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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, September 6, 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

Volume 7, Issue 17, September 6, 2011

IT Hiring Remains Strong Despite Economic Fears, August 15

IT staffing industry executives agree that IT hiring in the U.S. will remain robust through the end of the year. In addition, most IT professionals are optimistic about the future of the job market, with 44% feeling confident about finding a new job and 71% reporting they aren't worried about getting laid off. In fact, IT professionals' confidence in their employers' futures climbed to its highest level since the 4Q of 2007. These numbers are supported by a recent survey by CDW, in which 19% of IT departments said they plan to hire in the next six months, while only 7% anticipate staff cuts.

Staffing industry executives are optimistic about IT hiring despite economic concerns because IT departments cut so deeply and delayed so many projects during the recession of 2008 and 2009. IT hiring will remain strong through the remainder of the year simply because businesses across the board are so dependent on IT infrastructure and technology. Businesses will continue to invest in IT through the end of the year as a way to cut costs or improve productivity, as they've done in previous downturns. According to a recent IT hiring and budget survey, 90% of IT decision makers at large companies and 89% of IT decision makers at midsize companies plan to purchase new hardware over the next six months. Approximately 40% of IT leaders plan to install new software over the next six months.

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Jumping the Corporate Ship
Wall Street Journal, August 23

A growing number of middle managers are leaving large corporations to join new start-ups, as the technology boom continues to gain momentum. As more start-ups receive venture capital financing and, in some cases, generate enormous wealth for employees when the companies are sold off or go public, corporate middle managers are reassessing career plans. In the last year, executives from major financial services, entertainment and law firms have all taken senior-level roles in start-ups. Start-ups have a need for more experienced management, people that have built more of an operational superstructure from bigger companies.

This shift also reflects a profound reappraisal of risk in today's labor market, where more established industries are being disrupted by technology shifts and upstart companies. Some middle managers now see start-ups as increasingly attractive because they can exert a more direct impact on a company's operations. For younger workers, moving to a startup can be an opportunity to do something big. Young consultants, for example, can become business development directors or have other important responsibilities for growing a company. Based on anecdotal evidence, the number of start-ups that are seeking corporate middle managers to help build out business teams has doubled since the fall of 2010.

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Five Subtle Ways to Find a New Job
Harvard Business Review (via Business Week), August 25

While many people delay entering the job market even when they know they should act, there are actually ways to find a new job without leaving your comfort zone. Often, it’s often a good idea to analyze your current situation for signs, such as waves of layoffs and multiple management changes, that there could be something better. If you’re stuck in a bad job, your symptoms might be boredom, feelings of frustration and anger, and a feeling of dread about going to work on Monday. In either case, it’s time to take action. The article provides practical suggestions that will allow you to work with your current work situation and re-energize your work life without committing to a job search.

Make sure your resume is up to date and clearly shows your career interests. It should hint at what you want to do and learn next. Start talking to colleagues in a judicious way about your interests. You don’t even have to mention job search, and some may be willing to help you achieve your general career goals. You can also change at least some of the content of your job. This approach can re-motivate you even if you can’t leave your current situation. There is usually lots of extra work in companies that have been downsizing, so volunteer to take on something new. In particular, volunteer for any cross functional projects that put you in contact with senior colleagues. If you succeed, you may be relieved of some of your current duties. Keep asking for more responsibility, whether or not you are compensated for it. If the project builds your resume, the compensation will come.

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How Writing a Book Can Boost Your IT Career and Your Income
Network World, August 24

If you need to give your career a boost, establish yourself as a thought leader, or brand your business, becoming a published author can help you achieve your career goals. With that in mind, published business and trade authors offer tips for getting started and for determining whether to go the self-publishing or traditional publishing route. Writing a book can pay off for your career in many ways. It can give a fledgling startup instant credibility. It can also lead to lucrative speaking and consulting engagements, as well as media tie-ins, like instructional DVDs. Even if your book sells fewer copies than you expect, just being the author of a book is something that will give you credibility.

Writing a book gives people so much credibility because it's hard work and requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline and persistence. Everyone says they want to write a book, but there are few people who actually do it. Writing and publishing a book also establishes your authority as a thought leader in a way that far exceeds anything you could do through a blog or Twitter. You deepen your knowledge and expertise while writing a book because you spend so much time investigating your subject matter. A published book illustrates to the world that you understand a subject so thoroughly that you can fill an entire book with your knowledge. Finally, having the book author moniker in your bio sets you apart from others in your field and enables you to create a new way to build relationships with potential clients.

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The Future of Work? Hiring Yourself Out Online
The Next Web, August 20

Self-service labor markets, in which people buy and sell services from individuals, are rising in importance as a way of reallocating labor. In fact, they could be the beginning of a new way of buying services and selling ourselves online. While these self-service labor markets are one way that people can make extra income directly from each other, they are not offering full-time employment solutions. However, they are clearly well positioned to capitalize on a future where many more of us may need to become self-employed service providers, offering whatever skills we have directly to those who need them.

TaskRabbit is a marketplace for people and tasks, enabling individuals to post jobs they need doing and find others who are happy to carry them out. There is an online dashboard for users to manage their tasks and Task Rabbits (the people who carry out the jobs) to find new ones. Task Rabbits are often retired individuals with skills and spare time; stay-at-home parents who want to contribute to the household but maintain flexibility, or part-time (or even full-time) workers looking for extra cash in a poor economic climate. Tasks tend to be posted by busy professionals and small businesses looking for additional casual labor. Skillshare is a community marketplace for offline classes, letting you learn anything from someone who has the skills to teach you. Classes can cover a wide variety of categories, including technology and start-ups. The startup has 600 teachers signed up just four months after it launched, charging an average of $20 for a place in a class.

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A Winning Strategy in the War for Talent
GigaOm, August 13

Despite a massive surplus of people looking for work, technology companies are still having a hard time finding talent. When big companies like Zynga, Facebook and Groupon need to take out billboards to find employees, it's easy to see how the competition weighs on small- and medium-sized companies. For employers, it’s important to recognize the factors involved in the imbalance between demand and supply of local talent. A classic problem is that the right talent is not where the jobs are. Thus, companies should "manufacture" talent, investing in training their teams and in paying to relocate the right people to fill key vacancies.

While talent is always a worthwhile investment, relocating skilled workers isn’t going to be enough to close the gap between the growing demand for talent and the limited local supply. Why relocate the worker when it's so much easier to relocate the work? While some positions still must be filled locally, in a world with email, instant messaging, desktop sharing and video conferencing, more jobs can be easily moved out of the office and onto the home desk of the best-qualified candidate, wherever he or she may be. At some companies, remote contractors outnumber in-house talent by four to one.

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Top Five Mistakes Job Hunters Make
San Francisco Chronicle, August 25

As the job search game continues to evolve to include social media and the competition for jobs increases, it's important not to waste time by making major errors in the application process. Slow down, stay on task and make informed decisions in the jobs you choose to aim for. There are five classic errors that could cost you the next big job opportunity: going out of your league, running from the past, ignoring your weaknesses, failing to find out about the company in advance, and not following directions.

Most employers will choose any self-assured applicant over someone who needs continual coaching to perform. However, by applying for a job that you are seriously not competent to do, you waste your time in submitting the application and the time of the hiring manager. Keep your job searches to just those you are actually competent to handle. If you called up a past employer and anonymously asked what they thought of your performance, what would they say? Your best bet is to make sure that you leave your jobs on good terms, but if that isn't possible, find out what they are saying about you before you continue the job search.

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When Computer Programming Was Women’s Work
Washington Post, August 26

What has changed in the world of computer programming for women since 1967? Nearly thirty-five years ago, 11% of computer science majors were women. The portion of women earning computer science degrees continued to rise steadily, reaching its peak (37%) in 1984. Then, over the next two decades, women steadily left the computer science field, just as their numbers were increasing steadily across all other science, technology, engineering, and math fields. By 2006, the portion of women in computer science had dropped back to 20%. By looking back at an older era when women embraced computer science, it may be possible to understand how to reverse this trend and encourage more women to explore computer science as a career.

While the first computer “keypunch” jobs for women 35 years ago had no real prospect of advancement, they prepared them for future developments in the commercial computer industry. Soon enough, the industry faced a dire shortage in programmers and systems analysts, roles that involved designing programming instructions. Like many industries during World War II, computer science needed new talent and undergraduate women began to flock to computer science classes. They found they could enter directly into the ranks of programmers and systems analysts. In addition, many academic computer science programs were first housed not in science or engineering divisions, but within liberal arts colleges, where women had made cultural inroads. Women were less likely to consider computer science a real “science” that was off limits to their exploration. Men had not yet entered computer science in significant numbers. They, too, were just beginning to respond to industry demand and had yet to dominate the field. Computer science was a new frontier for women in which the social and professional rules were still to be determined.

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Welcome to MentorNet's New Board Chair
MentorNet News, August 22

Mary Fernandez, the new chair of the board at MentorNet, shares her experiences of having been a mentor since 1998. As she explains, her own career began as a protégé at a graduate fellowship program at AT&T Bell Labs. Afterwards, becoming a mentor prepared her for future career positions more than any other professional activity. Mentoring has also made her aware of how U.S. immigration and education policy impact students in STEM fields and their future employers. Going forward, she hopes to expand MentorNet to match even more protégés with mentors in STEM fields, largely by encouraging individuals to share their personal mentoring experiences with colleagues and friends.

Through their diversity of backgrounds and experiences, Mary Fernandez’s thirteen MentorNet protégés have changed the way that she views the world, herself, and her profession. Four are native US citizens, one is a naturalized citizen, and eight are immigrants to the United States from Algeria, China, Columbia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Poland, and Romania. Eleven are women, and two are men. Most are computer scientists, and one is a biological engineer. Many of them have made significant sacrifices, such as leaving their families behind, to pursue their higher educations, with the common goal and responsibility of improving their own and their family's economic futures.

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Are You Talking to Me?
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 54, No. 9, September 2011

Moshe Y. Vardi, editor-in-chief of CACM, weighs in on ways to improve the conference experience for computer science professionals. At a time when participants routinely open up their laptops during conferences and correspond via back-channels, not everything that gets presented can be absorbed. Moreover, in many ways, the point of attending a conference has become simply to get published in a prestigious publication. With this in mind, Vardi outlines a few ways to make the conference experience more productive for all participants involved.

Meeting at conferences is the only way to maintain our links, learn what is happening, and tell others about our latest and greatest. While some of the activity of a conference happens in coffee breaks and hallways, its core activity takes place in the lecture halls, and this activity better be effective, which means the talks better be clear, informative, and interesting. There are many ways in which we can improve the quality of conference talks. For example, graduate students should be taught that preparing a good talk is quite different from, though equally important as, writing a good paper. They should never give a conference talk without some dry runs with brutally honest feedback from their advisor and fellow students. Also, for their first few conference talks, graduate students should be video-recorded.

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