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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, May 17, 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 10, May 17, 2011




Ten Must-Do Job-Search Tips for Spring 2011 Grads
Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 6

There are ten specific steps that recent university graduates can take in order to maximize their chances of landing a new job with an IT employer. The job market, while showing signs of recovery, remains tepid compared to pre-recession activity levels. As a result, new grads need to focus intently on clarifying their job search direction, establishing their brand, and winning a hiring manager's attention. After choosing an appropriate job search direction, you will be able to customize your resume and better able to communicate your chief selling points to employers, both in-person and via social networking sites like LinkedIn.

The biggest job search mistake new grads make is to hit the market without a clear direction. Choose two or three factors, such as whether you will actually enjoy the work and whether the career direction makes use of your talents, and use them to narrow your job search focus. Then, you can customize your resume for each of your different job search directions. Each resume should brand you as a great hire in a particular focus area, especially in the descriptions of your roles in previous jobs. As much as possible, use a conversational tone on a resume, cover letter and social networking profile. The classic "results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation" branding will no longer attract the attention of hiring managers.


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IT Pay Creeps Up After Two-Year Downward Spiral
CIO.com, May 9

After two years of pay cuts and downward pressure on wages, IT salaries are once again on the rise, driven by demand for contract and permanent IT staff. As IT staffing industry executives point out, demand for permanent IT professionals started to pick up in mid-2010 and has remained steady every since. There has also been an increase in the number of contractors who are transitioning into permanent, full-time positions. Meanwhile, some IT workers are leaving full-time, permanent positions to become contractors in order to capitalize on the number of higher-paying contract opportunities in the marketplace. Together, these workplace trends are leading to pay premiums for IT workers.

IT departments are hiring more aggressively for the first time since the start of the recession for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, corporations feel comfortable spending some of the cash reserves they built up during two years of aggressive cost cutting. From their perspective, IT investments, especially those involving automation, are a way to hedge against economic uncertainty and lower their labor costs. IT departments are also hiring permanent and contract staff to work on infrastructure upgrades that they had avoided during the recession. Regulatory compliance, especially within sectors such as financial services and healthcare, is an additional factor influencing IT hiring.


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Shift to Cloud Requires Fresh IT Skills
Computerworld (via IDG News Service), May 5

As organizations move more of their applications to the cloud, they are re-thinking the skills that their IT professionals need to possess. As the role of the IT worker changes, organizations will need to encourage new skills. Because the cloud will standardize infrastructure, IT organizations will spend far less time managing the servers and instead will need to focus on understanding how multiple cloud offerings could work together and how they could be used to benefit their organizations. While IT personnel have traditionally concentrated on security and operational efficiency, now they also must find ways to use cloud IT services as a catalyst for growth and innovation.

Organizations are currently emphasizing new cloud-related IT skills that can increase their competitive position within an industry. Within the banking sector, for example, financial institutions are turning to cloud service providers for their IT services, as well as core banking, CRM, Internet banking and mobile banking. As startups demonstrate the ease of integrating existing cloud services to create new offerings, larger organizations will turn to innovation. Cloud computing will also require more IT architecture skills than are commonly found in-house. Fewer people will be needed to carry out the work of implementing programs, while more people would do the architecture work needed to tie together different cloud services, and to hook these services back to in-house systems.


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Give Us Your Huddled Masses of Engineers
Wall Street Journal, May 13

In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, a Yale Law School professor and the general counsel of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation tackle the controversial topic of hiring highly skilled immigrant workers. As they point out, the Obama Administration has not yet turned its attention to the need to attract more high-skilled immigrants to work in the technology sector. While the U.S. provides students from around the world with visas to receive engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities, the same laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or a new industry in the United States. As other nations catch up to the United States technologically, there is an urgent need to attract and retain these workers in order to remain economically competitive.

Research shows that high-skilled immigrants, particularly those in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, enrich American society in many ways. Yet, of the more than one million permanent admissions to the U.S. in 2010, fewer than 15% were admitted specifically for their employment skills. The H-1B program that allows high-skilled immigrants to work here on renewable three-year visas, which can possibly lead to permanent status, is relatively small, and now only one-third the size it was in 2003. Plus, the program has limitations: India is subject to the same visa ceiling as Iceland, visa-holders can't change jobs, and they must return home while awaiting permanent status. As a result, many high-skilled workers prefer to go to more welcoming countries, like Canada and Australia, or to stay home where their economies are now often growing faster than ours.


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Managing Telecommuters and Office Workers
Strategy + Business, April 15

Telecommuting, when handled properly within an organization, can boost employee performance and satisfaction while reducing turnover and office expenses. When a workforce consists of both remote and on-site employees, however, tensions can arise when employees don't see one another or understand their colleagues' workloads; some who must work in the office will feel resentment toward those who can work from home. Based on interviews with employees and a thorough review of telecommuting policies at leading institutions, researchers suggest the solution is to treat the two groups as similarly as possible. Organizations should strive to create a culture of inclusiveness.

The first element in the successful management of telecommuters is deciding who gets to work outside the office and why. Some companies parcel out telecommuting assignments on a case-by-case basis. However, a better approach is to make sure that both teleworkers and office employees have a say in establishing the gate-keeping rules, ensuring more transparency in the decision-making process. A telecommuting assignment shouldn't be permanent, but subject to periodic review. The second factor is monitoring telecommuters to make sure they're actually working. The most successful supervisors monitored the workflows of their telecommuters and non-telecommuters in the same way.


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Can Blogging Help You Get A Job?
Lindsey Pollak, May 12

Writing a professional blog on a topic related to your future career path can lead to internship and job opportunities. Blogging can enhance your online personal brand, increase your visibility on search engines such as Google, demonstrate your writing or design skills, highlight your analytical thinking, and showcase your ability to take initiative on a project. Most importantly of all, writing a blog can connect you to a whole new network of other bloggers. Because the barrier to entry is so low (most basic versions of blogging platforms are free), blogging is also something you can try for a while to see if you like it and determine how best to leverage for your future career needs.

While it's nice to blog about any topic that interests you, the only way your blog will help your job search is if you write about the industry you want to join. If a recruiter checks out your blog, he or she must know immediately what you're interested in. At the same time, be very careful what you post. The major reason most job seekers don't blog is because they're afraid that blogging might hurt their chances more than help them. However, if you think of your blog as a purely professional forum, you should be just fine.


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Extreme Multitasking: Surviving the Superjob
Smart Money, May 6

Emboldened by high unemployment rates across the nation and continually on the lookout for cost savings, businesses of all sizes have asked a dwindling number of employees to take on extra tasks that often have little to do with their primary roles and expertise. The latest shift started when businesses redistributed the workload over a smaller pool of employees following the layoffs of 2009 and last year's nascent recovery intensified the process. In a recent survey, 53% of workers said they've taken on new roles, most of them without extra pay. Now that sales are picking up, there's even more work to do, but companies are reluctant to hire. Some believe the shift is permanent, as the quickening pace of change demands more flexibility from everyone at the office. Going forward, employees will have to do whatever it takes to help their company compete - even if it means more multi-tasking.

The multi-tasking phenomenon is part of a predictable economic cycle. At the end of almost every recent recession, employers have increased the hours of their remaining workers before hiring reinforcements. Globalization and technological advances also play a role: engineering and advertising agencies say clients are demanding shorter delivery times, requiring employees to work more hours, and U.S. executives must be available around-the-clock to take care of issues anywhere on the globe. During the recession, many companies reacted instinctively rather than thoughtfully reassigning tasks based on a careful assessment of employees' skills and affinities. When IT specialists are placed into roles such as marketing or sales, they may feel overwhelmed by the competing demands, which may eventually give way to burnout and reduced productivity.


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The Feedback Gap
Management Issues, April 20

According to a recent survey of 1000 employees in the UK, many managers dislike giving feedback and when they do, it is often less than effective. Not only that, but the “feedback gap” between managers and employees is growing steadily wider each year. Fewer than half (45%) of employees with a line manager say that they receive helpful feedback from their line manager on a regular enough basis or that any feedback they do get helps them to do their job better. The research found that only around half (52%) of employees felt that their managers clearly described the performance standards that they expected and even fewer (42%) felt that the standards by which they were being evaluated had been communicated to them.

Senior managers in corporations across the UK should not assume that line managers are actively managing performance. Only half of respondents felt that their line manager was good at helping them to solve a problem if there were any obstacles to their performance; just 37% said that they were encouraged to talk about their strengths. If performance were better managed, employees would be more likely to commit additional discretionary effort to their work. Currently, only 11% of employees are prepared to commit this additional effort to their work.


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Web Science Meets Network Science
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 54 No. 5, May 2011

At the Third International Workshop on Network Theory, hosted at Northwestern University, academics and researchers debated the blurring of the line between two emerging disciplines: Web Science and Network Science. Web science spans a range of disciplines including computer science, economics, government, law, and psychology. Network science explores the characteristics of all types of networks, from neural networks to social networks to the Web itself. At the workshop event, participants discussed ways that these fields overlap, as well as the ways that they diverge.

In some ways, Web science is a subset of network science. In other ways, network science is a subset of Web science. Proponents of the former view argue that the Web is just one network among many that share certain common properties (e.g. they are open, scale-free, and exhibit emergent properties like power laws). Proponents of the latter view tend to argue that the Web is fundamentally different from other networks in that it encompasses a broad range of human concerns that have little to do with a macro understanding of networks, such as issues of government policy, commerce, and human factors. Despite these overlapping areas of interest, many of the leading researchers in each field are still largely unaware of the others' work.


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Ubiquity Symposium: What Have We Said About Computation?
Ubiquity, April 2011

Peter J. Denning, the former president of ACM and the current editor-in-chief of Ubiquity, summarizes the findings and results of a recent far-reaching symposium on computation. Thinkers at the symposium debated fundamental questions about the role of computation in the everyday life of computing professionals, arriving at some major agreements, as well as some points for additional debate. Denning groups his findings and conclusions into three primary areas: points of major agreement, questions not fully resolved and thoughts on a new class of computational systems called interactive systems.

In terms of points of agreement, participants agree that computation is a process. Everyone distinguishes the machine or algorithm from the process that the machine or algorithm generates, with some even arguing that every process is also a computation. There was also agreement that the computational model matters. A computational model is a specification of a method for data representation and a mechanism that transforms those representations toward a desired outcome. There was agreement that many important computations are natural. Although our tradition attunes our thinking to machine-generated computations, there are now numerous examples of natural ones in fields such as physics and biology. Other points of agreement: many important computations are non-terminating; many important computations are continuous; and computational thinking can be defined in the same way as "algorithmic thinking."


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