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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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 5, Issue 12, June 23, 2009




In Simulation Work, the Demand Is Real
New York Times, June 13

Designers of computer simulations are highly sought-after in many fields to help understand complex, multifaceted phenomena that are too risky or costly to study in real life. Computer simulation designers can solve problems ranging from devising the cheapest, fastest means of delivering products to understanding how various factors affect aircraft or rocket-engine performance. Across industries, from pharmaceuticals to defense, the same tools and same set of skills can be used in new and innovative ways. In fact, more than 400,000 people now make a living in the United States in one aspect or another of simulation.

The simulation profession draws on expertise in a number of areas, including overlapping areas such as engineering, math and computer science. As a result, many types of employers in the private sector, the military and branches of government hire simulation experts. Among the core set of skills required are a facility with technology and an aptitude for conceptualizing the world. Developing a simulation requires enough intelligence to view a problem abstractly, research the issues and tease out the key elements. It also requires the ability to create models of the world, develop useful solutions and then convey these results back to colleagues. An ability to communicate is essential, as is a knack for working with others in teams.


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Government Needs 10,000 IT Security Experts
Datamation (via InternetNews.com), June 8

In early 2009, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the Defense Department would need to more than double the number of its cyber security experts. Across nearly every agency and department of the U.S. government, including energy and defense, IT security is a skill that is very much in demand. By some estimates, the U.S. government will need to find and train 10,000 IT security experts. In order to meet its hiring goals and attract the best and brightest, the U.S. government has been sponsoring a growing number of talent competitions and challenges, such as the Digital Forensics Challenge.

Last year, the Digital Forensics Challenge had 199 participants, 19 of which submitted solutions. This year, 389 teams have already registered, and more teams are expected to register ahead of the November 2 deadline for submitting solutions. Participants hail from 46 states, as well as a number of international locations. The winning team receives a trip to the conference in St. Louis, as well as the opportunity to present their solutions to the group. The SANS Institute and members of CyberWATCH, a group of schools located in Maryland and Virginia, sponsor separate awards for teams.


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Companies Looking to Hire CIO 2.0
TechCareers.com (via Information Week), June 10

After months of economic uncertainty, recruiters say that companies are once again hiring new CIOs. In addition, they are stepping up hiring across the senior IT leadership ranks. Especially at companies that are in troubled industries, CIO searches started picking up in the last 30 days or so, according to executive recruiters on the front lines. This comes as a reversal to early 2009, when there was little interest in hiring senior leadership. That trend is now changing significantly, as the mood surrounding the economy brightens.

Companies are replacing CIOs who are on their way out, voluntarily or involuntarily, as well as starting to fill positions that might have been vacant for a while. A number of CIOs searches are to upgrade or swap out current IT leadership at companies in industries such as retail, financial services, health care and education. In particular, the financial services sector has experienced so much change and turmoil that companies are seeing a lot of senior level turnover. Meanwhile, the health care industry is beefing up IT leadership for massive document management and electronic health record projects. In retail, the goal is to find IT leaders that can help better leverage technology and better manage the web as a channel for consumer spending.


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The Pink Prescription: Facing Tomorrow's Challenges Calls for Right-Brain Thinking
Knowledge @ Wharton, June 10

According to Daniel Pink, author of the bestselling book A Whole New Mind, changes afoot in the global economy are resulting in the need for new approaches to education and training. Educators should be thinking about what type of curriculum to develop for the next generation. In a world where jobs can be sent overseas, tasks can be automated easily and the rapid pace of technology innovation only intensifies, students will have to learn how to think differently than their parents in order to survive and prosper. Rather than relying on linear, logical and analytical thinking, students should be tapping into the right side of the brain, which is accountable for artistry, empathy, inventiveness and big-picture thinking. As Pink makes clear, the three major drivers of change in today's world - Asia, automation and abundance - are all leading to the need for more right-brain thinking.

As jobs that focus on routine tasks migrate to countries like China and India, workers within the manufacturing, service-sector and technology sectors need to focus on the creative and design aspects of their jobs. As Pink points out, many right-brain abilities -- such as design, storytelling, synthesis, empathy and pattern recognition -- are difficult to outsource, so people who are strong in these abilities could find their skills in demand. Even traditionally left-brain oriented professions are now demanding right-brain skills. Companies seeking engineers say they want people with engineering skills who can innovate, communicate, thrive in a multicultural environment and work with a sense of passion.


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Mixed Bag For IT Jobs
Information Week, June 8

According to Foote Partners, recent unemployment figures show a mixed outlook for IT jobs. The good news is that some IT hiring segments are actually showing improvement, despite a rising national unemployment rate and the loss of 345,000 jobs in May. Foote Partners, which based its findings on data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Statistics, reported on IT hiring across sectors and geographies. The data indicates that there is a continuing counter-trending evident in important IT job segments like technical consulting services.

One standout in the jobs data was the technical consulting services segment, which added 2,300 jobs in April and May. In addition, communications equipment jobs experienced a net increase of 200 jobs over the last three months. The recession has had minimal negative impact on demand for IT skills and jobs in the following areas: IT architecture, project management, business process management, security, communications, and several ERP and infrastructure specializations.


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Making an Easy Re-Entry Into the Work Force
Wall Street Journal, June 16

If you've been unemployed for months and have finally found a new job, it is important to get beyond the initial anxiety and excitement and focus on the practical steps needed to re-enter the workforce. After all, starting any new job is hard, and coming back to work after a long layoff can be even harder. You have to re-establish a routine, refresh your skills and rebuild your confidence. With that in mind, the article provides some useful advice on how to make a successful re-entry into the work force.

Ahead of re-entering the workforce, you can strengthen your skills and knowledge by reading industry blogs and trade publications to get current on news and trends. Pay attention to what skills seem most in demand. If your expertise is out of date, look for ways to gain relevant skills. Ask your new boss to describe your duties as specifically as possible to determine where you may need to improve. Always ask your supervisor if there's any research you should be doing, materials that would be helpful, people you should be talking to. Get back into a regular office routine by shifting into a work routine a couple of weeks before your first day.


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Surviving Permanent Whitewater
California Job Journal, June 14

Bestselling author M.J. Ryan, an expert on how to survive workplace change, weighs in on how to deal with constant instability in the workforce. As she explains, adaptation is a necessary skill. People who are master adapters get hired more easily, learn new job skills more quickly, and are less likely to get laid off. In short, how you adapt to ongoing uncertainty and turbulence has an impact on your future career success. All workers should develop the ability to adapt in the face of ever-changing conditions. In fact, in a recent McKinsey survey, 89% of executives surveyed worldwide ranked adaptability as very or extremely important to their business success.

There is one model that seems to work for dealing with change and adapting easily to workplace disruptions. After change happens, accept the change, extend your options, take action, and strengthen adaptability. We do this naturally when a change is small, but it is harder to do so when changes are big, painful or confusing. Being aware of the process can help us avoid getting stuck along the way, suffering needlessly and using up precious time. What differentiates masters of change from others is how quickly they can go through the process. They expect to bounce back and are able to see the opportunities that change presents.


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Career Counseling: Myth or Magic?
Web Worker Daily, June 13

Career counseling is one way to deal with the uncertainty caused by the economic downturn. In the best-case scenario, career counseling can enable you to reevaluate your priorities and focus on the most important next steps in your career path. If you find yourself in a career without ambition or professional goals, you may be able to benefit from career counseling. Often, the sessions are affordable and tax-deductible. With that as backdrop, the article takes a closer look at the myths and reality of career counseling.

One myth of career counseling is that it can be intimidating and place unnecessary pressure to perform, like personal training. However, career counseling does not have to mean an unhealthy obsession with upward movement on the career ladder. The nature and direction of career counseling depends on the relationship you establish with your counselor. At the first meeting, they will ask what you want to get out of counseling, then explain a procedure you’ll use to explore interests and experiences. You will also undertake a range of tasks that make you focus on goals that you would like to reach over the next 12 to 24 months. Finally, you will define what terms like “working life,” “career,” and “profession” mean to you.


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The Siren Song of Startups
Communications of the ACM blog, June 4

When thinking about making your next career move, the idea of working at a startup can be seductive. Not only do you control your own destiny, there is an opportunity to make a great impact and possibly, attain great wealth. As one experienced veteran of the startup scene explains, the reality is somewhat different. When we look out at the startup world, we tend to highlight the successes and ignore the failures. Yet, there is often more pain than glory when it comes to startups, few of which ever get off the ground. If you join a startup, you should make sure to do it for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, the fact is that very few startups make positive returns for their investors, not to mention the founders and employees who are the last in line for any returns. The reality is that most people working at a startup will take a significant cut in pay and benefits, work over their evenings and weekends in a struggle for success, and then find their ownership stake to be worth less than they expected. That being said, the right reason to join a startup is to learn and to gain experience. One moment you will be working on low-level networking issues to keep your systems running, another moment you will be talking to the press. One morning you'll be re-architecting your database backup, that afternoon you will be reviewing legal documents or planning marketing strategy.


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ACM, Infosys Foundation Cite Network Pioneer for Revolutionary Advances in Web Search Techniques
ACM Press Room, April 28

Jon Kleinberg, a professor at Cornell University, is the recipient of the 2008 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences for his achievements related to social network analysis in computer science. In improving Web search techniques, Kleinberg developed models that document how information is organized on the Web, how it spreads through large social networks, and how these networks are structured. The ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, established in August 2007, recognizes personal contributions by young scientists and system developers to a contemporary innovation that exemplifies the greatest recent achievements in the computing field.

Professor Kleinberg’s achievements mark him as a founder and leader of social network analysis in computer science. With his innovative models and algorithms, he has broadened the scope of computer science to extend its influence to the world of the Web and the social connections it enables. Kleinberg was specifically cited for his work on the use of link analysis, a search technique that ranks the absolute number as well as the most relevant, trusted sources of pages linked to a Web search query. Using this approach, Kleinberg authored an influential algorithm that rates Web pages for their links to other pages as well as the links they receive.


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