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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, May 8, 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 9, May 8, 2012




Big Data, Little Talent
Wall Street Journal, April 29

At the same time that Big Data has become one of the fastest-growing areas of the IT industry, companies are having a difficult time finding talent for all of their new openings. Big Data refers to the idea that an enterprise can mine all the data it collects right across its operations to unlock business intelligence in near real-time. This is harder than it sounds, of course: many IT managers today lack the training to pull out insights from these large data sets. By some accounts, there is a need for 1.5 million additional managers and analysts in the United States who can ask the right questions and analyze data effectively. A significant constraint on realizing value from Big Data will be a shortage of talent, particularly of people with deep expertise in statistics and machine learning.

Data scientists can take a data set and model it mathematically and understand the math required to build those models. In addition, they can actually build these models, which means they have the engineering skills. Finally, they are someone who can find insights and tell stories from their data. That means asking the right questions, and that is usually the hardest piece. It is this ability to turn data into information into action that presents the most challenges. It requires a deep understanding of the business to know the questions to ask. The job of the data scientist isn't simply to uncover lost nuggets, but discover new ones and more importantly, turn them into actions.


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How to Land a Cybersecurity Job
CIO.com (via Network World), May 3

Cybersecurity jobs are plentiful, from government, financial services and utilities to manufacturing and retail. But what skills do IT professionals need to qualify for these high-paying jobs? Experts generally agree that there are five ways to land a prestigious cybersecurity job. The suggestions include getting a security-related certification and joining the military or law enforcement agencies, where cybersecurity is an important priority. In addition, IT professionals can obtain specific expertise with cloud- and mobile-based security issues and demonstrate that they are able to analyze data in real-time to see if security breaches are occurring.

Most companies prefer to hire cybersecurity experts with experience in the U.S. military or law enforcement agencies. Often times, you'll find an individual who is coming from the military or a federal government agency who has received a variety of cybersecurity training that is not yet attainable in the commercial realm. Security-related certifications are a prerequisite for most commercial cybersecurity jobs and all defense-related IT security jobs. According to experts, there are a lot of security certifications that are very well accepted and are extremely beneficial to the individual. They demonstrate a body of knowledge and experience to employers.


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Older Entrepreneurs Start Companies Too
Bloomberg Businessweek, April 30

The conventional wisdom is that most American entrepreneurs are young and bold. However, as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, it’s now the case that older entrepreneurs are getting into the mix as well. While they have a reputation for being set in their ways and being unwilling to challenge the established order, the reality is actually quite different. The share of new business formation by the 55-to-64-year-old age group is up sharply over the past 15 years, from 14.3% in 1996 to 20.9% in 2011. At the same time, the self-employment rate for those over 65 is an astounding 26.9%. As a result, some researchers believe that the U.S. could be on the cusp of an entrepreneurship boom powered by an aging population.

People become entrepreneurs because they want to or because they have to. The first group tends to build more durable enterprises with human resource departments and capital budgets in a wide range of businesses. They’ll attract angel investors and even venture capital. For example, among U.S.-born tech founders, those older than age 50 numbered more than twice as many as those younger than 25. Older entrepreneurs tend to have an edge in markets where experience and contacts are invaluable. People with experience know how to support their customers and how to price their product. Still, many of the startups founded by older entrepreneurs are sole proprietorships with a handful of employees at most.


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Women Dominate Offline Independent Work Too
Web Worker Daily, May 2

Women already make up the majority of online freelancers, now it appears that they play an important role in offline independent work as well. According to the latest figures from independent work consultancy MBO Partners, 53% of all American independent workers are also women, which amounts to 8.5 million women across the country working on their own. By comparison, women have a 47.6% participation rate in the traditional workforce. With that in mind, some suggest that the project-focused future of work might be a better match for the flexible works needs of many women.

In short, the greater flexibility of independent work might be more suited to the workplace needs of women and take advantage of their ability to weave together communities of collaborators. Drawing on their Independence Workforce Index, MBO Partners’ numbers supports this idea that independent work tends to suit women and that flexibility plays a central role in this. 77% of women independents are satisfied or highly satisfied with their mode of working, according to the consultancy, and 74% plan to remain independent. When asked why they plan to remain independent, 65% cited flexibility, 64% said control over their own schedule and 59% noted the enjoyment they get from being their own boss.


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Why Engineering, Science Gender Gap Persists
PBS NewsHour, April 25

As evidence continues to suggest that women are underrepresented in the computer science field, educators are attempting to address the reasons for the lack of women in the sciences and engineering. According to a recent report from the NSF, 41% of college freshman men planned to major in science and engineering, compared to only 30% of women. More than twice as many men than women attend graduate school for computer science fields, and more than four times as many men are enrolled in engineering. At the professional level, only 5.5% of commercial patent holders are women. The article looks at several possible explanations for this gender gap across academia and the professional sector, as well as possible long-term solutions.

As educators point out, the problems caused by the gender gap only become more compounded over time. Female students say they find the scarcity of women to be isolating; others cite subtle discrimination. As a result, they may find themselves relegated to very traditional roles or regularly finding their technical abilities underrated. At a time when fields like software development are reporting strong job growth, women may be missing out on incredible job opportunities. These jobs are not always in Silicon Valley – they could be careers in computer science and medicine, computer science and arts, or computer science and languages. Within the science and engineering fields, the exit rate for female engineers is much higher than in other scientific fields. Women are also having a harder time advancing compared to other fields, due to a lack of female mentors, subtle discrimination and unsupportive work conditions. When women do excel in male-dominated jobs, they may be penalized for being too ambitious, too confident and too assertive.


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Face-to-Face Networking Still Trumps Social Networking
TIME Moneyland, April 27

Placing too much of a focus on social networking and not enough on face-to-face networking can have a negative impact on your career trajectory. According to a new report, 39% of Americans now spend more time socializing online than they do in person. In addition, nearly 20% prefer communication via text or the Internet over talking face to face or on the phone. As a result, we may have more connections, but the typical relationship is shallower. This is problematic in terms of one’s career, because it’s the people who know you the best and trust you the most who can wind up helping you the most. No matter how well the latest digital tools allow us to stay in touch, face-to-face meetings and strong relationships are still very important in the workplace.

An important first step in breaking away from the virtual world and starting to network in the real world is to focus on being seen and heard in the office. When people see you in person, they know you’re working and get a better sense of who you are, your emotional intelligence, and your leadership ability. Sometimes it’s difficult for managers to get a sense of these things if they don’t regularly see the people they are managing. So if you haven’t met with your manager in a while, make an excuse to visit. Second, get away from technology so you’re less socially awkward. Spending more time on technology-related tasks, and less time exposed to other people, has somewhat expected results: Over time, one’s face-to-face communication skills can become weaker and weaker. It will be harder to hold a conversation and appear confident in social situations with colleagues and clients, and your awkwardness will hurt your chances of advancing in the workplace.


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The Evolution of Resumes: Are You Keeping Up?
Management Issues, April 11

In the current job environment, having the right type of resume can make all the difference. Even if you’re not looking for a new job, some situations still call for a resume, such as when an organization is considering you for their board, or for a promotion within your own company. Because the workplace is changing, the use of resumes is changing along with it. At the end of the day, the resume must convey what value you can bring to another company – it must be able to translate experience into a set of transferrable skills. From an employer's perspective, identify what attributes you want to see and how your proven abilities can be worded in a way to show valuable, transferrable skills.

Today, many companies ask to receive resumes electronically. This could mean attaching your resume as a Word document or PDF, or they may want it in plain text format. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are also becoming popular for posting jobs and submitting resumes. As with any resume, you have between 17 and 20 seconds to grab their attention. If you're using e-mail, choose your subject line very carefully. To make it easy for the person reviewing your resume, write a brief cover letter and then copy/paste your resume into the body of the message. You can also include it as an attachment, but if you only attach it you're forcing the person to open the document, and that's eating into your 20 seconds. Also, because most email programs do not read formatting well, use caution to ensure your resume is easily readable.


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Can the Leadership Industry Fulfill Its Promise?
HBS Working Knowledge, May 2

Leadership is under fire around the world, in business, government, and other institutions. Followers appear to be exercising more and more power, thanks to such contextual changes as the rise of social networks, ubiquitous communication, greater transparency, and rising and unmet expectations. It has made the practice of leadership more complex and demanding. This is happening at a time when individuals and organizations of all kinds spend a great deal on leadership training, which ranges from in-house leadership programs to offerings by outside organizations. So why is there such a disconnect in the "leadership industry" between efforts and results?

Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman, who has written widely about leadership, hypothesizes that leadership is a process involving leaders and followers functioning in a context of societal, legal, and technological change. According to Kellerman, training for leadership too often ignores the importance of followership (especially changing patterns of dominance and deference), concentrating instead on the individual leader operating in a narrow, somewhat static context. As a result, she questions several common assumptions in the leadership industry, such as the assumption that financial success is the best measure of leadership in the private sector. She also questions whether leadership can be summarized and packaged, and then taught to virtually anyone in a one-size-fits-all manner.


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Why Getting Women into STEM Matters
MentorNet, April 30

Women are still under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math careers, despite ample data to show women are just as good — if not better — than men in these STEM career tracks. At a time when women comprise just 25% of the STEM workforce, experts argue there should be even more of an emphasis on getting women into math and science-related fields. Getting women into these fields is good not just for gender diversity, but also for the future competitiveness of the U.S. economy and the financial fortunes of women.

For starters, it’s important to get women into STEM fields because it is a growth industry that requires new infusions of talent. A recent White House Council report shows that STEM professions are set to grow by about 20% in the next 10 years. So if we’d like women to have skilled jobs that might be available at some point in a decade’s time, we should probably encourage them in that direction. There’s ample evidence to show that healthcare, research and technology are outpacing other careers by a long shot, as supported by statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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The Call to Teach Computing to Everyone
Blog @ CACM, April 26

The interest in teaching computer science has enjoyed a boost in popularity of late, driven by a booming market for night classes and online instruction in areas such as programming and mobile apps. People are preparing for a future in which the Internet is the foundation for entertainment, education and nearly everything else. While many are in agreement about a CS requirement for those in STEM fields, there is less agreement about whether there should be a similar course in computer science for those with lesser technological skills. The article takes a look at the types of CS and digital skills expected from students, emphasizing that a basic knowledge of how computers and the Internet work are now necessary for everyone.

Teaching computer science in the 21st century is not about making everyone into a software developer. It’s about the belief that every child should have the opportunity to learn computer science, from primary school up to and including further education. We teach elementary physics to every child, not primarily to train physicists but because each of them lives in a world governed by physical systems. In the same way, every child should learn some computer science from an early age because they live in a world in which computation is ubiquitous. A crucial group of these will go on to become the engineers and entrepreneurs who drive the digital economy, so there is a complementary economic motivation for transforming the curriculum.


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