ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, June 8, 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 [email protected]
Volume 17, Issue 11, June 8, 2021
Jobs in AI and data science are booming, and the trend is showing no sign of abating. A new research report on the current state of the AI labor market in the UK found that close to 110,500 job opening were posted in the past year for roles related to AI and data science. That is more than double the number of vacancies registered in 2014, and a 16 percent increase from 2019, marking the highest year to date for AI jobs posted on the market. Every month for the past three years, between 8,000 and 10,000 roles were posted online, ranging from data analysts and software developers to research and development, as well as university positions such as lecturers and professors in AI and data science. Moreover, two-thirds of firms expect the demand for AI skills in their organization to increase in the next 12 months.
Of course, candidates for AI and data science roles should have certain technical skills on their CVs to win over future employers. Businesses are in search of applicants who understand AI concepts and algorithms, know programming skills and languages, and are familiar with software and systems engineering. Employers also emphasize the importance of deep learning in specialist roles, and of the need for candidates to know how to go beyond low-level AI. The solution for recent graduates lies in creating dedicated courses that will train students to meet the need for deep technical expertise from an early stage. Universities offered over 700 undergraduate courses in AI, robotics or data science last year, compared to only 122 in 2019. This will act to produce qualified staff, but, of course, there will be a three-to-four-year lag before any immediate impact will be seen. In the short term, many companies are banking on current or prospective employees training themselves while in employment, to ensure they are up to date with the skills that are required of them.
In the rush to learn as many platforms and programming languages as possible, some technologists neglect their soft skills, which are equally valuable when it comes to landing a new job offer. Soft skills include teamwork, empathy and communication. Without soft skills, your chances of ascending the career ladder diminish, since so many technology jobs hinge on your ability to not only communicate important information to stakeholders in an efficient way, but also secure their buy-in for your ideas and projects. By mastering core soft skills, you can demonstrate you have everything it takes to become a team leader, project manager, or any other management-focused role. Soft skills are also key for IT freelancers, because you need to build solid, effective relationships with clients.
Even if they have no intention of working within a formal company hierarchy, job candidates should be prepared to showcase their collaboration and communication skills in interviews. Based on job postings on sites such as Burning Glass, there are key soft skills that employers most desire at the moment. Employers are most interested in communication and teamwork skills, along with problem-solving, writing and research skills. Employers also call out building relationships as a desirable skill, since new employees must quickly build the internal networks that allow them to get their jobs done. These are soft skills that you can showcase on your cover letter and resume.
The World Economic Forum recently compiled a list of the Top 10 jobs of the future, with a focus on showcasing jobs that have emerged from the new way of doing business during COVID-19. For example, at the top of the list was director of remote work. During the virus outbreak, corporate executives needed to figure out how to manage employees working from home. Pre-pandemic, only a small percentage of people worked from home. Now, it is a commonly accepted practice. To ensure the quality of work, many tech companies have created a new role dedicated to remote-work issues. As companies pivot to a flexible hybrid work model, in which some people will be in the office two or three days a week and a large percentage of staff want to work remotely, there will be a big need for these remote work facilitators in the future.
One role that could grow in importance in the post-pandemic world is XR (extended reality) immersion counselor, given that there has been a surge in digital and tech-based activities during the outbreak. Extended reality (XR), which is inclusive of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), has seen an increase in usage by consumers and become progressively more popular with brands looking to innovate and reach curious audiences. The uptick in usage of mobile, and everyone being online more, has led to an increase in consumers trying out XR across verticals, including playing video games, consuming entertainment, participating in social VR, using AR features on social networks and experimenting with virtual try-ons, virtual shopping and 360-degree travel videos. XR immersion counselors will work with technical artists and software engineering, training and workforce collaboration leads to massively scale the rollout of best-in-class AR and VR solutions.
What Are the Most Important Skills For Cloud Engineers?
Silicon Republic, June 3
Whatever cloud-based strategy they choose to adopt, businesses will need to hire cloud professionals with the right skills to ensure their strategy is a success. With that in mind, cloud engineers should have experience in developing new platforms and services end-to-end, taking responsibility not only for the design of the solution but also for its successful operation in production. Worldwide demand for cloud expertise has skyrocketed over the last year, and the companies who are moving fastest and deriving the most value tend to be those where cloud knowledge is embedded across the business. Desired skills include the ability to keep up with developments in the area, willingness to try new methods, a drive to automate everything, flexibility to work across both agile and waterfall teams, and a product mindset.
Unsurprisingly, employers are seeking a range of specific technical skills in their cloud engineers. Some of these highly demanding technical skills include the Unix/Linux operating system, programming languages such as Java and Python, database skills, and API and web services. Moreover, skills in data science, machine learning and AI will continue to be important for cloud engineers. Employers are looking for knowledge of machine learning workflows, including neural networks, statistical pattern recognition, deep learning and anomaly detection. Another major benefit for cloud engineers is having knowledge and experience with several cloud service providers. Employers expect cloud engineers to have expertise of how cloud service providers work, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, and have a thorough understanding on their service offerings relating to computing, storage, networking, security, analytics and more. With a move towards more sustainable ways of working in the tech world, some employers also highlight the green software engineering movement as an important focus for cloud engineers. Newer application architectures enable more control over capacity and by extension, energy consumption. And since they bill by execution time, it compels programmers to improve overall code efficiency.
5 Myths About Flexible Work
Harvard Business Review, June 3
As organizations adapt to the post-pandemic reality, it has become increasingly clear that flexible work policies can work in any industry as long as organizations are willing to address some of the most common myths about flexible work. Despite a recent Harvard Business School Online study showing that most professionals have excelled in their jobs while working from home, and 81 percent either do not want to go back to the office or would choose a hybrid schedule post-pandemic, some organizations are still coming to grips with what a flexible work policy should look like for them. Flexibility does not always look the same, and there is no one size fits all solution for all industries and all organizations. When implemented properly, flexible work policies can help organizations recruit the best candidates, increase their retention rates and boost overall profitability.
Companies have many reasons for why they have not implemented a flex policy, and most of these are based on five central myths around flexible work. These myths relate to the loss of control, loss of culture, loss of collaboration, loss of contribution and loss of connection. At the top of the list is the fear of losing control. Executives are often worried that they will set a dangerous precedent if they allow some employees to work flexibly. They worry that if they let a few employees work from home, then the office will always be empty and no one will be working. The answer to this is structure and clarity. To maintain control and smooth operation of your organization, it is imperative that organizations set standards and clearly communicate them. Organizations should provide clear guidelines on the types of flexibility offered and create a centralized approval process for flexibility to ensure that the system is equitable. It is also helpful to have a calendar system for tracking when and where each team member is working.
Post-Pandemic Tech Jobs
IT Pro (UK), June 1
In the wake of COVID-19, the technology sector has seen the emergence of important new job trends. With mass remote working came the need for flexible cybersecurity that was often lacking in many enterprises. In addition, the pandemic has shifted the priorities of businesses looking for tech talent, with a newfound focus on cloud applications and services allowing organizations to support remote workforces. Additionally, newer technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics are gathering steam in all industries, with the demand for technologists skilled in these areas growing steadily, too. Overall, businesses are re-shaping their processes and digital transformation strategies in order to take into account how relationships with their customers and commercial partners have changed, and that ultimately influences the vacancies they have and what groups of skills they are looking for in new recruits.
There has also been a shift in how businesses approach the skills they need going forward. The rise of low-code or even no-code application development has enabled some businesses to reduce their need for highly trained technical staff. Application development is increasingly becoming part of skill sets for individuals across the organization. Companies can see those closest to day-to-day business problems become empowered to create technology-driven solutions themselves. In the new future, tech skills are not just the province of IT. Just a few years ago, no one would have thought advertising and marketing managers would need to configure software, or that software developers would need the skills to build rapport with customers. But advancing technology is creating both new opportunities for workers and new challenges for employers trying to fill roles.
Digital Transformation: Important Skills CIOs Need To Get It Done
The Enterprisers Project, May 26
A CIO with the right blend of skills and approach is capable of facilitating digital transformation throughout an organization. In a best-case scenario, a CIO will actually be able to accelerate this transformation. As a result, the most important capabilities for IT leaders driving digitization today include collaboration skills, a growth mindset and deep domain expertise. CIOs need to have a product management mindset and also be fluent in digital behaviors and culture. Digital transformation is a mindset shift toward becoming digitally fluent, failing fast, and instituting new ways of working.
The most successful IT leaders today appreciate the value that other business disciplines and functions bring to the digital transformation process. If they are not accustomed to collaborating on that level across their organization, they will have a hard time. In the wake of the pandemic, CIOs must become ever more collaborative leaders. There is a need for a robust digital culture where leaders continue being the key actors and champions. It is more essential than ever to bring multiple and even often dispersed stakeholders together for enhanced alignment and collaboration. Collaborative processes will have to be skillfully facilitated, at the same time that leaders also address and cope with crucial ethical concerns.
Talent Is More Scarce Than Capital: How to Attract and Retain Great People
Entrepreneur.com, June 4
Many IT workers no longer see a job as simply a means to get a paycheck. Rather, they see it as an integrated part of their lives. So, the ability to offer top candidates a job imbued with purpose and meaning could be the very thing that differentiates an organization in a time of post-pandemic uncertainties. According to McKinsey & Company, companies with a strong culture linked to an underlying purpose or mission generate three times higher total return to shareholders than those that do not. As a result, organizations should find ways to take the lead in addressing key issues and challenges facing society, such as creating a more sustainable and equitable world.
Organizations should now treat talent as scarcer than capital. Traditional models of full- and part-time employment in static locations with set times are being upended. The market for talent is increasingly competitive, and remote working and the gig economy have changed the way labor works, likely indefinitely. Workers are finding other meaningful ways to thrive, lending their skills in creative ways through technology and in ecosystems with flexible schedules. Companies now need to think creatively about how to reach top talent, whether by becoming part of a tech-enabled marketplace or offering different incentives as they recruit future workers. If companies want to stand out, they need to focus on what is making the current talent pool motivated and focus on how to keep employees purpose-driven and connected.
In Praise of the Disassembler
ACM Queue, March/April 2021
There have been many people and many movements within the software industry over the past 50 years that have shifted developers and development further away from machine code and assembly language. The abstractions of higher-level languages have allowed the explosion of software and services that non-programmers take for granted every day. However, these abstractions, as well as the movement of developers away from the machine, come with costs. There are many problems in software systems that cannot be properly understood without a good understanding of the lower-level details of the machines we work on. It is imperative to understand how the machines on which your algorithms run actually work in order to be a top performer.
To understand how computers work, it is best to start at the small end of processor and computer hardware. A modern laptop, desktop, or server system is a fantastically complex piece of equipment that for the most part grew by the accretion of features that will utterly distract anyone who is new to this area of computing. You should start with a small system, with few features, and with a small instruction set, so that you can, hopefully, acquire nearly all the details at once. In short, you should not attempt to scale the heights of a super-scaler processor on day one. A good place to start in 2021 is with a small, cheap, embedded processor. All the better if they have small memories, slow processing speeds, a small number of registers, and most importantly, a small and easy-to-remember set of assembly operations. These constraints actually help you learn the machine without a lot of extraneous distractions. Another advantage of this architecture is that instructions take either one or two clock cycles. Having instructions with a small, known cycle time makes it easier to think about the performance of the code you are looking at. Getting experience with performance in this way is key to being able to understand the performance of larger and more complex architectures.
The Search For Unlimited Productivity
Communications of the ACM, June 2021
Every new technical cycle brings with it the emergence of new development methodologies with enticing new productivity claims. Every popular methodology, however, eventually loses its luster and that inevitably triggers a search for the next one. The unstated belief is that the secret to unlimited productivity has to be somewhere, but that is not always the case, explains a long-time practitioner. The hardest part of development is solving the human factor, and that is because humans are often irrational and unpredictable. No development methodology will solve that. It is even more complex with multiple stakeholders, and especially multiple groups of stakeholders. The only way through is by documenting needs with a forced-ranked priority and continually reminding people about what they are and what the corresponding statuses are.
Iteration is the key to any successful development methodology. The worst thing that can happen to any software product is a feast and famine cycle, and no development methodology can solve that. Maintaining momentum is arguably the hardest aspect, as continuous forward progress is utterly dependent on human factors such as portfolio priorities, resources, budgets, and other things such as how well your software is doing in the market. The difficulties of managing humans and money are as old as time. But it is not hopeless, just hard. Just remember that, even if your software is successful, you are never done. Similarly, one can practically ensure a software solution not being successful with erratic delivery. At the end of the day, a development methodology is just a way of getting there and not the final goal. While no software success can ever be guaranteed, the best chances for development team happiness are to focus on common human factors such as stakeholder alignment, priorities, communication, and the discipline to keep driving forward.
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