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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, March 4, 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 5, March 4, 2008




IT Career Paths You Never Dreamed Of
Computerworld, February 19

As IT becomes better integrated with business, organizations are experimenting with new career paths for IT workers. In some cases, it is as simple as creating a new job title to capture better the new functional role played by these tech workers. In other cases, organizations are shifting and re-allocating job responsibilities so that IT job functions are more applicable to the way that organizations offer products and services. Along the way, job titles like “software programmer” are morphing into titles like “software architect” or “solutions engineer.” Companies are also reconsidering how they place their IT professionals within companies and the roles that these IT professionals play within different departments.

As job titles and job functions change, there is an increasing focus on business attributes rather than specific technologies. Wireless technicians, for example, are turning into “mobility support staff,” and tech support is called “high-availability support.” As more workers become technologically savvy and accustomed to having technology play a background role in just about everything they do, organizations have less of a need for computer programmers and help desk analysts. Moreover, IT is no longer a subset specialty. IT is integrated into every work assignment. While the traditional IT department is being disintermediated, this is actually a positive step since it means that IT is being pushed farther up the food chain.


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On Work, Talent Wars and the Power of “Humbition”
Mavericks at Work blog, February 27

In many ways, the current job environment is a seller’s market for human capital. Technology companies are battling fiercely to recruit newly minted IT specialists, recognizing that the key to competitive success in the marketplace begins with top talent. Meanwhile, entrenched market leaders are increasingly placing a premium on creativity and innovation, while a new wave of startups are engaging in a “war for talent” for the young techno-elite. With that as backdrop, the article offers some advice on how hiring organizations can adapt to this environment and the types of individual traits that are most appealing to these hiring organizations.

For CEOs, HR directors, and startup entrepreneurs, the war for talent should not mean an overwhelming focus on hiring superstars at the expense of bringing other valuable contributors on board. The most successful companies are obsessed with finding great people, but they also believe that recruiting stars doesn’t mean succumbing to a me-first star system. They understand that what it means to be great is also about values, character, and having a handle on how to incentivize and motivate their workers. Winning the war for talent doesn’t mean lavishing big stock-option packages on every MBA or Java programmer.


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Web Work in the Era of Free
Web Worker Daily, February 26

Chris Anderson’s latest article in Wired magazine on why “free” is the future of business has sparked debate about the impact of new pricing models on the fee structures of Web professionals. In this “era of free,” how will Web workers respond to the rapidly decreasing marginal cost of Internet services? As the article points out, surviving and thriving as a Web worker requires two simple things: that you identify the areas where you are not easily replaceable by free resources and that you then publicize those areas to possible buyers. As pricing pressure makes its presence felt in new areas, Web workers must be flexible enough to change their strategy accordingly.

First off, if you’re directly trying to sell something that other people are giving away, you need to stop and find something else to do. If you were planning to charge people for online storage or email delivery, give up now. That’s not to say that there are no viable business models there, but you’d be competing with very large players who can undercut your pricing. Second, if you expect people to pay you, you need to be charging for something that they can’t get for free or nearly free. With the spread of Elance, RentACoder, and similar sites, the pool of “nearly free” tasks is growing ever larger.


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They Are Working on Their Own, Just Side by Side
New York Times, February 20

Coworking arrangements are sprouting up in urban areas around the country as young IT professionals look for the best of both worlds: a stable work environment with structure and community, as well as the freedom and mobility of a non-traditional work environment. Over the past two years, coworking arrangements have evolved, and now come in an increasing number of flavors. At their heart, though, they are simply communities of people who have widely different jobs but who want to share ideas in a social environment. The article profiles a number of the more successful coworking spaces and highlights the types of Web-savvy individuals who are naturally drawn to these spaces.

Coworking sites are up and running across the world, although most are in the United States. The coworkers, armed with Wi-Fi laptops and cellphones, are in some ways offering a technological twist on the age-old practice of artists or writers teaming up to rent studio space. Most coworkers say they were drawn to the spaces because they enjoy working independently, but are less effective when working solo at home. Coworking comes in many flavors. Some are live-work lofts that open up during the day to other people. Other coworking spaces have an open-door policy, or rent out desks to nomadic workers. While differences exist, it is easy to point out several traits they share in common. They include collaboration, openness, community, sustainability and accessibility.


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Today’s Leaders are the Global Generation
Management Issues, February 22

In a world where instant, 24/7 global communication is the norm, business leaders are looking for the appropriate tools and education to maximize their global opportunities. Geography and culture, while still important, are no longer the obstacle they once were. According to Boris Porkovich, associate dean of graduate programs at the International University of Monaco, business schools around the world are facing a new challenge: how to maximize the potential of this new global generation of business leaders. The article discusses what it means to become a “global leader” as well as the types of offerings that global business programs must now deliver.

Organizations that hire these global leaders share certain common traits. First of all, they emphasize the search for revolutionary design, products, and business practices. These firms are constantly making imaginative leaps rather than simply responding to events or innovations. Primarily, this is a reflection of the fact that they now face a borderless business environment defined by radically improved technology, virtually zero time to market, and fundamental departures from accepted product design and delivery. These firms also have a well-educated, relevant leadership team that can react and collaborate to realize potential opportunities.


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How to Value the Buyout Offer
Wall Street Journal Online, February 20

With more companies than ever before offering voluntary buyout packages to their workers, how do you know when it makes sense to accept an offer? These buyout packages typically include a mix of early-retirement incentives and severance payments as a way of reining in costs, encouraging highly-paid workers to move on and avoiding lawsuits from displaced workers. While the prospect of a big lump sum is enticing, workers must decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Since that decision is rarely easy, the article offers a few tips of what to consider if you receive such an offer.

The first issue is retirement risk. For people approaching retirement age, the single biggest mistake is accepting a buyout without first developing a comprehensive income and investment plan that realistically accounts for retirement risk. Due to a lack of long-term planning or a disregard of factors such as inflation, these retirees sometimes need to jump back in the work force, doing a job they really don’t want to do. Another key issue is the prospect of income shortfall. If you plan to find another job rather than retire, assess whether there is demand for your skills, how long it might take to find a job and what costs you will incur to find a new job. If the buyout package won't make up for lost wages and costs, you may be better off rejecting the offer.


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Steps to Figuring Out Your Next Career Move
The Brazen Careerist, February 25

Career expert Penelope Trunk offers six tips for figuring out how to make your next career move. As she points out, the process needs to be a logical one: after figuring out what you like to do, you need to figure out which career path will offer the best compensation for the effort that you are willing to expend. As the boundary between work and free time continues to blur, the whole notion of career is taking on a new significance. Career is not just your day job anymore; career is how you spend all your time. In order to arrive at a rewarding career, you need to spend time thoroughly thinking over what it means to you.

The first step in figuring out your next career move is to eliminate stuff. Cross off your list all the stuff that you like to do but that pays well only in extraordinary circumstances. Then eliminate all the stuff that you think would be fun but probably will never pay well. Finally, take a look at what’s left. If you are a risk-taker, entrepreneurship is left. If you are not a risk taker, then something in corporate life is left. If you are passionate about your hobbies and outside interests, you can still pursue them, but not as a full-time job.


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Talent on Demand: Applying Supply Chain Management to People
Knowledge @ Wharton, February 20

According to Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, HR professionals have a lot to learn from how organizations manage their supply chain. As Cappelli illustrates, principles of supply chain management, with its emphasis on just-in-time processes and proper inventory management, can be applied to talent management in order to help companies attract and retain the best talent. The article explains why the supply management perspective represents a fundamentally different paradigm for HR departments, outlines a number of supply chain principles that are relevant to talent management and offers examples of companies that are shifting to this new mindset.

In order to become more responsive and adaptable to talent needs, companies can follow a number of supply chain concepts relevant to talent-on-demand. After all, talent management and supply chain management are essentially the same business of forecasting future demand and then mobilizing the appropriate resources internally to meet that demand. If you think about talent issues in supply chain terms, the conclusions can be jarring. For example, a “deep bench” is generally good from a talent perspective. However, in supply chain terms, a “deep bench” is the equivalent of lots of unsold inventory. Reducing bottlenecks is another supply chain concept relevant to talent-on-demand. Employers tend to hire new graduates at one or two times per year rather than staggering the hiring process over the year to avoid “stacking up” new hires. Cappelli also discusses shortening the forecasting cycle, reorganizing the delivery of development programs to improve responsiveness, and working out "queuing problems."


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A New Workforce is Brewing
Datamation, February 28

As more IT professionals than ever before make their living working on the road as “global nomads” and “road warriors,” a number of best practices are starting to emerge about how best to use technology to get work done virtually. As mobile workers point out in the article, we are close to the point where it's really becoming less important to go into the office. When you have access to different types of technology, like e-mail, instant messaging, and cell phones, you can always get a hold of someone as easily as you could by walking down the hall. After highlighting a number of different workers across the world who have made the change to a mobile lifestyle, the article drills down into best principles.

While the mobile IT professionals interviewed for the article differed in their particular work situations, all of them relied on wireless Internet technology. When it comes to wireless Internet, security is an absolute must for today’s bedouins. With wireless connections, data typically is sent unencrypted through the air between the mobile device and an access point, making it easy for hackers to sniff the data from as far away as the parking lot. With that in mind, the article offers a number of important security tips to make sure that your data is not being hacked. As a final point of protocol, the experts urge fellow road warriors to respect the business whose space you are using. This means not downloading illegal software or otherwise jeopardizing the hospitality of the space.


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New Online Courses Added to ACM's SkillSoft Collection
ACM Bulletin Service, February 28

Education is the foundation of any IT career. With that in mind, the ACM collection of online courses continues to expand. Both ACM Professional and Student memberships now include full and unlimited access to 2,500 online courses from SkillSoft on topics in a wide range of subjects in IT and business. In addition to access to the ACM Online Course Program, members also have access to other online job-related resources.

The SkillSoft collection includes a number of different offerings: Job Aides, Skillbriefs, Mentoring and Exercises. Job Aids are tools and forms that complement and support the content presented in a course. Skillbriefs are condensed summaries of the instructional content of a course topic that can be used as an instant reference. Mentoring is delivered through email, online chats and threaded discussion groups and is available 24/7. Finally, Exercises offer a thorough interactive practice session appropriate to the learning points covered previously in the course and come in various formats.


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