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ACM CareerNews Alert for Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10, 2012
ACM CareerNews

Welcome to the July 10, 2012 edition of ACM CareerNews, providing twice monthly summaries of articles on career-related topics of interest to students and professionals in the computing field. For instructions on how to unsubscribe from this service, please see below.

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



Could Data Scientist Be Your Next Job?
Network World, June 4 

Over the past several months, large enterprises, staffing firms and universities have experienced increasing interest in a new class of data professional: the data scientist. Blending a mix of business, analytics and computer skills, this hot new title is on the rise across diverse industries such as energy, e-commerce, healthcare and financial services. Companies are becoming so data-centric that they need individuals who can model and mine in big data environments. What sets data scientists apart from other data workers, including data analysts, is their ability to create logic behind the data that leads to business decisions. As a result, there are data scientist jobs widely available today for those with the right combination of skills.

Some universities have already started refining their graduate programs to develop ready-made data scientists. Data scientists have to draw structured and unstructured data from different sources, including real-time streams, and try to understand it to add value to the business. Companies need professionals with a convergence of these skills, not just statisticians or MBAs, to fully grasp the business and technological challenges. Typically, data scientists from these programs are highly sought after and highly paid. There is a certain mystique to data science, even though it has a heavy computer science influence. For instance, students are trained in various machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and intelligent search algorithms. They also learn how to apply those algorithms in domains such as healthcare.

The ideal data scientist candidate would have all three skill sets - business, analytics and computer science. Due to the difficulty in finding individuals with all relevant skill sets, companies are sometimes developing data science teams comprised of all three disciplines. A majority of these team members will be PhDs focused on machine learning, natural language processing and data mining. Most enterprises can make use of data scientists to improve processes and identify new business opportunities. For instance, in financial services, data scientists can develop algorithms for trading and risk management, and in pharmaceuticals they can study drug test results. Given the right environment, data scientists have the potential to find new customers and improve service to existing customers.

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How to Fix the Gender Gap in Tech
Slate, June 7

At a time when women continue to lag behind men within the computer science field, what can be done to bridge the gender gap in technology? Today, women hold 27% of all computer science jobs, down from 30% a decade ago. In addition, they account for just 20% of undergraduate CS majors, down from 36% in 1986. Even among the new generation of tech companies, fewer than 10% of all computer programmers are women. Narrowing the gender gap will impact earnings and career enrichment for women. Over the past decade, three times as many jobs have been created in STEM fields than in non-STEM fields, and STEM workers have been far less likely to experience unemployment. Women who work in STEM also earn more than other female workers, with the wage gap between the genders smaller than in other fields.

Already, foreign competitors such as Brazil, India, and Malaysia are actively preparing girls to enter the computer science field, providing an even greater impetus for the U.S. to address its gender gap. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, calls the fight to attract girls and young women to high-tech careers our generation's major frontier for equal outcomes for women. One potential answer to addressing the gender gap in technology is to introduce young girls to video games at an early age, since childhood gaming and hacking experience has motivated many computer programmers to enter the field.

Educational institutions are already taking steps to encourage girls in this direction. For example, universities are splitting their introductory computer science courses into two sections, or creating summer computer science research internships for female students. They are also taking women CS students each year to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. K-12 educators, too, know the importance of getting girls attracted to the kind of "computational thinking" that makes programming possible. They have ambitious plans for pairing female students with women mentors working in the field, in order to lower attrition rates, direct girls into meaningful careers, and recruit more female students to the school in future classes. Other schools are launching clubs that encourage girls in computer programming using free Web-based tools or participating in innovation challenges that emphasize programming skills.

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Invest in Your IT Talent
Computerworld, June 18

In order to attract top IT talent, companies need to offer meaningful professional development opportunities. While many businesses cut training and development during the recent recession and have been slow to revive such programs, a focus on professional development has become a leading priority of IT professionals. This could become a problem as demand for skilled IT workers intensifies. For example, the organizations on Computerworld's 2012 Best Places to Work in IT list held on to their most valued IT workers during the downturn by providing employees with technical training, supporting their efforts to pursue continuing education and giving them challenging assignments. The lesson is clear: invest in your top IT talent.

Professional development isn't a one-size-fits-all process, so it's essential to understand what individual employees feel they need in order to cultivate a rewarding career in your organization. However, creating an individualized approach to professional development is easier and less expensive than you might think. Challenging and diverse assignments, opportunities to lead projects, and mentoring or cross-training arrangements are just some of the vehicles that can help people develop new skills. And if IT workers ask for education or training that isn't available in-house but could benefit the organization as a whole, offer to support their training under the condition that they'll share what they learn with their colleagues. Allow for autonomy and promote teamwork, since most IT workers want to feel empowered to solve problems and make decisions on their own.

Many leading employers are investing specifically in the development of their IT workers' soft skills. IT, once a behind-the-scenes function in most organizations, is now much more visible and much more vital to everyday operations. By sharpening their interpersonal skills, IT staffers will not only be able to work more effectively with others inside and outside of their department; they'll also put themselves in a better position to someday assume leadership roles. For many small to midsize companies, having an in-house IT department is a fairly new concept. This is one reason why IT personnel are sometimes overlooked for growth opportunities that other employees are offered routinely.

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For Tech Staffers, Working Remotely Requires More Than Wi-Fi and a Desk, June 6

While technology may have turned any place with an Internet connection into an office, both companies and telecommuters should keep in mind a range of factors when it comes to enterprise-wide telecommuting policies. Most importantly, job duties should determine if telecommuting is right for a certain position. For example, development jobs lend themselves to remote work as long as the employees complete projects on time and are easily reachable. Telecommuting is still considered a perk, with many employers preferring that their staff work onsite. However, companies need to understand how schedule flexibility can attract and retain talent and then create policies that apply to all departments.

In most cases, a uniform corporate telecommuting policy is better than making individual exceptions. Moreover, employees should demonstrate to management that they are comfortable with working offsite. It's key for employees to show how well they can work offsite since that can count for around 70% of management's decision to embrace telecommuting. Convincing management requires employees to show, among other criteria, that their preferred work environment will lead to productivity and they won't miss interacting with co-workers. To give remote workers constant interaction with co-workers, companies can hold daily calls with other developers during which they discuss their projects and any issues they are having. In any case, a distributed workforce gives any company a wider candidate pool to select from in a market where competition for talent is fierce.

The demand for tech workers has made more businesses open to considering remote candidates, but staff who work outside the office is still not a preference for most companies. As a result, employees contemplating working remotely should consider their career goals and the value of face time before setting up their home office. If you are looking for a more senior level role then you probably need to be seen and heard with your peers as well as with management to make that progression. A job's main duties can impact how successfully it translates to a virtual model. For companies that do permit telecommuting, employees and managers need to set communication guidelines. Both parties should understand the hours that the remote workers will be available, how best to contact them and what is an acceptable time frame for them to respond to a co-worker. A seamless interaction between a telecommuter and the office should be the objective.

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Better by the Bunch: Evaluating Job Candidates in Groups
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, June 18

New research suggests that organizations wishing to avoid stereotyping in the hiring or promotion process should evaluate job candidates as a group, rather than one at a time. A recent collaboration between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School reveals that you're much less likely to stereotype by gender if you apply an evaluation process aimed at overcoming biased assessments, in which people are evaluated jointly rather than separately regarding their future performance. The idea for the research project developed from the idea that behavioral economics, so successful in other areas, could be used to impact gender-equality issues.

Gender stereotyping is just another heuristic that people employ during the decision-making process. Such heuristics are often subconscious, and though they help people make decisions faster, they don't necessarily help them make better ones. As long as we don't see women in leadership positions, for example, we don't associate leadership with women. However, we can start changing environments to make it easier for our minds, which aren't perfectly rational and don't absorb information perfectly, to succeed in life. That idea of a "nudge" could then be applied to the way individuals within organizations make evaluation decisions.

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Would You Recommend Your Kid Go Into IT?
InfoWorld, June 18

An IT career can be a rewarding choice, especially if you learn your way around the business side of the technology industry. For anyone considering a future career in technology, there are certain questions to ask yourself, such as what part of IT you'e most interested in, and what type of career you're looking for. You can then find the relevant career opportunities. There are certain IT growth areas, such as cyber-security and big data, which have enormous potential for future growth. With that as backdrop, the article outlines the decision-making process for considering a career in IT.

Being a developer can be highly creative work, and with widespread adoption of agile development, you interact a lot with the business side, which can be good for job security. Developers will be the big winners in the cloud era: when development and test infrastructure can be provisioned in a flash, there will be more and better apps, which will in turn increase demand. Being a security professional is also an area that will certainly never go away. You just have to prepare yourself for a career imagining everything that can go wrong and staying one step ahead of cyber criminals' cleverest ideas. You have to be patient and tough-minded.

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STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?
Forbes, June 20

The STEM fields have always had a problem attracting females, and that is leading many to consider new strategies for getting more women into computer science jobs. Most troubling is the fact that, since 2000, women have seen no employment growth in STEM jobs. Today, women hold only 27% of all computer science jobs, and that number isn't growing. The article considers a number of factors accounting for this gender imbalance - such as the relatively low percentage of women completing a bachelor's degree in computer science - before suggesting several broad changes that could help to reverse the trend.

Many chalk up the difference to a lack of female role models in STEM fields. It's a vicious circle: the reason there aren't more women computer scientists is because there aren't more women computer scientists. The problem starts as early as grade school, where young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science. In addition, there exists an unconscious bias that science and math are typically "male" fields while humanities and arts are primarily "female" fields. Popular culture plays a role, as well. Girls grow up seeing women in powerful positions as doctors and lawyers on TV, but the media continues to promote stereotypes when it comes to programmers.

First, there is a need to create programs that will encourage women to study tech, especially since many women are reluctant to study STEM fields. College programs that divide students by experience level will help to alleviate fears of women who are inexperienced in tech and thus less likely to pursue it. Second, there are ways to re-think the K-12 curriculum. An interest in science and technology needs to be cultivated at a young age, but many women are standing on the sidelines as the boys participate in science fairs. K-12 educators should work to encourage young girls to pursue opportunities in STEM by offering more hands-on workshops for girls to learn about science and technology. The third major strategy is to overcome stereotypes and to create more visibility when it comes to the work female engineers have already accomplished.

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Four Things Gen Y Gets Right About Work
CBS News, June 25

Many of the traits typically ascribed to members of Generation Y - such as their unwillingness to pay their dues - can actually be seen as a positive trend in the future direction of the workplace. For example, the job market has become more entrepreneurial than ever before, favoring employees who can move in and out of opportunities quickly. In addition, the increased attention that Generation Y pays to cultivating their social networks is a reaction to the deterioration of corporate loyalty within the workforce. The article takes a closer look at four ways that the younger generation is changing today's workplace.

The IT job market has forever changed, with the average tenure at a job falling to four years. People move in and out of self-employment these days, too, in a way that renders the fear of "resume gaps" puzzling. If you can't get a job, you make a job. There's also nothing wrong with seeking a work-life balance. Because young people have grown up with mobile technology, the idea that you would have to report to an office from 9 to 5 in order to call and send emails to people in other places makes absolutely no sense. Consequently, flexible hours and the ability to work from home are viewed as the default, not privileges to be earned.

Managers complain that young people aren't satisfied with work that's just a job, and that's even leading to young people quitting a job without another decent job lined up. There's a sense that, if you can afford to do that, there's not anything wrong with it. Finally, Generation Y recognizes that networks are about people, not institutions. This is related to the idea that there are no permanent jobs. Young people know that companies cannot afford to be loyal. Instead, loyalties are to people, and thanks to social networking, you can keep in touch simultaneously with people from all facets of your life.

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Predatory Scholarly Publishing
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 55 No. 7, July 2012

Moshe Y. Vardi, Editor-in-Chief of CACM, weighs in on the current state of the scholarly publishing business. In addition to the publishers and the research libraries, you have authors, who freely and eagerly provide content, and the editors and reviewers, who act as gatekeepers. For scholarly publishing to be successful as a business, publishers must convince libraries to subscribe to their publications, while librarians must be vigilant about the overall quality of their subscriptions. Recent trends, however, have upset this delicate balance between publishers, libraries, authors, and editors, by freeing publishers from the need to get libraries to subscribe and paying authors for work that may not be of sufficient quality.

One example of the new "predatory publishing" is the creation of an alternative market for content that frees publications from dealing with librarians and simultaneously shifts costs to authors. These authors are invited to submit papers directly for a small registration fee. The publish-or-perish pressure creates a market, and enterprising publishers are keen to meet the demand. Other examples include invitations to speak at meetings, which are hosted by third parties not directly related to the academic world. The reviews on these meetings are mixed, with many seeing them as a forum where scholars can publish without battling hypercritical reviewers.

So what has upset the traditional scholarly publishing marketplace? A major factor is the growing popularity of open-access publishing and the "author-pays" model, in which publishers obtain revenues from author fees rather than from subscription fees. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the author-pays model, the removal of libraries from the equation creates an unbalanced system: both publishers and authors want to publish, while libraries have little say. Editors and reviewers may try to uphold quality, but their power is diminished when publishers and authors are so eager to publish. The main goal of this "predatory publishing" is to generate profits rather than promote scholarship. While not all commercial publishers are predatory publishers, they are all primarily driven by profits, creating a conflict of interest between publishers and authors.

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Females, Games, and Learning Math
Computers in Entertainment, June 2012

Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, explains how gaming can be used to help females learn math. For nearly twenty years, she has been interested in females and digital games, starting back in 1992 when she created computer games to increase children's interest and achievement in learning mathematics. Her research group, Electronic Games for Math and Science (EGEMS), decided to find out what boys and girls liked in computer and video games and how they played them. From 1992 to 2002, EGEMS studied children aged 8 to 13 playing commercial games and games created by EGEMS itself. The research found differences between boys and girls when it comes to video games and suggests new ways to use these games to learn math.

According to the EGEMS studies, boys and girls reacted to different things in video games, and this showed up in their playing style. Boys loved fast action, competition, violence and challenge, while girls were more interested in games that had puzzles, stories with interesting characters, or educational material. Girls loved to play games in small groups often huddled around a single computer. In response, EGEMS created a number of games aimed at being equally attractive to girls and boys. Girls loved the characters, story and puzzles and didn't seem to be put off by the fairly simple graphics.

For several years, game companies have been pursuing female players because the sales of game systems and games aimed at male players have leveled off. Many of the hottest games are played on phone and tablets and many of the players are female. In fact some studies have shown that females spend more time playing mobile games than males. The graphics in mobile games are much simpler than those in video games. Social games like Farmville are also highly popular with females as are digital versions of old favorites like Scrabble and Solitaire. Klawe notes that she is much more optimistic about the widespread use of game-like activities to help children learn mathematics, especially since 90% of American households and schools now have broadband access to the Internet and mobile technology is becoming part of the educational experience.

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