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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, June 3, 2008

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

Volume 4, Issue 11, June 3, 2008




Despite Recession Talk, It's Still a Good Time to be in IT
Computerworld, May 23

While the overall U.S. economy is showing signs of underlying weakness, the employment picture for the IT sector remains bright, especially for certain hot IT skills. In fact, the unemployment rate within the engineering and technology sectors is currently under 2%. Moreover, IT wages recently hit an all-time high in 2007 and are showing only modest signs of slowing in 2008. After surveying the employment data for specific job areas, the article takes a closer look at the key characteristics of the current IT employment market.

From an employment perspective, the current period of economic uncertainty is different in several respects from the last tech downturn seven years ago. For instance, the employment outlook is no longer propped up by the same degree of wildly optimistic overspending on IT projects. This time around, customer demand is still strong, project backlogs are still full, and there are no signs that works-in-progress will be abandoned. Experts continue to see opportunities in SAP, project management, security and any customer-facing projects.


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The Best CIOs Are Great Leaders, Not Good Managers
CIO.com, May 21

At the recent CIO Leadership conference, technology executives discussed the most important traits and experiences required for the CIO position. By common consensus, the most successful CIOs are able to make the shift from being a technology manager to being a true business leader. As part of being a true leader, CIOs must be able to identify the type of talent that will support them as they attempt to accomplish their goals. The bottom line: CIOs must be leaders who surround themselves with people who can execute on specific technology goals.

Participants at the conference focused on the characteristics of a successful CIO. Ideally, a successful CIO will be able to identify high-potential staff members and enhance their performance. In doing so, they will spend money on management training and expose staff members to challenging situations while providing needed support. By doing these things, the CIO will increase his or her own success.


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Natural Programmers vs. Career Programmers
Datamation, May 29

A veteran programmer outlines the key differences between natural programmers and career programmers. While both types of programmers possess the same amount of talent and drive, they have vastly different approaches to completing their work. While some programmers are better at researching problems and developing cost-effective solutions, others have a natural instinct for arriving at innovative solutions. Some programmers love what they do, while others are more interested in the bottom line of the business.

Natural programmers are able to make quick associations between very different topics. As a result, they are able to make the jump from code to real life application quickly. Natural programmers realize that there are many ways to do things correctly and several different ways to solve the same problem. While natural programmers understand the need for a system of rules within the workplace, they tend to treat authority with less respect than their career programmer peers. Moreover, they can be difficult to manage since they consider many office conventions (e.g. arriving at 9 am) to be arbitrary.


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Which IT Security Skills Are Most Important?
Network World, May 13

Based on observations from IT executives, there are two types of IT security skills that are required within technology organizations: tactical security skills and strategic risk management skills. While many of these IT executives lament a shortage of IT security talent, the picture is actually a bit more complex. Most organizations are unable to differentiate between the two types of IT security skills, resulting in a mismatch between skills required and abilities available. With that as a backdrop, the article examines the key differences between these two types of IT security skills.

The perceived shortage of individuals with IT security skills is primarily a result of the fact that many companies do not do a good job recognizing different skill sets. However, the two skill sets are rarely found in one person, meaning that someone with a strategic risk mindset is not as inclined to operational security, and vice versa. In general, operational security requires attention to details, a methodical and meticulous work ethic, and the ability to process large amounts of information. In contrast, strategic risk management work requires individuals who can manage risk, think strategically and understand the big picture.


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Jump-Starting a Stalled Job Search
Computerworld, May 19

There are a number of ways of jump-starting a job search, even against the backdrop of an uncertain economic climate. After all, the job market remains strong for the most highly skilled IT professionals and most hiring managers remain upbeat about their plans for 2008. Using one of six approaches outlined in the article, you will be able to significantly increase your chances of landing the position you seek. After reaching out to firms that you have already contacted, try to re-connect with your personal and business networks and then address potential weak points in your candidacy.

The first step in the job search is to re-establish contact with hiring managers at companies where you have already had a positive response. Even though you weren't offered a job, that doesn't mean these businesses aren't interested in hiring you now, especially if you reached the later stages of the interview process. As you broaden your network, keep in mind that one of the best ways to find a job is through people you know, because resumes from referrals often receive more attention from hiring managers. Talk to former co-workers and managers, college alumni, and members of relevant professional organizations.


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Work-Life Balance Becoming a Key Tool for Retention
Workforce Management Online, May 2008

According to a recent survey from Merrill Lynch, 16% of the Baby Boomer workforce is looking for part-time work, and 42% will only take jobs that will allow them time off for leisure. Similar types of findings across all demographics are forcing companies to re-evaluate the flexibility options that they offer employees, especially as the so-called war for talent intensifies. While organizations recognize that inflexible work arrangements are a primary reason top talent leaves an organization, the actual implementation of these flexible work arrangements can be difficult to implement. As a guide, the article provides a review of flexible work arrangements at six different companies.

When it comes to implementing a flexible work arrangement, a number of conditions prompt organizations to reconfigure their work plans. For example, the company could be losing market share, experiencing a deteriorating bottom line or facing a chronic shortage of talent. While there may be many reasons for an organization to embrace more flexible work situations for employees, common arrangements include flex scheduling that accommodates doctor appointments or school visits. Other arrangements include telecommuting one or more days per week; compressing workweeks from five days to four or three days per week; and job sharing.


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To Fix Succession Snags, Retain Women
Business Week (via Harvard Business Online), May 27

A greater emphasis on recruiting and retaining women is one possible way to address the management succession problems that plague many organizations. By implementing a process of nurturing women business leaders, especially during their mid-career phase, organizations can develop new cadres of leaders without being forced to look externally for talent. If only one-quarter of women who leave their organizations in mid-career were to remain in their careers, this would represent a net gain of more than 220,000 talented leaders within the science and technology workforce.

While women represent more than 40% of the high tech workforce, organizations often struggle to retain them during their peak mid-career phase. While all managers with the potential to reach C-level positions tend to go into overdrive in their late 30's and 40's, women are more likely than men to have many other commitments to honor, such as pre-adolescent and teenage children. As a result, women find that they have less time and more distractions than their male peers. As a result, women in their 40's are far less likely to push themselves forward to the next level due to their external obligations.


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America's Growing Managerial Pay Gap
Management Issues, May 20

As the pay gap between managers and employees in the U.S continues to widen, organizations are finding new ways to compensate their top performers. For example, employers on Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list paid an average of 5% less in salaries than their peers, but were able to use a judicious mix of incentives and bonuses to remain competitive. The article compares the pay gap between managers and employers on a global basis, finding that the pay gap within the U.S. is growing considerably faster than elsewhere in the developed world, but not as quickly as in the fastest growing developing nations (i.e. Brazil, Russia, India and China).

According to a recent study by consultancy Hay Group, the highest performing organizations (i.e. members of Fortune’s “Most Admired” list), despite paying lower salaries, rewarded staff more effectively and were better at retaining staff, thereby saving on recruitment costs. The best-performing firms used higher levels of bonuses and incentives, especially for more senior jobs, and in many cases were found to be twice as effective at rewarding top performers. In short, the key differentiator between higher and lesser performing companies is the implementation of successful employee reward strategies.


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Pumping Up the Comp Sci Pipeline
ZD Net, May 28

In partnership with Google and with funding from the National Science Foundation, ACM's Computer Science Teachers Associations (CSTA) is hosting a two-day conference with the goal of improving the relationship between university computer science programs, K-12 educators, and companies in the private sector. The conference will emphasize the types of outreach programs that college students and faculty can hold for primary and secondary schools, as well as other initiatives that can be used to promote computer science careers. By strengthening these relationships on a national level, the CSTA hopes to take the first steps in rebuilding the talent within the computer science pipeline.

The CSTA conference will bring together university computer science educators, computer science students, and K-12 educators in an effort to re-calibrate expectations about careers within computer science. In addition, the event will explain key trends that are impacting the computer science field, such as the opening up of more opportunities within industries such as health care and banking. As information technology becomes an increasingly important part of the economy, the demand for computer science graduates will remain quite high. To help meet this demand, participants will discuss ways of sparking enrollment in computer science programs.


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ACM-W Fosters Initiative to Attract Women, Minorities to Computing
ACM MemberNet, May 29

Tracy Camp, former co-chair of ACM's Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W), is promoting a new project to attract women and other underrepresented groups to computing. This collaborative project, known as the Practices, Aggregation, Infrastructure, and Retrieval Service (PAIRS), is part of an ongoing ACM-W effort to develop a comprehensive digital library of resources that address issues relevant to women in computing.

With funds provided by the National Science Foundation, PAIRS aims to help educators at all levels identify, select, rate, and use resources that have proven effective in increasing the number of women and minority groups in the computing field. An initial collection of 135 resources includes research articles, teaching methods, assignments, and projects for broadening participation in computing. The ACM-W Collection, with 865 articles on women in computing, and the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) Collection are in the Engineering Pathway Digital Library, which is housed at the University of California-Berkeley.


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