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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 3, 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 3, February 3, 2009




How to Land Interviews for IT Jobs in a Tough Market
CIO.com (via Computerworld), January 6

Katherine Spencer Lee of Robert Half Technology provides some tips and suggestions for landing IT job interviews during a difficult hiring environment. While the current economic downturn has made it more difficult to line up job interviews, a surprising number of companies are still hiring. The candidates who approach their job search in a persistent, strategic and positive way are the ones most likely to be taking advantage of those opportunities. With that in mind, the article explains how job seekers can expand their search in new directions, get face time with potential hiring managers, and effectively research employers.

There's always a need for skilled IT professionals, even when cutbacks affect core business areas. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don't discount any possibilities since you never when a contact might lead you to a promising opportunity. Word of mouth is at its most valuable during uncertain times. Make a list of people in your network who might be able to provide job leads or move your résumé to the top of the pile. Use online tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn to supplement your in-person efforts, and bring people on the outskirts of your network inside it. Expanding your search can also help. If your area of the country has been hit especially hard, be willing to search for employment elsewhere.


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Rebuilding America’s Job Machine
Business Week, January 29

Large-scale collaborations between the public sector and the private sector could be the key to unlocking economic growth and technology innovation across America. Many state governments are now designing strategies that some say verge on industrial policy. States have been targeting specific businesses and technologies and, alongside companies, investing significant dollars in R&D centers, cutting-edge factories and industrial parks. The article takes a comprehensive look at the collaborations between the federal government, states and technology companies and then assesses the impact of these public-private R&D programs.

The Obama Administration's $900 billion economic stimulus package raises new hopes that states can tap federal funds to support their industrial policies. The stimulus package will include provisions for more federal dollars for R&D, workforce training, and business promotion to be channeled through successful public-private collaborations in the states. The problem, of course, is that public officials can be bad at picking winners, with state intervention sometimes leading to cronyism, market distortions and costly bidding wars. In response, many state officials insist they are becoming more sophisticated about economic development. Rather than woo plants that could relocate to Mexico or China in five years, they are trying to build new industries in fields such as renewable energy, nanomaterials, and biomedical devices that could generate high-paying jobs for decades.


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Majority of U.S. Teens Feel Prepared for Careers in Science and Technology, Yet Many Lack Mentors
Lemelson-MIT Program, January 7

According to this year’s Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an overwhelming majority of American teens are embracing the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with increasingly positive attitudes. However, at the same time, many of these young scientists and engineers lack the necessary encouragement from mentors and role models in these fields. The annual Lemelson-MIT survey, which provides a barometer for perceptions about invention and innovation, also provides insights into the level of overall preparedness to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Overall, teens are optimistic about STEM careers. According to the 2009 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, 85% of teens surveyed expressed interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of those teens expressing interest in STEM careers, most would be motivated to work in related fields out of altruistic versus materialistic motives. Indeed, more than half of teens (56%) selected “protecting the environment” or “improving our society” as their inspiration. Only 18% said they were motivated to pursue STEM careers for the purposes of becoming rich or famous. Finally, 80% of those surveyed feel their schools have prepared them to pursue a future career in these fields.


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Eight Things You Need to Know About Joining a Boutique Consulting Firm
CIO.com (via Computerworld), January 20

Given the layoffs at many large companies, many tech workers will likely consider joining or forming small boutique consulting firms with 50 or fewer employees. Boutiques, particularly those with only a handful of employees, can offer tremendous opportunities for IT professionals, but they also present unique challenges. For example, they may not have established clients, methodologies or administrative processes in place. Moreover, they may not have the resources to train new employees who have limited consulting experience. With that in mind, the article offers insights on how to research the associated challenges and opportunities of joining or creating a boutique consulting firm.

Since successful boutiques typically deliver a small number of very high-quality services, look for ones that adhere to their specialties. Focus on the firms that have expertise within industries that are relevant to your own background and that have clients where you can add value. Most boutiques struggle to build enough market awareness so that potential clients know they exist, so make sure that the firm can identify potential business opportunities and close deals with new clients. Boutique consultants can't force clients to implement their ideas -- they must sell them. Thus, if you dislike the selling process or making cold calls, boutiques may not be the right place for you.


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Lower Demand for MBA and Tech Grads, but Jobs Are Out There
The Seattle Times, January 19

Highly skilled graduates are confronting a new recruiting landscape as they look for jobs within an IT industry that has been upended by uncertainty and job cuts. Despite sluggish hiring at many tech employers, candidates with the right skills are still finding placements, albeit over a longer time period. For tech job positions, the level of selectivity is rising, with many new hires requiring the sign-off of senior-level management. The article focuses on the IT hiring environment in the Seattle metropolitan area, highlighting the approaches that are proving successful for developers and engineers hopeful of landing positions at big-name tech companies such as Microsoft.

Recruiters, professors, career counselors and others say the IT job market for people with computer science degrees and other specialized skills is by no means frozen. While the supply of tech labor is increasing with the recession and layoffs, tech companies had been competing actively to hire the best programmers and engineers, so there's still a backlog. Economic growth may have slowed, but companies are still continuing to hire, only at a slower rate. Companies are also being more particular about whom they'll bring on board. Often, even the top candidates may require approval from above, leading to a slower and more erratic hiring process.


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Sharpening Your Skills: Career & Life Balance
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, January 15

Three Harvard Business School faculty members weigh in on the best ways to achieve and maintain a life-work balance. Recognizing that the achievement of a lifestyle that balances the demands of work and personal life has never been easy, the HBS contributors address four key questions that managers and executives struggle with most frequently. They suggest steps for getting out of a work-life rut, ways to resist the temptations of work success and approaches for doing more with less.

At some point or another, most employees have the feeling of being stuck in life or work. Feeling "stuck," as psychologically painful as it is, is the first step to awareness of new opportunities in career and in life, says Harvard Business School's Timothy Butler. With that in mind, Butler elaborates on six steps for moving to the next step in your career. Another typical concern is how to resist the temptations of success. The basic problem with success is that life can look very good when it really isn't, according to Harvard Business School's Joseph L. Badaracco Jr. As he points out, successful executives can become actors in a role created by the people and society around them, while at the same time being emotionally dormant inside.


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Five Steps to Improve Performance and Save Your Job
Network World, January 6

There are five steps that any IT worker can take to improve performance and increase their job security. Recognizing that employers are asking IT workers to do more with less, these five steps help to lay out the building blocks of a performance management strategy and highlight performance management best practices. Though it may sound counter-intuitive, one of the most important lessons is to actually do less work, but to spend more time on the things that make a big difference. The article also provides guidance on how to assess different types of work tasks related to IT infrastructure and transaction management.

By doing fewer things well, you can focus on making a big difference in the workplace. Compare the work tasks that you currently perform with those of your co-workers. Evaluate all the tasks you do and decide which ones you can drop without hurting daily production needs. More specifically, look at the processes and tools devoted to infrastructure management versus those keeping your application transactions running well. With the deteriorating economy and the push for cheaper ways to operate IT, your company will be tempted to shift infrastructure into the cloud or outsource it. This means you will need more transaction management and less infrastructure management capability.


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When Your Employer is About to Hit Rough Seas
Wall Street Journal, January 27

Rather than being reactive to changes occurring in your workplace, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on possible signs of economic problems before they actually occur. Instead of waiting for your division or company to falter, you can prepare yourself at the first signs of trouble in five ways. Most importantly, trust your gut instincts and don’t delay in putting out feelers to potential employers. At the same time, start getting your resume in order before the layoffs start. Also, pay attention to building out your network and consider the pros and cons of hiring a professional career coach to guide you through a change in function or industry.

According to career experts, it's never too early to start putting out feelers if you think that your position is endangered. If you feel something is amiss or see signs that the company is in serious trouble, start looking for a new job. By searching while you're employed, you'll be more attractive to employers. Also, don't wait until after your company begins mass layoffs to update your résumé. Be ready to hit the ground running and prepared to do your research. Find out what sectors are emerging in your industry and elsewhere. Take advantage of these and develop a transition strategy. Rather than stay in a field that is stagnating or shrinking, consider taking your skills to an area that is experiencing growth.


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How to Turn On Generation Y
Management Issues, January 27

Employers often complain that members of Generation Y don't work hard, lack commitment, are devoid of loyalty, are pampered, indulged and require excessive praise. As the article points out, however, this is a mistaken notion. By understanding the values and benefits that appeal to Millennials, employers can energize these young workers. Corporations that rigidly adhere to traditional ways of attracting and retaining talent will experience not only a shortage but will quickly lose the ability to attract the best and brightest minds. The bottom line is that employers need to understand Generation Y's mindset, even if this results in a very different recruitment, talent planning and succession model.

Members of Generation Y tend to view the traditional boss-subordinate dynamic in a different way. Respect, accountability, responsiveness and integrity all remain key levers. The critical difference is that these values are not only expectations of those in positions of power and authority. Generation Ys have a very different mind set regarding employee engagement, retention and career paths. Generation Y is the only generation who grew up with technology, leading to new ways of communication, new types of collaborative networks, and new ways of learning at work. Generation Ys seek out understanding, expertise and problem resolution through multiple sources, many of them external to their employer. Employers need to understand that Millennials will work hard and will produce timely deliverables, but in a way that balances personal demands.


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Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Offers Networking Opportunities
Tapia 2009 Conference, January 2009

The Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (Tapia 2009), which takes place in Portland, Oregon in early April, provides a supportive networking environment for under-represented groups across computer science, technology and business fields. Rice University professor Richard Tapia views the event as a way to provide minority students with a community of support as they pursue their degrees. Students especially are encouraged to attend and interact with national leaders in computing from business and academia through panels, workshops, competitions and networking sessions.

As in previous years, the Tapia 2009 Conference will feature presentations of papers, workshops, panels, and birds-of-a-feather sessions. In addition, members of the IT community who have excelled across different areas will discuss how they have organized their scientific and non-scientific ideas to find their niche and become successful. Other highlights of the event include a dynamic poster session, focused on students, providing a place to present new, exciting research in a relatively informal, supportive setting and the Doctoral Consortium, a full-day sounding board to guide and encourage students working on their Ph.D.s. Finally, a Robotics Competition will test the skills of student teams in building and programming robots to operate both in virtual and real-world environments.


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