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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, December 6, 2011

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Volume 7, Issue 23, December 6, 2011

Hottest Major on Campus? Computer Science
Network World, November 21

The nation's top undergraduate computer science programs are preparing for a record number of applications this fall. Against a backdrop of plentiful IT jobs, six-figure starting salaries and an increasingly popular image fostered by the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, high school seniors are actively seeking out the elite computer science and engineering programs across the country. In fact, admissions officers and computer science professors are seeing so much interest in their programs that they expect to set a new record for undergraduate applications this year, surpassing the previous record established during the dot-com bubble a decade ago.

All signs suggest that computer science is on the rise again. While most of the U.S. economy is stagnant, computer science grads are getting hired and at pretty good salaries. Computing is much more powerful and much more pervasive than it was a decade ago. Enrollment in U.S. undergraduate computer science programs has been climbing for the last three years, according to the annual Taulbee Survey conducted by the Computing Research Association. The number of U.S. undergraduate students enrolled in computer science, computer engineering and information science departments was up 10% in 2010, the most recent school year where data is available. Most of these undergrads are sticking with the major, driving the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in these departments up 9%. Overall, 12,500 bachelor's degrees in computer-related fields were awarded in 2010.

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STEM Jobs Outlook Strong, but Collaboration Needed to Fill Jobs, November 3

While U.S. businesses have plenty of STEM jobs ready to fill, the supply of STEM workers isn't keeping up with businesses' needs. This imbalance could jeopardize our nation's ability to drive innovation and competitiveness and remain a global technology leader. The good news is that the rest of this decade promises to be a bull market for STEM job seekers, with STEM-related occupations expected to grow by 17% by 2018, nearly double the rate of growth in non-STEM occupations. Moreover, STEM workers report wages 26% higher than non-STEM workers. The combination of these two factors – more jobs at higher wages - could help to address the growing tech jobs imbalance.

The competitive marketplace for IT talent plays out on a worldwide stage, and as the stakes increasingly rise for the United States, STEM educators need to continue to prepare students for careers in fields that foster breakthroughs and solutions that directly address global challenges. A STEM degree is the conventional path to a STEM job, evidenced by the fact that more than two thirds of the 4.7 million STEM workers with a college degree have an undergraduate STEM degree. However, studies show that less than half of high school graduates are ready for college-level math, and under a third are prepared for college-level science. This deficiency is, no doubt, alarming on a couple of fronts. The strength of U.S. manufacturing and the continued growth of high-technology industries are dependent on the availability of high-quality personnel, especially in the STEM disciplines.

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How To Get a Job At a Startup If You Have No Skills
Tech Crunch, November 28

You can get your dream job at a startup in the tech world, even if you have limited experience. You just need to expect to go above and beyond, and be flexible in where you are starting out. No one is going to go out of their way to make it easy for you, especially if you’ve never launched a startup, worked at a startup, worked in product management or designed products as side projects. If all your experience is in another irrelevant field, why should a successful startup give you a chance? The article takes a look at some effective tactics if you want a career switch to a job at a startup, focusing on ways that you can reduce the perceived risk of hiring someone without any relevant experience.

First, consider looking at startups where you can get in on the ground floor, such as at companies with less than 10 people. These companies are unproven and won’t likely have throngs of experienced people banging down the doors. By matching yourself to a company where you’ll be taking on as much risk as it will be taking on you, you’re likely to be higher up in the candidate pool than you would be at an already successful startup. Second, consider applying for a job in an area you have experience in, and then once you’re in, work your way into the area where you want to be. For example, if you have experience in sales but want to work on product, join a company that needs sales, prove that you are competent in sales and then you will be taken much more seriously internally when talking about product. Eventually, you might even get the opportunity to do product directly: companies are much more likely to give chances to employees who are already doing well in another area.

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Job Seekers: Get HR on Your Side
Harvard Business Review, November 30

As employers struggle with thousands of submissions for a single job vacancy, they are relying on HR managers to screen out applicants who aren't qualified for the job or a good fit for the company. This means that workers must find new ways to pass through the HR hiring screen, especially given the fact that as many as 95% of candidates who make it to the HR screen are then eliminated. Understand that the HR screen is a necessary step in the hiring process: focus on demonstrating you are qualified for the job rather than worrying about being weeded out and treat recruiters with respect regardless of the interview's outcome.

Not all companies treat HR screens in the same way. Some use it to do a basic assessment of qualifications or to search for red flags such as misstated information. Others perform a more thorough assessment to winnow applicants down to a final group of highly qualified candidates. Some companies use this step to test specifically for cultural fit. Thus, the first step is to find out what your target company wants from the screen. Next, thoroughly research the company. One of the biggest mistakes candidates make is not knowing enough about the organization, which signals to them that you haven't bothered to find out and therefore aren't very conscientious. Also, know what a qualified candidate looks like. Request the full job description if you don't already have it. You have to know the requirements of the job to make the case that you can do it. Last, prepare answers to common interview questions, such as "What interests you about this job?" and "How would colleagues describe you?"

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This Year's H-1B Cap Is Reached at Quicker Pace
Computerworld, November 25

The annual H-1B cap has been reached for this year, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at a pace that is two months ahead of last year. The U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visas each year under its cap, with 20,000 of that number set aside for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities. According to the USCIS, which begins accepting H-1B petitions on April 1 of each year, the H-1B cap for 2010 wasn't reached until January 26 of this year. In 2009, the H-1B cap was reached on December 21, 2009. Prior to the recession, the cap was often reached in as little as a week.

The H-1B visa issue remains a divisive one within the technology world. Opponents say it facilitates job losses through offshoring, lowers wages and leads to age discrimination for U.S. workers. Supporters argue that the H-1B visa is needed to hire foreign graduates of U.S. universities, as well as allow firms to be economically competitive by moving work to lower wage regions.

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Tech Programmers Don’t Need College Diplomas
GOOD Magazine, November 17

With the growing popularity of launching new technology start-ups, it’s becoming increasingly possible for job candidates to launch an impressive career and become a successful developer, all without a college degree. While acknowledging that there are a few high-level computer-science concepts that require a college education to master, many young students feel that their education won’t be particularly applicable in the real world. With recruiters at most large companies continue to look for diplomas when hiring a programmer, they are becoming more open to the idea that programming requires creative thinkers and problem solvers, people unlikely to thrive in the confines of a college classroom. As a result, the developer job market is becoming a disjointed place, with different employers requiring different experiences for the exact same work.

As programmers and developers become the backbone of the business world and the tech industry embarks on a hiring binge, almost every business needs help with its digital presence. Add that to a ravenous market for mobile app development and a booming startup scene and it’s clear that there just aren’t enough programmers to go around. The country’s jobless rate may be hovering around 10%, but the number of available tech jobs stands at more than 84,000. The demand starts at the top, with the big Silicon Valley companies locked in an escalating battle for the world’s top talent. Developers are building careers on platforms and technology that didn’t exist a few years ago. Having a 9-to-5 job is no longer a requirement. While it’s not easy, savvy developers are increasingly enticed by solo paths: building their own iPhone apps, starting freelance businesses, or founding startups that cater to new segments of the web.

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Unskilled Workers Are Struggling to Keep Up With Technological Change
The Economist, November 19

The escalating pace of technological change on a global basis is forcing many IT workers to re-consider the types of skills and experiences they will need in the future. While some economists argue that the gains from the big inventions of previous eras are now exhausted, the more popular view is that new, comparable innovations are on the way. For example, economist Eric Brynjolfsson and technology expert Andrew McAfee suggest that workers are already dealing with an environment of very rapid innovation. Progress in information and communication technology (ICT) may be occurring too fast for labor markets to keep up, resulting in a growing divide between highly skilled and semi-skilled workers.

Progress in many areas of ICT follows Moore’s law. In the early years of the ICT revolution, during the flat part of the exponential curve, progress seemed interesting but limited in its applications. As doublings accumulate, however, and technology moves into the steep part of the exponential curve, great leaps become possible. Technological feats such as self-driving cars and voice-recognition and translation programs, not long ago a distant hope, are now realities. Further progress may generate profound economic change, they say. ICT is a general-purpose technology, capable of driving innovation within every sector, from medical healthcare to transportation.

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Employees Are Your Brand: How Do You Hire The Right Ones?
Fast Company, November 18

The actions of frontline employees at your organization can determine whether a customer becomes a brand evangelist as well as how people perceive the overall customer experience. Understanding how best to motivate these employees, and then designing processes and strategies to ensure that they’re empowered, energized, and personally vested, is at the core of delivering a compelling brand experience. There are several critical areas to consider when recruiting and hiring new employees: focusing on soft skills rather than technical skills, finding ways to empower employees to solve problems and creating a defined career trajectory.

According to experts, it’s jut as important to hire for soft skills as for hard skills or past experience. The interactions that frontline employees have with customers every day comprise a huge number of first impressions potentially left to chance, so it makes sense to select candidates who display energy and enthusiasm. Empowering your frontline employees to solve problems is also important. Customers often enter into a service experience with neutral expectations. Enabling employees to address problem situations better positions the company to deliver a positive customer experience. Empowering your staff not only benefits the customer but also the employee.

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We Know Diversity in Tech is a Problem, but What Is the Solution?
VentureBeat, November 22

David Porush, president and CEO of MentorNet, weighs in on how to increase diversity within the tech sector. Recent reports about the difficulties that young minorities face in launching new companies within Silicon Valley have only stoked the debate about how women and minorities are fighting for a place in fast-growth science and engineering-driven industries. At the same time, the U.S. needs hundreds of thousands of university-trained STEM graduates to enter the workforce in the next decade alone. One way to level the playing field for underrepresented groups is to build mentoring relationships that extend beyond age, culture and race.

As Porush explains, it’s important to get the argument about diversity of talent right if the U.S. economy is to remain competitive. When it comes to diversity, there are essentially two different ideological camps. One holds that Silicon Valley is a purely race- and gender-blind market for talent, where the best and brightest people are rewarded. Anything that tampers with this free-market meritocracy, such as a kind of venture capital or high-tech corporate affirmative action, is expensive and inefficient. The other believes that biases in the culture and active discrimination prevent qualified women and minorities from entering the field and rising. These biases are the only way to explain the terribly low numbers from those groups among professionals in STEM generally and in Silicon Valley in particular.

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Community Colleges Boost CS & STEM Research
Communications of the ACM, November 29

Recent studies and anecdotal evidence confirm that efforts to increase computer science and STEM research opportunities at community colleges are making headway. There is a strong correlation between undergrad research opportunities and persistence in science-related programs of study and career. With nearly 50% of university students beginning their education at two-year colleges, undergrad research experiences must become commonplace on community college campuses. The article takes a closer look at efforts that community colleges are taking to develop their undergrad research programs.

There's more undergrad research going on at community colleges than previously thought. When it does occur, it's typically in the areas of computer science and STEM. Approximately one-third of community colleges nationwide have some level of undergrad research going on. The other two-thirds need to be working on action plans to get some research started. The challenges seem to be mostly budgetary. Some good examples of STEM research at community colleges include Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, CA, which is emphasizing research activities at four-year institutions and corporate and government laboratories, including some work on nanotechnology. Redlands Community College in Redlands, OK is incorporating applied research into the curriculum of several academic programs, especially in its math, science, and agriculture departments.

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