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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 5, 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 3, February 5, 2008




Rock Star Coders
Computerworld, January 22

With all the excitement surrounding Web 2.0, a growing number of companies are specifically recruiting “rock star” computer programmers. These companies, including new Web start-ups backed with venture capital money, are casting a wide net for the most talented IT professionals. There are other factors at work, too, that are leading to the creation of a celebrity culture in some corners of the programming world. It is simply easier today to develop a following a certain level of fame, due to the proliferation of blogs, open-source software sites, coder competitions and conferences designed for avid programmers. The increased prominence of developers and coders will likely enhance the perception of the profession to the general public, attract more talent to the field and force companies to re-think their recruitment process for programmers.

According to many within the industry, developers who lead major software projects, such as Linus Torvalds, have always been accorded rock star status. However, there is a difference between those who became popular within the past 18 months and those who gained their celebrity before then. Older-style programming gurus are less flashy in detailing their accomplishments, while the new breed of rock star exults in arrogant retellings of their greatness and readily admits to having a huge ego. Some of what accounts for this change in style is the changing culture of the Internet and the rise of social networking sites. The new generation of programmers grew up in an age in which people are almost expected to create an image online and participate in community-based sites.


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Maybe There Will be a Recession: Here Is What to Do Just in Case
Brazen Careerist, January 21

Career expert Penelope Trunk weighs in with four ways to protect your career against the threat of an economic recession in 2008. IT professionals can start doing some serious thinking about what to do if one occurs. As Penelope Trunk points out in her article, the first step to take is to become an IT specialist. In a sour job market, companies tend to prize specialists over generalists. Other steps include starting to define the high-profile projects and accomplishments that will set you apart from the pack of other job seekers, investigating new educational possibilities (including grad school) and cultivating a mentor from within your current organization or industry.

If you fear a recession, the first thing you can do is to begin to specialize. In a tight job market, employers can hold out for the perfect fit and therefore place a premium on finding the right type of specialist. Typically, you get the most benefits from specializing after you have three to five years of experience in an industry. If you have a few years of experience, and you see layoffs looming, try to get on some focused, short-term projects that will allow you to market yourself as a specialist in something when you have to get your next job. Also, make sure that you have significant achievements on your resume that you can market to others.


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Employers Want New Way to Judge Graduates Beyond Tests, Grades
USA Today, January 23

According to a recent survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, business leaders across the nation are increasingly dissatisfied with the skills and training provided to graduates of colleges and other four-year educational institutions. Most importantly, these business leaders are pushing colleges to find new ways to assess a student's ability to apply college learning to real-world settings. Instead of transcripts and multiple-choice tests, they want faculty assessment of internships, senior projects and community-based work.

Last year, business leaders said 63% of graduates are not prepared for the global economy. As a result, colleges and universities are looking for new ways to demonstrate student success, placing an emphasis on such issues as global knowledge, self-direction and intercultural competence. Of the survey respondents, 57% said half or fewer of today's college graduates have the full set of skills and knowledge necessary to advance in today's workplace. Moreover, 40% said a faculty supervisor's assessment of a student's internship in a real-world setting would be very useful” and 14% said a score showing how an applicant's college compares with others in advancing students' critical-thinking skills would be very useful.


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Failure Isn’t Always a Bad Thing
New York Times, January 22

Most successful entrepreneurs acknowledge that they have learned as much from their failures as their successes. Being able to embrace failure is true as well for anyone attempting to build a successful career. As the article points out, there are three primary reasons why failure actually leads to career success. First of all, failure highlights the need to take chances in your career. Secondly, failure can knock you out of a false sense of complacency and force you to try something new. Finally, failure can force you to rethink your assumptions and improve your problem-solving abilities.

On the surface, it can be difficult to understand why failure is OK. However, if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. Those who take genuine risks know that failure is the norm, success the exception. According to entrepreneurs profiled in magazines such as Fortune Small Business, it is important to be able to live well on a tight budget and develop a high tolerance for risk. Doing so forces you to become more innovative, more creative and more of a risk taker.


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Are H-1B Workers Getting Bilked?
Business Week, January 31

A number of the most active users of the H-1B work visa program have been accused of underpaying or otherwise mistreating their workers in the U.S. In a scenario that is playing itself out far too often, foreign computer programmers come to the U.S., expecting to receive a certain salary, but receive less than half of what their U.S. peers are making. Has there been a systematic underpayment of wages to these workers within the IT industry and what is the impact of this on U.S. employers and IT professionals? The article takes a closer look at a high-profile lawsuit filed in the U.S. courts by an H-1B visa worker and provides additional insights into the issues surrounding H-1B work visas.

By bringing attention to how foreign workers are underpaid in the U.S., the Goel lawsuit also raises questions for U.S. workers. The H-1B program requires companies that bring employees into the U.S. to pay the prevailing wage in that job, so as not to depress the salaries of Americans in similar occupations. Yet, it is not always the case that foreign workers are paid the prevailing wage of their peers. In some cases, even when they work overtime hours, they can not keep up with their American peers. As a result, U.S. firms may not feel an obligation to pay high salaries to their U.S. employees, leading in turn to a downward revision of salary rates.


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The “Work From Home” Generation
Read Write Web, January 24

The proliferation of mobile laptops, the ubiquity of broadband Internet access, and advances in communication software have all helped pave the way for the new “Work from Home” generation. There is no longer a need to be in the office everyday, especially as more companies than ever before are rolling out work from home policies and hundreds of thousands of people are starting to take advantage of them. With that in mind, the article takes a closer look at the pros and cons of working from home, weighing the challenges and benefits of flexible schedules. In general, greater satisfaction about work leads to improved productivity as well as other advantages for both workers and organizations.

For the work at home generation, the first clear advantage is the time saved commuting. If you live in the suburbs and work in the city, it is likely that it takes you 30 minutes or more each day to get to and from work. Commuting takes time and energy, leading to several hours each day that are boring and rarely productive or relaxing. In addition, working from home likely implies flexible hours, giving you the freedom to take off a few times during the day as long as you get things done. The other advantages include cost savings (e.g. the cost of a tank of gas or lunch) and increased productivity. Assuming that your home office environment is conducive to work and you are able to focus, you will get more work done. At home, these distractions are not going to be present. In addition, when working from home you will be focused more on your work instead of office politics.


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Five Ways to Recession-Proof Your Career
Web Worker Daily, January 21

Anne Zelenka weighs in with five relatively easy ways to recession-proof your career. The key is to keep an eye out for current developments in your profession. By doing this, you can understand why other clients and employers would be interested in your talents and abilities and think of new ways to leverage existing connections and talents. By building your online persona, looking for ways to create additional income streams, staying aware of what the market wants, investing in human capital and social capital, you can take a proactive stance to recession-proofing your career.

The first step in preparing for a financial downturn is building an online persona. Share who you are and what you’re about online. Raising your professional profile online is one of the best ways to attract new job and business opportunities your way. Also, look for additional income streams, even if you are a full-time employee, in the recognition that your salary could disappear if there are widespread layoffs. You can find a side job as a freelancer, sell products online, or offer consulting services in your field of expertise. By becoming more active, you expand your online network of friends and associates and lay the foundation for a strong online social network.


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Learning From Gamers
Datamation, January 24

Hardcore gamers have much to teach people in IT and business about how to run an organization. These gamers are often highly skilled workers who have mastered a wide range of very complex tasks with a combination of memorization, intuition and big-picture understanding. As a result, gamers have the right mindset for taking on important responsibilities within the IT profession. As videogames become more complex, nuanced and sophisticated, increasing numbers of people will rely on them for education. Already, tech start-ups in Silicon Valley are re-thinking how they can introduce elements of gaming into their organizations.

Gaming is fundamentally different from academics in that academics is about preparing for non-failure while gaming is about learning from failure. Gamers engage in massive repetition of tasks and enjoy the challenge of mastery, two traits that are not always found in academics. As videogames become more complex, nuanced and sophisticated, increasing numbers of people will start actually learning about history, politics, and other subjects through game play. In Silicon Valley, businesses are starting to learn from video games. The "failing softly" approach to generating new business plans is one of the reasons Silicon Valley is a leading innovation center. Business and IT leaders must learn how to incorporate failure into everyday activities, such that there is no longer a stigma attached to failure.


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Are Gen Y-ers Greedy or Just Different?
CIO Insight (via Reuters), January 31

In the U.K., the youngest members of Generation Y are already starting to impact the way that companies recruit IT workers. While employers respect them for their technology skills, social consciousness and emphasis on achieving a work-life balance, they also recognize that many members of Generation Y come to organizations with a fair amount of baggage, including pushy parents and radically different perceptions of loyalty. Some even characterize these workers as self-centered, greedy and fickle. Going forward, organizations will likely need to re-think how they recruit and retain their young, tech-savvy workers.

Unlike previous generations, members of Generation Y are less focused on salary and more on work-life balance, environment and ethics. With a job for life being something of the past, they are also seen as less loyal to individual employers. Despite the available talent, many employers claim that they had trouble finding suitable candidates willing to take on the full responsibilities of office life. A worrying number of job candidates in the U.K. lack even basic skills. Even with the number of unfilled vacancies at a 10-year high, these employers are considering alternatives, such as workers from overseas. The article wraps up with a look at the key factors at play, including overactive parents who become too involved in the application process.


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Grace Hopper Celebration 2008 Call for Participation
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, January 2008

The eighth Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, presented by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and ACM, is now accepting submissions until March 16. The event, which will take place in October in Denver, Colorado, is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing. Submissions should focus on ways to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. The theme of this year’s event, "We Build a Better World," recognizes the important role women play within the IT profession and the world at large.

Event organizers for the Grace Hopper Celebration have provided a number of recommendations for anyone who wants to participate. The subject should not be something specific to your organization. If you have a panel, it needs to span across organizations, not just a group of people from the same company discussing an internal issue. It is also best to combine academics and industry or inter-disciplinary discussions. Above all, submissions must promote diversity and international participation, extrapolating on the theme of “We Build a Better World.”


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