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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, December 2, 2008

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-request@acm.org

Volume 4, Issue 23, December 2, 2008




How to Ensure IT Job Security Despite an Economic Meltdown
Tech Careers, November 2008

Despite the steady growth that the technology sector has experienced over the past few years, the declining economy could lead to slower growth in this key industry. The current economic meltdown has caused many companies to re-evaluate their technology budgets and hiring plans, which could potentially lead to layoffs or increased outsourcing of technology jobs to other countries to save money. As a result, IT professionals will need to adjust their skills to align with changing business demands, learn how to demonstrate their value to employers and find ways to impact the bottom line.

First and most importantly, employers are looking for workers who can provide meaningful results. This is the perfect opportunity for IT staff members to demonstrate their value to the organization by identifying new ways to save money or increase revenue. Workers can also expand beyond their traditional role to take on more responsibilities. Although this inevitably means an increased workload, it is important to make the most out of this opportunity to gain more experience and demonstrate value to the employer. Additionally, IT workers can diversify their skill set and express a willingness to help out wherever needed.


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Why the Downturn Can Be Good for Digital Nomads
Computerworld, November 21

Digital nomads who understand how they can help companies reduce their costs during an economic downturn could end up weathering the storm better than other workers. The trend toward the digital nomad lifestyle has clear benefit for organizations. Not only are these workers generally more mobile and technologically-savvy than their peers, they also are at the forefront of low-cost solutions for everything from bandwidth to hardware to software. The article focuses on potential cost savings and efficiencies in areas such as telecommuting, computing power, digital media and online conferencing.

For digital nomads, telecommuting is one easy way that companies can find ways to cut costs without hurting productivity. The company gets to lower costs, and off-site workers get a better lifestyle without being harmed financially. Also, as mobile computing in the form of notebooks and netbooks becomes increasingly more affordable, companies will be more willing to consider different types of computing environments. Moreover, as electronic-only and Web publishing gains momentum, digital nomads will have access to the same types of resources as their office-bound peers.


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For Help Finding a Job, Friends in Low Places
New York Times, November 15

For members of Generation Y, the top-down approach to networking is being replaced by a bottoms-up approach that relies on peers rather than superiors for job leads and introductions. Instead of asking total strangers for networking leads, these young workers would rather reconnect with people they know from high school and college. As a result, tactics like reading the classified ads, joining an industry-specific networking group or applying through a company’s Web site are falling out of favor. Instead, today’s generation of workers are focused on making connections through lateral networks of friends and friends of those friends.

Tamara Erickson, a researcher on generational differences in the workplace, found that more workers in Generation Y are using a bottoms-up approach to job searching. In contrast to the Boomer generation, members of Generation Y prefer more of a peer-infiltration approach. While peer-to-peer networking can happen informally over e-mail and on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, it is also taking place in invite-only networking groups. For people searching for work against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, the peer network can offer access to people your own age with knowledge of new openings.


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Canadian High School Students Groomed by Tech Companies
IT Business Canada, November 20

By helping students succeed in their IT-related careers, private sector companies in Canada are making efforts to narrow the IT skills gap. With many Canadian experts now warning of a shortage of potential students interested in computer science and software engineering, companies such as IBM and Cisco are picking up the slack. For example, IBM initiated the High School Computer Programming Competition to promote programming and technology, while the Cisco Networking Academy offers training to secondary and post-secondary students. As other companies continue to join these efforts, the Canadian IT sector may be able to rebuild its talent pipeline.

In order to close the Canadian IT skills gap, employers are focused on addressing a potential disconnect between what academic institutions provide and what employers need. Instead of static courses that change infrequently, companies are looking for courses that move at a much faster pace to reflect changes within the industry. Thus, traditional academia could become more relevant by increasing the frequency of courseware adjustments and basing the changes on recommendations from councils. While adjustments during the academic year might be difficult to accomplish, institutions could make changes on a yearly basis with the intake of new students.


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For the Jobless, Web Sites Offer More Options
Wall Street Journal, November 25

With U.S. unemployment on the rise, masses of laid-off workers are flocking to the Web in search of opportunities. In response, new job sites have been stepping up to meet the challenge while established sites such as CareerBuilder.com have started rolling out new features to improve the relevance of job listings for candidates and make their résumés stand out. In addition, some sites are branching out into career counseling and other new services. As a result, career counselors are now advising job seekers to learn advanced search strategies on a range of different sites.

Career sites of all types are adding new features. For example, business-networking site LinkedIn began offering online outplacement services to companies. The site also plans to debut a feature that makes it easier for users to notify members in their online network that they're searching for a job. Glassdoor.com, a salary-review and employee-review Web site, this month updated its home page so that jobs listed near the users' hometown and relevant job categories immediately pop up when an individual logs on. Vault.com has created a paid service for job seekers to get two 45-minute career-coaching sessions over the phone to help them land a new job.


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Ten Steps Techies Should Take to Keep Their Jobs in a Financial Meltdown
eWeek, October 10

Against the backdrop of a slowing economy, there are a number of steps that corporate IT professionals can take to increase their job security. With belt-tightening now a common theme -- even in Silicon Valley, IT workers need to focus on practical ways that they can help their company reduce costs. They also need to learn how IT can drive business value throughout the organization and develop the type of peer network that will help them build consensus about important projects. Finally, they need to think about ways that they can position themselves as a generalist rather than a specialist in order to increase their perceived value to an employer.

In order to maximize your value to the organization, you really need to understand not just a specific part of the IT world, but all the technology tools that keep your company running. This is especially true as companies look for utility players rather than specialists in an era of tighter budgets. If possible, try to learn as much about the business and the types of technology projects that can really create value. Also, try to build some personal contacts within the company who can give you an early warning of organizational changes afoot.


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How to Re-Skill Yourself for a Higher-Paying IT Job
CIO.com (via Computerworld), November 11

While IT professionals face challenges in switching to a different technical discipline to take advantage of increased demand for a hot skill, there are several ways to make the transition as easy as possible. The easiest path is to convince an employer to pay for online or classroom courses to hone or develop certain skills. However, given current cost constraints, most employers have fewer resources available than they once did to retrain IT workers in different technical fields. With that in mind, the article provides an overview of different opportunities that could lead to higher-paying roles.

While employers may be more willing to provide reimbursement for certain technical certifications, they may not be as willing to support more advanced training opportunities. From the perspective of employers, providing IT staffers with training opportunities can have mixed results. On one hand, a well-rounded technical staff with enhanced knowledge in various disciplines can provide better IT support. On the other hand, as IT workers become more knowledgeable, they also become more marketable, increasing the risk that they will leave for another employer or ask for higher compensation.


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Add a Staffing Firm to Your Job Search Arsenal
Computerworld, November 18

Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, explains how and why IT staffing firms can help job candidates navigate the turbulence of the current economy. Whether you're actively seeking a new position or are concerned about your job security, a staffing firm can provide peace of mind as well as practical career assistance. Since they have long-standing relationships with employers, IT staffing firms often can open doors to opportunities that haven't been advertised or announced. In addition, these firms may give you free training to help you fill any technical skills gaps.

By connecting job candidates to part-time or project-based work that can lead to full-time employment with the same employer, staffing firms enable IT workers to make better-informed career decisions. In fact, the flexibility of consulting or project-based work is what draws many IT professionals to staffing firms. Such positions provide ample opportunities to broaden your skills and marketability by exposing you to new technologies, companies and work environments, all without making a long-term commitment. Some staffing firms also provide access to health care benefits or offer paid vacation time, making it easier to forgo traditional full-time jobs.


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Managers Stick with Poor Performers Rather Than Hire New Faces
Management Issues, November 20

According to a new survey of 200 U.S. hiring managers, nearly 70% of respondents said they would rather hold on to a poor performer rather than deal with the uncertainty of hiring a new employee. In short, a majority of managers felt more daunted by the prospect of hiring a new person than they did about managing an underperformer they already know. As a result, companies are placing renewed emphasis on “working smarter” during the hiring process to avoid the consequences of a bad hire. In addition, companies are redoubling efforts to retain key staff, whether through bonuses or additional training.

In difficult economic environments, organizations naturally reassess how existing talent can be used to create competitive advantage. As a result, organizations are placing more emphasis on how to 'work smarter' during the hiring process as well as how to avoid the costs of a poor decision. After all, once an employee has been hired, bad decisions cannot easily be undone, making it easier simply to do nothing. According to some estimates, bad hiring costs U.S firms millions of dollars in lower performance, less engaged workers and higher staff turnover, with many managers quickly losing enthusiasm for, and trust in, the abilities of their new hires.


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"Engaging Computer Science Education" Theme of 2009 SIGCSE Symposium
SIGCSE 2009, November 2008

The 40th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, scheduled for March 2009 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, provides a forum for sharing new ideas in this field. The program will include sessions on Java, game design and development, promoting critical thinking in students, robotics, Web development and K–12 outreach. The overarching theme of the event will be “engaging computer science education,” focusing efforts on ways that educators can increase student interest in the computer science field.

The SIGCSE Technical Symposium addresses problems common among educators working to develop, implement and/or evaluate computing programs, curricula, and courses. The Symposium provides a forum for sharing new ideas for syllabi, laboratories, and other elements of teaching and pedagogy, at all levels of instruction. The conference kicks off on March 4 with a variety of pre-conference events and the first evening of workshops. The last collection of workshops concludes the conference activities on March 7.


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