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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, July 19, 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@hq.acm.org

Volume 7, Issue 14, July 19, 2011




Future Tech Jobs: We Need Social Science Graduates
Forbes, June 22

With interconnectivity at the very heart of the social Web, forward-looking technology companies are now embracing the idea of hiring more social science graduates to help them understand and apply the social science technique of social network analysis. According to experts, companies need graduates from the social sciences - including sociology, psychology and anthropology – to help them understand the interconnectivity of their relationships with customers as well as the groups they interact with, whom, how and why. This new emphasis on the social sciences is leading to a fundamental re-thinking of career paths for recent graduates. The article explores the new opportunities that are opening up in areas such as community management, social CRM, and enterprise communications.

The science behind interconnectivity is social network analysis, which was developed decades ago in social science research. It involves proven methods of scientific research and analysis which today is accelerated through software and online social networks. By mapping who is related to whom and by what form of relationship, an analyst can discover what is missing, who is a bottleneck or gatekeeper and how work really flows across the organization. Social science brings much more than just this one technique: it reaches particular personalities who are keenly interested in understanding human relationships in its many forms. Companies can use it to discover the hidden conversations, feelings and emotions in verbal communication now that non-verbal signals may be missing.


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From Freelancers to Telecommuters: Succeeding in the New World of Solitary Work
Knowledge @ Wharton, June 29

By some estimates, independent workers such as freelancers and telecommuting workers now comprise as much as 30% of the American workforce. To succeed in an economic environment in which companies are still cost-conscious and uncertain of the future, these workers need to re-assess how best to define their careers and establish the right balance between work and play. Without a built-in office environment, independent workers must take greater responsibility for their own professional image, networking opportunities, training and daily motivation. If they don't, they risk missing out on important social connections and possible career-building opportunities.

Being an independent worker requires a new way of thinking about your career, especially about your work-life boundaries. Since contractors paid by the hour tend to become very focused on how they use each minute, they sometimes end up working more. Money matters also lead to meaning-of-life questions for workers who are on their own. Workers who do not have an organization behind them tend to have more questions about purpose and meaning. Based on in-depth interviews with independent workers about how they stay motivated, researchers discovered that many people needed to create a larger narrative of meaning behind their work. The narratives helped sustain motivation when money got tight or stress levels rose.


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Fresh Skills Key for a Return to IT
Computerworld (via IDG News Service), July 8

While the technology sector has generally fared better than other sectors of the economy during the downturn, the fact remains that many IT workers have been forced to accept junior-level positions while waiting for the economy to rebound. In May 2011, for example, 9.9% of the full-time work force in Sunnyvale, San Jose and Santa Clara - the California cities regarded as the heartland of Silicon Valley - was unemployed. The good news is that most hiring experts predict that these IT job seekers will see increased career opportunities in the coming months. To help them prepare for a return to more senior-level positions, these workers can take specific actions now to refresh their skills and boost their attractiveness to potential hiring managers.

Professionals trying to re-enter the tech sector can take certain steps to help improve the prospects for matching their skills to the available positions. Since businesses are facing a shortage of good candidates, many hiring managers are now more accommodating of a career sidetrack. Job seekers need to tell employers that they've been staying up to date with the latest trends and keeping their skill sets sharp. They need to use downtime to go online and research industry current trends and events.


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The Unemployed Worker's New Friend: Outsourcers
Wall Street Journal, July 12

U.S. job seekers are hoping to beat the soft job market and tedium of searching for new opportunities with the help of fast-growing niche outsourcing services that rely on computers and workers in India. On one hand, job seekers can send thousands of job applications per week; on the other hand, they risk spamming employers with résumés for positions for which they are unqualified or unsuited. However, at rates that are as little as $10 per month, these automated resume services can provide a boost to nearly any job search. If you’re willing to consistently fine-tune the parameters of your search, they may be able to unearth new opportunities on the Web and bring your name to the attention of recruiters.

In some cases, the outsourced applications miss the mark, primarily due to language difficulties across different cultures. Even with firm search parameters in place, applications still miss the mark. The shotgun approach to applications has other drawbacks: When recruiters call candidates about a job, they often don't realize that it is something they have applied for. While many U.S. employers have received applications from the outsourcing services, few know they even exist. They mask the email address to make it appear the application has come straight from the applicant. Job seekers, who sometimes aren't clear in stating their requirements, are also to blame for misdirected applications.


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The Start-Up of You
New York Times, July 12

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman considers whether the latest technology boom has forever changed the way we think about work and career. By taking a look at the fastest-growing Internet and social networking companies, Friedman comes to the conclusion that future workers may need to invent – not find – their next job. Even when companies are hiring, they are becoming increasingly selective. They are all looking for the same kind of people: workers who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Today’s college grads need to be aware that the growing trend in Silicon Valley is to evaluate employees every quarter, not annually. The merger of globalization and the Internet revolution means new products are being phased in and out so fast that companies cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to figure out whether a team leader is doing a good job. Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets?


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2011 Brings Fewer Layoffs for High-Tech Workers
CIO.com (via Network World), July 7

According to a report compiled by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, fewer high-tech workers are being laid off in 2011 compared to last year. The U.S. electronics, computers and telecommunications industries shed a total of 14,308 jobs in the first six months of 2011, down 60% from the 35,375 jobs cut during the same time period last year. Overall, U.S. employers are doing much less downsizing than in recent years. The total number of job cuts in the United States during the first half of 2011 was 245,806 -- the lowest figure since 2000.

The employment picture remains mixed. While continued slowness in the pace of job cuts is certainly promising, hiring is coming in spurts and is not quite robust enough to make a significant dent in unemployment. High-tech layoffs have been relatively flat all year, with an average of 2,400 jobs being cut each month. However, the total number of layoffs across all U.S. employers rose in May and June, prompting worries that the U.S. economy has hit another snag in its efforts to recover from the recent recession. The next three or four months of employment data will be important indicators of whether the U.S. economic expansion has slowed down or just hit some bumps on the road to recovery.


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Seven Ways Job Seekers Self-Destruct
Network World (via CIO.com), July 13

The IT job market is improving, and CIOs are once again looking to hire permanent, full-time IT staff. However, because the labor market is saturated with IT pros looking for work, IT hiring managers are being increasingly selective with whom they hire. Experienced and inexperienced job seekers alike make mistakes before, during and after job interviews that can sink their chances of landing a new job. The article explores seven of the most common missteps job seekers make, and offers insights on how to avoid them.

The single biggest factor that could undermine your chances of getting a job is overstating your skills, employment history or educational background, whether on your résumé or in an interview. Also, never come to a job interview unprepared. Find time to brief yourself on the projects you’ll be working on, the employer's business and culture, and the manager's needs and style so that you know how to sell yourself during the job interview. People miss out on job offers when they don't fully understand the company's needs. It's so easy to do research on an employer these days that if you walk in without knowing basic information about the company, you just look stupid or like you're not interested in the job. Having a negative attitude or speaking ill of a former employer is a common mistake job seekers make during job interviews and could cost you an offer.


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Will You Flunk Your Social Media Background Check?
Gizmodo, July 7

Keeping in mind that your next job application could require a social media background check, do you understand how the process of examining your online presence works? For starters, what the final report includes is nearly as interesting as what it does not. Since you are able to control which personal information you submit to your employer, a simple background check probably will not find anything related to a private Facebook account under a different name or an anonymous email address. A background check, however, can unlock information buried deep in your Google search results or flag offensive content from you on social networking sites.

According to firms conducting these social media background checks, these searches only use the data an employer gives it to run a search, such as information from your resume: your name, your university, your email address and physical location. Ultimately, the candidate is the one supplying all the data for a background check. As a result, you should be smart about what kinds of contact information you put on your resume. These social media background checks can use this information to track down photos, video or even text that you have created online.


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Finding Tomorrow’s Tech Superstars at Imagine Cup
The Official Microsoft Blog, July 11

Recently, the Official Microsoft Blog interviewed Dr. John White, Executive Director and CEO of ACM, about the current state of the computer science field and the role of student technology competitions like the Imagine Cup. While the computer science field is working to address disparities between the number of female and male computer science grads, White notes that there are still challenges ahead. White also discusses the importance of student participation in technology competitions such as the Imagine Cup, suggesting that winners can demonstrate “superstar” status to prestigious corporations looking for the best and the brightest.

The technology sector faces challenges in filling an expanding pool of jobs with qualified applications. Top firms are very concerned about the disparity between the number of jobs that require computer science degrees and training that are now available (and will be available in the future) and America’s ability to fill those jobs. There is also a disparity between the number of female and male computer science graduates. The Imagine Cup, working alongside corporations and nonprofits like ACM, can help address issues that keep young girls from getting interested in IT and computing. According to White, computer science has changed over the past few decades. Today, the ubiquity of computing technology means that the more kids we get familiar with the fundamentals of computing, the more we can get involved in using technology in creative ways to do things you can’t figure out how to do on your own.


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An Interview with Peter Denning: The End of the Future
Ubiquity, May 2011

In a comprehensive Q&A, Peter Denning, the editor-in-chief of Ubiquity, offers his thoughts on the future of computer science and how he has translated his unique insights into the design and execution of the Ubiquity mission. Denning discusses the art of making predictions about the future, noting that the most valuable predictions are typically those that are based on some sort of recurrence. Denning also offers thoughts on how to deal with a future that is inherently unpredictable and discusses how different approaches to innovation help to determine the future. Denning also offers background on new editorial features, such as the Ubiquity symposium, that enable a group of participants to explore a particular proposition.

In the face of all that uncertainty about the future, Denning says, the worst thing we can do is to become resigned and inactive. As Denning suggests, there are eight practices by which people influence the future by bringing about change in their communities. Uncertainty produces discomfort and disruption. Most of us would rather keep improving our lots in life and not have to put up with disruption. We see technology as progressive, always pulling the world in a better direction. Yet, trying to predict the future is a losing proposition. With few exceptions, such as predicting events with definite recurrences, we get it wrong. Denning also take a closer look at technology projections, such as Moore’s Law, and how they enable technologists to predict dramatic changes in specific industries. Most predictions are based on extrapolations of technology trends discernable for several years prior.


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