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ACM CareerNews for Wednesday, August 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 16, August 17, 2011




Navigate the Booming Computer Science Market
U.S. News & World Report, August 8

Computer science students with bachelor's or master's degrees are in demand now and are expected to be for the next decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an estimated 1.8 million new IT jobs by 2018, a 22% jump from today's market. Nearly a decade after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the rise of cloud computing, mobile devices, and online social media is fueling a new wave of demand for IT professionals. According to the heads of computer science departments across the country, the job prospects for young computing professionals, especially new graduates, are excellent.

For prospective computer science students, the downside to this employment surge is the resulting increase in applicants, which will likely create tougher admissions standards at CS programs nationwide. For some undergraduate computer science programs, enrollment has increased by as much as 40%. At others, extra sessions of introductory classes are being added in anticipation of a new influx of computer science students. To navigate the increasingly competitive computer science admissions process, it's integral that students focus on honing their mathematical acumen by taking advanced classes.


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Recruiters Troll Facebook for Candidates They Like
Career Journal, August 8

As more companies experiment with Facebook to find new employees, the social networking site is threatening traditional job boards and ratcheting up the competition with LinkedIn, which has dominated the online professional networking arena. Facebook's use as a recruiting platform remains small, but its appeal may be growing for two reasons: recruiters are no longer willing to pay hundreds of dollars per job posting on job boards, while Facebook’s 750 million-plus users represents a vast, untapped network of personal connections and referrals. For many companies, too, Facebook provides the easiest way to generate traffic to the hiring hubs on their websites.

While LinkedIn continues to have one of the most comprehensive resume databases on the Web, the company is under increasing pressure to develop other social features that appeal to job candidates. LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner noted that many users want to keep their personal and professional networks separate. In focus groups, for example, prospective job candidates were sharply averse to being contacted through Facebook for jobs. Thus, while some tech companies post job openings on their Facebook page, they generally have more success finding employees through LinkedIn. That could change soon, however, with some hiring experts pointing out that Facebook could rival traditional job boards in 2012.


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U.S. Government Hankers for Hackers
Reuters, August 2

In response to growing national security threats, federal agencies such as the National Security Agency are boosting their efforts to recruit individuals with computer hacking skills. Led by the NSA, a group of federal government recruiters including the Department of Defense and NASA recently visited Las Vegas for Defcon, an annual hacker convention where attendance can top 10,000. The NSA is hiring about 1,500 cyber experts this year and another 1,500 next year. At Defcon, the NSA will be competing with corporations looking for cyber security experts to harden networks, do penetration testing to find security holes and watch for any signs of cyber attacks.

While there may seem to be a cultural disconnect between government agencies and hackers, who by definition want to defy authorities, the NSA asserts that it is actually an environment where the hacker mindset fits right in. The agency, after all, has long been known for its brilliant, but sometimes eccentric, mathematicians and linguists. The NSA, too, draws a distinction between hackers with skills and those who use them to illegally access computer networks. The tasks of the NSA include helping the Homeland Security department secure civilian U.S. government networks. One government bureaucratic hindrance that can impede hiring top-flight experts is the security clearance process that can take six months, by which time a candidate may have found other employment.


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Healthcare Industry Leads Market in IT Hiring
Computerworld, August 4

As a result of increased federal spending on healthcare and new federal regulations, the healthcare industry is at the forefront of creating new IT jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, IT jobs in healthcare are expected to grow by 20% annually through 2018. In fact, since November 2009, the number of healthcare IT positions has increased by 67%. By some estimates, there are now more than 175,000 healthcare IT jobs in the country, with that number growing steadily.

According to SimplyHired.com, the greatest IT hiring demand is for C-level positions, including CIO and CTO positions. Since 2009, CIO positions in the healthcare field have increased 101% and CTO positions have increased 127%. The rapid pace of hiring means that CIOs from other industries are being hired into healthcare. CIOs and CTOs are given the responsibility of being agents of change, using the lessons learned in other industries to bring the healthcare industry up to speed. Healthcare has been a slow follower in IT adoption, but today is being driven by federal regulations requiring it to roll out electronic health records and to implement best practices in care through standardized medicine.


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Five Surprising IT Skills That Hiring Managers Want Now
Network World, August 2

Careers site Dice.com released a list of five up-and-coming IT skills that are catching the attention of hiring managers. The skills were first identified based on employer searches of the Dice resume database. Topping the list of search terms is iRise, which makes a simulation platform that allows companies to test-drive business software. Rounding out the top five were COTS (commercial off-the-shelf software), Crystal SDK, PeopleSoft Security and NetApp.

Being aware of the IT skills hiring managers are looking for can help jobseekers fine-tune their resumes. Jobseekers oftentimes focus on sifting through and applying for posted jobs without realizing it's a two-way street: Potential employers are also on the hunt for candidates, sometimes for jobs that haven't even been posted yet, and they find talent by doing their own resume searches. As a result, it's not enough just to have a good resume and apply for jobs. You also want to make sure your resume has the right keywords so that potential employers are able to find you when they're doing searches.


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Talent Wars: Are Your IT Staffers Being Poached?
CIO.com, August 8

For many companies, the first sign of an IT talent war comes when college graduates are no longer accepting their offers on the spot or when mid-level positions stay open for months at a time. To reduce the chances that students who accept their offers and then change their minds, companies are expanding their out-of-state college recruiting efforts and stepping up communication with interns between the time when they accept an internship and their first scheduled day on the job. With the IT unemployment rate significantly lower than the national unemployment rate, this trend is likely to persist. Currently, 65% of hiring managers surveyed by Dice.com said they expect to hire even more tech professionals in the second half of this year than they did during the first six months of 2011.

Long-term IT workforce planning and job rotations are two of the most effective weapons in the war for IT talent. This is especially true for companies with older workforces, which need to analyze the skills of all IT employees and then pair newer employees with veterans to facilitate knowledge transfer. Other popular tactics include taking steps to identify a company’s top IT talent on a continual basis; meeting with employees monthly and encouraging them to develop relationships with other top employees; and establishing an IT talent council to monitor potential skills gaps. Other companies rotate employees through various departments and roles so they can gain broad first-hand knowledge about the company's lines of business.


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How to Find and Keep a Good Job in IT, Even Today
InfoWorld, August 10

If you have an IT position and want to maintain your relevance to your employer, there are several important steps to take to hold on to that job. Those seeking employment are in the unique position of not only going up against their peers, but also competing with existing employees. This means that neither the "jack of all trades" nor the "master of one" concepts are accurate for IT workers. Instead, you need to be a master of all trades. Landing a job in a hot area - such as virtualization - requires candidates to demonstrate their versatility across different platforms and technologies.

There are several ways to prove your knowledge to an employer. Today, an IT certification might be the one thing that distinguishes you from the next candidate. Taking a certification exam doesn't guarantee you know how to perform each and every task with the product you're certified in, but it does ensure you are up to date on that product's major topics. It certainly gives you a leg up on someone with no experience whatsoever. A certification won't trump actual experience, but it can give an extra boost to a résumé if you're up against people with an otherwise similar background. You might also consider taking online courses to pursue a degree. Even a single class in computer science is a plus in continuing your education and gaining you knowledge you may not have through pure job experience.


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Three Kinds of Mentors
Harvard Business Review, August 12

To attract and retain great people, organizations need to offer effective mentoring programs. Like education, mentorship requires different things at different stages, including different types of skills and advice, and different types of teachers and learning styles. The first step, of course, is just having mentorship as part of a people development strategy that is embraced as part of the ethos of a firm. Mentorship, delivered in an authentic manner, shows that you care about employees’ professional progression. In order to put in place a more systematic and thoughtful mentorship program across any size company, it is helpful to differentiate among three types of mentors: peer mentors, career mentors and life mentors.

Peer mentoring is often the starting point for mentoring, where it is less about mentorship and more about an apprenticeship. During the entry-level, early stages of a career, or when "on-boarding" to a new job, what really benefits someone is a "buddy" or peer-based mentor who can help one get up the learning curve faster. This type of peer mentor is focused on helping with specific skills and basic organizational practices of "this is how it is done here." After the initial period at a workplace, employees need to have someone who is senior to them to serve as a career advisor and internal advocate. A career mentor should help reinforce how the mentee’s job contributions fit into the bigger picture and purpose of the firm. When people feel that they understand their current role, its impact and where it can take them next in a company, it leads to higher levels of satisfaction and motivation.


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U.S. STEM Stats Continue to Alarm
MentorNet News, August 3

Not only is the U.S. facing a shortfall of women entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, the U.S. is now rapidly falling behind other nations in the number of students studying in the STEM fields in both high school and college. At the Office of Naval Research’s STEM Forum in June, Dr. Charles Vest, Chair of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), noted that 3% of women entering college choose engineering majors but less than 12% graduate. Moreover, the U.S. now ranks 28th among nations in the number of students entering the STEM fields in high school and college.

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has published a book, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation, which frames the discussion at the highest level. The book details the challenges the nation currently faces in developing a strong and diverse workforce. Although minorities are the fastest growing segment of the population, they are underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering. Historically, there has been a strong connection between increasing educational attainment in the United States and the growth in and global leadership of the economy.


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From Interests to Values
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 54, No. 8, August 1

Across underrepresented demographic groups, students are not signing up for computer science classes because they are afraid they don't have some innate talent or that CS is simply too difficult to learn. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has tried to reach these groups, to broaden participation in computing by increasing the number of women, people with disabilities, and Latino, Native Americans, and African Americans. To get these groups interested in and then motivated enough to put in the hard work to succeed in computer science, it requires us to start looking at what motivates specific demographic groups. One program, the Glitch Game Testers, is showing promise in this approach by focusing on working with young African-American males to design a CS education program.

Glitch is a game testing work program that started in 2009, comprised of African-American male high school students, with a total of 25 participants over the last two years and little attrition except for those who have graduated. Glitch operates out of a lab in the College of Computing Building at Georgia Tech in partnership with Morehouse College. Testers are paid to work full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year testing pre-release games for companies. A number of measures, including computer science tests and self-assessments, indicate Glitch participants have increased their knowledge about software development and programming. Pre- and post-surveys indicate that Glitch has changed attitudes about studying computing and intent to persist in computing. For example, 22 out of 23 testers last summer reported an increase in their interest in technology. Perhaps the most compelling indication of success is what the students are doing when they leave. Out of the seven students who graduated from high school in 2010, six are attending college—five of them in computing related majors.


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