ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, February 17, 2021

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

Volume 17, Issue 4, February 17, 2021

January Saw More Tech Jobs With a Higher Demand for AI Roles
CIO Dive, February 8

Based on the most recent jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the technology sector appears to be showing signs of gradual recovery. January signaled continued improvement in IT hiring, as U.S. tech sector employers added 19,500 jobs to payrolls. Across industries, companies added 78,000 positions in IT. Nationally, the unemployment rate for IT occupations was just 2.4% in January. In one positive development, U.S. employers began the year seeking more talent in emerging technologies, with job posts in this area rising from 57,500 in December to almost 65,900 in January. In fact, emerging technologies job posts now comprise 28% of all new IT posts. Within that category, 9,715 were positions in AI, which represents roughly 15% of the overall demand in the category.

The shift in how companies operate, including the new work-from-anywhere strategy, has placed higher demand on tech talent, especially in technologies that can act as differentiators. AI applications have the potential to upend heated market competition, enabling new capabilities that ultimately determine winners and losers in a given industry. Augmented reality and virtual reality applications have a role to play in the transition to a hybrid model by enabling remote interaction and making that experience more real life. Also, an increasingly spread-out organization will also generate more data points, requiring a bigger team of data scientists and AI talent to produce quality analytics from this bigger volume of data.

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Top 10 Tech Job Skills Predicted To Grow the Fastest in 2021
Enterprise Irregulars, January 23

According to a new Burning Glass Technologies report, the two tech job skills paying the highest salary premiums in 2021 are IT Automation ($24,969) and AI & Machine Learning ($14,175). The average salary premiums for the most in-demand tech skills range from $4,204 to nearly $25,000. Startups valued at $1 billion or more are 33 percent more likely to prioritize one or several top ten tech job skills in their new hire plans versus their legacy Fortune 100-based competitors. The latest research study from Burning Glass Technologies used artificial intelligence-based technologies to analyze over 17,000 unique skills demanded across their database of over one billion historical job listings. The study aggregates then define disruptive skill clusters as those skill groups projected to grow the fastest, are most undersupplied and provide the highest value.

The research study from Burning Glass is noteworthy because it explains how essential acquiring skills is to translating new technologies into real business value. One key takeaway from their analysis is that IT automation expertise is the most lucrative of all tech job skills to have in 2021. Burning Glass defines IT automation as the skills related to automating and orchestrating digital processes and workflows. Six of the ten job skills profiled in the report are marketable enough to boost salaries more than an extra $10,000 per year. Just below that level, cybersecurity professionals are seeing an average salary uplift of $8,851.

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Are Technologists Still Moving Out of Major Tech Hubs Like Silicon Valley?
Dice Insights, February 10

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, technologists across the nation have been forced to adapt to the realities of remote work. In major tech hubs such as Silicon Valley and New York City, some have debated whether it is worth continuing to live in a high-cost area if they do not have to actually go to an office. The big question, however, is whether they are actually fleeing to smaller, cheaper towns. Blind, which issues regular and anonymous surveys about a number of tech industry issues, recently asked technologists if they had relocated out of a major city since work-from-home began in earnest. Based on that data, it is clear that a significant percentage of employees at some of the biggest companies in tech have decided to migrate to somewhere cheaper or plan to do so at some point.

In 2021, companies have already started strategizing how to get their employees back into the office. Many executives are embracing a hybrid model wherein employees spend two or three days per week at their office desk, then the balance of the week working from home. Others have decided to allow their teams to work remotely on a full-time basis. For those technologists who moved to a new city in the past year, this return-to-office movement could cause some issues. For example, if your company mandates that employees should start coming back, but you are currently living 500 miles away from your former desk, what do you do? You might be able to negotiate to work remotely full-time, but if your boss demands your physical presence in the office at least a few days per week, and you do not want to move back, you might have to make some hard decisions about switching jobs. From a company perspective, there is also the question of retaining talent. What if an ultra-skilled machine-learning researcher moved to the other side of the country during the pandemic, and does not particularly want to return?

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Exploring Diverse Talent to Fill Tech and Cybersecurity Jobs
Information Week, February 11

A growing consensus is that diversity in tech hiring could help bridge the IT talent gap, especially in critical areas such as cybersecurity where the IT skills shortage shows no signs of abating. According to one projection, for example, 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled around the world. The good news is that the need to find tech talent might also be an opportunity to increase diversity and inclusivity in the workforce. The continuing rise in cyber-attacks highlights a need for more diverse perspectives on teams, especially as hackers get more resourceful and imaginative. In order to match that creativity and persistence, cybersecurity teams need to be very creative themselves. It has been shown that teams that are diverse across the board perform so much better and are more creative.

Despite inherent needs for IT talent, hiring in general took a hit during pandemic and this also stymied efforts to close the gender gap in cybersecurity job roles. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations were looking at about five million women more needing to be in the space of IT, ICT (information and communications technology), and cyber between now and the year 2030. However, it now looks like another three million women will be needed in addition to the five million already sought for tech jobs that continue to grow. The good news is that more gender diversity across the company can lead to better solutions that are more reflective of society. Bringing in more diverse tech professionals to add value to organizations calls for looking at diverse candidate pools.

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5 Vital Soft Skills Data Scientists Must Possess in 2021, January 28

In data science, soft skills are often just as important as technical skills. Many data scientists quickly realize that much of their job challenges are not due to what they can or cannot do. Rather, the mentality with which they approach tasks matters a lot. For instance, a data scientist who has mastered communication will present their insights better. Likewise, extrapolating insights from raw data require creativity and critical thinking, both of which are not taught as technical skills but must instead be developed personally. Other soft skills that are necessary for data scientists include business aptitude, problem-solving, and adaptability.

Critical thinking is often regarded as the most essential skill in data science. It makes you well-informed, enhances your judgment, and makes you better equipped to make more effective decisions. As a data scientist, you must be capable of examining the available data from multiple perspectives. To develop critical thinking, data scientists should be willing to question their assumptions and engage different perspectives. Communication is also key since your responsibility as a data scientist includes being able to present your findings in a clear manner to the non-data-scientists who have to make the decisions. Your non-technical audience needs to know how you reached a specific conclusion, the justification for your methods, the implication of your findings, and why you consider one solution better than the other.

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Remote Interview? Here Is How to Know if the Role is Right For You
Silicon Republic, February 10

Whether you are interviewing remotely or face-to-face, it can be hard to judge if an opportunity is really the right one for you. You might wonder if your skillset and future goals align with the role, whether or not it is financially viable, or how it will help you progress further. Of course, all of these things are incredibly important. But, when it comes down to it, your intuition will help you decide whether the opportunity is the right one for you. It is much easier for that instinct to kick in when you’re interviewing face-to-face. However, it is possible to do it remotely if you keep six important factors in mind.

Reading between the lines of job descriptions can really help you build a clearer picture of the opportunity than what you might realize. It is also essential that you review the website of the organization, finding out more about its vision and purpose to see how well they align with your values. Visit social media platforms as well, since many organizations will create videos that will give prospective employees an idea of what it might be like to work there. Other techniques you can use include reading Glassdoor reviews and searching Google News for any recent news coverage. Aside from scrolling through social media channels, it is also a great idea to research current employees on LinkedIn as their activity may give you clues into their company culture. If your recruiter or the hiring manager sends you any company material, such as blogs or reports, ahead of your remote interview, be sure to read them.

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IT Careers 2021: Automation Skills Wanted
The Enterprisers Project, February 12

The most sought-after skill in IT right now is automation, especially the ability to write Python to leverage cloud APIs for automation. This is followed closely by artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) and leveraging AI across an organization’s SD-WAN and Wi-Fi solutions. These skills require an understanding of how AI capabilities can be applied as well as of the key attributes of an effective AI foundation to enable evaluation of emerging and developed AI-driven networking solutions. Beyond technical skills and AI capabilities, the most successful IT professionals should also possess adaptability and creativity skills.

Automation skills are now critical, especially with so many enterprises moving toward a hybrid work model. Professionals with the technical skills to address the IT challenges of a remote workforce and an expected increase in smaller branch or affiliate offices will be much in demand. They will be tasked with optimizing the end-user experience and expediting remote troubleshooting. Automation via APIs and AI assistants will reduce the number of customer support tickets, which ultimately reflects improved customer experience and satisfaction. Adding AI assistants to the IT team will enable team members to work on more strategic business problems and reduce the amount of time customers are spending with their customer support team. IT professionals who view AI as a way to alleviate current challenges will be able to focus on driving innovation as opposed to simply keeping the lights on.

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Remote Work 2.0: When WFH Really Means Work From Anywhere
Computerworld, February 8

Remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a larger trend toward the rise of flexible work, in which many computer science professionals found themselves working at times off-site and after-hours. What flex work and remote work have in common is that they both emerged in the context of a historically new reality: a digital technology-enabled disconnection between work and location, and between work and time. The pandemic work-from-home trend proved once and for all that work does not always need to be done in an office or during office hours. The concept of the digital nomad, first popularized by freelancers and entrepreneurs, will continue to go mainstream. Full-time employees in a wide range of job types will go in large numbers into the countryside and out of the country, thereby reshaping the world of work dramatically.

Companies facing the new world of remote work should not assume that it is just like the old world but with more people doing it. It is a new situation, with more employees and more types of employees living farther away. In the new world of extremely remote work, organizations must deal with vastly more complex HR, including issues related to both hiring and benefits. An employee working full time from home already adds complexity. Hiring in other states and countries sounds great until you consider that you have to comply with the tax, employment, and leave requirements where each employee is based, not just where the company is based. If you have employees in 30 states, you have to comply with the law in those 30 states. International hiring amplifies that complexity.

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Salary Disputes
Communications of the ACM, February 2021

Within academia, one common lament is that the number of domestic CS graduate students continues to shrink. A big reason for that may be the fact that the wage premium for a Ph.D. in CS is simply too small for many to justify foregoing five years of industry-level salary. The current situation can be traced back to government policy discussed back in 1989, when an NSF document addressed the perceived problem of Ph.D. salaries being too high, and suggested as a remedy increasing the pool of international students. This would swell the labor market, holding down wage growth. While this NSF document never became official policy, it helped to shift thinking about wage premiums for advanced graduate students. Nearly 30 years later, domestic students have found that wage suppression, whether intentional or not, has made Ph.D. study an inferior choice from a purely economic perspective.

A key issue for domestic Ph.D. students is pay. The relatively modest salary premium for acquiring a doctorate degree may be too low to attract a number of able potential graduate students. As a result, a number of them will select alternative career paths, including business and law. For these baccalaureates, the effective premium for acquiring a Ph.D. may actually be negative. To be sure, it is not fully clear whether the 1989 document represented official NSF policy. But in any case, the effects predicted did indeed occur in the subsequent years, and we now see university CS departments struggling to find domestic applicants. Whether justified or not, the recent restrictions placed on international students expose a dangerous dependency on obtaining students from abroad.

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Lessons From and For Online Teaching
Blog@CACM, February 9

Given the long-term trend toward online teaching and remote learning, there is a growing need for computer science instructors to understand best practices and then implement best-in-class teaching techniques. One formula that has been shown to work is known as the troika system, which is based on several key ingredients such as class scheduling and the creation of half-day learning slots.

Class scheduling is a key ingredient, and does not have to be devised in the same way for an online course as for traditional onsite delivery. Traditional courses, for example, rely on teaching blocks of one hour here and one hour there. Instead, each online course can be given either one or two entire half-day slots, to be used at the discretion of the instructor and covering both lectures and lab sessions. The resulting flexibility enables the instructor to adapt in a nimble way to the constraints of online instruction. The second major ingredient is the structure chosen for these half-day slots. Each one of them consists of three parts of approximately equal length (about an hour and a half with a break): a pre-recorded lecture, an interactive lecture by the instructor and a lab session. For a software course the lab session is generally devoted, after some quizzes, to designing or implementing an exercise, with instant compilation and execution.

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