I’ve been trolling the IT certification spaces and have noticed a bunch of new stuff out there. In no particular order, here’s what I’m seeing lately that may be of interest to some readers:
- Cisco’s progressing on the roll-out of its new expert level cert program, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) which complements the wildly successful CCIE program. In August, the company will start to offer the hands-on/lab exam portion for this credential at its Chicago, London, and Hong Kong testing centers. Registration for this $1400 exam (same price as the CCIE hands-on exam) is now open, and if CCIE sign-up is any guide, you’d best sign up early to get a slot if you want to pursue this credential (visit the CCDE Website for registration and sign-up details). As with CCIE, candidates must first pass a written exam before they can register for the hands-on/lab exam.
- Microsoft has now rolled out its slate of Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) exams for Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.5. See the MCPD: Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Web page for details. Tracks are now available for Windows Developer 3.5, ASP.NET Developer 3.5, and Enterprise Applications Developer 3.5 credentials under the Visual Studio 2008 umbrella, and upgrade exams from Visual Studio 2005 to 2008 MCPD (exams 70-566, 70-567, 70-568, and 70-569) went public between March 10 and 26, 2009, to completely fill out these tracks. Those interested in the Microsoft take on “cert games” should check out the company’s online “Are You Certifiable?” game.
- CompTIA is sponsoring a laudable and interesting program to raise money to help miltary veterans and their spouses retool for careers in IT. The organization is accepting equipment donations for auction to raise money and interested vets and family members can learn more about available programs and support at the CompTIA Educational Foundation page.
- Interested in solid state storage? Check out the white papers and other materials that fall under the Storage Networking Industry Association’s (SNIA’s) Solid State Storage Initiative. Cool stuff, perhaps coming in a SNIA cert soon.
That’s it for this month! But if you’ve got a cert program, or cert news you’d like to share with my readers, put me in your mailing list for future updates, please [mailto:email@example.com]. I’ll repeat this procedure in about 30 days (mid-May, in other words).
In prepping for filing my extension for my family’s 1040, I always have to do the following:
- add up how much I made last year: this involves pulling out all my 1099 forms and totting up the total amount. I just barely cracked into six figures for 2008.
- dig up total payments to the IRS for the current tax year: this means jumping into my checkbook register or its electronic equivalent and finding all checks made out to the IRS for that particular tax year. I found a carryover from 2007, plus April 08 and January 09 1040-SE payments, for something in the same neighborhood that I paid them last year (this is always a good thing, according to my CPA, because it shows consistency)
- as a sanity check, I add up the 1099s I paid to others (just over $30K for 2008, in my case), do a rough comparison of the previous and current year’s overall business expenses (about the same for 2007 and 2008), and also provide numbers for IRA and Medical Savings payments for the current year as well. Looking at percentages based on the ratio of income and social security tax paid for that year versus total income and adjusted gross income for those two years lets me know if I’m in the right ball park or not.
Why do I do all this and not file my taxes at the same time? Even though the work involved in finishing my info gathering for the hand-off to my accountant seldom takes more than one or two additional days to complete, there’s something about an extension that really works for me. While I was growing up I watched my Dad sweat through at least one, sometimes two, all-nighters every time tax season came up and resolved I wouldn’t get myself in that kind of lather later in life. So far, so good: as long as you can show the IRS that you’ve paid everything you owe them by Tax Day (I set things up so that I usually get from $1-3K back, which I always roll over for the next year’s tax payment), they don’t seem to get too bent out of shape by late filings. Thanks to years of practice, and a well-worn Excel spreadsheet that my CPA and I pass back and forth between each other, all is and remains well.
What’s not so hot is that my income is on a downward trend over the past three years. I’m learning to live on reduced means, but gosh, it’s certainly no fun for anyone involved, especially my wife and son, who have to put up with the situation without really contributing much coming, though we’re all involved in the going part. I see it as just one more sign of a strained economy and a fraying safety net that we’re coping with only slightly lower costs for food and energy, while also dealing with an income stream that’s down by as much as one-third in some months from what it was in 2006.
Such is life in general, but even more so in particular for the “itinerant self-employed” like myself. Have any tax stories to share? Any good coping strategies for up-and-down-income? Please post your thoughts, and share them here!
Happy Tax Day!!!
In her most recent (4/6/09) article, entitled “Social Networking Emerges as Job-Hunting Tool” regular ITCareerPlanet contributor Esther Schein, picks up and runs with an idea that’s crossed my mind many times in the last year or so — namely, that the various social networking sites offer great tools to IT professionals seeking work, as well as ample opportunities to catch up with old classmates, colleagues, and friends. I’d have to observe that this becomes increasingly true for social network members as they get older (for the younger set the emphasis is more on “social” than “networking,” while for those of use higher up on the age ladder, myself included, the emphasis is far more often the other way ’round).
And despite Schein’s observations to the contrary, my own experience is that Facebook and MySpace remain far more social than networking oriented in this sense, whereas other, more professional sites such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, and so forth, naturally assume the job search mantle because they’re rather more professionally oriented anywyay. This by no means detracts from the value or import of the article, and isn’t meant as a major cricitism of Shein’s excellent story: there’s no denying that social networks can be very useful to job seekers, especially during the early phases of reconnaissance and targerting where personal connections can make a huge difference in identifying opportunities, and making the first cut between the “nahs!” and the “let’s look at this resume/appliction more closely” stages of candidate qualification.
Shein also observes that once you target a prospective employer, the social networking sites can let you learn a lot about current employees, especially when it comes to understanding the prevailing work ethic, typical employee profiles, corporate/organizational culture, and other aspects of life as a worker at the target company or organization. Of course, this kind of information also leads naturally into interview preparation should an indication of candidate interest provoke a similar sign of interest from a prospective employer.
Personally, I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great way to reconnect with former colleaues, co-workers, and co-authors. In my own case, it hasn’t led me to any job offers, but it has led to numerous consulting and writing gigs, some of relatively long standing and nice remuneration. Working social networks for work purposes turns out to be a savvy and workable approach to today’s job market. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to give it a try, with LinkedIn at the top of the list. And of course, that leads to my final words on this subject here: always treat your presence on social networking sites as both personal and professional, and don’t post (or say) anything you wouldn’t want a current or prospective employer to see! Otherwise, those words and images could haunt you for years and years to come…
Last Tuesday, April 7, SearchNetworking news writer Dan Morisy interviewed me for a story entitled “Cisco’s Game Face: Can games replace traditional certification prep?” The impetus for his story is a joint effort among Cisco Systems, Cisco Learning (aka Learning@Cisco), and Larry Holland’s TotallyGames computer game development studio. They’ve created a gaming environment called Cisco Mind Share that covers about half of the content for the entry-level CCENT exam, with an eye to capturing a bigger audience for their learning materials, sold through Cisco Press online and in book stores everywhere. Topics covered include binary notation and arithmetic, IOS fundaments, the OSI model, IP addressing and subnetting, IP routing, switch operation and behavior, wireless networks, and NAT and PAT. Serious (and useful) stuff, in an attractive and entertaining wrapper!
The real questions that arise from this effort might be paraphrased as:
- Will cert candidates use a game as a preparation tool?
- Can gaming work as a reasonable study strategy?
Personally, I’m of the opinion that a game can be like other supplementary forms of cert prep materials, such as Exam Cram books, flash cards, practice tests, and so forth. I remain to be convinced, however that Cisco Program Manager Jerry Bush’s contention “We realistically think someone will use this as a study guide and spend 20 to 30 hours with it just like it was a study guide” holds water. This particular game, in fact, covers IP basics from routing to subnetting, to help candidates get ready for CCENT. But does that mean it will become a primary learning tool? I wonder…
Personally, I think that because most people have to prepare for cert exams in their spare (leisure) time, that when they want to study, they’ll turn to study guides first and foremost, and only then to alternate materials possibly including the Cisco Mind Share game. When they want to play instead of study, I have to believe they may sometimes turn to this game, but for real recreation they’ll be more likely to turn to their favorite MMORPG or FPS extravaganza. Work and play can be hard to mix, and my gut feel is that Cisco will encounter some resistance in getting exam candidates to cheerfully blend these two categories of activity.
But hey, I could easily be wrong, especially for younger demographics. Why don’t you take a look at the online demo — where the first five levels of the game are freely available — and tell me what YOU think? My opinion only goes so far, and I could use some opinions and reactions to what Cisco is offering here. For April this game is available at a 30% discount off the normal $50 list price for $35. Most study guides go for prices in the same range, so from a pure numbers basis it’s not out of line to compare these two types of prep materials. Would you spend either (or both) amounts for this kind of tool? Again, please tell me!
Thanks to Don Sears excellent “Careers blog” at eWeek, I learned about the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker earlier this week. Here, I’d like to explain and describe it, then depict its reporting, and talk about how its numbers compare to those from other sources (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Manpower, Inc., and various other employment reporting resources). Finally, I’ll explain how you can help to make this tool better and more accurate, by reporting things you may know that it doesn’t yet reflect.
Basically, the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker is a database that places all company announcements and other verifiable information about high-tech layoffs on a timeline. It starts as of August 27, 2008, and goes right up to the present. Here’s a quick look at its layoff graph, which clearly depicts a spike in layoff in Q1’09 as compared to Q4’08:
What this graph represents is a visual summary of the layoff data also available on this Web page. As you scroll down, you’ll see a table that lists all layoffs by company, date, locations, number of laid-off employees, percentage of total workforce, with a link to the source for this information. As I write this blog, there are 455 entries in this table, a smattering of which looks like this:
This is a great resource and a very interesting source of information, but it is vital to understand that it differs from normal employment reporting in one important way. Scroll down to the Microsoft entry for January 22, 2009, and I’ll explain what I mean. Note that this item indicates a layoff of 5,000 people. And indeed, that reflects Microsoft’s stated intentions for 2009 where layoffs are concerned. But on 1/22/2009, Microsoft actually laid off only 1,400 people, while announcing their plans to lay off an additional 3,600 over the course of 2009. Other employment reports (like the sources mentioned earlier in this blog) usually get their numbers from state and federal employment tracking agencies, or by using numbers for layoffs undertaken during a specific time period, or on a certain date.
I’m not trying to suggest that the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker is inaccurate or invalid; I’m only pointing out the limits to its reporting and the way it positions numbers in time. It’s a very useful tool, and a great source of information.
All this said, what can you to do help this tool be more accurate? If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll find a comment form where you can provide information about layoffs that their list may currently omit (perhaps yours or that from somebody else you know who works in high tech). You must, however, include a link to some published source for this information, even if it’s only a company press release that mentions the layoff, the date, and the number of employees affected. Do your part! Help make this tool even better…post your information right away!
By contrast with the recently published numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Manpower, Inc. Employment Outlook Survey for the US (published 3/10/2009) is less bullish on IT. The Q2 2009 forecast for the information sector looks like this for the second quarter of 2009, out of 38,000-plus employers contacted:
- 11 percent believe IT employment will go up
- 16 percent believe IT employment will go down
- 69 percent believe IT employment will continue unchanged
That reflects ongoing uncertainty about customer demand (going up? going down? going sideways? who knows?) and makes companies reluctant to change staffing levels. That said, Manpower Inc also forecasts a drop of 5% in total IT employees classed in their “information” sector for Q2’09, though their professional and business services category (where some IT positions will be classified) forecasts growth of 9 percent for the same quarter.
Where is this market going? I’m not sure that anybody really knows, but the numbers coming back from the Manpower survey clearly indicate that employers don’t yet have any feel as to whether the trend is up or down. Outside IT you’ll hear the same story, where the vast majority of responses also fall in the “No Change” category.
In fact, the lowest value for No Change is 58% in Construction and the highest is 76% for Other Services. By contract, those who think things are increasing/on the way up vary from 11% (Education and Health Services, Government, Information, and Other Services) to a high of 25% for Leisure and Hospitality. On the downside, the lowest number is 11% (Education and Health Services, Leisure & Hospitality, and Professional and Business Services) with a high of 22% in Mining.
My conclusion: IT is still going sideways along with the rest of the economy as business, government, industry, and consumers all wait to see if we’ve hit bottom yet, or if another trough opens up in front of us. Stay tuned, and wear your waders plus an extra pair of socks! It’s safe to conclude there’s no IT boom in sight.
The March 2009 numbers just came out this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and are probably best summed up as “more of the same, only worse.” Overall US unemployment jumped from 8.1% in February, up to 8.5% in March (a nearly 4.7% increase). And to make things still grimmer, here’s an interesting clip from the report’s first paragraph “Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost, with almost two-thirds (3.3) million of the decrease occurring in the last 5 months. In March, job losses were large and widespread across the major industry sectors.” In fact, the official job losses in March were tallied at 663,000, which is almost exactly one-fifth of that 3.3M number.
What about IT? Professional and Business services as a category declined by 133,000 (preliminary estimate) in March, and this is where IT is primarily reported. That’s about 1 in 5 of the jobs lost in March! Drilling down into Report B2, average weekly hours in the Information category for production and nonsupervisory workers declined by only 6 minutes (from 36.9 to 36.8 hours) so perhaps the direct impact on IT is not as dire as the complete Professional and Business services number suggests.
On the other hand, Report A-11, “Unemployed persons by industry and class of worker, not seasonally adjusted” shows that from March 2008 to March 2009 unemployment rates spiked from 4.8% a year ago, to 7.8% this year. That’s a whopping 38.5% jump for the category, so there’s obviously plenty of pain and suffering to go around in our sector, though it’s either on par or less than similar spikes in other sectors. As you’d expect construction(21.1%) and manufacturing (12.2%) are among the hardest hit, along with mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (12.6%), Professional and business services (11.4%), Leisure and hospitality (11.6%), and Agriculture etc (19%).
I’m hoping this latest round of news doesn’t dampen the modest stock market rally that’s buoyed sentiments and outlooks over the past couple of weeks. But gosh, doesn’t this just confirm what we’re all hearing on the street, or experiencing first hand? All I can say is “Hang in there!”
In looking over the labor numbers for my recent Washington DC blog, “Government Stimulus Comes Home to Roost?” I also observed that employment numbers were up in Houston and Dallas as of the end of 2008, as per UBLS statistics. Does this mean a viable market for IT workers in those cities right now? I’ll also report on the putative and anecdotal state of things for IT professionals in my own metro area — namely, the Austin – San Marcos, TX, MSA, currently ranked at number 16 nationwide, and a mildly notorious hotbed for high-tech activity.
On the face of it, Texas is suffering somewhat less than the rest of the nation from the downturn, both in terms of unemployment (6.4% for Texas versus 8.1% nationwide as of March, 2009) and in terms of job opportunities for IT professionals (modest growth under 2% for 2008, flat to -1% so far for 2009). Houston (national rank: fourth) and Dallas (national rank: eighth) are numbers 1 and 3 in Texas by size, with San Antonio (national rank: seventh) smack dab in the middle. A quick perusal of IT classifieds for either Houston or “the Big D” show plenty of IT job openings, and reasonably brisk traffic in same (average listing turnover is under 5 weeks).
But the word on the street, my own recent personal experience, and anecdotal evidence from my professional network shows that most of the IT workforce is running scared. Those with jobs in IT are working harder than ever to keep them, and those looking for work are spreading lots of resumes around and interviewing like mad, without really making much tangible progress. Based on my observations, there’s a strong negative correlation between years of experience/job level/pay history and the expectation of finding a suitable position and/or a reasonable job offer. In other words, those of us who’ve been in the biz for 10 years or more, and who are used to making comfortable salaries, must either face drastic pay cuts, or continued under- or unemployment.
Before you pull up stakes and come to my lovely home state, I’d urge you to land a position beforehand. If you’re coming here just to look, you’ll have to get in line with all the locals already looking for IT work. Sometimes the statistics don’t do complete justice to the situation on the ground, and this is one case where I’ll beg to differ with the obvious conclusions that the numbers appear to present.
That said, I can suggest one area where opportunities do seem to be perking up: outsourcing services. As a freelancer, I go where the work is, and that’s meant that much of my current income stream has been shrinking as companies cut back on budgets. At the same time, my volume of work from outsourcing companies that manage customer relationships, provide Internet content for large corporations, or build what I like to call “edusales” content (educational and informative, but with an ultimate aim of selling readers on the sponsor’s products or services) has been booming. All of these companies report that business is up considerably lately, as even the biggest corporations trim back on in-house staff and activies, and turn increasingly to professional outsourcing outfits to meet their need to keep their customers engaged. If you’re looking for fertile ground, it’s the best equivalent for IT job search I’ve come across so far. In fact, I can unequivocally say that “If you know Eloqua well, drop me a line and I’ll hook you up with a company that’s in desperate need of more Eloqua expertise than they can find themselves.” May this bring a ray of sunshine to somebody’s otherwise dull, drab day!
The “Born to Learn” blog from Microsoft Learning is proving to be an effective and useful source of advance information from MS. Call it a “source of planned leaks” and you wouldn’t be at all out of line. Fortunately, MS Learning has been forthcoming and straightforward enough for this to be a source of genuine and useful info rather than another outlet for official PR information. The blog in question is entitled “Sneak Peek at Windows 7 exam development” and it offers the following tidbits of information:
- Three exams are currently under development (see next bulleted list below for as much information as I can provide on same at this time)
- MS is building one of these exams for a hitherto unserved job role: Desktop Administrator. Here’s how MS describes this job role:
- The lone Windows 7 TS exam scheduled in this batch will provide one more additional option to meet desktop exam requirements for the MCITP Enterprise Administrator cert, rather than replacing the Vista TS exam of the same ilk outright.
…Desktop Administrators (DAs) are IT Professionals who are responsible for provisioning desktop PCs and deploying service packs and updates to these PCs. They are also responsible for setting the strategic direction for the desktop operating system and applications. DAs work with other lines of businesses in their company and are responsible for addressing high-end desktop infrastructure needs. DAs are Tier 3 level support and mostly handle escalations related to system and large site issues.
That said, here are the three exam identifiers mentioned in this blog:
- 70-680 TS: Windows 7, Configuring: all that MS Learning says at this point is that this exam is “under development.” I take this to mean that 70-680 will be cast in the same mold as exam 70-620 except with Windows 7 as its focus, rather than Windows Vista. I don’t expect to see any more change in coverage or skills measured than the changes from Vista to Windows 7 require.
- 70-685 MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician: ditto 70-680, except this time the analogous Vista exam is 70-622 “Supporting and Troubleshooting Applications on a Vista Client for Enterprise Support Technicians.”
- 70-686, MCITP: Windows 7, Desktop Administrator: development on this exam is scheduled to start this week. MS is also looking for experienced desktop administrators to get some help and feedback in developing this exam. If you read this blog, you may want to check the other blog to get Krista Wall’s e-mail address and drop her a line indicating interest. It will be interesting to see how much of the cool technology that enterprise Windows Desktop admins have available to them (WAIK, Deployment Toolkits, Business Desktop Deployment, MDOP, and so forth) appears in this exam. I’ve perceived a “burning need” to make order out of the many options (not to say chaos) that make up today’s offerings, and am hopeful that this exam and related training materials could provide some much-needed guidance and clarity.
I’ve called the MS Learning PR person and have requested a follow-up conversation on these topics, and about when related online and classroom training materials should become available. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks if this discussion interests you: I’ll be sure to revisit it as soon as I get a chance to talk further on these exams, and this general subject matter, with the people in charge of this effort.
Now that we know some of what’s coming Windows 7’s way, the next obvious question is “When?” Of course, answering that would mean disclosing the real planned release date for the OS, and Microsoft has remained resolutely mum on that subject of late. Don’t expect me to drop any news (or bombs) in that direction in my follow-up and you are much less likely to come away disappointed. Those kinds of scoops I leave to my infinitely better connected peers and colleagues at TechARP. 😉
According to the Washington Business Journal, the DC area was only one of four major metro areas in the US — including also Boston, Dallas, and Houston — to experience job growth in 2008. For the DC area, 2009 is shaping up even better, due at least in part to the US Government’s aggressive hiring of more staff to help set up, coordinate, and oversee stimulus spending. Given the need for qualified IT staff to help do likewise for the information systems involved (set up, coordinate, and manage/maintain is probably a more appropriate locution), this helps to explain why IT hiring is up, up, up in the DC metro area overall.
Unemployed or underemployed IT professionals willing to relocate for work opportunities should take notice. Here’s an interesting statistic to ponder as well: “For every $1B in Federal spending, 7,000 jobs are created in the Washington area. The new stimulus could give D.C. $23 billion during the next three years, meaning 30,000 Washington D.C. jobs could be created by 2010 and 64,000 jobs could be created by 2019.” (Source jobfetch.org blog 3/12/09) Gosh, those are some pretty compelling numbers.
But before you start loading up the family van, you might also want to ponder these factoids as well:
- DC area median household income ranks the highest in the country, according to the US Census bureau, in ranking large counties around DC (source Cleveland.com)
- Real estate prices have remained pretty firm — and likewise, fairly high — in the DC metro area as well
- Traffic around the DC metro area, particularly inside the I-495 Beltway, is busy and often highly congested
- Overall cost of living in the DC area is among the highest in the country
In other words, if you want to go where the action is, you’ve got to pay in more ways than one to make your way into and around the DC area. But for those with good qualifications who can’t find work, or can’t advance, in their current locales, it may be time to starting thinking about joining up with Mr. Smith, and heading for “Das Kapital!”