IT Career JumpStart

November 2, 2009  5:07 PM

GDP Up, But Employment Keeps Dropping

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

If I understand things correctly a recession is considered to be over when a quarterly GDP report returns to positive terrritory. With a forecast return for this quarter to a positive growth rate, by some metrics that means the recession is over. But that probably explains why includes these paragraphs in its discussion of recessions and depressions:

The standard newspaper definition of a recession is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters.

This definition is unpopular with most economists for two main reasons. First, this definition does not take into consideration changes in other variables. For example this definition ignores any changes in the unemployment rate or consumer confidence. Second, by using quarterly data this definition makes it difficult to pinpoint when a recession begins or ends. This means that a recession that lasts ten months or less may go undetected.

By the other metrics tagged in the quote’s second paragraph — namely, unemployment rate and consumer confidence — this recession is most emphaticallyl NOT over. Consumer confidence dipped in September and October, and unemployment rates have continued to climb by fits and starts all year long with decreases for both August and September as well. Many economists and even President Obama continue to predict that unemployment rates will top 10 percent by the end of the year or in the first quarter of next year (of course, with the current rate at 9.8%, that’s no huge jump in rates either).

What does this mean for IT workers? Repeat my mantras from earlier postings on this very same topic. 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.” Given that the employment market is normally quiescent between Thanksgiving and New Years (except for part-time seasonal employment) that definitely means that “hunker down” remains the watchword of the day.

Please join me in wishing for improvement and real growth in IT jobs for 2010.

October 30, 2009  3:21 PM

ISC-Squared Finally Begins Move Away from Pencil&Paper Testing

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

It’s funny how information sometimes shows itself to those who care to look for it. Now with over 60,000 CISSPs certified world-wide, and with surely two or three times that many professionals across all of its half-dozen certifications, I’ve always found it interesting that the (ISC)2 (pronounced “Eye-Ess-See squared”) continues to require its certification candidates to show up at physical testing centers on specific dates to take proctored exams using old-fashioned mark-sense forms with a pencil, instead of making a deal with Prometric or Pearson VUE to start doing cert exams the way all the other big programs do them–by computer download to a graphics test engine at an affiliated testing center. This opens the doors to many more exam takers, and will surely lead to a further increase in the size of their certified population.

The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium logo

The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium logo

In a press release entitled “Pearson Vue and (ISC)2 Sign Exclusive Contract to Deliver Computer-Based Information Security Exams Worldwide” two very interesting nuggets of information present themselves for consideration. First, the two organizations will work together to release an exam at Prometric VUE testing centers “sometime in 2010.” Second, (ISC)2 will begin “…phasing in its other credential exams over the next three years,” with the first exam up being the Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP).

Presumably that means by the end of 2012, the CISSP and the SSCP will also be avaiable in computer-based format at a nearby Prometric VUE testing center. Congratulations to the (ISC)2, and welcome to the 1990s. It’s about time!

October 28, 2009  5:07 PM

MS, Prometric Team Up to Offer Student Exam Discounts

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

What with Prometric being Microsoft’s primary global testing center operator nowadays, I guess the two companies simply had to team up to make their recent “learn.grow.succeed” program workable. Here’s the deal:

  • Visit the afore-linked Student Discount page
  • Check out the discounted exams available (2 for MCITP, 8 for MCSA, 6 each for MCDST and MCAD, and a whopping 55 for MCTS), then click the Get Discount link on any given exam to sign up
  • Provide your name, e-mail address, and country to get up to 55% off on any or all of these exams, which you must then take on or before June 30, 2010 (the fine print also reads “You MUST present a valid student ID card at the time of the exam to get the student price”)
The logo for the new student exam discount program

The logo for the new student exam discount program

I’m also guessing that it will help if the e-mail address you provide includes the domain name of an accredited college or university, as has been the case with other previous higher-ed offerings from MS and Prometric — even though this isn’t spelled out explicitly anywhere on the related Web pages (I’m going to try to sign up for a discount voucher in the absence of such an address, and I’ll let you know what happens).

Discounts apparently vary by country of location, with 55% off as the cap (that’s $82.50 off, for a total exam cost of $67.60, if that discount level applies in the US). Because MS varies its charges from country to country, and generally charges less for exams outside the first world, it makes sense to me that they would vary their discount by location. I can only hope they’re giving those from the poorest countries the best student deals.

Check it out!

October 23, 2009  4:21 PM

Thinking About Presentation Skills in IT

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On Wednesday, I posted a mini-review of Alan Carroll’s book The Broadband Connection, which aims to help IT professionals prepare, deliver, and manage more effective and compelling presentations to audiences of all kinds. In some back-and-forth about that review with the publisher’s rep, I got to thinking about my own experience in presenting to audiences of various types and sizes, and how I myself came around to developing a set of creditable presentation skills.

For many newbie presenters, their focus is entirely on the material. Do they know their stuff? Are they familiar enough with what’s on the slides that they can talk about them fluidly and accurately? Have they prepared for questions? Practiced their delivery? and so forth…

What’s missing from this focus, and what Carroll spends much of the coverage in his book on adding to the picture, is the audience to whom the presentation is to be delivered. Although he wraps up his advice and behavior coaching in transpersonal psychology language, his most important points can be summarized as follows:

  • Make eye contact with the audience. People need to feel like you’re interested in and talking to them, not to an empty room.
  • Don’t talk all the time, with no breaks. People need time to digest what you’re telling them, and to think about what you’re trying to convey.
  • Check the audience members’ facial expressions and body language to see how you’re doing: are they bored? confused? Do they “get” what you’re talking about? Do you see signs of interest?
  • Interact with the audience: Get to know peoples’ names, then use them. Ask questions. Solicit input. Provoke opinions and information sharing from the audience, particularly if they’ve either failed or succeeded in trying to address issues, develop solutions, or implement systems that you are trying to explore and explain.

I could go on and on, and if you find this stuff interesting, you should definitely check out this book, too. But the key is to understand ultimately that it’s not what you know, or how much ground you can cover, that really counts when you give a technical (or other) presentation. What really counts is what you can give to your attendees, and what they can take away with them when the presentation is over. If you remember that basic principle, and increase your efforts to get your messages across, you will improve your presentation skills immediately.

October 21, 2009  2:39 PM

A New Age Guide to IT Presentation Skills?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

About two months ago, I got a very nice letter from Adrienne Lang, a marketing associate at boutique publisher BenBella Books in Dallas, TX. She recommended one of her books to me for review in this blog, and described it as follows:

In The Broadband Connection, Alan Carroll offers his proven strategies in this fresh and innovative, step-by-step guidebook. I’m confident in saying that it’s the only book and one of the only sources anywhere on presenting and speaking written for IT professionals.

Broadband Connection

Front cover: Broadband Connection

As a long-time IT presenter myself (I made my living for 4 of the 7 years I worked at Novell as a “talking head” briefing high-level customers around the world, and have taught IT classes for Novell, Interop, the Internet Security Conference, and off and on at Austin Community College for the past 15 years) I was both curious and interested to learn more about what Mr. Carroll had to offer. But although Ms. Lang sent me the book more or less instantly (I think it came one week after she offered to send it to me), it’s taken me some time to get around to reading it from cover to cover.

Here, after some delay, is my review. Allen Carroll is obviously a gifted presenter himself, and understands very well how to teach others to develop their presentation skills. That said, I found this book to contain a sometimes baffling mixture of New Age philosophy and hard-boiled presentation skills, tips, and techniques. I’m guessing that Mr. Carroll gets his inspiration and insight from his New Age philosophers and sages (he quotes regularly from Werner Erhard, Eckhard Tolle, Ramakrishnan, and even Albert Einstein, throughout the book). And because it informs his world view and understanding of what it means to present to an audience, especially in terms of establishing rapport, making genuine communication occur, and checking in through a variety of means with attendees to make sure messages are received and understood, he also seeks to impart much of that information to his readers so that they, presumably, can put these same insights and philosophies to work in making IT presentations.

My biggest beef with the book is the way he uses technical concepts as metaphors for interpersonal communications and interaction. For example, he talks about IT presenters who focus only on dumping their knowledge bases in front of an audience without regard to their needs, reactions, or uptake as operating via a 56 Kbps connection. By contrast, a more enlightened presenter who can intersperse nuggets of useful, relevant information (communication packets that use voice, data, and video) between pauses and interpersonal interactions (space packets, which include outright pauses, body checks, agenda checks, audience observation and responses, and so forth) operates at a broadband connection level of interaction. He refers to making eye contact with audience members as establishing a VPN link to them, and talks about the personal and cultural preconceptions of reality and identity that prevent presenters from opening up fully to their audiences as a firewall from which bricks must be removed to facilitate freer, more open communication between a presenter and his audience.

I get what Mr. Carroll is saying, and I appreciate his enthusiastic and insightful attempts to move his readers from a dry, disconnected, monotone interaction with the audience to a more enagaging, active, and interactive presentation style (and philosophy). There’s a great deal of useful information in this book, especially when it comes to teaching presenters that what they themselves know is of relatively little value, but what they can impart to (and learn from) the audience is of great worth.

If you read this book you’ll find it full of useful tips and tricks for managing a presentation, working with an audience, learning how to read and react to an audience, working with resistance and difficult questions, and more. But you’ll have to plow through a lot of New Age rhetoric about overcoming fear, opening yourself up to the world, abandoning your needs and preconceptions, and so forth to find that information. If you like this kind of thing, or at least it doesn’t bother you very much, you’ll find this book both interesting and informative. On the other hand, if you prefer to steer clear of deep psychological insights and the occasional bit of mystical mumbo-jumbo, this book might just drive you up the wall.

As a former academic anthropologist with a minor in cognitive psychology, I found it fascinating myself, not least because Carroll turns subject matter related to perception and presentation of self in everyday life into an interesting and challenging toolset to remake oneself as a more fully engaged IT presenter (and hopefully also, a more well-rounded human being). It came as absolutely no suprise to me that Carroll is described in the promo copy for the book as a transpersonal psychologist — that’s clearly the tradition upon which he draws for this book, and the milieu that he inhabits. Here’s my final assessment: if you want some coaching from a man who obviously understands the interpersonal dynamics about making good, effective presentations, you can get some value from this book. But if you’re looking for a book for IT presenters by a practiced IT presenter himself, this probably isn’t what you’re after. But for a mere $10.47 (list price from the publisher, not including S&H) it may still be worth taking a flyer anyway (if you don’t like it, you can always give it one of your more touchy-feely comrades down the hall or a few cubes over).

October 19, 2009  2:41 PM

Interesting Employment Info Source

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

For this blog, I lean heavily on the monthly employment situation summaries from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But there’s another, more commercial source of employment information out there to which I’d like to point for today’s blog. It’s Manpower, Inc. a global player in the employment services industry. They publish a quarterly Employment Outlook Survey that takes a more global look at the employment situation, that helps to put the US numbers into a more comprehensive context. Their Q4 2009 Manpower Outlook Survey: Global is out, and it has some interesting tales to tell.

For the Americas, the US is at the middle of the pack ahead of Costa Rica and Peu (both down more than 20 percent since this time last year), on par with Argentina, Guatemala, and Mexico (all down 11 percent or more, just like us). Canada is slightly ahead of the US at 9 percent down, while Brazil is way ahead of everybody else, even with its own numbers for last year.

In Asia Pacific, China and Taiwan are the leaders with numbers that are officially flat (though China is down 1 percent and Taiwan down 8 percent when seasonally adjusted factors are taken into account). In that part of the world, Singapore is doing relatively well at 2 percent down, while Australia and New Zealand are down 9 and 8 percent respectively. Other countries in that part of the world are down over 10 percent (Hong Kong, India, and Japan).

In Europe and the Middle East numbers are all over the place. Hungary and Italy are flat, with the UK nearly so (down 1 percent, but at 0 when seasonal adjustments are factored in). Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, and Spain all fall between 3 and 5 percent down, and everybody else fits into two broad camps. Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland all fall between 6 and 9 percent. Other European countries fall between 12 percent (Austria and Greece) to 14 percent (Poland) to South African (?, 16 percent) with Romania bringing up the rear (at a whopping 32 percent).

Overall, this report characterizes US employment as weaker in terms of movement for the coming year, and relatively stable when comparing this quarter to those immediately preceding and succeeding it. What does this mean? We’re down, and can’t expect massive relief any time soon. But then again, things shouldn’t get too much worse looking forward, either. After the roller-coaster ride we’ve had for the past 18 months, maybe this isn’t too bad but it looks like it will be a while before things genuinely start to improve in the US.

October 16, 2009  4:46 PM

Need a cheaper MCP exam? Ask an MCT

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

MCT stands for Microsoft Certified Trainer, and these stalwart and knowledgable professionals make up the backbone of the classroom training industry for Microsoft certification exams. I stumbled across this tidbit of information in the Born to Learn blog while trolling for topics to write about. Their entry is named “Exams: Why Pay Retail?” and it explains that MCTs can offer discounts of between 10% and 20% (the actual amount varies by country), as well as a 40% discount on any MeasureUp 60 Day Online Practice Test (this program gives you 60 days during which you can take as many practice exams on your topic as you like whenever you like).

How to take advantage of this offer? Ask an MCT for a discount voucher through the MCT Rewards program. Here’s what such a voucher looks like, grabbed straight from the aforementioned Born to Learn blog on this subject:

MCT Discount Voucher

MCT Discount Voucher

With most MS exams now going for $150, this will save you $30. It’s not enough to retire on, but it ain’t bad either. Now all you have to do is find an MCT…and perhaps you can get lucky even outside the classroom!

October 12, 2009  7:52 PM

College Degree vs. IT Certification: Both Beat Either/Or

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Ken Rosen posted an interesting blog for Microsoft’s “Born to Learn” last week (on October 6, to be precise). It’s entitled “Certification or College Degree: Which Should You Choose (hint: both),” and it makes the same point that I’ve made many, many times myself in my writings on IT career and certification topics, as far back as the mid-1990s. Either one by itself is better than nothing, but both combined beats either one by itself.

Cert vs. Degree

Interesting Question: Cert vs. Degree

What’s interesting is that Rosen reports that IT pros who lack the degree are pretty sure it’s worth pursuing and earning, while those who have the degree aren’t so sure about things themselves.  Rosen also makes the well-rehearsed pitch that a degree testifies to one’s ability to learn and to communicate in written and oral form, while the IT certification’s provide narrower testimony about specific areas of technical competence. Both kinds of skills are vital for IT professionals, but they speak to different aspects of the same jobs in IT and are equally important for success in those jobs.

Neither degree nor certs last forever, either, so it’s also important to maintain a willingness to learn, along with ongoing demonstrations of ability and accomplishment. That’s why going after a graduate degree may make sense for those looking to differentiate themselves from the herd of others who have bachelor’s or associate degrees and some level of IT certification. It’s also why climbing the certification ladder makes sense for so many people, and why “soft skills certs” (like the PMP, for example) also add some cachet to resumes nowadays.

Life is a journey and an adventure. Why not do some more learning along the way?

October 9, 2009  2:43 PM

Where the IT Jobs Might Just Be

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I just finished flipping through an online slide deck at Baseline Magazine. It’s entitled Where the IT Jobs Are Now and I’m happy to see that it validates several areas of activity that I’ve already touched on in other blogs of my own here. Here’s a summary of the points from this sketchy but thought-provoking presentation, slide-by-slide (titles are reproduced verbatim and explanatory text is paraphrased):

  • Data Management, including business intelligence, data mining, and data warehousing
  • Security, driven by an upsurge in online business and a concomitant need to protect against vulnerabilities and exposures
  • IT sourcing and vendor relationship management, which I see as a natural business extension to the growing migration to cloud computing and virtualization technologies
  • Networking and wireless, as wireless networks continue to proliferate in public spaces and private organizations
  • Web development, also a side-effect of the upsurge in online business, but also a result of increasing efforts to support and interact with prospects, customers, and partners online first and foremost
  • Quality management, fueled by increasing adoption of standards based quality and organizational management regimes (ITIL, CMM, Lean, Six Sigma, and so forth)
  • Education, because as employment goes down “back to school” always goes up (and the current cohort of college age is also bigger than in the 90s and early part of this decade)
  • Healthcare, as one of the continuing sources of growth and expansion even in this down economy; for IT this touches especially on help desk and electronic medical records creation and management
  • Energy, with ongoing investments in both traditional and alternative energy sources and programs; these days managing energy is all about acquiring and managing data — LOTS of data
  • The Feds (Federal Government) are still hiring like mad what with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus federal stimulus dollars for programs all over the technical and IT landscapes

Those looking for IT work who are considering venturing out of their comfort zones in the interest of finding gainful employment, might be able to glean a target or two from this list. And then, very probably, some of you will head back to school to bone up on the subject matter, adding further impetus to the item on Education!

October 7, 2009  4:43 PM

AVG Free 9.0: Coming Soon

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Of all the free antimalware packages — most notably, Avira AntiVir, AVG Free, Avast!, and most recently, Microsoft Security Essentials — I’ve had the most experience with AVG Free. I’m currently running AVG 8.5 Free on at least 4 systems (all test machines: 2 notebooks and 2 desktops) and also have it installed on my son’s MSI notebook PC as well. It’s not the absolute best of the free PC antivirus packages — at least, not according to Nick Mediati’s recent and well-researched and -tested Free Antivirus Software roundup for PC Magazine dated 8/24/2009 — but it’s always proved adequate for my needs and seems to do the job reasonably well.

That’s why I read yesterday’s announcement of AVG version 9.0 (as reported on ITWire, for example) with considerable interest. This latest version of the program adds a list of ‘safe’ files from previous scans to its database, along with an improved firewall, better anti-phishing detection in its LinkScanner, and a partnership with Intersections, Inc. to offer access to identity theft recovery services to users of the program.

This all sounds both promising and interesting. But alas, a quick jump to the AVG Free pages shows that the an AVG 9.0 Free version isn’t available for download just yet. And sure enough, numerous stories confirm that this version won’t be available until “later this month.” That said, if you have users with personal machines or VMs to protect against malware (and who doesn’t nowadays), you might want to keep an eye out for release of the free version for such use. And of course, given its release timing, this version incorporates full-on support for Windows 7 versions.

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