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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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 8, Issue 3, February 7, 2012




U.S. Tech Firms Add Jobs Despite Automation
Computerworld, January 23

While U.S. technology companies are automating faster than ever before, tech hiring is nonetheless rising, according to a new report by Forrester and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Thanks in part to automation and overseas production, high-tech manufacturing employment has declined by 28% since 2000, or about 687,000 jobs, according to the NSF. Telecommunications is also shedding jobs as the industry moves to wireless. However, software and IT services are on the rise as more of the economy moves online. The article takes a closer look at the trends driving the structural change in tech employment, with a focus on new opportunities for IT workers.

According to Forrester, the U.S. tech industry employed 3.2 million people at the end of 2011. That represented a net gain of 42,000 workers compared to 2010, even despite job losses in the telecommunications sector. The U.S. tech sector added 131,000 jobs last year in services and software development, according to Forrester. Although the tech sector provides only 2% of U.S. jobs, these IT jobs represent 6% of the total new private sector jobs created since the first quarter of 2010. Holding back job growth are businesses that are investing in machines instead of people. For example, there was a 7% increase in business IT investment last year, but only a 1% increase in jobs compared with 2010. IT outsourcing also declined last year by 5,000 jobs, and is down 31,000 jobs from the recession.


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Average Silicon Valley Tech Salary Passes $100,000
Wall Street Journal, January 24

Average annual salaries for Silicon Valley technology workers surpassed the $100,000 mark last year for the first time ever, pushed higher by the strength of the region's latest boom. According to IT jobs site Dice.com, salaries for software and other engineering professionals in Silicon Valley rose 5.2% to an average $104,195 last year, outstripping the average 2% increase, to $81,327, in tech-workers' salaries nationwide. It was the first time since Dice began the salary survey in 2001 that the region’s average salary mark broke the $100,000 barrier.

The steady march upward in Silicon Valley tech salaries comes amid a Web boom that has fueled companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Twitter. Last year, several of the best-known Internet went public, with a Facebook IPO on deck for 2012. This success has sparked the creation of numerous new startups, which in turn has spurred a hiring war for software engineers and others. In contrast, job growth elsewhere in the nation has remained relatively slow. U.S. employers added 200,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate ticked down to 8.5%, its lowest level since early 2009.


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How to Avoid Hiring the Wrong Person For Your Startup
Mashable, January 29

Recognizing that hiring a new employee can have a significant impact on the future success of a startup, the article outlines five steps that a startup can take to avoid hiring the wrong person. The smaller the organization, the more impact each employee has on its ultimate success. Startup owners rarely have dedicated HR staff, software tools or a hiring process that will take some of the risk out of hiring. In contrast, larger organizations have the ability to orient and train new employees to an extent that startups can’t offer. Unlike a startup, if a new employee fails, the work can be redistributed and absorbed by other employees.

For startups, writing lengthy job descriptions loaded with job requirements may keep unqualified candidates from wasting your time, but you’ve also just given every candidate a cheat sheet. Job seekers are taught to break down your job description and weave it into their resume, which will make everyone look equally qualified. Startups move fast, and every position is a skilled position. Job candidates can often blur the line between a previous experience and a skill, which is a trap you need to avoid. Don’t assume that candidates have certain skills just because it’s a keyword on a resume, a previous job title or experience at a similar business.


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Congressman Proposes STEM Education Office
USNews.com, January 20

U.S. Congressman Michael Honda and Peter Cleveland, vice president of Global Public Policy at Intel, are pushing for the creation of a STEM Education Office that will help to address a future crisis in the size and quality of the nation's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. Currently, American students rank 17th out of 34 in science literacy, and 25th out of 34 in math literacy, among students from developed countries. The STEM Education Innovation Act of 2011 will create an Office of STEM Education in the Department of Education headed by an assistant secretary of STEM education, who will coordinate the department's K-12 and higher education STEM efforts. The bill will also support a state consortia on STEM education to shape STEM best practices, in addition to developing strategies to increase participation of underrepresented communities in STEM disciplines.

Currently, STEM workers are among the highest-paid and fastest-growing segment in the nation. According to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 5% of all jobs in America will be STEM jobs by the year 2018. The demand for STEM talent is growing even faster outside traditional STEM jobs. High-tech companies understand this need for a well-educated workforce. If we do not produce an adequate number of Americans with significant STEM skills, the long-term competitiveness of the American economy is at risk. Now is the time for an innovative, collaborative approach to protect and expand our nation's economic future that involves both industry and government.


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Simple Changes That Can Propel Your Career
Forbes, January 31

Rick Smith, co-author of the national bestseller The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, weighs in on how senior executives can make simple but effective changes to accelerate their career trajectory. Smith explains how employees can sustain value, suggests ways to make a career leap, and offers tip on how to become indispensable within any organization. As Smith notes, tough times make it easier to stand out: show that you can solve problems that are top of mind for senior executives and go after these with the mindset of a problem solver.

In order to propel your career forward, determine your greatest strengths and passions, and focus on a role where these challenges persist. Second, frame your solutions in order to reveal the intersection of your greatest strengths and passions. There are many benefits from focusing on your strengths, as it is the easiest place to differentiate your performance. But you also need to be passionate about the challenges you are tackling.


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No More Résumés, Say Some Firms
Wall Street Journal, January 24

Companies are increasingly relying on social networks such as LinkedIn, video profiles, social media content and online surveys to gauge candidates' suitability for a job. While most still request a résumé as part of the application package, some are bypassing the time-tested requirement altogether. They claim that this process nets better-quality candidates, especially for positions based heavily in the Internet and social media. A résumé, which doesn't provide much depth about a candidate, may not indicate what people are like to work with and how they think. Most importantly, recruiters note that a résumé isn't the best way to determine whether a potential employee will be a good social fit for the company.

In times of high unemployment, bypassing résumés can help companies winnow out candidates from a broader labor pool. Specific questions are tailored to the position, aiding in the filtering process. Applicants have the option to attach a résumé, but it isn't required. Postings for Internet-related positions might have applicants rate their marketing and social-media skills on a scale of one to 10 and select from a list of words how friends or co-workers would describe them.


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Happiness Is The New Success: Why Millennials Are Reprioritizing
Forbes, January 23

As the notion of the traditional career ladder disappears, millenials are reconsidering their work and life priorities. In fact, the millennial generation is growing up largely without any ladder at all. For example, the first rung on the ladder, college, is no longer a guarantee of future employment success. Graduates no longer expect to spend their entire career with the same organization, and no longer expect steady annual increases in salary and responsibility. The article takes a big picture look at the new priorities of the millennial generation, focusing on changes that have occurred over the past decade.

While the economy will certainly improve, experts estimate that current IT workers could end up earning 10% less on average than somebody who left school a few years before or after the recession due to the loss of critical entry-level work experience. A crisis that started in the housing market could wind up having the most lasting negative impact on the one generation that didn’t own any homes before the bust. As a result, marriage is in decline with many young people choosing to wait or simply throwing marriage out as an outdated concept. People are also changing their plans around major life goals, such as owning a home. As for retirement benefits, people are coming to the realization that social security could run out sooner than they retire.


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Old Techies Never Die: They Just Can’t Get Hired
New York Times, January 28

Silicon Valley may be booming again, but times are still tough for older out-of-work professionals within the tech sector. Most of these older workers hold advanced degrees in engineering and sometimes have more than a decade of experience in the technology sector. While Internet companies are scouring the world for new talent to hire, older technology workers often find that their skills are no longer valued. Part of the problem is that many of the companies shedding jobs are technology manufacturers, while most of the companies that are hiring are Internet-based. The issue has become an increasingly contentious one, given the perception that some Silicon Valley companies are willing to replace experienced older workers with lower-paid younger workers.

In some tech hubs, the unemployment rate remains higher than the national average when tech jobs have been lost to a new breed of job that is not just filing and coding. There are opportunities, but they are different. Hiring managers at the Bay Area’s fastest-growing technology companies say they are looking for candidates who are “passionate” and “truly have a desire to change the world.” Other companies emphasize that they want every new hire to be entrepreneurial. Other companies are looking for the “college student who built a company on the side, or an iPhone app over the weekend.” They tend to hire more-experienced workers, but only if they are results-focused and can deliver again.


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Peer Instruction: A Teaching Method to Foster Deep Understanding
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 55 No. 2, February 2012

The peer instruction method, which emphasizes problem solving, has application for educators within computer science. The most engaged part of many computing courses is when students develop programs embodying the concepts of the course. Many instructors strongly value code writing including out-of-class programming, laboratory assignments, and program writing on exams as an assessment of deep understanding of computing concepts. The article suggests that the need exists for computing instructors to design assessments more directly targeting understanding, not just doing, computing.

The goal of Peer Instruction is to foster deep understanding in a standard educational environment. The method, used in numerous science and mathematics courses, involves students attempting to explain to each other how they understand core physics concepts via a series of deceptively simple-looking problems. The emphasis is not on getting to a right answer via a mechanical process; instead, the right answer is apparent once the students use the appropriate core concepts in their attempts to articulate their understanding of the problem and their solution to it. In a variety of studies, this approach has been shown to improve learning twofold over the standard lecture format.


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A Curator's Tools: Building a Culture of Open Conversation
eLearn Magazine, January 2012

As the amount of data and information explodes, there is a greater role for the curator who can find the content that matters and assemble objects, ideas, and media into an experience that is meaningful. In the enterprise context, large, complex organizations need curators to capture institutional knowledge and experience that resides within individual employees. The content organizer creates architectures and tools that everyone in the organization can use to share, record, discover and discuss information, ideas, and skills. The article takes a closer look at the technology tools and approaches used by today’s top information curators.

The first step to bringing order to the information in your organization is to create a culture of sharing and recording information in sharable places. This means individuals taking information out of their own post-it notes and clipboards and putting it in a place where others can find it. Sharing information also means creating digital content that captures the traditional water-cooler conversations. The second step is building a network of information streams to consume from extended networks of colleagues, peers, and experts. Start by developing your own networks since you need to become comfortable as a curator yourself before you can model this behavior for others. Reach through social networks, professional organizations, and simple searches to start finding the content that is the anchor of knowledge sharing networks. Start small, with targeted examples, and build from there.


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