IT Career JumpStart


November 25, 2009  5:41 PM

The Holiday Season Is Here: Time for Planning & Reflection

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Wow! How this year has zoomed past. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and like me, I’m sure a lot of you have the same kinds of plans for that day: a house full of people, lots of food, good conversation, and the occasional ball game. But as the holiday season winds up, remember that a new year lies just ahead.

In this traditionally quiet time of year, it’s always a good time to think about where you are in your career and job development process right now, and where you’d like to be. As you’re giving thanks for such blessings as 2009 has seen fit to deliver, it’s also time to start thinking about what’s coming in 2010, and to do what you can to make sure you get the goodies and rewards to which you are so richly entitled, as you plot our your career plans and progress in the months and year ahead.

I’m going to be blogging about a number of topics traditional for this sometimes reflective time of year, as opportunities to think things over and to try to figure out how best to steer your course in the upcoming year will undoubtedtly present themselves. If anybody has anything they’d like to add or request, please post a comment to this blog. Otherwise, I’ll be chewing on and writing about the following subjects:

  • Career development through technical training and coursework
  • Pros and cons of IT certification
  • A call to think about and improve your soft skills
  • Is “Back to school” for a(nother) degree a good plan for you?
  • Project and people management open doors to career advancement

In the meantime, I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving, and enjoy your time away from the usual grind. My very best wishes for a great holiday, from me and my family to you and yours.

Best,
–Ed Tittel–

November 23, 2009  5:30 PM

Light at the End of the Tunnel on IT Employment?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In last week’s blog about the Hackett Group’s take on IT employment, I may have focused too much on the negatives and not enough on the positives. With 2009 nearly over, and a pretty substantial improvement in job losses projected for 2010, with even better results for 2011 through 2014, even though all those numbers are negative they still point to overall improvements.

In that blog, I also speculated that small and medium businesses will have to make up for the ongoing deficits in enterprise level outfits’ IT hiring plans (defined in the Hackett study as companies with $1B or more in revenue in 2008). And indeed, it seems there may actually be some hope that this might occur: lots of technology and IT service vendors report that their SMB sector sales and activity are starting to pick up, and that they expect this trend to continue into and throughout 2010.

Will this translate into more jobs for IT in 2010? Probably. Will this be enough to offset the ongoing enterprise IT job losses in 2010 and beyond? I don’t know, and I can’t find any forecasts that are agressive enough to provide a complete offset those those numbers (about 212K jobs in 2010, followed by 110K/2011, 94K/2012, 93K/2013, and 98K/2014). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the situation unfolds.

But if economics is any guide — and see this SBA Advocate story for an explanation of what I’m driving at — small businesses are the most likely market sector to lead any recovery we experience, be it in 2010 or later, as circumstances will determine. That apparently goes double, if you count increasing turns to self-employment across the entire workforce, including IT, as part of this overall phenomenon (and it’s a truism that there is no smaller business than a one-person shop! ;-).

Cross your fingers, then, and wish for strong job creation in the small business sector in 2010, and for all those self-employed folks (including me) to have a better-than-average year. I’m right there with you on all of this!


November 22, 2009  9:32 PM

Going to College Is One Thing, Graduating Entirely Another

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

This morning, while driving my son to the park on an expedition to feed some local ducks, I tuned into a program on my local college station (KUT) that dealt with issues in getting students who attend community college to graduate and move on to four-year or graduate institutions for further degrees. I have to endorse the notion that training beyond the associate’s level is a very good idea and that many employers don’t take two-year AA or AS degrees as seriously as they take a full bachelor’s degree, be it in the art, science, enginerring, business, or whatever.

It’s also true that community colleges are the backbone of our post-secondary educational system here in North America. In the aggregate these insitutions serve more students than four-year and graduate institutions, and they also provide much of the training and education to help career changers (be that voluntary, or involuntary) gear up for their latest chosen job roles or specialties.

What I found interesting about the story is that it recounts that many students simply can’t (or choose not to) study full-time to earn their Associate’s degrees, and programs designed to be completed in two to two-and-a-half years, often take five or more years to complete. Furthermore, statistical analysis of the number of students who sign up for classes within some kind of degree plan (ignoring those just pursuing continuing education or perhaps involved in specific shorter job-training programs) shows that somewhat under half of those students actually complete their degrees and matriculate.

I understand and sympathize with busy adult learners who often have to juggle family and work responsibilities along with school, and can easily image why it’s necessary to stretch a shorter program out over a longer period of time. But folks: if you’re going to start down this path, you owe it to yourself to walk it all the way down to the end, so that you’ll have something substantial to show for the time, effort, and money you spend on school. This goes double, or better, if you or your family have to borrow money to finance this education. Nobody can make you graduate, but you can do it if you keep at it, and force yourself to finish up.

Even then, it’s best to look at the AA or AS degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s of some kind, so you’ll want to keep your grades up, and get some strong recommendations to see you into your next step on the higher education trail. Keep at it, keep it up, and get yourself through. Best of luck (and results) to those in the process; keep this in the forefront of your mind if community college is an option you’re pondering — for yourself, or somebody you care about (or for).


November 21, 2009  10:26 PM

Microsoft Defines Developer Learning Paths

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On November 16, MS Learning stalwart Ken Rosen posted an interesting blog on Microsoft’s Born to Learn. Entitled “New Developer Learning Paths Available” it describes five new developer roles, each with its own unique learning path designed to help programmers mold themselves to fit.

Here’s what you’ll find covered at the MS learning portal under this rubric:

MS lays out these paths in a diagram labeled "Chart your career"

MS lays out these paths in a diagram labeled Chart Your Career

Here’s a little more information about each of those developer roles (the descriptions in the bulleted list are quoted verbatim from Rosen’s blog):

  • Windows Developer: As a Windows developer, the role is clear: code it out the door. Adapting to shifting user needs and business requirements, a Windows Developer must connect systems quickly and efficiently with secure desktop applications. Coding skill is a given;  typically work within an integrated development environment that helps track bugs, optimize code for the Windows operating system, and work collaboratively with other developers. [Product Focus: Visual Studio]
  • Web Developer:  A web developer is a technical expert in the dynamic web programming tools and languages that fuel the interactive web. They can work solo or as part of an organization’s multidisciplinary team to build and integrate interactive web sites, web applications, and web services for both intranet and Internet uses. Their role is to make it work, which means coding and testing on various browsers but can also include architecting web sites, designing data-driven applications, and finding efficient client-server solutions. [Product Focus: Visual Studio]
  • Database Developer: A database developer designs, develops, and implements complex database systems, programs, and applications.  Specialties may be writing queries and stored procedures, using data modeling tools, designing and optimizing databases, or implementing at the physical level, but must have a thorough understanding of relational databases. Other responsibilities may include supporting and securing critical information systems and providing reliable data that can be used in business-specific software solutions. [Product Focus: SQL Server]
  • Business Intelligence Developer: A business intelligence (BI) developer brings crucial analytics to business solutions and organizations. Accurate business intelligence often equals competitive advantage in the market, and that makes this role extremely important. Expertise in relational and multidimensional database schemas is a must. B.I. Developers solve real-world business problems by designing and building OLAP (online analytical processing) cubes, applying data mining algorithms, writing queries, and designing reports. Responsibilities range from aggregating data from multiple sources in an efficient data warehouse to designing enterprise-level solutions for very large multidimensional databases. [Product Focus: SQL Server]
  • Enterprise Application Developer Description: As an enterprise application developer, responsibilities can include designing, planning, evaluating, and developing n-tier solutions that target both web and client user experiences. Enterprise Application Developers provide technical vision that drives the development of multiple-user line-of-business applications and their underlying databases. These are systems expert who relies on the Microsoft .NET Framework, typically working on a team in a medium or large development environment to design and deliver mission-critical business systems—and then keep them running. [Product Focus: Visual Studio & .NET Framework]

Those aspiring and current IT professionals thinking about development jobs could do worse than to dig a little deeper here. Visual Studio (and the MS development environment in general) remains one of the major pathways to gainful employment as a software developer


November 21, 2009  10:07 PM

Hackett Study: 2009 Hurts Worst, But More IT Cuts Ahead

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent (11/16/09) report, the Hackett Group  forecasts that 3.6 million back office jobs will be eliminated by 2014 at companies with $1B or more in 2008 Revenue. The bulk of those cuts (2.2 million) will fall in the period between 2008 and 2014. For 2008 and 2009, cuts come to 964,000, so that means another 1.2-plus million still lie ahead. Hacket characterizes these jobs in the following figure as G&A (an abbreviation for general and administrative, which includes IT among its categories, along with Finance, Procurement, and HR).

2009 represent the nadir for job cuts at big companies (reproduced by permission).

2009 represent the nadir for job cuts at big companies (reproduced by permission).

Things start getting even scarier when the composition of those cuts is laid out. In almost any given year, somewhere around half of all the positions under the gun come from IT. In addition to forecasting losses of 649,000 G&A jobs for 2009, Hacket forecasts additional losses of 423,000 for 2010, 220,000 for 2011, 188,000 for 2012, 185,000 for 2013, and finally, 197,000 for 2014. Do the math (divide by 2) to figure the number of IT jobs that will be affected thereby. All I can say is “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!”

I know we’ve all been hoping that eonomic recovery would mean a reversal in job losses, and improvement for those of us who toil in the IT sector. I’m sorry to report that here’s at least one firm that believes a turnaround will not buoy the IT job count in the biggest companies, for what I can say is the “readily foreseeable future” (up to 5 years out). Thus, any net gain in IT jobs will have to come from the SMB sector and smaller big businesses, and will have to more than offset the numbers shown in the preceding figure to result in positive job growth. Good thing that companies in the SMB sector significantly outnumber those at the top of the revenue heap, but this still paints a more gloomy picture than anyone could wish for.

For more information, please visit the website for the Hacket Group at www.thehacketgroup.com.


November 16, 2009  4:37 PM

MCITP Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Support Tech Cert Takes Shape

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last week, Erwin Chan posted about this emerging Windows 7 certification to the Born to Learn blog. While the complete and final requirements have yet to be determined he does say that “Candidates wishing to pursue this certification can safely proceed to prepare for 680: Win7, Configuring and 685: Win7 EDST” (where EDST is eponymous with the certification’s own name).

Here’s what this utterance tells me:

  • Exam 70-680 TS: Windows 7, Configuring will either be a pre-req or an outright requirement for this cert.
  • Exam 70-685 PRO: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician (beta period ended on 10/16/2009, but the final version isn’t out yet–here’s the beta blurb) will be an outright requirement for this cert.
  • It’s possible Microsoft might pull some kind of additional rabbit (another exam) or might also offer value/platform added versions as they did with HP exams for the Vista iteration of this exam.

My best guess, however, is that when the 70-685 goes into final form, the two preceding exams will constitute the requirements for the MCITP Win7 EDST certification and people will also be able to earn same. I think what Mr. Chan meant by his blog post was “Hey! We’re almost finished. You can take 70-680 right now and then 70-685 when it’s available to earn your MCITP Win7 EDST cert ASAP.”

Those who are interested can — and perhaps should — do exactly that!


November 13, 2009  6:00 PM

Reverse Outsourcing? Hmmm….

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As some of you probably know already, I make a sizable and even sometimes substantial part of my living writing computing books. Recently, I’ve been roped into contributing a book for a series of titles at the behest of a global training organization that goes by the name of the National Institute of Information Technologies, aka NIIT. What makes this gig intriguing is a combination of state-of-the-art course development technologies, top-notch pedagogy, and a sharp focus on a key area of IT technology and activity, along with higher rates of pay (the book is a work for hire, so that’s in part due to giving up on back-end earnings) than I’ve seen for computer books or course development for some time now.

But what makes this job fascinating is that I’m working remotely in the US for a global company based in India. Sure, it’s a project-based assignment, and will come to a contractually agreed upon end in about six months when all the deadlines are met, milestone passed, and deliverables handed over to the company. But it also shows me how much globalization and the reach of remote work and collaboration has spread. In fact, I like to look at this as the traditional outsourcing model stood upsidedown — namely, that a company in a country where talent is routinely hired because of high education, great language skills, and low rates of pay is savvy enough to recognize that recruiting individual contributors with recognizable names is a good idea when creating books and training materials for IT training subjects and curriculum that is in very high demand. I also have to respect them for paying at or above going market rates here in the US for this kind of work, to my great surprise and delight.

As more and more individual workers go freelance, and take on contracts through the Internet marketplace, I have to believe that this phenomenon will accelerate. Up to now, I’ve mostly worked for US companies (publishers or Website operators, in fact, along with some big-name training companies such as New Horizons or Global Knowledge) but I see no reason why big-name companies around the globe won’t seek to hook up with individuals who are recognizable in their fields to leverage any available synergy inherent to such a relationship.

For an organization, what’s in a name has to do with branding, name recognition, and customer relationship development. For freelance hired guns like myself, what’s in a name has to do with putting oneself in contention for high-visibility, high-value jobs as and when they become available. In a word: “More work!” I have to believe this is an honest-to-gosh win-win situation.


November 11, 2009  9:37 PM

Online Degrees Worthwhile?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The other day I got an e-mail from David F of Tuscaloosa, AL, that read as follows:

I was recently reviewing some of your writings and used something of yours in an assignment (properly cited of course). I am currently taking classes online through the University of Phoenix working towards an IT networking degree. My question is how do you feel about online programs such as this? Will this type of degree hold me back, in your opinion? Can you offer any thoughts of what I can do to increase my chances of being successful in the IT world? I am not in a big hurry but thought you would be a great person to ask these questions to.

Here’s my reply, which I’ll follow with some additional commentary (text reproduced by permission of sender):

Dear David:
The University of Phoenix has become one of the largest college/university systems in the world, thanks to its successful, global online degree programs. While a degree from UP isn’t on the same level as an Ivy League school, it’s on a par with most state universities. Thus, I don’t think this type of degree will hold you back, even if it won’t open a lot of doors for you either (snip). You should definitely take advantage of UP’s programs that let you earn MS/Cisco/ISC-squared and other certifications en route to a degree. The combination of degree plus certification is a good thing. You should also try to get an intern or summer position in IT as well, to add some real-world experience to your education and training.
HTH, and thanks for writing. Good luck in your educational pursuits and career planning. (snip) Thanks!
–Ed–

I remember hearing on NPR the other day that the University of Phoenix was the ultimate recipient of loan and grant money from Uncle Sam for something in the neighborhood of $3B for 2008 (see “Getting an Education Online” for a fascinating roundtable on this subject), and that online education is the current and future wave of growth for higher ed. Thus, I really don’t think any particular onus inheres to degrees earned online. Going forward, learning online and earnign online degrees will become far more the rule than the exception.


November 9, 2009  2:57 PM

Do Temp Job Upswings Lead the Permanent Job Market?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Numerous observers of the employment scene (and the regular monthly US BLS Employment Situation Summary) noticed a potential ray of sunshine in last week’s otherwise gloomy report — namely, an upswing of 34,000 temporary jobs. Some analysts view this kind of activity as a market predictor, which means that when temp job numbers start going up, permanent job numbers generally start to follow this trend (see, for example, the reporting on the Employment Spectator entitled “Temp Jobs up in October“).

Even more encouraging, says the aforementioned source, is that temp job numbers for manufacturing increased. That’s because “increases in manufacturing tend to lead to increases in retail, customer service, and call center jobs as more products hit the marketplace.” But I’m not 100% that this is an unambiguous statistic, because temp jobs are also a fallback for those unemployed who are willing to accept just about any kind of work to keep some money coming in. I’d be interested to know how many of those temp workers lost their original permanent positions in the last 18 months before taking this observation as an unalloyed harbinger of growth and recovery.

That said, you can’t argue that an upswing in manufacturing (which creates goods for sale, and does indeed create the kind of pull-through phenomena in sales, customer service, and call centers to which the Employment Spectator refers in my preceding quote from that source). But with around 15.7 million people unemployed in the US, 34,000 temp jobs doesn’t go very far to help turn things around, either. It will be interesting to see if this represents a genuine trend, and if we’ll see those numbers keep ramping up for a while, or if this turns out to be a glitch (or seasonal hiring for the holiday retail season as might very well be the case).


November 6, 2009  3:09 PM

As Expected, US Unemployment Tops 10% Mark

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Today’s the first Friday of the month, and that means that it’s also the day that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its “Employment Situation Summary” for the preceding month (October, in this case). As expected, the official unemployment rate now tops the ten percent mark, at 10.2%. Surprisingly, job losses were heavy in retail (with the Christmas shopping season more or less underway), as well as in manufacturing and construction (but no suprises there). According to NPR, this is the first time joblessness has hit this mark since 1983, and they also report that “it’s the 22nd straight month the U.S. economy has shed jobs, the longest on records dating back 70 years.”

The same NPR story also contains this chilling quote: “Counting those who have settled for part-time jobs or stopped looking for work, the unemployment rate would be 17.5 percent, the highest on records dating from 1994.” The story quite accurately notes that recovery isn’t yet fast enough to get hiring on the move, and invokes “the specter of a jobless recovery” — that is, a period of sufficiently slow economic growth that employers don’t feel confident enough to reverse the current trend to reduce overall headcount, and start hiring new employees instead.

Despite this gloomy employment outlook (which was widely anticipated around the globe) stock markets worldwide staged a rally yesterday, and the US markets are up this morning as I write this blog. Yesterday, the Dow closed above 10,000 again (10,005.96), NASDAQ nearly hit 2,000 (2,195.32), and the S&P 500 was up nearly 2% (1066.63). As you might expect, various stock pickers are predicting that this is a momentary market peak, with another big stretch downward into bull market territory ahead (for example, see Bob Prechter’s interview on Yahoo! Finance yesterday).

If that’s true — and only time will tell — I have to speculate that his makes a gloomy employment market even gloomier. IT professionals would be well-advised to re-read & heed the mantras from my Monday blog, which went as follows:

For those currently employed in IT that goes something like this: “Be cool. Stay put. Hone your skills. Wait for things to improve.” For those who want to work in IT, either on a first job or to get themselves back to work, it sounds like “Be cool. Look harder. Hone your skills (and consider some training or back to school). Wait for things to improve.”

What with the normal seasonal downturn in non-retail hiring between Halloween and New Year’s already underway, and the current downward trend in employment, hunkering down remains the watchword for the foreseeable future.


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