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CareerNews: Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Volume 3, Issue 16: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

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-request@acm.org.





In Growing Job Market, IT Pros Get More for the Soft Skills





IT Talent Crunch: Myth or Reality?




Why Silicon Valley is Re-Thinking the Cubicle Office




Ten Tips for Networkers




How to Identify Future Workplace Leaders




Managing Your Reputation Online




IT Must Do More to Become a Profession




Energize Your Future




Working With Others




Cyber-Vetting Managers Face Backlash




E-Mentoring for ACM Students through MentorNet




"In Growing Job Market, IT Pros Get More for the Soft Skills"
Information Week, October 20

As two recent research studies illustrate, the continued growth of the IT job market in terms of size and sophistication is putting a premium on technology professionals who can stay abreast of current trends. While U.S. employers continue to focus on IT professionals with hot technology skills, these skills also keep shifting, making the job market increasingly difficult to navigate. The article takes a closer look at the data from two recent reports, focusing on the pay premium for certain skills and the specific job categories that are seeing the most interest from employers.

According to a new report from Foote Partners, employers are now paying higher premiums for non-certified tech skills than for certified skills. While the difference in average pay premium is relatively small, the trend toward higher premiums for non-certified tech skills has been growing as IT job growth has accelerated. Over the past two years, the emphasis at many companies has been shifting toward using IT to help create new products, boost profits and sales, and improve customer service and relationships. As a result, IT jobs now require a hybrid mix of technology skills, along with an understanding of the business and its customers.

Another report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics spotlights the changing composition of IT employment. Over the past year, the number of total jobs has increased by 6%, while tech unemployment remains at a relatively low rate of 2%. The most impressive job growth is coming in the categories of software engineers, computer scientists, systems analysts, and IS managers. Only two categories experienced a decline: programmers and support specialists. The jobs statistics continue trends that have marked the measured recovery of IT employment over the past five years.

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"IT Talent Crunch: Myth or Reality?"
Network World, October 17

With fewer technical graduates entering the market and more veteran IT employees reaching retirement age, many experts have already mentioned a possible talent crunch within the IT industry. How real is this fear, however? On one hand, IT employee turnover rates are still relatively low. On the other hand, IT managers consistently point out that the process of attracting, developing and retaining workers remains challenging. In an attempt to reconcile these seemingly contradictory findings, an information manager at a healthcare company in Hawaii discusses the challenges of finding and keeping IT talent within an organization.

For most IT managers, hiring and retaining top IT talent remains the primary concern. This is especially true at organizations which have experienced key staff departures or difficulty locating qualified replacement staff in a timely manner. For IT managers located far from bustling tech hubs, it may be even more difficult to find the right applicants. Recently, this concern has intensified, given the expanding array of new technologies and computer applications within organizations. With applications specialists being so hard to come by, the deployment of new technologies and computer applications are being delayed, resulting in project cost overruns.

As a result, IT managers need to become more creative in how they recruit and retain new talent. While salary constraints are often cited as a major impediment to finding new talent, creative IT managers are often able to make other provisions internal to their areas of responsibility to keep top talent interested and happy in the organization. For example, they can try to involve workers as much as they can in the project planning phase, so they know and understand the project from the ground up. IT managers can also try to give them as much freedom as possible to perform their jobs, letting them make decisions that are relevant to the project. As a final step, you can point out when they are doing a great job and find other ways to boost their self-esteem.

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"Why Silicon Valley is Re-Thinking the Cubicle Office"
Wall Street Journal Online, October 15

While the cubicle has become a mainstay of Silicon Valley office life, a number of high tech companies are now spearheading the charge for a new type of open office arrangement. Intel, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard are among the companies that are experimenting with new office layouts that will maximize productivity and coordination while, at the same time, provide opportunities for quiet, contemplative work. Plans include tables where several users can deploy their laptop computers, multi-worker desks, and lounge-like settings with armchairs. If all goes according to plan, the new office layouts will address the shortcomings of the traditional cubicle.

Within Silicon Valley, there is a growing recognition that classic, Dilbert-style cubicles have many shortcomings. Cubicles tend to block visibility without blocking much noise from other cubes, giving a false sense of privacy. Moreover, they may not promote close coordination on project work. The best solution might be an open office that promotes collaboration and productivity, while simultaneously giving office workers time to concentrate. In addition, office space must be flexible, as a growing number of workers spend more time traveling, telecommuting or meeting with colleagues. To accommodate a growing number of remote workers, Sun Microsystems now offers drop-in desks and places terminals in offices, cafeterias and other common spaces. At Cisco, experimentation with new office space arrangements has already led to a 37% reduction in space-related costs.

Intel is attempting to integrate the best of these ideas into its workplace plans, while being responsive to the needs of different departments. While cubicles have always been a part of its egalitarian self-image, Intel is experimenting with new open-seating plans as a way of boosting office productivity, sparking worker innovation, and cutting back on noise. In one of its tests, Intel plans to add 32 small conference rooms to a floor for meetings of two to four people and a dozen private audio rooms for private conversations that are not possible in cubicles.

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"Ten Tips for Networkers"
Business Week, October 9

While networking can play an important role in your career growth, too many job seekers adopt an overly aggressive approach to networking that ends up alienating the very people it was supposed to be targeting. Instead of respecting the time and involvement required to build working business relationships, these job seekers think of networking as a competitive sport, in which they acquire business cards and online social networking contacts at a rapid clip. The article provides 10 tips on how to network in a courteous, professional way, and how to deal with those who do not.

Ultimately, successful networking requires you to formulate a strategy for how you will build relationships with people you have never met before. Instead of describing your business in comprehensive detail to everyone you meet, a brief elevator speech should suffice. Also, do not try to sign people up on the spot for a free hour of coaching or a free seminar and do not send unsolicited e-mail newsletters to people that you meet. Keep in mind, too, that it is rude to ask a new acquaintance for an introduction to his or her boss without first establishing the type of relationship that would make that kind of request appropriate. Above all, do not disrespect a favor, no matter how small, and do not recklessly bandy about the name of a contact unless you have really established a close working relationship.

When you outreach to strangers, take the time to build a relationship. Simply reading a blog or listening to a podcast is not enough to build a relationship. If you are really interested in meeting an important professional within your industry, take the time to cultivate the right relationships first. When you call on your network, or even just one member of it, for help, and you get it, say thank you. Finally, learn to take no for an answer. A negative reply should not be taken as an implicit invitation to send regular e-mails or other solicitations in the hopes of a positive reply later.

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"How to Identify Future Workplace Leaders"
Career Journal (via Market Watch), October 18

The traditional approach to finding good workplace leaders was to identify individuals exhibiting certain traits, such as charisma, and then select them for the management fast track. However, experts are increasingly finding that these traits are not a precise indicator of future leadership ability. In fact, there is significant evidence that anyone, given the right training and resources, can become a future workplace leader. For any organization looking to groom the next cohort of workplace leaders, the article provides a number of techniques to help identify potential leaders.

Do not allow first impressions to dictate your opinions about the capabilities of different individuals. By quantifying and measuring performance, you can see how much an employee is producing, which gives you a much clearer picture of abilities. You also need to realize that performance appraisals are rarely an accurate reflection of performance or potential, because they tend to be colored by subjective opinions. Instead of appraisals, consider using performance-based bonuses to judge future potential. You can also focus on identifying innovators and people who are constantly suggesting new and better ways of doing things.

If some employees appear to be under-performing against expectations, you might think about a job rotation experiment. Ask them what else they might be interested in trying and then give them an opportunity to spend time in a different department. Also, you can re-calibrate your notion of what traits are necessary for a good leader. Just because someone is quiet or mild-mannered, does not mean they do not possess leadership potential. They may already be exhibiting it without your knowledge, especially if they are eager to take on increased responsibility and inspire confidence and trust in their co-workers.

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"Managing Your Reputation Online"
CIO.com, October 1

With hiring managers and executive recruiters increasingly making use of search engines and social networking sites to learn more about job candidates, job candidates must take a more proactive role in building and managing their reputations online. Your ability to do so may determine whether or not an executive recruiter calls you in for an interview or whether you receive a final job offer for an open position. As the article explains, there are a number of steps that job seekers can take, such as starting a blog, actively engaging in online discussions related to their profession, and joining social networking sites for professionals.

As a first step in building and maintaining your online identity, you need to understand where it currently stands. You can do this by entering your name into a search engine and analyzing the results. In general, do the search results communicate a positive, negative or neutral image of you? How consistently do those results communicate your personal brand? Once you have performed this basic step, you will be able to determine exactly how much work you have to do. With that in mind, the article outlines the basic strategy a job candidate might follow, such as contributing to a blog or building a more in-depth social networking profile, depending on whether the results are positive, negative or neutral.

Now that you know where you stand on a relative basis, consider your personal brand and how you want to be known both online and offline. Take an inventory of your strengths, particularly those that are unique to you, as well as your personal and professional goals. Having a clear personal brand that you want to communicate will help you determine the most effective mechanisms for promoting yourself online. Given this approach, one of the best tools for improving your online identity is the blog, because it is written in your own unique voice. Other tools include online discussion forums and social networking sites like Facebook.

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"IT Must Do More to Become a Profession"
Computer Weekly, October 19

According to the British Computer Society, the IT industry must take more aggressive steps in order to achieve the common benchmarks of an established, mature profession. As the BCS points out, rapid changes in the global economy mean that the IT industry must work quickly towards the creation of a standards regime and establish an overarching governing framework. In addition, IT professionals should re-think their impact on society, such that becoming an IT professional is about more than just being good at your job and passing exams.

What would it take to make IT a more established profession? According to the British Computer Society, one hallmark of an established profession is when individuals within that profession begin to assume a level of personal responsibility and accountability which is recognized by employers, customers and other professionals. There are a number of organizations and associations that are already playing a major role in creating the IT profession of the future. The BCS, along with industry partners, intends to work even harder to bring it all together in as timely a manner as possible. With the increasing globalization of the world economy, this concern will continue to grow in importance.

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"Energize Your Future"
California Job Journal, September 30

In the current business environment of relentless restructuring and downsizing, job candidates need to assume responsibility for defining their own career paths. They need to target specific career goals, and then determine the exact steps for reaching them. With that as context, the article provides a handful of practical steps for taking a more active role in defining your future career.

One key step to energize your future is to stay well-informed about new developments related to your area of professional expertise. Once your employer begins to think of you as an innovative thinker with new solutions to old problems, you will enhance your perceived value to the organization. Become an agent of change by pioneering the introduction of new ideas and technologies. You can also boost your future prospects by becoming a more visible contributor to your industry. Join your fellow professionals at conferences and within associations and leverage the power of the Internet to forge new online relationships with your colleagues as well as stay abreast of cutting-edge developments in your particular field.

Revamping your resume is another way to jump-start your career. Continuously update your resume so that it incorporates your best work and highlights how you have contributed to the bottom-line success of your organization. Next, determine exactly what you are worth in the marketplace. That way, you will know whether you are adequately paid in your current job, and what you can justify asking for in your next one. Define what it is that makes you indispensable to your organization. Finally, get to know professionals outside your field of expertise. Include a variety of recruiters, consultants, pioneers and entrepreneurs among your ongoing contacts.

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"Working With Others"
Web Worker Daily, October 19

Any independent Web worker is limited in the size and scope of contracts that he or she can undertake. Yet, sometimes a client might approach you with a job that can not be completed by one person in the time allotted. Instead of turning down the work, you can think creatively about how to split the job up most effectively. The article examines a handful of different approaches that will enable you to grow your independent Web business without taking unnecessary risks.

The easiest way to respond to increased staffing needs is simply to hire new full-time staff members. However, you will need to deal with advertising, interviewing new candidates, negotiating salaries and benefits, and navigating a complex set of legal and accounting requirements. However, you can keep control of the overall job with somewhat less paperwork overhead by subcontracting portions of work out. The key difference between employees and contractors is that contractors work without supervision, after being given an overall task to do.

If you are not interested in setting up a hierarchy of staff members, you can always take on a new partner. There are many business structures, including partnerships and limited liability corporations, which allow more than one person to get together to share income, expenses, and work. If the work is completely divisible into smaller tasks, it may make sense to just split it with someone else by tapping your network of contacts. This can be an effective strategy if you have enough contacts that you get work in as much as you send it out, and if you do not have any real interest in launching an expanded company.

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"Cyber-Vetting Managers Face Backlash"
Management Issues, October 18

According to a study by recruitment firm Manpower, approximately 50% of workers would feel betrayed if they discovered an employer had used social networking sites such as Facebook to find out information about them. Moreover, 56% of those surveyed said they would consider such actions unethical. For employers, this presents a complex challenge. While they are embracing social networking sites as the future of recruitment, they must also be careful not to overstep boundaries. With more and more workers and managers using social networks on a daily basis, employers and employees alike must be aware of the blurring of the boundary between work and personal life.

The practice of checking up on workers via social networking sites is more widespread than one might assume. According to a recent poll of 500 employers, nearly two-thirds of them admitted to regularly carrying out Internet searches, including a review of social networking sites. In some cases, employers are even rejecting applicants on the basis of information they find on these sites. In the U.S, a poll last October by recruitment website CareerBuilder.com, nearly 25% of hiring managers had used Internet search engines to find out more about potential employees and approximately 10% had used social networking sites as part of their candidate screening process.

As social networking sites grow in importance for everything from research to generating new business leads, both employers and employees are re-thinking how they use these sites. Generally speaking, the more communication that occurs on these social networking sites, the greater the potential that personal information can be accessed by employers. Professionals are already adjusting their behavior accordingly, with nearly 40% of workers now limiting their personal information online because of concerns that employers would be able to access information about them. In addition, nearly two-thirds said they would not be happy to be interviewed online or by other virtual means, though this might become a more acceptable activity within the next 10 years.

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"E-Mentoring for ACM Students through MentorNet"
ACM Career Benefits, October 2007

In an effort to provide students with relevant information about career prospects in fields related to computer science and engineering, ACM has partnered with MentorNet. Through this partnership, students will be able to establish e-mentoring relationships with professionals in the areas of engineering, science and math. Participation in the program can have significant impact on a future career by providing access to real-world information, encouragement and advice.

According to the terms of the partnership between ACM and MentorNet, professionals in industry and government will mentor engineering and science students (both undergraduate and graduate) at a variety of different educational institutions, including community colleges and universities. Tenured faculty members will also mentor graduate students, post doctoral candidates and untenured faculty pursuing faculty careers. Mentoring relationships last for eight months, with mentors and students communicating entirely by email.

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