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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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 6, Issue 3, February 2, 2010




Educators Seek New Ways to Steer Kids Toward Technical Fields
Government Technology, January 27

As a result of renewed emphasis on STEM careers, a growing number of educational institutions are embracing new collaborative approaches to introducing students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. These STEM educational initiatives have emerged at a time when experts have warned of a coming shortage of U.S. scientists and engineers. The new generation of public-private partnerships reflects a national trend of collaboration between K-12 and higher education institutions to put more students on track for STEM careers. With new project-based assignments and apprenticeships in the field, educational leaders hope to change stereotypes about STEM fields and interest students in math and science careers.

In recent years, the push to create qualified STEM professionals has intensified. For example, President Barack Obama recently promised to train 100,000 more scientists and engineers over the next four years. The nation's schools bear the bulk of responsibility for producing qualified STEM professionals. But many students don't know enough about the industry or career opportunities to even think about pursuing STEM jobs. Schools can offer a solution to that problem by first introducing students to the myriad career possibilities a STEM education can help them obtain, and then offering them high school/college enrollment programs, co-ops and internships.


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U.S. Engineering Jobs, Present and Future
IT Business Edge, January 27

Mixed data about the current state of engineering employment overshadows the fact that certain key engineering sectors appear to be experiencing a resurgence of growth. The overall unemployment rate for engineers is declining, but this is occurring at the same time as the number of engineers in the workforce is also declining. For example, IEEE-USA recently reported that the unemployment rate for electrical engineers dropped from 7.3% in 3Q 2009 to 5.2% in the final quarter of the year, yet the total pool of employed electrical engineers declined in the same period by 3%. With this statistical data as context, the article takes a closer look at which areas of engineering are starting to experience growth, based on anecdotal evidence from around the nation.

The recent economic downturn has led to mixed data about the state of the engineering sector, obscuring the fact that there are more opportunities out there than might be assumed. For example, recent reports from business executives and academics have described a shortage of engineers in North America; some have even cited statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anecdotal evidence from job fairs across the nation and tales from recruiters suggest that hiring for engineering positions is on the upswing. Moreover, recent news items about government-funded infrastructure projects suggest that more of these jobs will become available over the next 12 months. These engineering-friendly projects include high-speed rail systems, smart roads, automated toll-collection systems, smart grids and building automation.


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IT Skills Volatility Stabilizing, Report Finds
eWeek, January 25

Volatility in market values for individual IT skills and certifications, defined as gains or declines in premium pay earned by IT professionals for specific technical and business skills, remained high in the final quarter of 2009. However, IT skills volatility showed notable improvement from the prior quarter, according to Foote Partners’ IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index. According to Foote, the highest volatility in over a decade was recorded in 3Q 2009. By the end of the year, however, IT skills volatility declined by 10%. The company predicted high skills volatility rates through the first half of 2010, driven by increased talent demand by IT services firms. The article reviews the data from Foote Partners, emphasizing the link between IT skills volatility and potential future demand for IT skills.

In the final quarter of 2009, 28.6% of 406 technology and business skills either lost or gained market value for the 22,850 IT professionals earning “skills premiums” in the survey. These "skills premiums" are extra cash paid to workers by their employers for specific IT skills they possess, which can be noncertified or certified. In the previous quarter, the figure was 39%. Based on the decline in IT skills volatility, it appears that the major decisions have been made and employers are now in an intensive adaptive phase, shifting resources around, trying to get comfortable.


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Revving a Career While It Is In Neutral
Wall Street Journal, January 19

With prospects for new openings or promotions still limited at many organizations, a growing number of workers are struggling to take their careers to the next level. The ones who eventually land new positions will find ways to cope and make themselves more marketable for when companies start hiring again. Workplace experts and career coaches alike advise that you need to be an active player in shaping your future. There are a number of ways workers can bolster their résumés in preparation for improved hiring conditions: volunteering with external organizations to gain new skills, building a wider network of professional contacts and accepting a lateral move within an organization.

One of the reasons many people may be feeling like their careers are at a standstill is a decrease in voluntary turnover rates nationwide. Between January and November of 2009, only 19.6 million workers quit their jobs, the lowest amount during any period since 2000. With fewer people quitting or retiring, there are simply fewer promotional opportunities. Another reason is that many workers didn't receive pay increases last year, and some even saw their salaries shrink. Of 555 large and midsize U.S. employers polled by consulting company Hewitt Associates in October, 48% said they froze wages in 2009 and another 10% cut salaries. While many firms expect to reinstate raises this year, the average increase will be just 2.5%, the second-lowest level on record, reports Hewitt.


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Six Personal Branding Mistakes That Can Threaten Your Job Search
CIO.com, January 13

The concept of personal branding continues to resonate for job seekers and career coaches. When done right, the act of identifying and communicating your unique value to people who can help advance your career is an important way to stand out in a crowded job market. However, the relative ease of using social media and social networking for personal branding means that some jobseekers are making careless mistakes in their haste to find a new job. According to personal branding experts, too much self-promotion can alienate the audience job seekers are trying to reach, ultimately undermining their job searches and career management plans. Three prominent personal branding strategists weigh in on the six most common and most damaging personal branding mistakes job seekers make.

The biggest and most common mistake people make is using the tools for personal branding, such as blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter, without first taking the time to define a strong, authentic brand for themselves. Personal branding is not just about creating a lot of visibility. It pays to consider who you are, what you want to become known for long-term, and how you can differentiate yourself from people with similar goals and backgrounds. It’s important to create a focused brand that clearly establishes your value and identity. In the world of branding, being a generalist, jack-of-all-trades gets you nowhere. The purpose of personal branding is differentiation. Savvy job seekers work to brand themselves in order to distinguish themselves from other job seekers with similar backgrounds and skill sets.


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IT Hiring in India Outpaces U.S.
Computerworld, January 21

While the U.S. IT labor market is showing signs of stabilization and modest growth, it has not yet approached the rate of growth reported by India. In the final quarter of 2009, Indian IT companies started adding thousands of employees after a year of relatively flat growth. Three of India's largest IT services firms - Wipro, Infosys Technologies and Tata Consultancy Services - added a total of 16,700 employees in 4Q 2009. The article examines possible reasons for the upsurge in Indian IT hiring, analyzing this growth in the context of U.S. demand for Indian outsourcing services.

The returning popularity of outsourcing for U.S. firms is one reason for the recent growth in IT hiring in India. When U.S. companies consider whether or not to build out new IT projects, they often turn to outsourcers rather than add or rehire permanent employees. The U.S. IT work force, which peaked at just over four million in November 2008, now stands at just over 3.8 million IT workers. At the same time, the market for outsourcing contracts turned in its best performance in six quarters, reaching a total market value of $24.7 billion in 4Q 2009.


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New Workplace Rules for Job Success
CBS MoneyWatch.com, January 21

As a result of current economic downturn, companies are reinventing themselves to become more flexible and more creative in response to changing business conditions. IT workers should follow the same strategy in order to move forward in the rapidly evolving American workplace. IT workers who are proactive in defining their job responsibilities and put in place a solid network of professional relationships will be most attractive to current and prospective employers. In addition, IT workers should leverage social media to extend their personal brand and consider new opportunities to take risks in order to stand out from their peers.

To keep up with rapid workplace change, you need to be able to write your own job description. That means being able to manage multiple projects and take on new roles, all without any instructions. Make the decision to play new roles, learn all the skills, and do whatever it takes to get things done. Volunteer for new projects, join company-wide initiatives and be willing to transfer departments or relocate and ask for help from people who have different skills and styles than yours. You also need your own support system. Having 400 LinkedIn connections is meaningless if you don’t also cultivate a tight network of trustworthy partners, both inside and outside your organization. This inner circle can help you generate ideas, solve problems, and do your job better in a way that casual contacts can’t.


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The Four Pillars of a Solid Web Working Strategy
Web Worker Daily, January 15

For independent contractors, Web work can present a number of challenges. To deal with the challenges and opportunities that could imperil career stability, Web workers should create a comprehensive career strategy that integrates four main pillars: productivity, finance, job security and a sense of purpose. If you’re lacking any of these pillars, any unexpected event can throw your career off course. With that in mind, the article provides tips and advice on how to enhance your job security, boost your productivity and improve your finances, all while imbuing your career with passion and purpose.

Being able to manage your time and tasks well is essential to boosting productivity. We need to find our time sinks and make them more manageable. Conversely, be aware of “too much” productivity. Putting too much time into your job can negatively impact your health and personal relationships. Another key to career success is putting your finances into order. After all, income from freelancing or contractual work can fluctuate. As part of managing your finances, it is important to maintain separation between personal and professional expenses. While the line is fuzzier with freelancers, even telecommuting employees may need to consider it, especially if there’s an overlap in their personal and work resources.


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Connecting Women and Technology
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 53 No. 2, February 2010

With the theme of “Creating Technology for Social Good,” the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing attracted an audience of representatives from 178 companies and 23 countries, as well as over 700 students. Conference chair Heidi Kvinge of Intel opened the event by challenging attendees to make the most of their careers in computer science. Megan Smith, vice president of new business development and general manager of Google.org, delivered the first keynote and highlighted how the growing interconnectedness of the world is shaping new job opportunities. Fran Berman, vice president for research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, delivered the second keynote and emphasized the ways that technology is creating new opportunities for women to have an impact in the world.

In her presentation, Megan Smith of Google focused on the interconnectedness of computer science, the interconnectedness of people around the world and the interconnectedness of data. This interconnectedness has had an impact on everything from civil liberties to the environment. She argued that technology could speed up the improvement of life, particularly for women, in some parts of the world where the quality of life is much lower. She also discussed the potential for improving education, such as creating opportunities for collaboration between schools across geographic and economic divides. Megan closed by saying that the future will be all about these kinds of interconnectedness, and that there are many opportunities for people in CS to work on exciting, interesting, and relevant projects.


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Three Channels for Online Education, and Why You Should Use Them
eLearn Magazine, December 3

Debra Beck, who teaches online courses for the University of Wyoming's master of public administration program, shares her insights on effective teaching tools for online education. As Beck explains, technological innovations over the past 10 years have made it easier than ever before to deliver distance-learning programs with rich educational content that appeals to a wide audience of learners. Thanks to superior software and faster Internet connections, producing online content that can be utilized by students is no longer time-consuming. According to Beck, three types of technology are within the reach of the majority of students and are the most useful teaching tools: podcasts, wiki-based group projects, and social bookmarking.

Podcasts can give students a break from text-driven content. Students can listen to an educator discuss a topic or interview an expert from that field. Podcasts also allow educators to share information about the class in ways that better fit the learning preferences of each student. They do not replace the syllabus, but they reinforce critical information, expand upon instructions, and otherwise make sure that everyone understands what is expected. Podcasts offer a secondary benefit: the chance to reduce the perceived distance between students and instructor. With that in mind, Beck explains how and why she creates a mix of audio and video podcasts to help students with online coursework.


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