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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, December 1, 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 23, December 1, 2009




The Best Industries for IT Compensation
Computerworld, November 16

While Computerworld's 2009 Salary Survey reported a slight pay increase for some IT professionals, the salary gains were not evenly distributed across all industries and geographies. According to this year's survey results, there are a handful of sectors where compensation improved from last year, including government IT (1.6%) and energy/utilities (1.3%). Meanwhile, some industries where compensation for IT professionals has historically lagged are experiencing a recovery in compensation. The article takes a closer look at the industries where IT compensation is on the upswing, with an emphasis on some of the factors behind the changing balance of supply and demand.

The public sector, health care industry, and energy/utilities sector are all promising areas for IT jobs. Within the public sector, job security, solid pension plans and attractive benefits are a few of the reasons why IT professionals are pursuing government IT opportunities. In addition, federal stimulus money is leading to more IT projects and higher demand for IT professionals at the federal level. The health care industry, which is less affected by economic cycles, is also an appealing destination for IT professionals. Moreover, the Obama Administration recently set aside $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money for deployments of electronic medical records systems and other health care IT initiatives. Within the energy/utilities sector, job seekers enjoy job security and a casual work environment.


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Ten Reasons You're Not Closing the Deal in Your Job Search
Tech Republic Blogs, November 25

Even if you have the credentials, the education and experience, you still may have problems closing the deal after landing a job interview. To help job candidates convert promising leads into real job offers on a consistent basis, Deb Shinder suggests 10 ways to tweak their approach to the job search. As Shinder explains, problems in landing that final offer may stem from taking good, standardized advice about how to conduct a job search and implementing it in the wrong way.

For example, it is important and appropriate to tell the interviewer about your accomplishments in a way that paints you in a positive light. What some job candidates don’t understand is that when you come off as arrogant, when you sound as if you think you’re better than everyone else, when you go overboard in singing your own praises, interviewers don’t see that as positive. It’s always better if you can let others deliver the accolades, even if second-hand. Secondly, don’t expect your network to do all the work for you. In today’s very connected world, the value of personal networking in finding a job has been heavily emphasized. When faced with two candidates with equal qualifications, most hiring authorities will lean toward the one who was referred by a mutual friend or acquaintance. However, before you tap into the network, it’s a good idea to do some upfront due diligence.


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Tech H1-B Staffing vs. Employ America Act
Datamation (via InternetNews.com), November 23

Two U.S. senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Charles Grassley of Iowa, have introduced legislation intended to prohibit major firms that lay off large numbers of American workers from replacing them with cheap foreign labor through temporary guest worker programs. The legislation, known as the Employ America Act, would affect large companies that both rely heavily on non-immigrant visas and have announced layoffs of 50 or more American workers over the past year. This legislation is likely to encounter resistance from proponents of H1-B hiring, especially since companies did not fill the 85,000 available H-1B openings in 2009.

Since August 2008, companies in the high-tech industry, a major employer of H-1B guest workers, have laid off more than 345,000 workers. The proponents of the Employ America legislation argue that, with the unemployment rate still climbing and millions of people looking for work, the U.S. has a responsibility to ensure that companies do not use the temporary guest-worker program to replace American workers with cheaper labor from overseas. Foreign guest worker programs should help to fill employment needs where there is a shortage of American workers, they say, instead of becoming a pretext for hiring cheap labor.


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Keeping Top Talent in a Down Economy
Management Issues, November 19

Now that the economy appears to be in recovery, organizations should be considering ways to retain their top talent and encourage their highest-potential employees to perform at consistently high levels. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has been exploring the wide range of tools and techniques available to employers struggling with both how to motivate and keep the loyalty of workers and managers. In 2009, she partnered with Booz & Company on helping organizations leverage top talent across the divides of culture, gender and generation. Hewlett discusses what it takes to keep top talent happy today and why so many workers are feeling disengaged. Whether it's offering time away from the office or offering new forms of recognition, it's clear that organizations will be experimenting with a wide range of new motivational tools in 2010.

As Hewlett explains, the current economic environment has created a situation where top performers do not always feel valued. Even with the unemployment rate at 10% or higher, organizations can not expect their best people to deliver 110% effort day in day out. Doing so creates a lot of alienation, a lot of disengagement. By some estimates, 50% of the workforce is spending more than half of its time looking for their next job. This flight risk, as well as the productivity losses, happens because bosses are out of touch with how their workers think and feel. The loyalty rate among star performers has now plunged from over 90% to about 53%. At the same time, only about 10-20% of people in any organization are fully engaged.


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Social Recruiting
The Industry Standard, November 13

In a review of how social media and social networking are impacting the recruiting of IT professionals in the startup world, prominent New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson describes some of the tools and practices that his firm has used in recruiting. Wilson considers whether or not to use a retained search firm for portfolio companies; highlights the role of social networks in changing the face of recruiting; and offers some examples of when a robust social media presence has led to hires of senior as well as junior talent. Wilson suggests that social media is about showing up, hanging out, and earning trust. If you want to use social media to find new talent, you have to really participate in these systems.

As Wilson points out, there are some sites and communities that are emerging as the most effective for finding new talent. Based on his experiences hiring for Union Square Ventures as well as its portfolio companies, Wilson considers LinkedIn as one of the most important places to find talent and, by extension, to check out references. To check someone out, all that’s required is inviting them to connect to you on LinkedIn. You can find out who you know in common, creating a basic reference list. Another important place to find talent and figure out who they know is Tracked.com, which aggregates information about people, industries and companies all in one place.


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In Downturn's Wake, Women Hold Half of U.S. Jobs
Career Journal, November 12

Thanks to steep layoffs and soaring unemployment among men during the current economic downturn, more women are returning to the workforce. In many cases, women in dual wage-earning families had not intended on returning to the workforce so soon. For the first time ever, women are about to comprise the majority of U.S. workers. Unemployment for men age 16 and over now stands at 11.4%, the highest in 25 years. On the other hand, joblessness among women is lower, at 8.8%, as employment in female-heavy sectors like education and health care has remained steadier. As of September 2009, women held 49.9% of the nation's jobs, an increase of 1.2% from December 2007.

There is evidence that women's growing representation in the labor force stems not only from men losing their jobs, but also from women who previously didn't work seeking new employment. Since the economic recession began, the number of women age 16 and over in the labor force has expanded by 300,000 to 71.7 million. Meanwhile, the number of men working or seeking work has dropped by 123,000 to 82.28 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This disparity in employment by gender has created an inflection point for re-thinking the workplace and the work-life balance.


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Strategies for Entering and Re-Entering the Job Market
CIO.com, November 11

The current job market can be difficult one to negotiate for IT workers, leading some to turn to non-traditional tactics for landing a new job. Traditional tactics like picking a safe profession, working for a big company or moving to where the jobs are, none of those standard practices of the last 50 years seem to be as effective as they once were. As a result, a better approach might be to go where you want to live and do work that you find to be interesting rather than chasing companies or industries. This is especially true since many of the hot jobs today didn’t even exist five years ago; people in those jobs came to them via an unplanned route.

Given the changing dimensions of the job market, you might as well do something you are genuinely interested in doing rather than something that you do not truly enjoy. Whatever you choose, you’ll have to spend a lot of time doing it and constantly improve your performance and learn new skills if you want to keep up with the pace of change and get ahead. This can be a particularly attractive option, given that career tracks that lead to large, established companies or popular geographic locales do not always work out as planned. Large companies may have unwieldy corporate bureaucracies that spend more energy trying to maintain the status quo than paying attention to evolving customer desires. The best cities or the best regions to get a job often change from year to year.


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Researchers Urge Colleges and Federal Agencies to Coordinate Efforts for Women in Science
The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 10

Women with Ph.D.'s in the sciences will keep "leaking out" of the tenure pipeline if colleges and the federal agencies that award grant money to researchers do not work together to stop the flow, according to a new report from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. The report, which links American economic competitiveness to the ability of educational institutions to keep women in the talent pipeline, was prepared with the help of the Center for American Progress. The report lists a number of recommendations and examples for major research universities and federal granting agencies on how to attract and retain women.

As a way to retain women, the report recommends that universities adopt family benefits, such as paid maternity and parental leave, for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, not just faculty members. Deadlines and time caps related to careers in academia—such as requiring that a Ph.D. student begin a postdoctoral appointment a certain number of years after receiving a doctoral degree—should be removed. Another recommendation is that extra money should be provided to principal investigators when their researchers who are paid with grant money take time off for family-related absences. Currently, principal investigators must use money from their research awards to support such absences.


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Computer Science in the Conceptual Age
Communications of the ACM (Vol. 52 No. 12), December 2009

Michael Zyda, director of the USC GamePipe Laboratory and a professor of engineering practice in the Department of Computer Science at UCLA, discusses the various ways that educators are integrating game-development courses into the standard computer science curriculum. After describing the dawn of a new “conceptual age,” he urges computer science educators to focus on the "big idea or big concept" before presenting classes on how to build the concept and with what technologies. Zyda also offers guidelines to ensure higher success rates in engaging students in CS and provides numerous examples of how university computer science departments are incorporating game design and development to prepare their students for careers within the game industry.

The transition from information age to conceptual age has been overlooked by most academics in computer science, yet many of the consequences of the transition have been apparent for the past decade. For computer science educators, the new conceptual age has created an important role for cognitive and creative assets, including design, storytelling, artistry, empathy, play, and emotion. Zyda discusses what the integration of game development into computer science curricula looks like, how it affects computer science departments, and how it helps drive the overall transition. Much of the rest of the traditional computing industry is shrinking, but the game industry is a segment that continues to grow due to its focus on design backed up by great engineering.


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It is a Pivotal Time for K-12 Computer Science
Communications of the ACM (Vol. 52 No. 12), December 2009

Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, discusses why K-12 computer science education continues to be a national priority. The good news, of course, is that enrollments in undergraduate computer science programs are no longer on a downward slide. While there is momentum for change, creating real, sustainable change within the education field is still a slow process. Next year, plans for a new and more engaging sequence of high school computer science courses as well as an ambitious plan for teacher professional development could result in a real transformation for K-12 computer science education.

Five years ago, ACM founded the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) with the goal of addressing serious concerns in K–12 computer science education, including the lack of curriculum standards and common misunderstandings about computer science. Today, CSTA stands as an example that faith, funding, and a lot of volunteer support from the top to the bottom can achieve solid results. For example, the annual Computer Science & Information Technology symposium is now an annual national conference for K–12 computer science and information technology educators. In addition, careers in computing resources developed by CSTA and the ACM Education Board have now made their way into every school in the U.S.


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