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CareerNews: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Volume 3, Issue 6: Tuesday, May 22, 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.





CIO Roles Expand to Non-IT Departments



Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting



Talent Shortage? How to Win with What You Have



The Software Architect



Attracting the Twentysomething Worker



Where Will All the IT Cowboys Go?



The Key to Managing Stars? Think Team



Unraveling the Myths of Job Sharing



Disruptors Welcome



IT Executive Out of Touch?



Redo Your Workspace for Productive Web Working




"CIO Roles Expand to Non-IT Departments"
SearchCIO.com, May 17

According to a new CIO survey conducted by Harvey Nash USA, more mid-market CIOs are taking on additional responsibilities in their companies, in areas as diverse as finance, facilities management, sales and human resources. In fact, the survey found that 43% of CIOs have responsibilities in departments other than IT. With their broader responsibilities and greater ability to provide context to other departments, CIOs are becoming more valuable to their organizations. As technology becomes even more critical to business strategy and as more IT workers arrive with experience in other areas of the business, this is likely a trend that will continue to gain in significance.

Experts are mixed as to whether the CIO should be engaged in functions that stray far from the area of IT. According to Forrester Research, a CIO distracted with functions like facilities management and payroll may not be devoting the proper amount of time needed to influence change inside the company. In other words, the CIO may not be doing the most possible to guide the appropriate use of technology by the business. On the other hand, some experts argue that the CIO might be able to use the additional responsibility as a way of evangelizing for the greater use of technology within the organization. As a result of greater involvement in the day-to-day business activities across all departments, IT executives now have developed valuable knowledge that can be applied across the organization.

There are several reasons why the CIO is taking on responsibilities outside of IT. First, there is a general trend toward connecting every part of the business to the network. Second, IT is increasingly seen as having more business knowledge of the inner workings of the company. As a result, IT executives are being viewed as an equal partner. The IT organization is often asked to delve into root causes of issues that are not IT-related, but are perhaps process-related or people-related. At the end of the day, the expanding role of the CIO is a good thing, as long as this role fits strategically with the overall goals and responsibilities of the CIO.

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"Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting"
CIO.com, May 9

While many organizations recognize the potential benefits that can result from telecommuting, they are still attempting to work out the specific details of how best to create telecommuting options for their workers. In order for telecommuting arrangements to work, employers need to make their telecommuters feel like they are a part of the team, integrate them more fully into the overall workflow and devise new employee productivity metrics. They must also be willing to spend money on the type of technological tools that support telecommuting. If management is unable or unwilling to do so, they may end up with a workforce characterized by dissension, distrust and confusion. With that in mind, the article provides a list of seven key things that managers should keep in mind as they attempt to deal with the trade-offs involved in telecommuting.

The first and most important point that the CIO should recognize is that telecommuting saves money. Companies have the potential to benefit financially in a number of ways from supporting telecommuters. First, fewer people in the corporate office means companies save money on such expenses as rent, furniture and facilities maintenance. Second, companies open to hiring remote workers benefit from access to a wider pool of applicants, some of whom may be located in a geographic region where salaries are lower. The CIO also needs to recognize that telecommuters can really be more productive than workers in the office. One of the biggest barriers to telecommuting is convincing the boss that working remotely is not the same thing as slacking off. Unfortunately, many managers are sure that someone who is not visible is not working, which creates a negative image around telecommuting.

Executives who experiment with telecommuting options need to realize that telecommuting does not work for every individual. Telecommuters need to be self-starters. They need to find alternate ways to interact with peers, and they must believe that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In addition, managers must be prepared to trust their workers when they sign on to become telecommuters. They also need to hone the new type of management skills needed to deal with telecommuters, such as the ability to keep telecommuters updated with new developments in the office and to make them feel part of the team. At the end of the day, tools and technology make a big difference. The minimal tool set for remote workers includes a good office phone with a voice-mail system, reliable broadband connection, teleconferencing tools, presentation-sharing tools, and an instant-messaging platform.

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"Talent Shortage? How to Win with What You Have"
Management Issues, May 15

The worldwide talent shortage is forcing many employers to rethink their strategies for retaining and developing their workers. By 2010, the shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. could hit the 10 million mark, adding a sense of urgency to their efforts. Smart managers now realize they need to do a better job of retaining and motivating people on staff in order to avoid any negative repercussions from the global talent shortage. The article provides a three-step plan to help managers win with the talent they currently have.

For any manager attempting to cope with a talent shortage, the first step is creating a less rigid and less hierarchical style of talent evaluation. Instead of ranking employees from top to bottom and then systematically removing the under-achievers, a more successful strategy is to recognize the diverse challenges faced by each member of the organization. Getting great performance from your team is about working with individuals. Therefore, you need to look at each individual on staff and ask whether that person is meeting expectations. If the answer is no, then it might be time to change your communication style. Often, managers communicate a lot with their best players, but when it comes to the marginal performers, they communicate less often and in a less meaningful way.

The second step is to take a closer look at your workers to see how many of them are truly committed to the success of the organization. If someone on your team is committed to the organization and still not performing up to your expectations, then you need to talk with the person and learn where his or her commitment is. If allegiance lies elsewhere, you need to figure out the right levers to re-align incentives and expectations. The third step is to develop a new plan based around communication, expectations, motivations, and assistance. By executing on this plan, you will help each person on your team move forward to the level of performance desired.

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"The Software Architect"
Communications of the ACM, May 2007

Matthew McBride, the director of software development for Countrywide Financial Corporation as well as an adjunct professor of computer science at SMU, weighs in with his vision for the future development of the software architect position. The role of the software architect, explains McBride, is currently plagued by a lack of understanding about what exactly the software architect does and how he or she adds value to the software development process. Drawing on his experiences from implementing different types of software development projects, McBride describes the key skills and abilities of the successful software architect.

As a starting point, the software architect must be able to reduce the complexity of both the problem and the potential software solution. As a rule of thumb, every 25% increase in problem complexity results in a corresponding 100% increase in the complexity of the software solution. They must also be able to manage functional requirements and communicate effectively with stakeholders. In addition, the architect must act as a translator during software construction so each stakeholder stays involved and consistently supports the proposed software solution.

The software architect must also embrace leadership opportunities as often as possible. After all, the architect is the author of the solution and is accountable for the success or failure of the effort. For an architect, leadership includes the ability to provide system-level design and technical direction, work with a variety of teams and individuals, and recognize when and how to make decisions that guide the team to a successful solution. Along the way, the software architect needs to pay attention to nonfunctional requirements. Effective software architects also must acquire a set of tricks and tools that are largely experience-based to help them make decisions on a day-to-day basis. Such tools might include patterns and idioms, frameworks and best practices.

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"Attracting the Twentysomething Worker"
Fortune, May 15

The arrival of Generation Y in the workforce is causing a re-think of nearly every facet of office life, including how to dress, how to interact with colleagues, and how to understand the work-life balance. To older workers, the nonchalance and sense of self-entitlement of the average Gen Y worker can be disconcerting, if not downright annoying. As the article points out, members of Generation Y are different in many respects from their predecessors, from their upbringing to their politics to their worldview. Fortune magazine takes an anthropological approach in finding out what makes Generation Y tick, focusing on ways that this generation differs from their Baby Boomer colleagues.

While members of this new generation are ambitious, they are also demanding and ready to question everything. When it comes to loyalty, the companies they work for are usually lower on the list than their families, their friends, their communities, their co-workers and themselves. As the baby boomers begin to retire, businesses are realizing that they may have no choice but to accommodate these Gen Y workers. Approximately 64 million skilled workers will be able to retire by the end of this decade, and companies will need to replace them. Some workforce experts are calling Gen Y the most high-maintenance workforce in history. Yet, at the same time, it might turn out to be the most high-performing workforce in history as well.

Through a number of Gen Y case studies, the Fortune article highlights how these new workers are shaking up the workforce. These Gen Y workers are motivated, but in ways that are almost incomprehensible to the older generation of managers and executives. With their designer coffees, technology gadgets and yoga mats, the members of Generation Y are both opinionated and imbued with a sense of self-entitlement. Instead of working 60 hours a week and working behind a desk wearing a suit, they prefer to dress as casual as possible and work with mobile gadgets or laptops in comfortable, creative spaces. Already, companies are working to accommodate these workers, usually by addressing the work-life balance. They are creating virtual networks of peers, encouraging flexible work schedules and spaces and handing off more responsibility to them at a younger age than ever before.

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"Where Will All the IT Cowboys Go?"
eWeek, May 16

At the annual IT Forum hosted by Forrester Research, participants discussed the various ways that IT and business are becoming more closely integrated. Over the next five years, in fact, business and technology will become so closely integrated that it will change the way IT is managed by an organization. This transformation of the relationship between business and IT stands to have a significant impact on IT departments, especially in the way that the CIO relates to the CEO. As IT matures and stabilizes, it also means that standardized processes will gradually replace the types of IT workers who are typically counted on by an organization to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

From a big picture perspective, CEOs will now be more aware of technology issues because the increased integration between IT and business will demand from them a certain level of technological sophistication. It also means that forward-looking companies will include a person on every board of directors who is able to look after the interests of the CIO. In addition, the CIO will no longer be blamed for every technical failure or be expected to deliver an impossible level of technological innovation. Even so, it is likely that business experts with a strong IT background will become the most valuable players within the organization.

With more standardization of IT processes within the organization, the role of the so-called IT cowboy will diminish in value. This individual will no longer be central to the functioning of the IT department and can be better used elsewhere. While it used to be true that everyone within the IT department had IT-related skills, this may no longer be the case within a few years. IT itself will be pushed to the fringe, and most of the innovation and the invention will occur there. If they do not have great people or writing skills, or are unable to learn new business-related skills, IT workers could find themselves marginalized.

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"The Key to Managing Stars? Think Team"
HBS Working Knowledge, May 14

A new study by two Harvard Business School researchers addresses questions about the performance of star knowledge workers, focusing on the factors influencing performance as well as the best practices for inspiring, nurturing and recruiting these stars. As these researchers explain, past performance can be a useful indicator of future performance. In addition, they found that the quality of colleagues within the organization has a significant impact on the ability of workers to maintain a high level of quality. The study was one of the first that was able to measure the performance of knowledge workers for a large sample across a large number of firms in an industry and as such, contains a number of important implications for managers in any knowledge-intensive industry.

When it comes to star performers, the key ingredient in their success is an organization full of high-quality colleagues. Thus, when considering a career move, it is very important for these top performers to evaluate the level of support they will receive from their colleagues in different parts of the organization. For managers, it is imperative to understand that producing top-quality knowledge work requires collaboration and flows of information among a network of top performers. That means any one decision on hiring and retention can have a real impact on the performance of top employees in an entirely different part of the firm. It also means that it is not enough to have a few star performers scattered throughout the organization.

The Harvard study is an important step forward in understanding the impact of star workers within any knowledge-intensive industry. As the basis of competition shifts to superior knowledge and information, organizations must attract, leverage, and retain the best knowledge workers possible. They must also understand that star knowledge workers are not the same as star athletes, in that their skills are not always portable to the highest bidder. Since star performers rely to a large degree on the quality of the colleagues that their organization provides to sustain top performance, they may not be able to replicate their top performance in any organizational context.

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"Unraveling the Myths of Job Sharing"
Management Issues, May 10

Job sharing is all too often dismissed by managers as being too expensive and difficult to manage, but it does not have to be that way. In fact, managers often invoke the five myths about job sharing as a way of avoiding the issue. Point by point, the article addresses each of these myths, pointing out that these concerns about cost, complexity, and confusion are largely overstated.

For many employers, the first myth is the perceived cost of the job-sharing arrangement. While some employers fear that job sharing arrangements will require them to double the amount of benefits offered, the reality is often quite different. Moreover, the added cost of benefits does not compare to the cost of turnover and retraining. The second myth is that it is more difficult to manage two people. Yet, in organizations where management structures are already flattened, executives lead large teams of widely dispersed individuals. By seeking candidates that are closely matched and pairing their shared values and complementary skills, experience and personality styles, companies can create teams that communicate so well that they act like a single individual.

The third myth is the belief that, if managers offer the option to one person, everyone will want to do it. Managers also worry that granting flexibility to some workers will lead to a deterioration in work quality. However, job sharing is one flexibility program that is easy to implement logistically and provides companies with more than what one single employee can contribute. Companies get built-in backup, more combined hours, refreshed workers, and the collaborative brain power of two employees at the same time. It is also easier than many suppose to find the right types of candidates for job-sharing arrangements.

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"Disruptors Welcome"
Fast Company, May 2007

In order to stimulate innovation and growth within the company, eBay has formed internal teams to interface with highly-talented third-party software developers. It is exactly these independent developers who can provide the types of value-creating innovations for eBay buyers and sellers. As auctions become easier and more profitable for eBay customers, more people will bid, buy, and sell online, leading to increased revenues for the company. The article profiles the emergence of a developer ecosystem at eBay and comments on the role of these third-party developers in spurring growth and innovation within eBay.

The creation of the new developer-facing teams at eBay is part of a broader business strategy, in which independent developers are viewed as an asset rather than a liability. When developers devise clever new applications and grow their business, they also grow the number of transactions at eBay, boosting overall revenue. By turning to third-party developers, the company also is better able to tap into new ideas and technologies that were previously unavailable. That independent developer force has created 4,200 programs, far more than eBay could have built itself. Currently, 40,000 software developers are thinking of ways to make it easier to use eBay, nearly four times the number of actual employees at the company.

The change in mindset at eBay has been dramatic. Instead of charging developers fees, they are now supporting them and integrating them into the eBay ecosystem. In fact, one of the most important initiatives at the company has been fostering the right environment for outside developers to innovate for eBay. The group now produces a Web site, a newsletter, a discussion forum, software tools, and a conference for the third-party crowd. It tries to steer innovation into areas that eBay is most eager to explore, and is experimenting with ways of sharing the financial rewards of these new innovations.

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"IT Executive Out of Touch?"
CIOInsight.com, May 9

Occasionally, even the brightest IT executive can fall out of step with reality. Instead of hiring a team of IT consultants to figure out where things went wrong, it is more effective to keep an eye out for new conceptual models and theoretical frameworks that might be applied to the business. In addition, it is important to review regularly what is working, and what is not. As IT executives ascend the career ladder, there is always the risk that certain viewpoints will become too entrenched as the result of early success and acclaim, leading to IT executives becoming out of touch with reality.

The first clue that an executive might be out of touch with reality is if he or she considers researching a problem to be a waste of time. Successful executives tend to think that their approach to solving problems is the best, even if another option might actually be superior. They also tend to discount the value of critical thinking. They are unable to take constructive criticism and lack the proper respect for varied opinions. When people question them, they are unable to understand why someone might want to do something differently.

Executives out of touch with reality attempt to maintain a positive image at all costs. Accordingly, they are unwilling to experiment with new alternatives, especially those that have not been proposed by those in their close circles. There is also a blind faith in experts and top executives. From their perspective, these experts have worked with the top companies around the world for years and are immune to failure. Finally, there is an aversion to introspection. They believe that the self-examination of feelings, thoughts and motives is a sign of weakness rather than strength.

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"Redo Your Workspace for Productive Web Working"
Web Worker Daily, May 14

With more workers in the information economy using the Web for their daily work, there has been a corresponding rise in interest in finding new ways to become more productive online. While using tools like IM or simply browsing the Web, there are ways that any knowledge worker can take advantage of best practices within the Web worker economy. With that in mind, the article provides a handful of useful tips for rearranging any workspace in order to become more productive. Some of the steps, such as bundling up loose desktop cables, are relatively cheap and easy to do, while others, such as developing a new time management system, may require more careful planning.

There are simple steps any Web worker can take to become more productive. For example, the new generation of laptop stands can help laptop workers take advantage of improved ergonomics at their desk. Second, you can eliminate the tangle of wires at your desk. You can get a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse in order to eliminate some of these wires. A network printer hooked to your router means you can keep your desk clear of both an extra USB cable and the printer itself. You can then organize the remaining wires and cables with devices such as cable turtles, cable ties and cord bundlers that will stick on your wall.

In addition, re-arranging your workflow patterns can lead to a boost in productivity. Arrange your computer displays according to your work activities, by splitting one large display into two smaller displays. One can be used for instant messaging and another for Web browsing or writing. You can also become more organized by moving items like extra pads of paper off the desk. Put your daily must-do list in a special spot and focus on the two or three things that you must accomplish each day. Make sure your ongoing to do list is easily available. In that way, you are ready to add new items to do as they arrive into your life from the Internet, via email, while web browsing, or through communications with coworkers.

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