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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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 7, Issue 4, February 15, 2011




Steer Your Career to the Clouds
Computerworld (via Network World), February 7

The rise of cloud computing in the enterprise is giving many IT professionals the opportunity to recast their organizational roles. In addition to an understanding of technologies like virtualization, server consolidation and flat networks, becoming an enterprise cloud expert also involves learning new technology and business skills. IT professionals need to have skills to leverage systems that they don't own and that are outside the enterprise's control. They need to understand how platforms are changing, how to get access to storage and compute on demand and how to leverage infrastructure and platform as a service where needs dictate those. Both executives and rank-and-file IT professionals will discover it's advantageous to their careers to learn about cloud systems before they appear in the enterprise.

The growing popularity of cloud computing is creating a seller's market for talent, with as many as 50 cloud jobs chasing one candidate. As a result, salaries will increase and people’s perceived value within the company will go up, too. Job titles are even starting to morph to capture the growing importance of the cloud to enterprise IT strategy. Just as we once saw titles like network architect, we're starting to see titles like cloud architect. Other recruiters are seeing job titles such as cloud project manager and cloud strategist for some enterprise roles. These jobs are responsible for the cloud-based infrastructure and operations supporting the company's hosted and on-demand offerings.


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Labor Shortage Persists in Some Fields
Wall Street Journal, February 7

Despite the still-high unemployment figures around the country, many tech companies are unable to find suitable candidates to fill their new openings. Companies have slowly begun to hire again: in January, employers added 36,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department. The number of job openings has grown more rapidly. There were 4.3 million advertised job openings in January, up 16% from a year ago. Nationwide, there were about four unemployed people for every job opening posted online in December. However, disparities underlie the overall rate. Finding highly qualified applicants for more technical positions is proving a challenge for some companies. Many are winding up changing their business strategy or settling for less-than-perfect candidates.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some skills needed are so rare that companies are now willing to hire computer engineers without related experience and train them on the job. A software engineer with no experience might start at $50,000, but after a few years of work and the right skills, talented engineers can easily make $150,000 or more. It's not just technology companies feeling the pinch. Finance, accounting and healthcare companies also have reported significant increases in new openings. While openings for marketing managers, recruiters and administrative positions get a lot of applications, filling more technical positions has been a challenge. Even when a major company advertises for openings in its IT consulting practice, which require experience and sometimes advanced degrees, they might only get 10 résumés in a week, and even fewer will meet the qualifications.


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The Skill of Skilling Yourself
Management Issues, February 8

In order to prepare for future changes in the workplace, IT workers should be thinking in terms of the skills that their jobs will require five years from now. According to a poll by recruitment firm Hays, sitting back and expecting to be able just to continue using the skills you already have is not going to cut it in the future. Moreover, sitting back and waiting for your employer to spend time and money updating your skills for you may soon be as outdated. As a result of a rapidly changing work environment, half the people around you in the office may no longer be doing the job they're doing simply because its requirements will have changed and they won't have done enough to change in response. With that in mind, the article provides advice on how to keep your skills relevant for your employer.

The Hays poll of 500 private sector workers found more than half did not know, or were unsure about, the skills employers were likely to be demanding in the next five years. Nearly six out of 10 were worried the skills required for their current roles were already changing, with just under half equally concerned their current skill-set will be insufficient to meet employers expectations in five years time. A total of 61% complained their current employer was not doing enough to invest in their skills. Yet almost half conceded primary responsibility for updating skills should actually fall to them rather than their employer, relevant professional bodies or the government.


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Foreign Enrollments Explain Obama's Skills Push
Network World (via Computerworld), February 9

In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama held out the promise of an easier path to immigration for foreigners with advanced degree graduates from U.S. universities. Underscoring Obama's interest in foreign students earning advanced degrees has been their expanding numbers over the past 25 years. In 1980, less than 3,000 science and engineering doctorates were awarded to foreign students. Those students represented 16% of the total receiving such degrees, while U.S. citizens earned 84% of science and engineering doctorates obtained in U.S. universities that year. By 2005, though, 11,109 foreign students awarded doctorates in science and engineering, accounting for 38% of the total degrees in the field. At the same time, there is growing competition for the best and brightest foreign students in the world. One way for America to stay competitive, argue experts, is to grant permanent residency to foreign graduates of U.S. universities who receive advanced degrees.

The economic benefits of educating and retaining foreign graduates can be huge. However, you need to admit numbers sufficient to raise the probability of actually being able to find entrepreneurs and leaders with game-changing skills. Skilled immigration can raise U.S. productivity as well as the nation’s innovation potential: more people are more likely to have more ideas. However, some educational leaders have an issue with rules that would automatically attach the green card onto the graduate degrees of foreign students. For example, Australia tried a similar plan, and found that students came to Australia to get landed status, not to study. Greater numbers will not necessarily yield you greater results if the incentive structure is not right.


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CompTIA Creates Council to Address Decline of Women in IT
CIO.com (via Computerworld), February 2

In response to a rapidly dwindling number of women in IT, the CompTIA Educational Foundation recently created the Women in Information Technology Council. The goal of the new council will be to convince more women with the appropriate knowledge and skills to make IT their career of choice. Only 25% of U.S. IT professionals in 2009 were women, down from 36% in 1991, according to the National Center for Women & IT. Further, only 18% of computer and information sciences degrees in 2008 were awarded to women, down from 37% in 1985.

The chair of the new Women in Information Technology Council will be Susan Krautbauer, head of business development for the Americas at Elcoteq, an electronics manufacturing services company. Jean Mork Bredeson, general manager of Service 800, was elected vice-chair. Charles Eaton, executive director of the CompTIA Educational Foundation, commented that, under the leadership of the new council, his organization hopes to reach more women and show them the career possibilities that IT training can bring. In addition, CompTIA runs a free training and IT certification program for women called Creating Futures.


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How to Quit Your Job With Your Contacts, Credentials and Class Intact
Lifehacker, February 11

Quitting a job and transitioning to a new one is a serious career move, and should be taken with the same care as deciding when to accept a job offer. Unlike when you start working at a company, a time when you're fresh and full of energy and new ideas, quitting time often comes when you're almost burned out. When you're weighing any decisions regarding how and when you'll leave your current employer, take a big picture look at the situation and make sure you're not missing anything, such as any possible conflicts between your new employer and your old one. Remember, too, that you have absolutely nothing to gain by causing upset and social contacts, job references, and good will to lose by burning any bridges behind you.

The best way to leave a job is on a good note. If you're unhappy with your job right now it's time to either start building an exit strategy or start working to improve things where you are. Don't simmer until you're acting out at work, doing your job with minimal enthusiasm, and otherwise passive aggressively trying to influence your boss. It will ruin whatever relationship you had with your boss and coworkers. When you leave a company you're creating a vacuum, however big or small, and your boss and coworkers are going to have to work around that. Don't make life harder on everyone else in the office. They're just as stressed and overworked as you are. Give your boss ample notice that you're leaving. When you accept your new job you can be clear that your start date is dependent on giving your old employer adequate notice; your new employer wants to see that you can leave your old job gracefully.


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Creating the Founders' Dilemmas Course
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, February 7

An entrepreneurship elective course at Harvard Business School illustrates the key concerns faced by startup founders. When Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman first offered his Founders' Dilemmas course in 2009, a mere 42 second-year MBA students signed up. Two years later, the School is offering four sections of the course, with 68 students in each section, and nearly 170 more students wait-listed. The course's popularity is a reflection of its universal nature—it addresses quandaries that virtually all entrepreneurs will face when trying to realize the dream of starting a company, no matter how viable the dream, no matter what industry they are in, no matter what country they are in, and no matter what part of the business cycle they are in. The course covers four essential issues: deciding when to found a company, building the founding team, dealing with investors, and attaining financial success without having to give up the reins of the company.

Approximately 5% of MBA students at Harvard decide to leap into entrepreneurship immediately upon graduation - or even before graduation. Moreover, the data suggests that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent will be founding a company within a decade of graduating. Part one of Founders' Dilemmas helps students to figure out whether it makes sense to wait a while before launching a start-up, taking into account issues that single-minded young dreamers might not otherwise consider—including their personal lives. In this section of the course, students study cases that deal with both early- and late-career founders. In the second part of the course, students consider the questions they'll face after making the key choice not to run the company alone. They will think about who to bring in as a partner or co-founder, how to split up the executive roles, and how to allocate equity in the company.


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Career Fair Tips for Jobseekers
Student Branding Blog, February 10

A recruiter comments on how students can make the most of their attendance at a career fair. Each year, recruiters, human resource directors, operations managers and executives participate at career fairs in various different roles - as panelists, subject matter experts and as potential future employers. Knowing what they are looking for and how to impress can make all the difference in uncovering new career opportunities, whether it’s at resume preparation workshops, mock interview sessions or real interviews. To help students stand out in the crowd, the article offers tips for before, during and after the career fair that would be beneficial to all jobseekers.

Often times, prior to the career fair, there is a list of participating employers, especially those fairs that are part of a conferences. To make the best use of your time, strategically identify which employer booths you would like to visit. Take the time to research employers. With today’s technology there is no excuse to not have at least a general idea of the company’s core business. Take the opportunity during the fair to get clarity of what they do and how it may fit your experience. Also, update your resume and polish up that 30 second “commercial” about yourself and practice saying it so that you do not sound as though you are reading from a script. Arrive early so that you meet employers while they are fresh. Toward the end of a long day, many candidates begin to blend together. Now is the time to use your research; however don’t waste time asking if the company is hiring. Instead ask what opportunities may be a good fit for your experience and background. Ask as many questions as you can without wearing out your welcome or monopolizing the recruiter’s time. Leave your resume and complete (or update) an online profile in their career center too.


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Computing Science Rewriting the Program to Get Girls in the Game
Communications of the ACM, February 11

University of Alberta researchers have found that high school girls become more interested in computer science if video game creation is integrated into the lesson plans. The Canadian educators let female students create games to see if they were just as excited about making games as male students and to see whether video game creation is an attractor to computing science that is independent of gender. The study found that female students enjoyed developing games just as much as males, and preferred game design to other activities such as creative writing. In terms of the quality of the games developed, the abstraction skills that the students learned, and the amount of fun that they had, there was no difference between the two groups.

If educational institutions throughout North America want to get more females interested in computing science, they have to rewrite their programs. The findings are important, as they demonstrate a way to motivate girls’ interest in computing science. In their study, the researchers wanted to see whether girls would gain as much interest in game development as they boys in the class control group. A key factor in the study was having male participants who had more experience than the females in gaming. There is an inherent creative component to computing science, and having a student design and construct something using a game development tool is one way to allow them to investigate that aspect of computing science. The findings indicated that female students enjoyed creating games as much as their male counterparts; further, they preferred game construction to activities such as story writing.


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Human Computation and Crowdsourcing
XRDS, December 2010

New approaches to crowdsourcing on the Internet are making it possible for computers to use human capabilities in order to solve problems, making it possible for them to complete tasks that involve challenges far beyond what algorithms and artificial intelligence can achieve. These tasks can be simple – such as solving a Captcha puzzle – or more complex, such as judging artistic value. Understanding these reversed forms of human-computer symbiosis, in which the computer asks a person to compute something instead of vice versa, is the main object of research in the rising field of human computation. Of course, it's really humans who are using computers in order to utilize other humans' capabilities, with computers being used to coordinate between humans as they interact among themselves. The article reviews some of the most important issues and developments at the nexus of human computation and crowdsourcing.

Incentives are important to consider when thinking about the future of human computation and crowdsourcing. Do people partake in human computation tasks for fun, like playing a game? Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University thought so when he developed Games with a Purpose. Others think users are motivated by money. Sharon Chiarella, vice president at Amazon, shares her view on the human computation market she leads, Mechanical Turk, a site where people can pick up micro-tasks and get paid to do them. Panagiotis Ipeirotis of New York University has been collecting data about Amazon's online marketplace and presents a fascinating new analysis of the system. Or perhaps there's no need for any special incentive. David Ayman Shamma of Yahoo! Research shows how human computation can happen passively, taking advantage of everyday human activities like using Twitter in order to complete computational tasks such as video parsing.


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