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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, September 20, 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 18, September 20, 2011




Obama Jobs Plan: How IT Workers Will Benefit
CIO.com, September 9

IT workers who've been unemployed for more than six months may benefit from the job creation plan President Barack Obama recently unveiled in a speech to Congress. If passed, the American Jobs Act would provide employers with a $4,000 tax credit for hiring someone who's been unemployed for more than six months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than six million Americans make up the long-term unemployed, people who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more. In addition to helping the long-term unemployed, the American Jobs Act will make it more attractive for smaller businesses to hire new IT workers.

To promote hiring, the American Jobs Act would provide an additional tax cut to any business that hires new employees or increases existing employees' wages. To stimulate the economy, payroll taxes would be cut in half for every working American and every small business so that people have more money in their checks on payday. IT workers who are veterans would also benefit from Obama's job creation plan, which proposes a $5,600 tax credit for companies that hire unemployed vets. Employers that hire veterans with a service-related disability would be eligible for a $9,600 tax credit under Obama's plan. According to the President's speech, 877,000 vets are currently unemployed and looking for work.


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How to Build a Stellar Team at a High-Potential Startup
Entrepreneur, September 9

Start-ups face the challenge of recruiting world-class talent at a time when there is a war for talent taking place within the technology world. Even for startups with an impressive pedigree and venture capital backing, it can require a significant amount of time recruiting top talent. Even when a top candidate does decide to join a startup team, it could take as long as a year to make the process happen. Engineers need to be convinced that they can really shine at the startup, and that they can help solve a problem that had never been tackled before. The article takes a closer look at how startups can achieve success in hiring great people, emphasizing that great things come out of a culture that combines experience with youth and enthusiasm.

For new startups, it helps to have existing networks where they can develop connections and pinpoint the brightest young talent. Find out where your target employees are, and find ways to reach them. Establish your on-campus reputation by sponsoring engineering "hackathon" competitions and by focusing recruitment efforts at a small number of prestigious computer science programs, looking for students interested in building stuff, rather than just maintaining sky-high GPAs. It also helps to take a long-term view of the hiring process. That means socializing at events that aren't directly related to recruiting. A company's core idea is one of its most valuable assets for recruiting and retaining talent. It doesn't matter how many great people you hire if you can't keep their attention. A corporate culture that encourages creative input and helps people work with other smart people is attractive.


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Looking for a New Job? How About Data Scientist?
GigaOm, September 7

As the amount of data proliferates within the technology sector, it is prompting the creation of the data scientist role and requiring that organizations and individuals learn to work with Big Data to stay competitive. Think of all the text, images, video streams, and transaction logs added to the Internet and intranets every minute via social media, online shopping, and daily workflows. Data scientists understand how to make sense of this largely unstructured data and turn it into meaningful information. As a result, the role of data scientist is emerging in organizations wanting to take advantage of this data flow. A data scientist is someone who enables the exploration and discovery of Big Data, while exploring what is happening outside the organization and passing along insights to business decision makers.

Formerly, business analysts would ask a question and IT would provide the answer after figuring out how to structure the queries. Now the IT group has to make sure that their data platform is all inclusive: they must integrate data from all sorts of sources — but in this case they don’t know what the questions will be. IT has to provide data without knowing what the business units are going to ask. And the business units need the ability to explore, play around, ask ad hoc questions, and then see trends — maybe then they go back to IT with set questions for formal reports. It helps to have a background in statistics and math, but it is not mandatory. Advancements in available tools that expose the data and allow for visualization of the data have opened the process such that people can focus on their own business domain expertise as they formulate their questions.


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LinkedIn Gets Closer to Job Seekers
Wall Street Journal, September 14

For job candidates who already use LinkedIn, the application process will soon become easier, due to the ability to auto-fill applications with LinkedIn data. The professional networking site recently announced a partnership with Taleo, the country's largest job applicant tracking system provider, to allow job seekers to auto-fill basic biographical and professional history information from their LinkedIn profile into online job applications on the careers pages at over 5,000 companies.

The LinkedIn option will be available with the next updated version of Taleo's enterprise software. Each company will have the option of displaying the LinkedIn tool and Taleo expects a high percentage of them to do so. At a time when people are digitizing their profiles, LinkedIn has achieved a critical mass of 120 million users. Taleo currently has 26% of market share by revenue in the applicant tracking system sector, compared to Oracle and Kenexa, which have 11% and 7% of the market, respectively. Taleo’s software also analyzes the data it collects from applicants, and ranks the applicants based on their qualifications.


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My Big Fat Career
The Economist, September 10

As the economic recovery remains sluggish, there are still jobs to be had, but applicants have to work far harder to get an employer’s attention. Applicants need to market themselves better and consider a broader range of employers than they might have thought of in the past. Most importantly, they need to understand how the Internet is changing the job search game, from how to get information about companies to how to use social media to find new connections at work. At the core, there is a growing need for workers to keep upgrading and adapting their skills. The article takes a big picture look at changes afoot in the employment market, emphasizing the various ways that candidates are adapting to these new trends.

The pace of change within the workforce will become so rapid that people may have to acquire a new expertise every few years if they want to be part of the lucrative market for scarce talent. For a growing number of workers, the trick will be to jump from one company to another to take advantage of changing skill shortages. People will also have to invest more in their personal “social capital”: people they can turn to when the going gets rough; a “big-ideas crowd” who can keep them mentally fresh; and a community of family and friends to maintain their emotional capital. One remedy to the increasing number of people working alone is the emergence of “collaborative workspaces” in big cities around the world. These are often more than shared offices with desks for people who prefer to be with other people even if they are not working for the same employer.


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Age Bias in IT: The Reality Behind the Rumors
Computerworld, September 1

As much as most high-tech employers would likely deny that age discrimination is an issue at their company, many IT workers over 50 disagree, saying they have experienced age bias or know someone who has. The bias can take several forms, such as stagnating salaries, fewer opportunities for advancement and exclusion from training and professional development programs. During a recession, when employers are under pressure to reduce costs, these issues could become magnified. According to recent U.S. government data, for example, unemployment rates for older IT professionals increased faster than they did for younger tech workers since the recession began nearly three years ago.

While details about the aging IT workforce in the United States are sometimes contradictory, a number of patterns are emerging. For example, a greater number of older Americans are remaining in the workforce. Last year, the percentage of people age 55 and older in the workforce reached 40%, its highest level in 35 years. At the same time, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, older IT workers have higher rates of unemployment than both younger IT workers and older workers in other professions. In the category of "computer and mathematical occupations," the overall unemployment rate for people 55 and over jumped from 6% to 8.4% from 2009 to 2010. For those 25 to 54 years old in that job category, the unemployment rate fell from 5.1% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2010. Those figures are particularly striking when compared to the overall population, where 55-plus workers had lower unemployment rates (7%) than the 25-to-54-year olds (8.5%) in 2010.


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How Not to Say 'I Was Fired'
Business Week, August 30

Applicants who were fired from their last jobs face a higher hurdle than others in finding new employment, especially in a job market still recovering from a recession. Prospective managers tend to think the worst of a job seeker dismissed from his or her last assignment. However, as the article explains, there is no requirement ever to tell a hiring manager or HR person that your previous employer let you go. If you left your last job on less-than-sensational terms, there are three different ways to address that issue without risk of ending your candidacy.

Contrary to the general consensus, candidates are actually not required to give a prospective employer a lot of information about the exact details of how they left their most recent position. The first option is to explain that the learning curve finally flattened out, making it time to leave. The second option is to focus on shifting interests: “I got to do so many fantastic projects at the company, but my focus was shifting into project management, and the opportunities for that were very limited at the company.” The third option is to explain that you and your employer were going in different directions, emphasizing the ways that the company was diverging from its original mission statement.


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Seeking Work? Ready Your Webcam
Career Journal, September 8

Employers are increasingly turning to video interviews conducted over the Internet to find the most qualified candidates. In 2011, nearly 42% of first-round interviews will take place virtually over webcam. Companies are using the video format to interview job candidates from entry-level to the top ranks. Two-way interviews take place in real time with both the candidate and interviewer present, while one-way interviews require candidates to respond to pre-set questions without a live person on the other side. While video interviews cut down on costs and save time for companies, they also present a number of challenges for potential job candidates eager to make a good first impression with employers.

Many talent managers contend that the video interview format actually gives job seekers a chance to shine, especially people who've grown up using webcams and Skype. As long as organizations explain the set-up ahead of time, candidates can excel. At every level, video interviews are becoming more prevalent. The Aberdeen Group recently found 10% of companies used video as part of the hiring process in 2010, but saw that number jump to 42% for senior executives, management and entry-level job functions. While many employers conduct "real-time" live video interviews, others opt for one-way, recorded sessions where software takes the place of the interviewer.


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Gender Discrimination in the U.K. Research Excellence Framework
Blog @CACM, September 8

At a time when female researchers are already having difficulties succeeding in academia, the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the U.K. may only heighten concerns about gender discrimination in the computer science field. The results of the REF will determine how government block funding for research is allocated. Researchers need to publish four high-impact papers between 2008 and 2014 to bring in the maximum funding for their departments. However, the REF process would appear to indirectly penalize women who have had children, increasing their stress at work and reducing their chances of promotion. It's an issue that could prevent the recruitment of more female computer science academics - or encourage existing ones to leave - at a time when the computer science discipline is attempting to address a gender imbalance.

You might expect that female researchers who have been on maternity leave during the REF period would be expected to produce a number of papers proportional to their time spent at work in that period. Instead, the draft REF guidelines indicate that women will be expected to produce one paper fewer only if they have taken more than 14 months off for maternity during the REF period. Because of the way statutory maternity leave works in the U.K., it is common to take between six months and a year off. So to qualify to produce one less journal paper output, you’d probably need to produce more than two babies over five years. An alternative proposal is to reduce the REF output by one paper for each child. In short, the REF equates the effort of carrying, delivering, and raising a child to researching and writing a paper.


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MentorNet Opens Its Doors to Students from All Campuses
MentorNet, September 6

To encourage more students to work with mentors during their academic careers, MentorNet is making it easier for any student with an .EDU email address to find a mentor. The move could help the U.S., which now ranks 27th in the world in the production of graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, regain its economic competitiveness. In addition, by opening up its program, MentorNet will make it easier for woman and minorities from any campus to locate a mentor who can help them with their specific needs.

To find a mentor in their chosen field, students simply need to visit the MentorNet website. As long as they have an .EDU email address and intend to enter any STEM field, they will be eligible for participation in the program. In a parallel campaign, MentorNet will recruit additional mentors to serve this influx of new students, with a goal of matching 95% of all students.


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