ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, April 21, 2020
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 [email protected]
Volume 16, Issue 8, April 21, 2020
While the U.S. and other economies around the world deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the biggest cloud giants, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, are hiring. Amid strict lockdown measures, there has been heightened demand for online classes, video conferencing, gaming, e-commerce shopping and remote project collaboration. As a result, there has been a spike in demand for cloud computing specialists globally, including roles such as software development engineers, solutions architects, support engineers and system engineers.
Cloud computing providers are emerging as among the few corporate winners in the coronavirus pandemic as office and store closures across the U.S. have pushed more activity online. The remote data storage and processing services provided by Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others have become the essential link for many people to remain connected with work, families and friends. Microsoft is not promoting any increased hiring like Amazon Web Services is, but the company is reportedly still seeking Azure talent. In early April, Microsoft had over 7,000 jobs postings listed on LinkedIn, and over 4,000 of the open jobs mention Azure. In addition, Google Cloud is continuing to publicize its cloud computing hiring initiative on its sites.
While data science, data engineering, and data analytics positions at large companies have thus far been spared the full brunt of job losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at tech startups are susceptible to layoffs. According to a recent survey of startups, approximately one-fifth of respondents (22%) have instituted hiring freezes or are preparing for layoffs, but have taken no actions. About 5 percent have instituted substantial salary cuts, hiring freezes, or layoffs, while nearly 16 percent have instituted some measures in response to COVID-19. The good news, at least for now, is that workers in data-oriented positions have been able to transition to work-from-home arrangements without too much difficulty.
Hiring for data jobs has not been directly impacted, but the focus of data teams has shifted and many projects have been frozen as coronavirus upends the global economy. COVID-19 has spurred a shift to analyze things like supply chain disruptions, speech analytics, and filtering out pandemic-related behavior, such as binge shopping. Data teams are being asked to create new simulations for the coming recession, to create scorecards to track pandemic-related behavior, and add COVID-19 control variables to marketing attribution models. While the crisis is in its early days and it is hard to predict where it will head, it appears that analytics organizations thus far have not been heavily impacted. The market for data jobs is coming off an extraordinarily robust year. According to a Dice Tech Jobs report released in February, demand for data engineers was up 50 percent and demand for data scientists was up 32 percent in 2019 compared to the prior year.
With colleges and universities across the county canceling in-person job fairs and closing student housing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the job hunting and hiring process will certainly be different and more challenging for the current crop of computer science and engineering grads. Indeed, some soon-to-be grads have posted about having their offers revoked on social media. Those who have accepted offers from hard-hit industries and companies could be the most vulnerable. To be sure, the hiring landscape has shifted in early 2020, and grads need to adapt their job-hunting strategy and the way they interact with prospective employers to land their first full-time position.
While the job market is currently in a state of flux, many companies have already factored the money for talent into their annual budgets, and they intend on adhering to their current employment agreements. For example, employers seem to be honoring the job offers previously made to spring grads at many universities because employers want to be in a good position when the economy comes roaring back. However, this is a dynamic situation and both students and new grads need to stay informed and read the announcements from companies in case their hiring needs change. If you have accepted an offer from a company, be ready to offer solutions such as working remotely, starting out as a contractor, or postponing your start date until late summer. And whether you are still looking for an offer or have accepted one, it is important to maintain communication with the hiring manager. Not touching base or following up after an interview can make you seem uninterested in the position. The more you can show the hiring manager that you are willing to contribute during this difficult time, the better your chances of getting hired or holding onto an offer.
Top Data Scientists Talk About the Lessons Learned While Searching For a Job
Analytics India Magazine, April 2020
Whether they are newly graduated or looking for a career switch, data science job seekers can take valuable lessons from those already in the field when it comes to breaking into this industry and launching a career. After all, collecting certifications and building knowledge without context will only take you so far. Securing a stable job in data science can be challenging, primarily because job interviews typically follow a rigorous format that could involve presentations and assessments. Moreover, top companies do not always prioritize formal educational qualifications alone when hiring for these positions. Mistakes will certainly be part of the journey for all, so the key will be to learn from those experiences, pivot and try again.
Considering the depth of technical knowledge required for any data-focused role, there is no getting around the level of expertise you will need to have to even pique the interest of recruiters. The primary qualities that organizations look for in data scientists is a proper understanding of statistics and sound logic. If you cannot demonstrate that, you may set yourself up for disappointment. To develop a more nuanced understanding of these concepts, it is imperative that you are motivated by more than the prospect of a high-paying job. Your primary driver should always be a passion for using data to solve practical problems. Concurrently, you should not ignore the fundamentals when looking to amplify your knowledge. As recruiters point out, it is a challenge to find a data scientist who appreciates the working of algorithms, understands the math behind the algorithm, and is well-versed with the fundamentals as well.
How to Ace a Technical Interview: Advice for Software Developers Looking For a New Job
Tech Republic, April 9
For software engineers looking for a new job, obtaining an interview with a new company is just the first step. The next phase of the process is the technical interview, which is a test of your coding skills. The technical interview for a software developer position is designed to measure your ability to do the most important parts of the job: writing clean, usable code, and fixing redundant, buggy code. A good interview is an opportunity for an individual and a company to figure out whether a long-term relationship is worth it for both sides. The interviewer will be attempting to figure whether you will be able to solve the problem at hand, both in terms of skills and initiative, and also whether you are a good fit for their culture.
First and most importantly, interviewees should be prepared to ask questions of the recruiter. One option here is asking about the scope of the hiring process. For example, you could ask the recruiter or hiring manager to describe the context and expectations for the technical interview. In addition, you should try to obtain as many details on the interview format as possible, which could include a remote coding session, a take-home technical assessment, or an on-site or virtual technical interview. It is also a good idea to write your own set of questions for the interview. Recruiters suggest creating a list of questions about the company, its business model, and products or services, and any competitors. Having highly specific, relevant, and intelligent questions demonstrates interest in the position.
How to Onboard Staff Remotely
Silicon Republic, April 14
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies are still hiring, and they need creative ways to onboard new employees who are working remotely. Onboarding new staff remotely is a new challenge for the working world, with many employers unlikely to have been in this position before. For employers who have new staff to onboard and will continue to do so in the coming months, the key is to remain supportive of your new hires and encourage your teams to put in every effort into welcoming them to your organization. If you are having doubts about offers you have already made or extended, try not to worry as this is a sensible reaction to the current climate. It is important to take a long-term view and remember why you needed to hire in the first place.
Once you have made an offer and the candidate accepts, it is crucial you make every effort to support your new hire. In the current climate, they will need to feel a sense of security and support from you. While your candidate is waiting to start, try to get them involved with their new team or with any direct reports. This can be challenging as everyone is working remotely. However, there are things you can do to give them a sense of the team they will be joining, such as entering your new hire into a group chat with their new team. You can also schedule one-to-one video calls with key team members and send email updates on what has been happening in the department or team so they can hit the ground running.
The Vital Role of the Site Reliability Engineer
InfoWorld, April 13
As the world has shifted online in 2020, the reliability of websites, cloud applications, and cloud infrastructure has become a critical business imperative, and that is leading to increased demand for site reliability engineers. Site reliability engineers bring software engineering principles to infrastructure and operations problems, with the primary goal of creating highly scalable and reliable systems. They are in demand for everything from e-commerce operations to global banks to search engines, given that the focus of many organizations has shifted from hardware to software-defined infrastructure and from inconsistent and error-prone manual processes to consistent, reliable, and repeatable automated tasks.
The site reliability engineer (SRE) job title originated at Google, which wanted to redefine the relationship between software developers and operations staff. The goal was to help them work together to build sturdy, flexible systems, with constant improvement and automation as core principles. Chief among SRE responsibilities is establishing service level thresholds, often manifested as service-level objectives, which help inform whether or not a release gets approved. The goal is always 99.999% uptime. An SRE function will typically be measured on a set of key reliability metrics, including system performance, availability, latency, efficiency, monitoring, capacity planning and emergency response.
How to Be a Great Remote Manager
Inc.com, April 15
Those who are new to managing a team from home can follow six key suggestions in order to become a great remote manager. It all starts with documenting the processes involved in the projects of your company, with a special focus on understanding how transitions are made from team to team. Each task must be precisely defined with clear guidelines and checklists, and employees should be encouraged to send along their work with supplemental materials, such as a video of themselves describing why they made certain decisions and what still needs work. The most important part is not always how talented your teams are, but how smooth the handoff is.
One of the biggest advantages of a remote work model is how it empowers employees to start and stop work on their own schedule. With no sunk cost of commuting, employees can unlock new value in their schedules. Savvy managers can use that flexibility as a form of non-monetary compensation. Remote managers need to set ambitious goals and deadlines for their employees, ensuring they make the most of their remaining time, no matter where they may be. Rather than send out a lot of written emails or hold a lot of company-wide meetings, it is possible to send out prerecorded videos of messages and announcements that the staff can watch on their own time. A video is quick to make and can help to convey the emotion and immediacy of face-to-face interactions.
Computational Thinking or Computational Teamwork?
Blog @ CACM, April 13
Equity goals for computer science education should not neglect the importance of excellence in project-based teamwork. Not only would such a focus on computational teamwork make CS more attractive and approachable among a broad diversity of students and their teachers, but also it would better prepare them for CS roles in the business world. This would require a change to the conventional approach, which now starts in the early years with teaching students about Computational Thinking (CT), which is often described learning the thought processes of a computer scientist without necessarily learning how to write code. After all, in the future, all highly paid work will involve teams of people working in partnership with distributed computing processes to create new value.
Computational Teamwork (CT) can be defined as the art of designing processes that enable hybrid teams of people and machines to work together effectively, efficiently, and ethically. This definition focuses on hybridized teamwork across people and machines. To solve problems of tomorrow, future work teams will need a well-established language of how to solve challenging problems with a mix of human and AI agents. To get there, they need skills that allow them to make, monitor, and improve plans for how to engage people and machines together. This really is not what one learns in a pure computer science course. However, it can be learned in school when project-based teamwork in part of the pedagogy and computers are readily available to support learning in teams.
Contingency Plans for CS Students in Large Classes
Blog@CACM, April 5
Whether you call it online learning or emergency remote teaching, it is clear that the current COVID-19 pandemic is forcing educators to re-think and reassess the way they deliver instruction to students. Best practices are still very much in flux right now, but educators are already coming up with contingency plans for CS students in large classes. They want to make it as easy as possible for any student, regardless of learning background or financial resources, to continue with education as normal, while also building in enough flexibility to deal with potential health issues brought on by COVID-19.
Many CS departments across the United States have enormous enrollments this semester. With so many students enrolled, it is inevitable that some of these students are going to get sick before the end of the current term. Even though university students are young, some may be at-risk, or some may be taking care of ill family members. As a result, it is useful to create a contingency plan so that students have options if they became ill. This is especially important when it comes to the grading model. It is best to come up with a plan that, if exercised, would not lead to a failing grade but would result in a better grade if students stuck with the class. Such a grading model would also take into account factors such as how to deal with final projects and final exams, how to grade homework projects, and what type of documentation might be required from the student.
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