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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, July 7, 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 13, July 7, 2009




Enlisting in IT: Free Certifications Help Vets Fight Unemployment
Computerworld, June 22

Military veterans are making the transition into civilian technology careers with the help of free IT certifications. Instead of retiring, these veterans are starting all over again in new fields, using their knowledge of computers and other technical disciplines from the military. Through the Computing Technology Industry Association's CompTIA Educational Foundation, which provides career opportunities for veterans through its Creating Futures program, participants can prepare for and obtain four IT certifications free of charge. For hundreds of veterans each year, these certifications can then become the basis for jobs across a wide range of different industries and fields.

In the best-case scenario, these retired military veterans are obtaining CompTIA certifications within months and then being offered full-time positions within industry. With these certifications, they are able to study online, allowing them to take a self-paced approach that fits in well with their lifestyle. Every year, 300,000 military personnel complete their active duty and attempt to find civilian jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is 11.2% among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan age 18 and older, compared with a rate of 8.8% for non-veterans in the same age group. Soldiers are even re-enlisting specifically because of the poor civilian job market.


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Global Work Experience as a Career Boost
InfoWorld, June 29

Martha Heller, managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG Partners, comments on the role of global work experience as a stepping stone to more senior-level IT positions. Sometimes, the presence of international management experience on the resume can even create a career path to the CIO position. While the decision to move abroad may be an easy one, and it may even be easy to volunteer for an enticing assignment abroad with your organization, life as an expat CIO can be harder than it looks and requires some serious upfront thinking.

Before making the decision to move abroad, understand how your personal needs and expectations match with your skills and experiences. Some IT workers realize at some point that they can not compete for more senior roles if they never leave the U.S., so they begin laying the groundwork for a move abroad. That way, when opportunities arise, they can be clear about their availability. Returning from a trip abroad, they will have a broadened cultural perspective as well as the types of hands-on, global experience that will prepare them for senior management.


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Growing Employer Confidence Visible in IT Sector
Network World (via Computerworld Australia), June 24

Employer confidence in Australia's IT sector has risen for the first time since March 2008. According to the latest Employment Expectations survey from recruitment firm Hudson, 12% of employers in the IT sector plan to increase their permanent employee levels in the next quarter. To a lesser extent, the rise in employer confidence has been felt throughout the country, across nearly every industry, with 6.5% of employers planning to increase employee levels. By way of comparison, less than 1% of employers planned to boost staffing levels in the preceding quarter. Despite the greater optimism by employers, there is also the realization that Australia is still in the midst on an unsettling economic period.

The Australian report on IT jobs also revealed a trend towards holding current staff levels steady. Many employers are using natural attrition and hiring freezes to contain costs, rather than redundancies. If the expected IT skills shortage materializes in certain industries, it may be the time for forward-looking employers to actively look for and engage high-performing employees. Preparing this base of talent will give them a competitive advantage over their rivals.


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Layoffs Allow Small Firms to Attract Big-Company Refugees
Wall Street Journal, June 30

As major corporations lay off employees, small businesses are benefiting from the influx of displaced talent. In some cases, small companies with less than 10 employees are able to snag high-level executives after layoffs, and then experience immediate results in the form of new contracts, customers and connections. At the same time, these small businesses no longer have to train people and expend as many resources on inexperienced hires that may or may not work out. Moreover, potential clients and customers tend to view these companies with new respect and confidence. The article takes a closer look at how and why professionals from larger companies are making the leap to smaller companies, as well as the type of transition they are experiencing.

The less-than-stellar job market is causing some laid-off professionals to look at small businesses through a different lens. They are finding that, at the smaller companies, they are getting closer access to top executives. They are also finding greater stability, as smaller companies tend to outsource jobs less frequently than larger companies. In New York City, there has been an effort to connect some of Wall Street's laid-off professionals with growing start-ups through programs such as Jump Start NYC, a 10-week program.


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IT Works to Dispel Nerdy Image to Students
Toronto Star, June 29

In Canada, the ICT sector is trying to shed its “nerdy” image, in the hopes of luring the tech-savvy millennial generation back to computer science careers. In response to declining enrollment in computer-related programs, the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills conducted a survey of Grade 9 and 10 students across Canada (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax) to find out their opinions on the ICT field. The results, released early June, showed the extent to which ICT must reinvent itself. While roughly three-quarters of students believe the tech industry offers good salaries and job stability, only 39% found ICT careers appealing, and even fewer found them interesting.

The problem, the Canadian researchers found, was that most teenagers really don't know what it means to be involved with the computer science field. As a result, young people are stuck with an outdated vision of the field that is not very alluring. Educators say the key to getting students excited about technology is to bring technologies students use every day, such as cell phones, into the classroom. In some classes, for example, students learn to create games on their phones. These programs, launched after a dramatic drop in demand for computer science, have created a buzz among students, with many graduates going on to computer-related studies and settling on careers in technology. In time, other school systems may adopt similar types of programs as they develop new best practices.


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Now Hiring: Contract Workers
Business Week, June 30

While companies have shown signs of hiring again, it most likely that these new jobs will be temporary contract jobs, often without health care and other benefits. In a recession, contract workers are often the first to go and then the first to be hired back. Since November, employers reacting to the economic meltdown have been shedding temporary workers at an alarming pace. The number of U.S. temporary help services workers dropped by 90,000 in November and fell by more than 70,000 every month until March, when the reductions suddenly began to slow, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This stabilization, according to Business Week, could foreshadow the large-scale rehiring of contract workers throughout the economy.

Economic watchers say that the job cuts starting last fall were too deep. As a result, companies are looking to bring in temporary workers for workloads where they had cut too deeply. They are hiring back temp workers, but often at a lower pay rate. Business Week, working with Seattle's PayScale, came up with a ranking of the highest-paid contract workers. Database administrators—the top-paid category on the list—earned an annualized salary of $80,300 and were paid 22.6% more than their permanent colleagues. Other temporary employees are not so lucky, however, and may wind up as part of a temporary pool of workers that never receive advancement or training.


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Employment Referrals the Right Way
Computerworld, June 30

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, weighs in on employment referrals from the perspective of both the job candidate and the person giving the referral. As he points out, a recommendation from someone within a potential employer can make the crucial difference in landing an important interview. As a result, job seekers are calling on the outermost reaches of their networks to find a way in, deluging fellow IT professionals with referral requests. As Willmer explains, a few simple guidelines can make for a more effective, less stressful referral process and result in the successful match of a qualified professional with the right position.

Before asking for a referral, establish rapport with the contact. Asking for a favor shouldn't be one of your first interactions with a contact. Someone who doesn't know you well is unlikely to provide a compelling referral. As you request referrals, take a personalized approach. Instead of e-mailing everyone in your network, create direct, personalized requests. An individualized approach is more likely to lead to success. Providing a referral shouldn't be hard work. Don't make your contact dig for information about you. Even if your contact knows you well, provide him or her with specific "speaking points" about what you can offer the employer. Brief details about your relevant skills and achievements will allow the person to describe your qualifications to a hiring manager and make a much stronger impression than positive generalizations.


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How I Beat the Remote Working Blues
Web Worker Daily, July 1

Remote working can be great, but it can also create its own unique set of issues, ranging from a lack of contact with colleagues to a feeling that your work is not fully appreciated. For many, remote working actually means remote: the workplace of your employer is hours away, and colleagues aren’t much closer. Sometimes it can seem as if the people who are supposed to be working with you are too busy with what’s going on in the office to actually give you what you need to do your job. With that in mind, the article outlines a few tips and suggestions for shaking off the sense of disconnection that sometimes results from remote work.

Don’t hit the panic button just because you’re feeling the impact of distance and solitude. You’re competent, capable and like everyone else, you suffer the occasional bad day. A bad day can be swiftly cut down to size if you tell someone about it, whether through IM or phone. It may not matter whom you get in touch with, as long as you feel connected. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone’s too busy to be distracted by you, either. Those closest will always have time for you, and if they don’t right now, they’ll call you back as soon as they do.


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Increasing Female Participation: A CS Project Team Experience With a Difference
ACM-W Council Women in Computing News Blog, June 17

According to an ACM-W Ambassador in Turkey, one way to increase female participation in the computer science field is through the creation of international student teams that work together on computing projects. Based on the success of a similar type of international project course in Sweden, computer science professors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology have been working with a team in Turkey to increase female participation in computer science. In this example, the female-led project resulted in three products: a web page to teach children about their rights, a Google tool for following up the events related to child rights and games for children age 10-12 to teach them about their rights.

As part of the project, students worked in teams to analyze, design and develop software solutions for a “Child Rights” project for the International Children's Center (ICC). Students visited with their supervisor two times during the semester for face-to-face meetings. At other times they communicated online using Internet tools like Skype, Facebook and email. The second visit was at the end of the semester to present the final products. In addition to the successful results, the project was noteworthy for its representation of female CS students on the team: six of the eleven participants were female. Going forward, computer science will become more attractive for female students when the impact of computing in a global community is emphasized.


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CS Education in the U.S.: Heading in the Wrong Direction?
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 52 No. 7, July 1

Robert Dewar, professor emeritus of computer science at the Courant Institute of New York University, discusses the current state of computer science education at the undergraduate level. According to Dewar, U.S. universities are not using the most effective methods for teaching students the fundamental principles of software engineering. As a result, graduates are unable to create the type of sophisticated programming demanded by private sector employers. In a controversial essay, Dewar explains why he believes the computer science curriculum has been "dumbed down" at many universities; what he means by a “well-trained” software engineer; and what steps undergraduate institutions should be taking now to restore the luster of computer science education.

Fixing the state of computer science education has some obvious real-world implications. Right now, there is a critical need for the knowledge required to build large complex reliable systems. From aviation to finance, there is a need for sophisticated software that works every time. The problem, says Dewar, is that many CS faculty members take it for granted that all large computer systems are full of bugs and unreliable. Instead, it is perfectly possible to design reliable operating systems that are immune to casual attacks and viruses.


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