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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, March 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@hq.acm.org

Volume 7, Issue 6, March 15, 2011




Techdom’s Talent Poaching Epidemic
Bloomberg Businessweek, March 3

As the economy rebounds, tech companies are battling over the engineers, designers, computer scientists, and executives who can propel market share growth within their respective industries. The competition for IT talent is especially fierce among social media and other Internet companies as well as computer systems manufacturers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some companies are even staging repeated raids on rivals' stars. In response, companies are stepping up their willingness to make lucrative counteroffers, broadening their employee retention measures and ratcheting up compensation packages.

All this is pushing up pay at technology companies for employees with skills deemed in short supply. In some cases, companies are using sophisticated software to match prospective hires with current employees who have worked with the candidates previously, attended the same college, or share a similar interest. It then asks the employees to place an initial call to the target and talk about job opportunities. Executives at larger tech companies who jump to startups typically take a 20% to 40% cut in their base salary in the hope of securing a big payday later. If they land at a startup in a VP-level job, they'll likely receive shares of the company equivalent to 1% of its value when there is an acquisition or public offering.


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Jobs Open, But Filling Them Slows Down
Wall Street Journal, March 7

Despite a notable increase in the number of available job openings, hiring has yet to accelerate. Since December, the economy has added about 130,000 jobs a month, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Meanwhile, the number of job openings advertised online has grown by more than 400,000, to 4.2 million. That increase continued a trend that began in the spring of 2009. Recruiters say they are having trouble finding candidates for many skilled positions, and once candidates are found, hiring managers are taking longer to hire them. In some cases, positions that typically took two months to fill before the recession are sometimes taking four times longer.

Managers invited between five and six candidates on average for second-round interviews last year, twice as many as in 2007, according to a survey of 1,500 recruiters at large companies by the Corporate Executive Board. Nowadays, if managers speak to a really great candidate, instead of hiring him or her, they take it as an indication that there must be even better people out there. Jobs are also taking longer to fill as companies report that they are unable to find the right skills in the right places. Recruiters report that, for a position that would have needed two or three candidates a couple years ago, now companies want five or more.


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Why Silicon Valley Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Returning Home
Tech Crunch, March 6

Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished entrepreneur and academic, weighs in on what to do about talented immigrant entrepreneurs who are returning to their home countries rather than staying in Silicon Valley. For many of these entrepreneurs, visa issues are forcing them to return to their home countries. Instead of creating hundreds of jobs in the U.S., they are creating them overseas. As a possible solution for reversing this job growth dynamic, Wadhwa suggests increasing the numbers of permanent-resident visas as well as creating a new Startup Visa for would-be entrepreneurs. The end result, says Wadhwa, would be to give the U.S. economy a significant boost at little or no cost to taxpayers.

The central issue in the debate is whether skilled immigrant entrepreneurs take jobs away from Americans, or whether they are sources of new job creation due to the new startups they are launching in Silicon Valley. At a time when the U.S. economy is struggling, entrepreneurship is booming in other countries. More than half a million doctors, scientists, researchers, and engineers in the U.S. are stuck in “immigration limbo”: They are on temporary work visas and are waiting for permanent-resident visas, which are in extremely short supply. These workers can’t start companies or grow deep roots in their communities. Once they get in line for a visa, they can’t even accept a promotion or change jobs. They could be required to leave the U.S. immediately—without notice—if their employer lays them off. Rather than live in constant fear and stagnate in their careers, many are returning home.


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Big Firms Offer Business Experience to IT Workers
Network World, March 8

As a way of jump-starting productivity and innovation, more organizations are encouraging their IT workers to combine business knowledge with technical capabilities. For example, both Intel and Boeing are allowing IT employees to work in other business units to broaden their knowledge and generate new cost savings ideas. Intel IT workers can work with other business units for two months to a year, while Boeing has integrated a two-year rotation program for its workers. The efforts are relatively new: Intel's program is now in its third year; and the IT-specific program at Boeing is about two years old. The article takes a closer look at the advantages of offering these types of programs, both for workers and for the organizations that make them possible.

At Intel, there is a strong need for collaboration between technology and business units because of the importance of IT to Intel's strategy. Similarly, executives at Boeing point out that there's a need to move away from the idea that IT is a merely a cost center. The goal is to help IT workers understand how the company works. At Intel and Boeing, the IT worker rotation programs are part of broader efforts to continually improve IT's ability to help the business. But the rotation programs may be illustrating how deep these companies believe those efforts must go to achieve the best results. At Boeing, some of the IT workers even moved to the factory floor, becoming part of the integrated teams for manufacturing efficiency.


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Prepare for Talent Wars
CIO.com, March 3

As the result of an intensifying war for IT talent, hiring managers and recruiters are watching carefully to make sure their own most valued employees aren't about to pursue new career opportunities. A combination of factors -- including growing numbers of unfilled job openings and underpaid employees who want more lucrative jobs -- is causing a hiring rush that's expected to accelerate this year. The article takes a closer look at the technology and engineering jobs in greatest demand, while outlining several of the steps that companies are taking to retain their top IT talent.

In a study conducted last month by Dice.com, 54% of hiring managers and recruiters said they expect tech talent poaching to become more aggressive this year. Another 33% of respondents expect the level of poaching to remain the same, while just 3% expect a let-up. Industry watchers have been warning that unhappily employed workers are getting restless. As job openings increase, people who stayed in less-than-ideal jobs during the recession are jumping at a chance to find something new. Across all industries, CareerBuilder reports that 15% of full-time, employed workers are actively seeking a new job. Another 76% aren't actively looking, but said they would change jobs in 2011 for the right opportunity.


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IT Professionals Can Have Great Careers at Suppliers
Computer Weekly, March 8

With thousands IT workers out of work in the UK and recent graduates finding it difficult to get their careers off the ground, the IT services sector is emerging as a popular new industry for ambitious IT professionals to launch rewarding careers. With outsourcers requiring sector specific experience and familiarity with digital tools, there will be opportunities for those with experience as well as recent graduates. For the thousands of experienced IT professionals currently out of work following the UK banking crisis and recession, the opportunities look particularly attractive, and could become a way to shorten the average length of unemployment.

There are many opportunities in the current market for the right people to work for IT service providers and in professional services. There is more being outsourced and service providers are trying to get the right people in to serve clients. Good candidates will have a mix of commercial and operational experience. They will also have real client exposure or public sector expertise. In the face of public sector spending cuts, now is a good time for suppliers to pick up expertise. The supplier side can offer a solid career path as well as unique experiences. The diverse customer base can also offer IT workers at suppliers interesting assignments. For example some IT staff are sent to far-flung global destinations.


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The Most Important People in Your Network
Bloomberg Businessweek (via Harvard Business Review), March 8

Based on a growing body of research, it appears that people who maintain certain kinds of networks do better: they are promoted more rapidly than their peers, make more money, are more likely to find a job if they lose their own, and are more likely to be considered high performers. These findings are particularly intriguing, given the new emphasis on new online collaborative technologies and social networking tools. The secret to an effective network has never been their size: simply building giant Facebook accounts actually tends to hurt performance. Rather, the people who do better tend to have more ties to people who themselves are not connected. People with ties to the less connected are more likely to hear about ideas that haven't gotten exposure elsewhere, and are able to piece together opportunities in ways that less-effectively-networked colleagues cannot.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, social media tools in the workforce are as likely to hurt performance and engagement as they are to help – especially if they simply foist more collaborative demands on an already-overloaded workforce. In most places, people are drowning in collaborative demands imposed by meetings, emails, and phone calls. In some cases, these activities consume 75% to 90% of a typical workweek. In this context, new collaborative technologies, when not used appropriately, are over-loading us all and diminishing efficiency and innovation at work. A growing number of studies point out that the same kinds of networks important in face-to-face interactions also matter in social media, such as those that give employees the chance to discover new ideas and connect them with different contexts.


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Five Women Leaders Who Are Shaping IT
CIO.com (via PC World), March 8

Within the high-tech industry, a number of female visionaries are helping to shape the future of technology. Women such as Mitchell Baker, leader of the Mozilla Project, and Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, are at the forefront of important trends such as open source culture. Within the corporate world, women such as Marissa Mayer (Google), Carol Bartz (Yahoo), and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) are impacting the way that we use the Web. Individually and together, they are among the key influencers in the industry today.

As the leader of the Mozilla Project, Mitchell Baker organizes and motivates the worldwide collective of employees and volunteers who work every day on Firefox, Thunderbird and other Mozilla products used by millions of people around the world. In her role as executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Sue Gardner oversees Wikipedia, the global resource with more than 14 million volunteer-authored articles in over 250 languages. Since joining the foundation in 2007, Gardner has more than tripled revenues, helped increase global readership by 85% and instituted a variety of new projects and activities. Both Gardner and Baker are on the advisory board of the new Ada Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the participation of women in open technology and culture.


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ACM Turing Award Goes to Innovator in Machine Learning
ACM Press Room, March 9

Leslie G. Valiant, a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at Harvard University, has been awarded the 2010 ACM Turing Award for his fundamental contributions to the development of computational learning theory and to the broader theory of computer science. Valiant brought together machine learning and computational complexity, leading to advances in artificial intelligence as well as computing practices such as natural language processing, handwriting recognition, and computer vision. He also launched several subfields of theoretical computer science, and developed models for parallel computing. The ACM Turing Award, considered the “Nobel Prize in Computing,” recognizes the great advances in computing that have a beneficial impact on the world.

Leslie Valiant’s accomplishments over the last 30 years have provided the theoretical basis for progress in artificial intelligence and led to extraordinary achievements in machine learning. His work has produced modeling that offers computationally inspired answers on fundamental questions like how the brain computes. His vision in computer science, mathematics, and cognitive theory have been combined with other techniques to build modern forms of machine learning and communication, such as IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing system. Professor Valiant’s research in the theory of computation has revolutionized machine learning and artificial intelligence, making machines almost think.


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Learning 2.0: How Digital Networks Are Changing the Rules
eLearn Magazine, March 8

By creating an endless flow of connective knowledge and empowering people to express their thoughts and opinions digitally, the Web 2.0 movement is fundamentally changing the way that we learn. Going forward, educators must find new ways to harness the power of digital networks and Web 2.0 tools. The article takes a big picture view, arguing that educators and policymakers must also take into account the possibility that Web 2.0 will create large social gaps between those who can tap into the power of Web 2.0 and those who use it for more trivial purposes. More than ever before, we are responsible for making the best of all the resources available to us—which takes maturity, discipline and a sharp critical mind.

Without a doubt, Web 2.0 is changing the way that our brains process information. Due to the daily exposure to "high technology" (computers, smart phones, video games, and search engines), the neural pathways of our brain are changing at a speed like never before. In addition, the high-tech revolution is putting us in a constant state of "partial attention." This differs from what is commonly known as multitasking in that partial attention does not have a productivity goal: it simply puts us in a state of constantly scanning for any type of contact at every given moment. In a worst case scenario, unrelenting digital connectivity can actually impair cognition and create a "brain strain" that can leave people fatigued, irritable and distracted. Despite the dangers in overuse, the digital revolution is improving our ability to process large amounts of information and rapidly decide what is important and not. Thus on the one hand, exposure to interactive media is improving the speed with which we process information, but on the other may be affecting our ability to retain information for long periods of time.


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