for young people is incredibly important to the future of our nation.

President Obama has already highlighted how we need to give the middle class a better bargain and create jobs for a 21st century economy for our young people. And we know that the students of today will be the inventors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders of tomorrow. We know that students with STEM skills will be a driving force towards making the United States competitive, creative, and innovative. We also know that as a nation, our diversity is one of our greatest strengths. That’s why President Obama is committed to making sure the STEM talent pool reflects the full spectrum of America, says Jarrett.


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Towards Empirical Answers to the Core Problems of Software Engineering
Blog @ CACM, July 31

Software engineering must shed the folkloric advice and anecdotal evidence that still pervade the field and replace them with convincing results that are based on quantitative, scientific and empirical methods. For all the books on software engineering, a remarkable number of fundamental questions remain open. At best, we have folksy rules, some possibly true, others doubtful, and others plainly wrong. Researchers in software engineering should, as their duty to the community of practicing software practitioners, try to help provide credible answers to essential everyday questions about software engineering.

Empirical software engineering applies the quantitative methods of the natural sciences to the study of software phenomena. One of its tasks is to subject new methods to objective scrutiny. But the benefits are more general: empirical software engineering helps us understand software construction better. There are two kinds of target for empirical software studies: products and processes. Product studies assess actual software artifacts, as found in code repositories, bug databases and documentation, to infer general insights. Project studies assess how software projects proceed and how their participants work; as a consequence, they can share some properties with studies in other fields that involve human behavior, such as sociology and psychology.


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Nine Tips for Successfully Moving Your Face-to-Face Course Online
eLearn Magazine, July 2013

While even technologically savvy instructors may struggle in moving a strongly Web-supported course to fully online delivery, there are simple solutions to address most of the most common concerns instructors have about teaching online. These solutions address everything from how to get students to show up, to how to keep them engaged. The goal is to turn a potentially chaotic online classroom experience into something that is structured and defined. If these challenges in online course delivery are properly managed, they not only allow students to grow in their content knowledge, they also afford students opportunities to develop the skills and confidence needed to become self-directed learners.

Start by thinking of ways to get students to show up for online classes. Educators have to manufacture the motivation to inspire students to virtually attend class and provide a means for them to be proactive in their learning. Plan your course calendar from the beginning. Try and make similar assignments as regular as possible, but don't try and fill up every day. Having assignments scheduled on a regular basis helps students develop a routine and plan ahead, yet allows them the flexibility to fit your class into their busy schedules. Communicate in short, timely messages. Although you might lecture for 15-30 minutes uninterrupted in your face-to-face course explaining the details of a particular assignment, don't bother preparing elaborate e-mail messages, since ultimately, your students won't read them. Think instead in terms of what would fit on a tiny phone screen.


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