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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, June 21, 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 12, June 21, 2011




Computer Studies Made Cool, on Film and Now on Campus
New York Times, June 10

Hollywood movies like “The Social Network,” which celebrated the rise of Facebook from a college dorm room, are generating student enthusiasm for careers in computer science at campuses across the country. Enrollment in computer science programs, as well as the number of computer science degrees, is rising after a decade of decreases. Educators and technologists say the inspiration is partly Hollywood’s portrayal of the tech world, as well as the celebrity appeal of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. The number of computer science degrees awarded in the United States began rising in 2010, and will reach 11,000 this year, after plummeting each year since the end of the dot-com bubble in 2004.

To capitalize on the growing popularity of the tech industry, colleges nationwide have recently revamped their computer science curriculums to attract iPhone and Facebook-obsessed students. Even universities not known for computer science or engineering are seizing the moment. The new curriculums emphasize the breadth of careers that use computer science, ranging from finance to linguistics, and the practical results of engineering, like iPhone apps, Pixar films and robots. This is a world away from the more theory-oriented curriculums of the past. In some cases, the renewed emphasis on games and other real-world applications of technology have led to significant increases in enrollment.


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Mid-Year IT Hiring Update: Outlook Brightens
Datamation, June 6

The latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report details several reasons why IT hiring is gaining momentum nationally, not just within Silicon Valley. Most importantly, CIOs have shifted their attention to focus on hiring: 7% of CIOs expect to add employees to their departments in 3Q 2011, while only 3% anticipate cutbacks. While the largest technology companies in Silicon Valley may receive the most attention for their hiring plans, CIOs in other industries, from retail to manufacturing to professional services, appear to be following their lead. The article examines the pockets of IT hiring strength across the country.

Across the board, confidence is on the rise. 87% of CIOs are confident about their companies’ growth prospects during the third quarter, up from 80% in the previous report. 55% of the executives surveyed said they expect increased investment in IT in the third quarter. As a result, the IT job market does appear to be tilting back toward workers, as employers are reporting rising difficulty hiring the people they need. Nearly 48% of the surveyed CIOs said they are having trouble finding skilled IT professionals, up 5% from last quarter. Businesses are poised to resume upgrades and installations that were shelved during the downturn. For IT professionals, that means the skills in strong demand will tend to center around essential functions such as networking and technical support. As far as the skill sets in highest demand at their companies, CIOs cited network administration (68%), desktop support (66%) and Windows administration (56%). Companies need employees who can help them install and manage proprietary applications and systems, including enterprise resource planning and related software upgrades.


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Obama: 'We Don't Have Enough Engineers'
Network World, June 14

The Obama Administration is making a push to train 10,000 new American engineers a year, primarily with the help of the private sector, as a way of reducing the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate. While the unemployment rate in 2010 for all engineers was a relatively low 4.5%, the number of employed engineers has declined during the recession. The U.S. had just over 1.9 million engineers in 2010, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Software engineers make up nearly half of that total. Highlighting the nation’s need to hire more engineers, Obama compared the current situation to that surrounding the 1957 launch of Sputnik.

According to Obama, the idea is to achieve the 10,000-engineer-increase without a significant amount of federal funding. To boost engineering enrollments, Obama said private sector companies will promote science, technology, engineering and math education, offer students incentives to finish degrees, and help universities fund their programs. The participating companies intend to double their internship hiring. In 2009, the U.S. produced 126,194 engineering graduates for bachelor's and master's degrees and for Ph.D.s.; increasing that total by 10,000 would add 8%. If the White House focus is just on engineers with bachelor's degrees, that number totaled 75,320 in 2009; an additional 10,000 would boost the number of graduates by just over 13%. In 2009, there were 41,967 master's degrees, and 8,907 Ph.D. degrees awarded, according to the IEEE-USA.


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At Mature Techs, A Young Vibe
Wall Street Journal, June 13

The largest technology companies, from IBM to Microsoft to Hewlett-Packard, are ramping up their efforts to attract the best and brightest at America’s top campuses. IBM, for example, has taken its Watson computer on tour as a way of winning over the hearts and minds of potential hires. As a result of the recent IPO boom, the competition over the best students has reached a fever pitch, with mature technology companies constantly looking for new ways to compete with start-ups like Facebook and Twitter. While they may not be able to offer stock options, they can offer a start-up like environment that prizes creativity and initiative.

These established tech companies instead are emphasizing their resources, global scale and a desire to create a more start-up-like environment. H-P recently began holding pizza parties and tech talks for freshmen and sophomores, hoping to court them before they are hired away by other tech companies and start-ups. Microsoft trains its recruiters to tell students that despite the company's size, developers can work on teams that move as quickly as start-ups. The company recently sent alumni who work at Microsoft back to schools to talk up the company. It also holds tech meetings at which it demonstrates its newer technologies, such as the Microsoft Kinect motion sensor for gaming.


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Recruiters Say Job Boards Are Here to Stay
Forbes, June 9

While social networking sites such as LinkedIn are eroding some of the influence of traditional job boards, recruiters point out that job boards remain the single most important way to find new candidates. For any employer, a job board listing is an effective way to generate a large number of responses, for any job. As social media evolves, there will continue to be more tools in the recruiter toolbox, and each of these will complement or augment what already exists. For recruiters, job board leads, supplemented with intelligence from social networking sites, will remain the primary way of finding the best candidates in the shortest possible amount of time.

Job boards are still relevant because employers still rely on them greatly, especially small businesses, which typically practice reactive recruiting. Plus, job boards are good at driving lots of eyeballs to a job listing whether it’s for a certain industry or location. Searching LinkedIn takes time, and only works in targeted searches. Resumes on a job board are a signal from the job seeker, and create activity in employment markets, since it forces companies to move quickly if they don’t want to lose available candidates. LinkedIn is used primarily as a sourcing tool, not as a job board. LinkedIn is a different kind of database, with different strengths, that has more user data and interaction.


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New Rules May Bring False H-1B Demand
Computerworld, June 1

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has proposed a new process for filing H-1B visa petitions that it says could help businesses save millions of dollars, primarily due to reduced legal fees. However, some critics warn that the government proposal would also create a new way to game the H-1B visa system. The USCIS proposal aims to prevent a recurrence of what happened two years ago, when the government received 163,000 H-1B petitions for 85,000 slots allowed under the cap. Employers had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to file these petitions, without any guarantee that it would survive a lottery held to make the final selection. The article takes a closer look at pros and cons of the USCIS proposal, which has generate renewed controversy around the H-1B issue.

Under the proposed rule, employers would initially register electronically by completing a form in a process that should take about 30 minutes. A waiting list would be created if the number of H-1B registrations exceeds the cap limit. The USCIS says that the main benefit that will result from this rule is that employers that want to hire an H-1B worker will be able to forgo the time, effort and expense associated with the preparation of a full H-1B petition and completing U.S. Department of Labor paperwork, until USCIS notifies the H-1B employer that space exists under the cap. Still, some immigration attorneys believe the USCIS plan would create a new way to game the system of applying for H-1B visas. For example, the American Immigration Lawyers Association is warning that the system will create a rush of registrations and generate false H-1B demand by creating a flood of unnecessary or unqualified registrations, potentially numbering in the thousands, that will ultimately be abandoned or denied.


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Why CIOs Should Hire Interns for IT Jobs
IT World Canada (via CIO.com), June 15

As the current workforce ages and retires, companies are looking for new sources of energy, enthusiasm and skills that can lead to future innovation. As a result, adding the most talented entry-level workers can be a strategic move for any business. By bringing in younger workers now as interns, they'll have more, better-equipped talent when they need it most. Student chapters at the high school and college levels can be a means of developing the future IT pipeline since these younger students have the wherewithal, savvy and desire to embrace new skills and emerging technologies. The article takes a closer look at the issues involved in the decision to hire, train and mentor younger workers.

Despite the benefits of hiring student interns, many companies consider the process of mentoring and training them to be too time-consuming. Most CEOs want employees who can contribute right away. However, it's not fair to expect that from today's college grads, who may not know workplace conventions, or how their skills fit into the bigger picture at the organization. On the flip side, these hires are good at following orders and tend to thrive when given a clear sense of what it takes to advance.


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Are You Doing Enough of Your Own Career PR?
Glass Door Blog, May 23

If you find it difficult to present your best talents to hiring organizations, it might help to experiment with some of the most effective tactics of PR professionals. As PR executives Meryl Weinsaft Cooper and Jessica Kleiman point out, today’s job seekers must find ways to be creative and resourceful so that they can rise to the top of anybody’s list. In short, they need to be their own publicist. With that in mind, they highlight seven tips for job seekers, such as developing an effective elevator pitch, which can help these job seekers achieve success in their career.

Develop your pitch. It could be your 30-second elevator pitch, or it could be a thoughtful, creative way to answer the sometimes-tough question ‘Tell me about yourself.” Either way, this succinct story about you and your talents must highlight why you are unique and where you really excel. If you have trouble with this, ask your best friend and a professor for suggestions. Keep it to three key points. Be clear about your main message. In an interview or conversation, it’s better to focus on two or three focused topics or selling points, and repeat them a couple of times so they stick. Write them down and make sure you have specific examples to back them up for the job interview. Position yourself as a resource and someone who will give good guidance and make connections. Or become the ultimate expert in one subject – and hope that subject is important to future employers. Serving as a connector or information source increases your value – and makes it more likely you’ll be clued in on something big as it’s developing.


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Why Has H-1B Visa Demand Plummeted?
Communications of the ACM, May 31

Over the past three years, the technology sector has experienced plummeting demand for H-1B visas. In April, approximately 8,000 petitioners sought H-1B visas from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, down sharply from a figure of 16,500 visa requests in 2010 and 45,000 visa requests in 2009. Is it possible that the once-coveted paperwork that enables skilled non-citizens to work legally in the U.S. is not the prize it once was? As two scholars point out in a new research study, opportunities are now just as attractive back home in places like China and India, where growth rates are booming.

According to a study of Indian and Chinese tech entrepreneurs who once worked in the United States, opportunities abound in their home countries and seem more favorable to them than do working conditions in the U.S. Previously, there were no opportunities for them elsewhere; now, IT grads can get better jobs at home in India or China. They may make a little less money, but they have a higher quality of life. As a result, not only can’t U.S. tech firms fill jobs, but America is also losing talent and its innovation edge. As salaries escalate in Silicon Valley, building a company here is so much more expensive that it’s now more economical for U.S. tech firms to outsource work to places like Delhi or Shanghai.


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ACM Computer Research Contest Honors Student Innovations
ACM Press Room, June 7

At an awards banquet in San Jose, ACM recently honored the Grand Finals winners of its Student Research Competition (SRC) with awards and cash prizes for achievements in computing research. The graduate and undergraduate winners competed against more than 50 participants in contests held at 13 ACM conferences. Their research covered a range of computing innovations that have applications for high-performance computer systems designs, image retrieval systems for astrophysicists, scalability for file system directories, improvements in massively-parallel graphics processors, biochips for clinical diagnostics and biochemical procedures, and assistive technologies for speech-impaired people. ACM's Student Research Competition Program encourages students to pursue careers in computer science research, and to ensure the future of scientific discovery and innovation.

In the graduate student category, Swapnil Patil of Carnegie Mellon University took first place for his development of a file system director service that scales to millions of files, presented at the SC10 Supercomputing Conference. Second place went to Nurcan Durak of the University of Louisville for her work on the retrieval of images with coronal loops from solar image databases, presented at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. The third place winner was Xiangyu Dong of Pennsylvania State University for his research on non-volatile memories for future computer designs. In the undergraduate category, Peter Calvert of the University of Cambridge won first place for his research on offloading Java to graphics processors, presented at the 2010 Parallel Architectures and Compilation Techniques (PACT) Conference. Tsung-Wei Huang of the National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, was awarded second place for his work on design and optimization for digital microfluidic biochips.


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