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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, May 5, 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 9, May 5, 2009




U.S. High-Tech Jobs Grew Again In 2008
Tech Careers (via EE Times), April 21

According to the Cyberstates 2009 report released by TechAmerica, overall U.S. high-tech employment increased by 77,000 jobs in 2008, marking the fourth consecutive year of job gains. Net job gains in software services and engineering and tech services offset declines in high-tech manufacturing, particularly within the semiconductor industry. During a weak final quarter of the year, U.S. high-tech employment declined by only 0.6% while total private-sector employment declined by 1.3%. The Cyberstates report, which is based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides 2008 national data on tech employment as well as 2007 national and state-by-state data on high-tech employment, wages, wage differentials and employment concentration.

Software services added 86,200 net jobs in 2008, according to the Cyberstates report, while engineering and tech services added 26,600 net jobs. It marked the fifth straight year of net job increases in these sectors, the two strongest in the U.S. high-tech employment sector. However, six of the nine high-technology manufacturing sectors lost jobs in 2008. The three manufacturing sectors that added jobs were communications equipment, measuring and control instruments, and electromedical equipment. High-tech manufacturing lost a total of 23,100 jobs in 2008, while communications services lost 12,700 jobs. The largest decline by sector in high-tech manufacturing employment between 2007 and 2008 was in semiconductors, which shed 10,900 jobs, a 4.6% drop.


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Engineering Suddenly Hot at Universities
Christian Science Monitor, April 24

Across the U.S., enrollment in engineering programs has risen to levels not seen in three decades. The economic uncertainty created by the recession appears to be one factor, as students and their parents look for dependable careers with steady incomes and relatively high job security. Moreover, some education experts detect a shift in opinion about the profession itself, as issues like global warming and stem-cell research make fields like chemical and bioengineering more relevant. Many students are bringing to engineering a heightened sense of social responsibility and a desire to go out and make a difference in the world.

Nationally, enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs rose 3% in 2007 and 4.5% in 2008, according to the American Association of Engineering Education. Meanwhile, enrollment in masters' degree programs rose 7% in 2007 and 2% in 2008. Despite the fact that more than 400,000 undergraduates were studying engineering at U.S. universities and colleges in Fall 2008, skeptics note that engineering remains a low priority for U.S. students compared to other nations. The U.S. ranks #22 globally in terms of the number of engineers produced on a per capita basis. The profession fell in popularity after the mid-1980s and has been struggling to recover ever since. With the economy in the doldrums, though, the lure of steady, high-paying jobs within engineering will help to accelerate this trend.


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Is Uncle Sam Your Next Boss? Making the Move to Government IT
Computerworld, April 8

As corporate layoffs remake the American business landscape, many IT managers are considering the pros and cons of a government IT job. Moving from corporate America to a government agency may or may not be a good career move, according to a number of IT pros who've worked in both the private and public sectors. On one hand, government jobs are typically safe, stable places with reasonable pay and a good work-life balance. On the other hand, the pay is typically significantly less than in the private sector. Moreover, government IT also requires a patient, persistent and diplomatic temperament that's less in demand in the corporate world.

When you accept a government IT job, your stress level will go down, but so will your pay. IT managers who worked in the private sector for many years say they moved into government because they had grown tired of the long hours and constant travel of the corporate world. In search of a better quality of life, managers with years of experience are sometimes willing to take a pay cut to spend more time with family, reduce their travel obligations, and combine technical skills with a public service mindset. There are major differences in the pace, organizational structure and performance metrics of the government IT sector. Instead of an overwhelming focus on speed, efficiency and profitability, there is a greater emphasis on government process and procedures.


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Building Your Brand
Wall Street Journal, April 27

More IT professionals than ever before are building their personal brands using Web 2.0 tools. The idea of personal branding dates back to 1997, when management guru Tom Peters wrote about "the brand called you." Nearly ten years later, the Internet now makes it possible for everyone to establish a brand with a global reach. Experts such as Dan Schawbel, the author of "Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success," define personal branding as how we market ourselves to other people. Your brand should be strong and memorable enough to set you apart and to make a positive impression on people you don't know.

Personal branding via the Web serves as career protection in uncertain times. It's also a critical tool for reinventing yourself because you can leverage the reputation and skill set you already have to prove you have the ability to do the job you want. For example, one tech veteran turned an early interest in social media into a unique personal brand as a savvy Internet search expert. He parlayed a strong presence on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn into a job as a social media development manager.


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Surviving the IT Job Market: How Soft Skills Give You an Edge
CIO.com (via Computerworld), April 21

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, explains how soft skills like public speaking, negotiation and persuasion are becoming critical to finding the right job. While IT employers have long touted soft skills, today's economic realities have made those abilities more valuable than ever. As a result, IT professionals who understand which soft skills are the most important have a distinct advantage over similarly qualified peers. From an employer’s perspective, these soft skills can help prevent or alleviate situations caused by poor morale or sinking productivity; help build consensus within an organization; and clearly communicate the value of certain projects to stakeholders.

Don't overlook leadership as a key soft skill just because you aren't occupying or seeking a management-level position. Stepping up to assume extra responsibility—such as taking the lead on a challenging project—is another ability that current economic conditions have made valuable. One option for improving your soft skills is to look for classes that can help you develop these abilities. Keeping in touch with members of your network and attending industry events can also keep your interpersonal skills sharp. One of the most powerful ways to develop your soft skills is to teach. Look to local continuing education programs, community colleges and mentor organizations for opportunities to share your knowledge of the IT profession and build your interpersonal abilities.


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Six Networking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Harvard Business Publishing, April 23

Despite understanding that networking can be a valuable skill for managers and leaders, many mid-career professionals have not fully developed their networking skills. As a result, making industry contacts, speaking at conferences and looking for new client relationships can all cause trepidation. Networking – if done correctly - supports and sustains you in the good times, and can be the key to your survival in the bad times. With that in mind, the article summarizes six classic networking mistakes and provides advice on how to avoid them.

We live in a networked age and most of us are connected to more people than we realize. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can become online powerful gateways to contacts, simply through friends and colleagues. You may also have an online presence in the form of a blog or homepage — see who has been corresponding with you lately. If you don't currently have a job, be clear when you introduce yourself that you are in transition and looking for a new role, and that you have certain skills and interests that may be of interest. Before you contact people, consider your agenda and what you can realistically expect from the person. Networking is about selling yourself, but it can be hard to do that without sounding like a salesman. One way to show (rather than tell) people how great you are is to have a few situations, tasks, achievements and results in the form of stories that take no more than five minutes to relate.


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A Student View of How to Recruit Students for Government
Federal Computer Week, April 22

According to a project completed by second-year master’s students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, government needs to be doing a better job of recruiting top IT talent. The report "From Brain Drain to Brain Gain: Fixing U.S. Government College Recruitment” outlines the changing dimensions of how government should be recruiting for technology talent. The report surveys the ways that government agencies reach out to students; the ways that government agencies are using social networking sites; and the steps that government needs to take to relate academic coursework to practical, real-world work.

Government agencies still tend to emphasize career fairs as a way to reach out to students, despite the fact that career fairs are one of students’ least-preferred ways of learning about jobs. Students preferred to get information from social networking sites and from e-mails via groups or which they already are members, so government agencies might want to redirect career fair resources into other activities. Second, companies are more active than government on Facebook and other social networking sites. Most large firms have themselves established Facebook groups for the company while few government agencies have done so. There is an opportunity, then, for government agencies to establish more of a social networking presence and make more of their content sharable via social bookmarking sites like Digg.


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Social Networking: Friend or Foe of a Job Search?
Capitol Communicator, April 15

Especially during a time of economic uncertainty, social networking can be the key to finding a new job. Social networking sites like Facebook are now finding their way into the business life of professionals who previously had little use for these sites. Handled properly, managing real-time relationships across the Web enables people to reconnect with all kinds of people and discover new opportunities. For employers, too, the sites can provide unique insights into potential candidates. With that as backdrop, the article takes a closer look at how Facebook is changing the job search dynamic, both for employers and employees.

Increasingly, hiring managers look at Facebook and Linkedin profiles to evaluate potential candidates. According to a CareerBuilder survey published in late 2008, one in five hiring managers check Facebook and MySpace prior to making a hiring decision. The results of the survey were up 11% since it was last conducted over two years ago, indicating that the practice was becoming more popular. Other studies have suggested that the number could now be as high as 40%.


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Increasing Gender Diversity in the IT Work Force
Communications of the ACM, May 1

In 1983, women made up approximately 43% of the IT work force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey. Twenty-five years later, while the total IT work force had more than doubled, the female percentage had dropped to 26%. While a variety of explanations have been offered to account for declining share of women in IT, the Kansas University Professional Worker Career Experience Study found that personal choice plays the most important explanatory role. Men and women choose their professions based on different factors and different perceptions. This finding, in turn, has important policy implications for what kinds of interventions, both within the private and public sector, will be effective in encouraging more women to enter IT.

The KU Professional Worker Career Experience Study was part of an effort to shed light on how men and women make career choices. The study, which consisted of in-depth focus groups with IT professionals in the greater Kansas City area, enabled researchers to isolate the reasons for gender-based differences in career choice. According to the survey data collected, more than two-thirds of the gender difference between IT professions and the control group can be accounted for by differences in the distribution of general occupational theme scores between men and women. in the absence of systematic gender differences in the distribution of occupational theme scores, the IT work force today would be close to 40% female, rather than the actual figure of 26%.


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Russian, Chinese Universities Claim Top Spots in ACM International Programming Competition
ACM Press Room, April 22

At the 2009 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM ICPC) that recently took place in Stockholm, only two U.S. universities – MIT and Carnegie-Mellon – placed in the Top 12. ACM President Dame Wendy Hall hailed the importance of problem-solving abilities and computational thinking demonstrated throughout the competition from teams around the world. However, the performance of U.S. teams in the competition suggests that the U.S. needs to continue investing in computing programs to remain competitive globally. As the U.S. seeks to strengthen computing education and fill the talent pipeline for future workers, ACM will continue to make efforts to boost computer science enrollment, especially among women and other underrepresented groups.

Of the top 12 winners at the 2009 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest competing for the best computer programmers in the world, four teams were from Russian universities, one was from Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union); one team was from China; and three were teams representing universities in North America, including Canada and the United States. First place went to St. Petersburg University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics (Russia) for the second year in a row, followed by Tsinghua University (China), St. Petersburg State University (Russia), Saratov State University (Russia), the University of Oxford (U.K.), and Zhejiang University (China). MIT finished in seventh place, while Carnegie-Mellon finished #12.


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