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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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 6, Issue 1, January 5, 2010




Landing a Job of the Future Takes a Two-Track Mind
Wall Street Journal, December 28

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' outlook for job growth between 2008 and 2018, there are several bright spots where new jobs and promising career paths are expected to emerge over the next few years. Technology, health care and education will continue to be hot job sectors, leading to new opportunities and new ways to leverage existing skill sets. While computer science and engineering are two degrees that will be in highest demand, job seekers will need to branch out and pick up secondary skills and keep up-to-date with emerging new trends. For example, career experts suggest combining computer science technical knowledge with secondary skills in Web marketing, user experience design, green technology or healthcare informatics.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two million new technology-related jobs will be created by 2018. The jobs that are expected to grow fastest include computer-network administrators, data-communications analysts and Web developers. In addition, data loss prevention, information technology, online security and risk management will also show strong growth. A computer-science degree and a working knowledge of data security are critical to landing these jobs. Common areas of undergraduate study for these fields include computer science, information science and management-information systems. Since these jobs will not be purely technical in nature, recruiters advise current computer-science students to combine their degrees with studies in marketing, accounting or finance.


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Six Hottest Skills For 2010
Network World (via Computerworld), December 29

Even with signs pointing to economic recovery and job growth in 2010, many companies are planning to hire selectively only in key areas. According to Computerworld's 2010 Forecast survey, less than 20% of the IT executives polled said they plan to increase IT head count in the next 12 months, compared with 26% in the previous year. With that in mind, IT professionals who are looking to get back into the workforce should focus on the six types of skills most in demand among companies that expect to hire IT workers in 2010. At the top of this list is programming/application development, followed by skills related to cyber-security and business intelligence.

As new IT projects receive the green light in 2010, programming/application development is the skill set that's most in demand. The wave of new projects is leading to demand for application developers who can double as business analysts and project managers. There will also be strong demand for help desk and technical support positions in 2010. The need for support technicians tends to reflect general business conditions. Increased demand for networking professionals is the result of the growing complexity of networks and the stresses placed on them by virtualization and newly popular approaches to application delivery, such as cloud computing and software as a service. As a result, the network will be a big area of focus in the coming year.


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How to Get Started on Elance, oDesk for IT Contracting
CIO.com, December 11

Since the start of 2009, IT professionals have been increasingly using sites such as Elance and oDesk to line up new part-time and full-time positions. By some estimates, more than 50,000 IT contractors have joined Elance and more than 150,000 technical providers have signed up on oDesk since January 2009. Hiring on these sites is up nearly 40% year-over-year, and both sites now boast more than 60,000 buyers of IT services. The drawback to all the growth in service providers, however, is that it's hard for new IT contractors to stand out among peers. As a guide to IT contracting, the CEOs of those two companies, along with experienced IT contractors using those sites, share 13 best practices for creating a user profile that will result in new job offers from potential buyers.

Sharing your employment history as well as positive feedback from previous clients will make it easier for you to attract new business on Elance and oDesk. Contractors who showcase their professional and educational credentials on their profiles stand out since many profiles lack much in the way of background information. By taking advantage of skill assessments on Elance and oDesk, you can demonstrate your proficiency with anything from PHP to Ruby on Rails. When you're new to Elance or oDesk and you have no feedback from clients to show to prospective buyers, the skills assessments can help demonstrate your capabilities and prove to potential buyers that you have the requisite skills. Starting a virtual portfolio is another way to showcasing work you've done in the past for other employers.


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Four Ways to Get Unstuck in Your Job Search
Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 28

Job seekers who have been job hunting for any length of time will inevitably run into difficult stretches when weeks go by with no job interviews or callbacks from potential employers. As a way to generate new ideas to get "unstuck" in your job search, one suggestion is to try "funnel vision," which is the opposite of tunnel vision. Funnel vision is a way of looking for ideas in disciplines beyond your own, and adapting them to create breakthroughs. By reading comments on career blogs from other job seekers; reviewing what has – and hasn’t worked – in your own career; and learning from the successes of acquaintances or colleagues, you can improve your chances of landing a new position.

Some of the smartest job search ideas come from other job seekers. Often these people share their success stories by posting helpful comments on blogs about career and job-search topics. So, to find and adapt new ideas for your job search, check out the comments posted on popular career blogs. Secondly, review your job history for insights into how to land new assignments. Look back over your career trajectory. How did you find out about every job you've had since you graduated from university? This may give you ideas about new ways to use online resources, including industry magazines, newsletters and trade publications. You can repeat previous successes in your current job search, especially when it comes to cover letters, your resume, and potential responses to job interview questions.


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Wanted: Moon Engineers
Tech Careers, December 29

A new NASA internship program that is based around designing a lunar habitat for future astronauts offers a unique new opportunity for future-oriented engineering students. In early December, the space agency announced that it is seeking engineering students to help create new technologies that will be needed to establish a manned lunar base, as well as advise on ways to mitigate the technological risks of future manned missions. Top candidates will be offered paid internships with NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program. According to NASA, engineering students should complete their final entries by May 15, 2010.

While NASA does not have a current strategic plan to return to the moon any time soon, the Exploration Technology Development Program focuses on near-term technologies that could be used with the proposed Orion crew exploration vehicle. It also seeks to identify future technologies needed for possible lunar exploration missions and ways to mitigate mission risks and costs. Among the technologies being explored are energy storage and power systems, non-toxic propulsion along with environmental control and life support.


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Six Offshore Outsourcing Hot Spots for 2010
CIO.com, December 22

Heading into 2010, industry watchers predict an increase in offshore IT outsourcing activity, with much of this activity concentrated in established hubs such as China, India and the Philippines. However, organizations are increasingly sending work overseas to new destinations around the world to capture greater cost savings. As a result, leading companies will begin developing networks of offshore locations for outsourcing, supplementing contracts with vendors in China and India with new relationships in emerging markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The article profiles the six offshore locations that will lead the way in the outsourcing of IT services in 2010.

In China, the IT outsourcing industry is making strides in overcoming a perceived lack of English language skills and scarcity of managerial talent. In 2010, China is likely to garner attention mostly as a near-shore outsourcing center. Where China can demonstrate its language advantage, it will be the destination of choice for organizations in Japan and other Asian countries. India's dominance as an offshore outsourcing destination will continue. However, the continued rapid growth of the country's IT services providers could lead to spikes in wage inflation and employee attrition. To balance those trends, vendors will continue to move IT work to Indian cities such as Pune and Chennai.


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U.S. Moves to Strengthen H-1B Enforcement
Computerworld, December 21

U.S. immigration officials are planning to strengthen H-1B enforcement with a plan to conduct 25,000 on-site inspections of companies hiring foreign workers during the government's current fiscal year. In comparison, in the most recent fiscal year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials conducted only 5,191 site visits. According to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, the upgraded enforcement plan is a response to federal legislation aimed at increasing H-1B program enforcement. Mayorkas explains that the inspections aim to determine whether the location of employment actually exists and if a beneficiary is employed at the location specified, performing the duties as described, and paid the salary as identified in the petition.

The USCIS moved to boost enforcement of H-1B laws after an internal study released about a year ago disclosed widespread violations of H-1B rules by employers. The study found that one in five visas involved either fraud or technical violations. The increased enforcement comes after filings for H-1B visas started to grow in October, following a lull of several months. Immigration attorneys said the renewed H-1B demand may be a sign that the economy is improving as companies seek to hire foreign IT professionals. Around September, applications for H-1B visas had reached a plateau at about 45,000 petitions. But demand rebounded in October, and the USCIS reported that fiscal 2010 visa petitions had reached 61,100 by the first week of December.


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With Fewer U.S. Opportunities, Home Looks Appealing to Expats
Career Journal, December 14

With U.S. unemployment at 10%, foreign-born professionals who came to the United States in search of better job opportunities and prosperity are now returning overseas. Foreign-based companies, particularly in Asia, are using slowing U.S. economic growth as a means to lure former residents home. Frustrations about the lack of career advancement in the U.S., where salary and promotion freezes have become the norm, are playing a significant role. A recent survey found that 23% of U.S.-based expats are considering returning home, compared with 15% elsewhere in the world. Based on examples of foreign nationals in the U.S. returning back home, the article takes a closer look at why these workers perceive better opportunities in other parts of the world.

Often, foreign nationals with H-1B visas are choosing to return back home because organizations do not value them as highly as they once did. Faced with declining career prospects and lower salary increases, foreign workers with H-1B work visas find themselves with no options other than returning home. At the same time, many foreign countries have made significant economic strides in the past decade, making them more appealing to expats living in the U.S. When people arrived in America a decade ago from India and China, they left behind opportunities that aren't nearly what they are today. By some estimates, more than 100,000 expats will return to India in the next five years. Recruiters say in most cases, salaries will be equivalent to or better than what the employees were making in the U.S., although adjusted for the living costs in the new country.


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Computer Games and Traditional Computer Science Courses
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 52 No. 12, December 2009

Kelvin Sung, a professor in the department of Computing and Software Systems at the University of Washington, comments on the growing number of ways that elements of computer gaming are being added to traditional computer science curricula. As Sung explains, the push for providing a real-world context for computing education has led to a diverse number of ways to integrate computer gaming into traditional CS programming and elective classes. Sung examines the ongoing efforts to integrate computer video games in existing traditional CS courses, while providing a framework for educators to understand best practices for developing new curricula around computer gaming.

There are many types of interactive graphical computer games that are suitable for teaching CS subjects. These computer games are interesting and innovative teaching materials, in addition to being entertaining and relevant for students. In general, there are three general ways to integrate games with CS classes: game development classes; game programming classes and game development clients. This third category consists of existing CS classes that creatively integrate games into their existing curriculum so that students understand abstract CS concepts, and not so much the finer details of game development. Courses in the first two categories are new courses designed to teach students about game development. Over time, as the game development field matures, it is expected that these courses will evolve and eventually some of the contents will become part of the standard CS curriculum.


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How to Get a Glowing Recommendation Letter
ACM Queue, December 27

By understanding the key attributes and traits favored by CS programs at leading U.S. universities, you can maximize your chances of landing a glowing recommendation for graduate or postgraduate study. In short, obtaining a good recommendation letter is a lot easier if you've planned for it well in advance. Consider the typical set of questions asked by a top U.S. university and then think about the way that your recommender might answer those questions. If the response is unlikely to be “superior” or “outstanding” for traits such as “overall potential for graduate study,” you should consider a number of ways to let your recommender know about your unique talents, such as taking on a new independent project or creating a short-term internship.

As a first step, familiarize yourself with the typical sets of questions asked by top US universities. These questions ask recommenders to evaluate the applicant in comparison with others they have known during their professional career within certain categories, such as intelligence; maturity; oral communication and overall potential for graduate study. If your professor knows you only as a member of a large class cohort, he or she is unlikely to be able to offer a sincere opinion on any of the above attributes. Therefore, in order to get a stellar recommendation letter, you need to ensure that your professor knows you well enough to be able to answer all the questions, preferably by ticking superior or outstanding on the corresponding selection boxes.


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