August 2, 2013 2:05 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
As I was listening to NPR this morning, I heard job gain estimates that ranged from a low of 170,000 to a high of 200,000 from the economists, employment organizations, and labor pundits polled for their best guesses as to what the July 2013 Employment Situation Summary* might contain. I also heard broad consensus that overall unemployment would dip from 7.6 to 7.5 percent. As is not too unusual for such prognostications, the experts were wrong on both counts: employment was somewhat lower than forecast, with a total of 162, 000 new jobs added; also, the unemployment rate dipped from 7.6 to 7.4 percent, so that turned out a bit better than the estimates.
For July 2013, the numbers represent one step forward (lower overall unemployment) and one step back (lower new jobs added count than hoped/expected).
Where does this all leave us in IT? The sectors that gained jobs were in retail, food service and drinking establishments, financial activities, and wholesale, which indicates that while we’re still adding jobs — and apparently not suffering from the sequester as much as some, including myself, had feared — many of those jobs are of the low-wage, low-skill variety. Nevertheless, the information sector shows an improvement (see Table A-14* for details), both in terms of number of unemployed in the sector (190,000 for 2012 vs. 172,000 for 2013) and the sector-specific unemployment rate (6.7% for 2012 vs. 5.8% for 2013). By those numbers, it seems that IT is edging ever closer to “full employment” as measured by most labor economists (where unemployment under 5.0-5.5% is considered “normal”).
Does that mean it’s time to break out the bubbly and start buying imported caviar to celebrate? Not quite yet, I fear. But a beer with some cheese and crackers might be just the thing this afternoon, once quittin’ time rolls around. The bottom line: modest gains continue in the slow growth mode I’ve been chronicling over the last two years’ analysis of these monthly reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
July 31, 2013 3:52 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Last week, my buddies over at TrainSignal.com sent me an InfoGraphic entitled “What Does It Take to Conquer the MCSA?.” It’s a good thing they asked for my feedback, because I found a minor but significant error, which I was able to help them repair with a single e-mail message. Once repaired, however, it presents a very nice set of information, arranged as a series of 10 slide-like images, that tells an interesting story about the MCSA, and the IT professionals who pursue that certification. Here’s a screencap of the first image in that series, to set the stage for what you’ll find there.
The MCSA used to stand for Microsoft Certified System Administrator but, following a hiatus from 2005 through 2011, it now stands for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate. The program’s home page provides nice pointers to all the individual credentials under this umbrella, which come in six flavors (you can follow links to all these individual items on the afore-linked home page, thereby saving me the difficulty of getting the links to match up properly here):
The MCSA is an important IT certification that defines the first step into Microsoft’s professional certification ladder, which proceeds from MCSA to Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) at the second step, and then onto Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) on the third step, before culminating at the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) on the fourth step.
If you’re interested in the MCSA, be sure to check out the TrainSignal Infographic. And if you find yourself considering training options for same, remember that TrainSignal’s $49 a month subscription to its entire training library of MS, Cisco, CompTIA and other online cert courses remains one of the best deals around anywhere.
July 29, 2013 3:47 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
The Microsoft Partners in Learning site (www.pil-network.com) offers some interesting blogs and materials from time to time. This morning, I stumbled across a posting entitled “Workplace Skills Worldwide” in their Workforce Skills Development blog. It recounts the results of studies in India, the US, and Europe that sought to recite the kinds of skills “most essential” or “most important” in evaluating new job candidates (US and Europe) or in the workplace in general (India). These questions elicited some very interesting answers. In fact, in nearly every important way, this ends up being about “soft skills” — things like the ability to communicate in verbal or written form, the ability to analyze and solve problems, the ability to plan, organize and execute, and much, much more…
Ultimately, the real value of education comes to soft skills training and development — especially in the long term, as subject-specific knowledge bases can only degrade over time, and require constant refresh and replacement.
Here’s what the blog post says in summing this information up:
For the Indian study, conducted by the Economic Times (a leading newspaper in the Indian market) the first three skills — reportedly “by a wide margin” — were:
1. Leadership skill
3. Relationship management
For both the US and the European studies, the first two skills were pretty much identical:
1. Verbal communication: the ability to communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
2. Ability to work in a team structure (Teamwork)
Other interesting entries common to both — though not in the same “top 10″ positions — included:
- planning and organizing: able to plan activities and follow them through effectively (E8, US4: ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work)
- ability to analyze quantitative data, ability to make decisions and solve problems (US 6 & 3, E4: Analysing & Investigating: Gather information to establish facts & principles. Problem solving.)
What are we seeing at work here? We’re seeing that another important reason for obtaining one or more college degrees has little or nothing to do with the subject matter one studies. Rather, it has to do with the opportunity to observe and develop important “soft skills” (learning and analytical techniques and communication, not subject-specific facts, tools, or techniques). This is one very good reason why some time out from the pressures of work and making money and advancing one’s career gives added value to time spent in “the academy” learning rather than going through the motions of life and work in mechanical fashion.
Here’s how the blog post sums up the meaning and value of the various studies it covers, all of which emphasize abstract reasoning and soft skills over subject matters:
In Asia, the Americas, and in Europe, the lists of essential skills share many common elements. And most are skills that you won’t find listed specifically in the curricula or syllabi in your school or college. Nor do these lists match up with the Common Core State Standards we’ve heard so much about. The most important skills, according to the world’s employers, seem not to be narrowly technical, but profoundly human: to communicate, to work with others, to figure things out for yourself.
These are not the easiest skills to teach, or to measure. But unless we do, the output of our schools will not match the input needs of the modern economy.
I couldn’t agree more, yet I also believe that we have to devote more time and effort to teaching these things as and how we can. That’s why I’ve written repeatedly about soft skills over the past decade and more (run this Google search to see some relatively recent results — and more, if you care to go spelunking further from there). This is one of the most important issues in preparing anyone for success at work and in life, and worthwhile investigating for anyone (either inside or outside IT) who really wants to up their personal and professional prospects and productivity.
July 26, 2013 3:05 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
In the context of reading about the results of a Security+ related contest from CompTIA this morning, I also learned that the organization has recently certified a quarter-million individuals for that certification. In a post to its IT Careers Blog entitled “CompTIA Security+ Contest Winners Announced,” Leslie Hague at CompTIA not only indicated that Jeremy Caudle of Lexington, North Carolina, got the nod as the person who earned Security+ number 250,000, she also reported that he won a free year of training from web-based and instructor-led online training company Knowlogy.
With the grant of Security+ number 250,000, the credential advances to the major leagues of IT certification counts.
Hitting the quarter-million mark for any cert count is a moderately big deal, because it identifies an IT certification as of sufficiently long standing and high enough popularity to notch up a fairly big number. That certainly puts Security+ in the same league as the MSCE, MSCA, CCNA, PMP, and CompTIA’s own A+ and Network+ credentials, right at the very top of the list of all currently available IT certifications.
July 24, 2013 4:44 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
I mine all kinds of resources for IT certification and career tips. Lately, I’ve been paying more than ordinary attention to the subject of finding a job in IT. That’s because my good friend, Joe, about whom I’ve blogged many times here — he’s the guy who gave up playing pool on my Thursday night league team to pursue a CCIE five years ago, and has now passed the written CCIE exam and is prepping to take the lab exam in Routing & Switching next year — found himself laid off unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been talking to him about various strategies for finding a new job: with a CCNP and half a CCIE under his belt, he won’t have too much trouble finding SOMETHING. In his case, though, the real issue is finding the right job with the right company and the right kind of growth and career advancement prospects. In the meantime, he’s having no trouble landing consulting gigs to fill the void, while he prospects for a “perfect situation.”
Looking for any job — especially a perfect one — demands all the help and support you can get.
That’s where a terrific piece of advice from TheLadders newsletter guy Mark Cenedella comes into play. I get a weekly newsletter from him through a job site called TheLadders, and find the occasional nugget of wisdom therein. For Joe’s situation, Cenedalla’s most recent newsletter entitled “It felt so awkward, until I tried this one tip,” is a perfect piece of job search strategy. Better yet, it’s incredibly simple, easy to implement, and makes perfect sense. I captured the essence of his advice (which his newsletter title fails to deliver, probably on purpose to get people to read the darn thing) in the title for this blog post: “Ask for a recommendation, not a job.”
Why do this? Because pretty much anybody you know can respond positively to such a request. Though they may not have, or know about, a job that fits your skillset and experience, they will almost always accede to a request for a reference (and if they don’t agree, you probably don’t want them to advocate on your behalf anyway). Cenedella’s advice rests on a well-known tried-and-true sales principle called “Getting to Yes,” which teaches that getting somebody to agree with you (or agree with something) takes you a long way toward selling them something — in this case, yourself as a potential and actively searching job candidate.
Once you secure their agreement for a recommendation, chances are good they’ll also start watching out for job opportunities on your behalf, too. And because people’s networks extend well outside the workplace — to friends, family, online social networks, professional clubs and organizations, and all the other threads that tie our social fabric together — this vigilance could benefit you through all kinds of connections, either directly or indirectly.
The best thing about this approach is that it never puts your contact in the position of having to say “No” to you about a job. This means they won’t try to duck out on future interaction because they still can’t give you a job. Instead, it means you can co-opt them to help you in your job search, and recruit them to add their eyes to the network of people looking out for work on your behalf. And besides, asking for a reference also implies asking about jobs they might know about, so it’s a great way to enlist someone’s help without forcing them to turn your request down in any way, shape, or form. Brilliant!
July 19, 2013 7:00 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
In trolling for blog fodder this morning, I came across an interesting post over at TrainSignal, which in turn depends on an interview with Tumblr founder David Karp on the Colbert Report last Tuesday (7/16/2013). There’s a link to the actual interview in the blog post, which is entitled “Computer science students should stay in school, says billionaire high school dropout.”
Looking at the youthful Mr. Karp, I can’t help but recall certain of the lyrics from the Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing…” (which is not intended at any kind of slight to his inestimable accomplishments).
Karp tells viewers that he dropped out of high school after his freshman year of high school, but only because he couldn’t get any useful computer training where he was going to school. Nowadays, says he, students at nearly every high school have the opportunity to learn about programming and computer science as part of the curriculum, and should take advantage of every such opportunity presented to them, if that’s where their interests lie. There’s lots of other interesting and worthwhile content in the interview (visit the TrainSignal link above to see it in full), but to me the point worth noting for this blog is that even those who succeed against the odds still recommend that young people work their way through the educational system before entering the workforce. Now, if I can only convince my 9-year-old to agree when the time comes to try to keep him focused and making progress in about 5 years, perhaps he’ll be ready to listen to Mr. Karp at that time as well! I can only wish the same for other parents reading this, and add “get certified in IT” to my recommendation of “stay in school” for those young folks pondering a career in IT, but not quite sure how to get there from here.
July 18, 2013 7:30 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
When the new Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or MCSM, credential made its debut a couple of years back, three of those credentials included a mandatory training requirement (MCSM: Communication, MCSM: Directory Services, and MCSM: SharePoint). Over the past two years, two other versions — namely MCSM: Data Platform and MCSM: Messaging — had already relaxed the mandatory training requirement (which can cost between $12 and $20K in the USA) for their candidates. As of July 1, 2013, none of the MCSM credentials come with a mandatory training requirement anymore: for all of them training is now optional and recommended, rather than required for some, but not for others.
When I first learned about these credentials in late 2011 through mid-2012 they were still shrouded in mystery. But over the past 18 months or so, the outlines have clarified considerably and uptake has started to occur. I don’t believe there are more than 200 MCSMs certified in any specialty as yet, and believe further than some specialties may not yet have hit the 100 mark (this is an educated guess on my part, because MS no longer discloses certification counts by title). But it does look like the Microsoft Master level credentials are starting to ramp up, and I have to expect that the slope will steepen thanks to the elimination of a potentially onerous mandatory schedule for three weeks of high-dollar on-campus MS Official training classes.
Of course, some candidates — especially those who can secure funding for classroom training in whole or in part from more generous employers, or those whose employers contracts with MS include “coop” dollars for classroom training – will still attend such classes. But for would-be professional consultants just getting started or in the early phases of their careers (which has to be a sizable portion of the target audience for these credentials), the savings on classroom training will go a long way toward making these certs more affordable and thus also, more attainable.
Good job, MS: glad to see your Learning folks taking proper cognizance of market conditions and realities.
July 15, 2013 5:53 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: video cert training company TrainSignal’s $49 a month subscription deal for the entire training catalog — which includes a large number of Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, Citrix, VMware, and CWNA certifications among its offerings — is one of the best IT certification training deals around. Sure, this company is in business to make money off aspiring IT cert candidates, but they seem to have also made it their mission to make the process affordable, interesting, and where possible, fun. That’s why I pay attention to what they talk about, and tune into their blog from time to time, too (self-disclosure: I’ve written cert prep advice pieces and some “guest blogs” for them in the past, as a contractor to the company). Here’s a great Trainsignal blog post that popped up last week that I think is not only worth reading, but a follow-up post of my own:
Site editor Chris Maiget’s latest (7/12/13) blog post makes some very good points on how to “show off your IT superpowers.”
Basically, Maiget’s blog post makes the point that if you get active online, and start posting on forums, bulletin boards, and in discussion groups, you can help others with IT issues or questions, while also improving your “IT street cred” and raising your profile for a raise, a promotion, or even your next job. Maiget cites the active Spotlight on IT area on the busy, busy Spiceworks website as a good place to get going with showing what you know and can do. He also makes some additional interesting points in the same vein, many of which I’ve recommended myself right here in this very blog, too:
- Join user groups: I’ve recommended these as good sources of access to knowledgeable peers, and as great ways to get support and find study groups when preparing for a cert exam, but user groups are also great places to strut your stuff, and to help others out, too. Chances are that most IT pros will find opportunities to give help and support in these environments as they can also get the same things for their own professional and certification development purposes.
- Start a tech blog: If you have a lot to say on various technical topics, you’ve got the most important ingredient for a good blog: lots of content! If you keep it up, and get some good stuff out there, this can be a huge career booster.
- Find fun side jobs: From part-time paying work to volunteering for a civic or charitable organization of your choosing, IT people are always in demand to help out. In particular, I have often advocated volunteering as a great way to help yourself by gaining knowledge and experience, while also helping others who can benefit from your time and effort.
- Become a beta tester: there’s no better way to get on the leading edge (and often also, get free software) than to sign up as a beta tester for software, or even certification exams for that matter (taking a beta cert exam is often cheaper than the commercial version, or it might even be free, and if you pass you’ll get credit for that exam for or toward a credential, too).
In general, I like the idea that doing something extra — especially helping others with what you know and can do — comes back around to help your professional profile and career development. I hope that you not only like this idea too, but will decide to try out one or more of these suggestions, and see them come back to your own ultimate benefit.
July 12, 2013 5:55 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
David Foote and his company, Foote Partners LLC, are well-known trackers and purveyors of IT hiring, salary, and market trends information. A story based on one of their recent analyses of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs figures appeared on July 8 at the Information Management website that cites some interesting trends and encouraging figures.
The same slow, steady growth that has characterized the overall economy also plays into IT hiring of late. Though some IT sectors are doing better than others, all remain in positive growth mode.
[Image credit: Shutterstock 1239332671]
That story, entitled “Tech Hiring Ends First Half of 2013 with Widespread Gains” is chock-full of interesting stats and figures, which I will now recite:
- For job segments that represent IT careers, there’s been a net gain of 18,200 jobs for June (versus 9,800 such jobs in May, for a delta of 8,400). This is the highest month-to-month gain since January 2013.
- IT job growth for the first half of 2013 is 43 percent higher than for the same period in 2013.
- The management and technical consulting sector saw 8,400 new hires in June, which more than doubles the same counts for May. Foote observes that this makes for “one of the hottest growth segments for IT and data hiring over the first half of 2013.”
- Computer Systems Design and related services has been another big gainer, with 7,300 new jobs for June alone, and nearly 31,000 new jobs for this sector for the first half of 2013.
- Following four months of declines in the data processing and hosting sector, June witnessed a modest but welcome increase of 1,800 jobs in that sector.
- The telecommunications sector also managed to continue its barely upward but steady rise, with only 700 new jobs in this niche. Nevertheless, according to Foote, this section has enjoyed a increase in job counts for every month of 2013 so far, for the first time since the job market started going south in 2008-2009.
Looking at all of this data and its recent historical patterns, Mr. Foote remains cautiously optimistic that IT hiring “should continue to be a source of job growth through 2013.” Here’s what else he had to say on this subject: “… IT jobs have been on a sustained growth upswing and wages are holding steady if not growing slightly. The bottom line here is optimism for IT workers based on positive momentum that started in October  and has been running through the first six months of 2013.” From my perspective, Mr. Foote is absolutely correct, and clearly understands that there’s no excuse for anything even close to “irrational exuberance” any time soon. The long, dragged-out trend of agonizingly slow and modest recovery appears set to continue for some time to come!