IT Career JumpStart

October 7, 2009  4:24 PM

Even UT takes an IT layoff hickey

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Part of my morning ritual consists of listening to local NPR affiliate station KUT, which intersperses snippets of local news along with the national and global news that NPR reports on “Morning Edition.” This morning, I heard that big local employer UT Austin just laid 25 people off in its Information Technology Services office. Sure enough, I just checked the local news headings on the station Web site and there it is: “UT Lays Off IT Workers.” The official explanation reads “…the staff reduction is part of UT efforts to cut costs during the economic recession.”

This is pretty interesting, and of course, also tragic for those involved (though the story does say that 3 out of the 25 people affected will be offered other campus IT jobs). Here are some interesting nuggets of information — factoids, if you will — that this news suggests to me:

  • The latest data I can find for university endowments by size is for 2007, which shows Texas at Number 5, behind Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton in that order. Interesting that an institution with what was then a $15 endowment feels the need to trim IT staff. Disclosure: I have at least one degree from UT Austin (two, if you want to count the bachelor’s equivalency in CS I earned there in 1981) and remember the school fondly.
  • Enrollment at UT is up 2.1% for 2009, as of the start of the fall semester. Talk about “doing more with less” — perhaps that should be “serving more with less” in this case!
  • As of August, unemployment in the Austin area stands at 7.2%, 0.8% better than the Texas and 2.5% better than the US national unemployment rates for that same month. If anything, this argues that the recession is a bit less severe here than in other parts of the country and the world.

I’d love to know more about the reasons for this move, and to understand how and why these cuts were made at this particular time. One thing’s for sure: when a well-run, financially sound institution like UT Austin feels the need to trim IT staff, you can bet they aren’t convinced that the recession is over, either. Ouch!

October 5, 2009  1:14 PM

ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 Accredited Certifications

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I got an e-mail last week from Microsoft indicating that “Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Windows Server 2008 Server Administrator and Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Administrator certifications are the first two Microsoft product-specific IT certifications to receive the ANSI accreditation” for personnel certifications. Having been dimly aware of this program for some time I decided to dig in and find out who else offers IT certifications that meet these international standards for certification program acceditation.

See ANSI Accreditation Services for more info on the overall program. To understand the benefits see “Why Seek Accreditation?” A complete list of accredited organizations is available on the”List of accredited certification bodies” page on the ANSI Website.

Here’s a partial rendering of the ANSI Accreditation Directory that includes only IT-related credentials (a total of 29 organizations appear in that list, which means that IT related entries comprise just under 25% of the total present):

While this isn’t exactly a “who’s who” of IT certification organizations, it isn’t exactly chopped liver, either. Cisco’s missing, but with Microsoft and CompTIA both now present, two of the three biggest overall programs are represented. I’m also fascinated by the heavy presence of information security programs in this line-up, including the entry-level CompTIA Security+, ASIS, GIAC, ISACA, and ISC-squared.

Somehow, this also makes Microsoft’s disclosure that it plans to seek ANSI accreditation next for its “Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator: Security Specialization” credential — despite its age and possible decrepitude — a lot easier to understand. I’m guessing there must be a requirement for ANSI/ISO/IEC accreditation for infosec certifications somewhere, in some government’s or other official body’s canon of requirements for infosec practitioners. And sure enough under US Government Recognition the Department of Defense appears under the heady “government agencies…closely associated with ANSI accreditation.” Obviously, information security plays into this association in some form or fashion.

I’ll report further on this phenomenon as I learn more. This is enough information to be intriquing, but not yet enough to be satisfying, so I’ll keep digging. Stay tuned.

October 2, 2009  5:28 PM

Looking for work with the Feds? Think “Security Clearance!”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Let me start today’s blog with an upfront disclaimer: though obtaining a security clearance may sound like a good idea to anybody considering some kind of civilian position with the US government, you can’t get one on your own. Obtaining a security clearance requires the active consent and participation of the Feds, and can only be granted for those who work in government agencies or who contract to same (usually through large specialist companies that specialize in providing contract human capital for government use, sometimes called “Beltway bandits”). You can’t go out and get one on your own.

That said, one of the biggest hurdles to obtaining a security clearance is getting through the background check. Here’s where a potential silver lining lurks for military or ex-military personnel: if you’ve ever had a security clearance, your odds of getting one as a civilian go up enormously AND the background check only needs to pick up after the data when your last clearance was granted. This can be a huge boon for those who’ve already been awarded such clearances, even if that occurred some time ago (of course, your criminal and financial record must be blemish-free since then, but that shouldn’t be too big a hurdle for most people).

If you want to learn more about this fascinating subject, please consult one or more of the following articles:

September 30, 2009  4:52 PM

Po Bronson Strikes Again with “What Should I Do…” Redux

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Back in the last downturn — you know, the dot com bomb that followed the dot com boom in 2001 — Po Bronson, one of my favorite writers came out with a terrific book entitled What Should I Do with My Life?  that explored how best to take advantage of the many, often involuntary opportunities to change jobs that the dot bomb bestowed on workers. Given our current economic situation, with a technical end to the recession in sight, but with unemployment at its highest point in 26 years, and with worse still to come, it came as no surprise to me that he’s returned to this subject matter in a story for Fast Company entitled “What Should I Do with My Life, Now?” You’ll definitely want to give this a read, whether you’re out of work, thinking about making changes to your working life, or simply trying to keep up with ever-shifting employment landscape.

The story itself seeks to debunk a list of misconception or perhaps misguided ideas about what it means to ponder one’s fate, and consider one’s working life. You’ll want to turn to Bronson’s own inimitable prose for the biggest impact, but he manages to unearth some ideas and discuss them in a way that’s simultaneously interesting, amusing, realistic, and occasionally pathetic. The notions he seeks to debunk what he perceives as “the top fallacies that I think people project onto this dilemma” (where the dilemma is the title of the story):

  1. People are not the architects of their own changes.
  2. Responsibilities are not outside your circle of purpose.
  3. Following your passion, or pursuing your fantasies, is no ticket to happiness, success, or job satisfaction.
  4. No job is perfect, and all of them have yucky parts. But if you feel like you’re working toward something, that’s probably good enough.
  5. It’s not necessary to have some kind of higher calling to have a sense of purpose at work.
  6. There is no one perfect thing for each person to find and pursue. Any career that provides growth and fulfills a sense of purpose will do.
  7. Don’t say you have no idea what you want from life: everybody knows what they want; the difficulty comes in satisfying them. It’s about learning, discovery, and being willing to start over.

All I can say is that I was glad to find and read this story. I hope you’ll do likewise and feel the same when you’re done. Enjoy!

September 28, 2009  3:40 PM

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes on Windows 7 Reliability

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Anybody who reads this blog for any length of time will quickly observe that I’m a nut about Windows reliability, and very interested in how the OS measure same. Starting with Vista, and continuing in Windows 7, there’s even a reliability monitor that keeps track of how systems do over time. Here’s a snapshot of the woeful state of my current Windows 7 production machine, which likewise gave me reliability fits before I upgraded to Windows 7 RTM on August 8.

Bad-boy P35 Quad Core PC has rotten reliability

Bad-boy P35 Quad Core PC has rotten reliability

On the other hand, here’s a snap from another machine I work on regularly, my Dell D620 notebook PC, which is a solid as a rock and shows it like a champ in this display:

The D620 earns "perfect 10s" across the calendar

The D620 earns perfect 10 on reliability

I could show a similar display for Windows 7 on that machine, but because I actually *run* Vista on it all the time, I prefer to show the Vista display.  The D620 runs a dual-boot configuration, and I occasionally boot it up in Win7, but it’s my primary Vista machine for some Vista classes I teach online for HP.


All of this information comes by way of preamble to demonstrate my profound and abiding interest in Windows Vista and Windows 7 reliability topics. Like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, the author of this blog on ZDNet “Windows 7 reliability scorecard – looking good!” I too have come to believe that Windows 7 is very reliabile, to the point of being noticeably more reliable (and less finicky about hardware) than Vista, and more resistant to and resilient in the face of device issues, glitches, and failures. Like Kingsley-Hughes, I can count the number of bluescreens Windows 7 has thrown on both hands (and this after running the OS on no less than a couple of dozen systems from low-powere Atom-based netbooks to extremely high-end i7 based “monster desktops”). And I must confess that I deliberately provoked at least three of those bluescreens while working on chapters on error recovery and crashdumps for the recently-published book Windows 7 in Depth to which I contributed 9 chapters in its latest revision.


In fact, switching to Windows 7 on my production machine, and observing ongoing flakiness and bad scores in Reliability Monitor convinced me to spring for a new motherboard for that machine. After a while, Windows 7 even told me that my problems with that motherboard originated from errors on the PCI-e bus, specifically related to the x16 channel to my high-end graphics card. That’s a lot more than Vista ever told me, and only confirmed my desire to rebuild that machine ASAP. As I write this blog in fact, my partner Toby Digby is coming over with a temporary replacement machine to take over the production role, while he carries off all the pieces and parts necessary to recast that flaky machine with an SSD as its primary system drive, a nice, new better-ventilated Antec 900 case, and a switchover from a collection of older smaller drives to a pair of brand-new 1 TB Samsung SpinPoints. At this point, I’m hoping for the best!

September 28, 2009  3:11 PM

Great Cert Prep Advice From CertMag

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As somebody who’s dispensed a great deal of advice on how to prepare for IT certification — including three or four editions of a book called IT Certification Success — I’d like to think that I can recognize good examples of the genre from other writers as well. In that spirit that I call your attention to Luis Carselle’s recent story for Certification Magazine. Entitled “Learn Smarter: Preparing for a Certification Exam,” it appeared on the Web site on 9/25/2009 and will also appear in print in its October issue.

One of the sections in the story I like best is called “Years Before the Exam,” which digs into the kinds of jobs that actually require certification before individuals can practice or perform them. Aside from the kinds of positions we all know require such vetting — commercial pilots, physicians, therapists, and so forth — a growing number of technical positions in and around IT are starting to fall under this kind of umbrella. I also know of lots of companies that require their field engineers, system engineers, and senior technical support staff to earn and maintain certs in the areas, platforms, or products with which they work.

Carselle goes on to lay out tasks and objectives on a timeline basis, to describe what candidates should be doing to prepare for an exam six months out, three months out, and so on, all the way up to the day before an exam. I can’t say this story is complete or even comprehensive. But the advice it proffers is generally good, and definitely worth reading. If you need some information and inspiration to help you gear up for your next cert exam, give it a once-over. You may even decide to return back to it as you march down the timeline to exam day.

September 25, 2009  8:06 PM

The MS Cert Exam Beta Invite Process Explained

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Hooray! Liberty Munson of MS Learning has posted a peachy explanation of how the invitation process works for some of the many Microsoft certification exams that get introduced and updated all the time. Here’s the banner for this latest posting on the Born To Learn blog, posted 9/25/09, and entitled “Understanding the Beta Invite Process.”

If you’re interested in finding out about beta exams, it’s a good idea to stay tuned to the “Born to Learn” blog anyway, and you’ll also want to check in on the certifications postings there as well. In fact, a quick jump over there right now shows a recent (9/17/09) posting on the Windows 7 Professional exams (685 and 686) that explains how people find out about open betas so they can sign up and particpate, primarily by filling out an SME (subject matter expert) profile and indicating interest before the beta exam sign-up period begins. There’s even a Beta Exam Announcements blog where you can find out about all the ongoing and upcoming beta exams at Microsoft at any particular point in time.

Now that you know how to find out about exams, how to get considered, and where to look for information, all you need to do is get lucky enough to check about one week in advance so you can indicate interest, and snag an invite or get a beta registration code. Good luck!

September 23, 2009  2:48 PM

MS Plays Contrarian for “Careers of the Future”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent MS PressPass posting entitled “Message to Students and IT Pros: Prepare Today for ‘Careers of the Future‘” Microsoft appears to be taking an interesting and contrarian slant on IT jobs as it attempts to stimulate interest and investment in Microsoft Learning offerings. MS interprets the results of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics July Household Survey to indicate that “computer systems design and services” jobs have increased vis-a-vis those for 2008. They also cite a July Fortune story “Where the tech jobs are now” to indicate that “unemployment among tech workers [is]…less than half the overall U.S. jobless rate” with further mention of that story’s subtitle — “At least 400,000 jobs are going begging, even in this economy.” Then comes the kicker: this situation reflects “the ever-changing nature of the tech industry,” where “even during lean times companies have a hard time finding the right candidates to fill certain technical positions.”

And of course, MS wants to help with this. They’re launching a new campaign called “Chart YOUR Career” where you can pick among a list of job roles to see what kinds of training and career development information is available for each one:

Chart Your Career job roles

Chart Your Career job roles

Not only does Microsoft want to get you involved in related training and certifications, it is also offering exam discounts of up to 25% ($37.50 on a $150 exam in the US), and touting free software with classroom training (this has been Microsoft’s practice for those who take authorized classroom training for as long as I can remember, at least as far back as 1995). For each role, you’ll find a job description, skill sets, and various learning plans to help pursue that path into demonstrations of competence. Careful reading of the recitations from the various Microsoft executives involved in the press release indicate this information is aimed primarily at students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

This makes sense because those already in the workforce usually have to keep earning a paycheck and can only pursue new job roles part-time. Students looking for career choices could conceivably use this information to target specific job roles — and related certifications — as they work through their degree plans. Though Microsoft points readres to its programs for job seekers, as well as for IT pros and developers, this information is likely to have the biggest impact on those in the process of figuring out what to do with their professional lives. It should be interesting to see what kind of fruit it bears, and to see whether or not the roles that the company targets here translate into real opportunities for those who seek to fill such shoes.

September 21, 2009  4:33 PM

10 Best Places for Tech Jobs

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On September 15, US News and World Report published a story whose title matches that for this blog: 10 Best Places for Tech Jobs. While some of them match cities I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs on this topic myself–including Washington, DC and Houston, TX–others may come as something of a surprise to many readers (as some of them did to me). In their order of appearance in the story, here goes this list:

  1. Atlanta, GA: offers higher than typical tech openings for computer programming, software engineering, and systems analyst positions, thanks in part to corporate growth and expansion.
  2. Boston, MA: long a hotbed of high-tech innovation and opportunity thanks to a plethora of quality universities and R&D organizations, jobs for programmers and software engineers garner some of the highest pay rates in the country.
  3. Houston, TX: thanks to a still-strong economy, a large population, many services firms, and lots of high-tech activity, Houston also still boasts a high number of tech job openings for various occupations.
  4. Hunstville, AL: Home of the NASA Marshall Space Center and the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville has long been a hotbed of aerospace and defense-related high-tech activity. The local Chamber of Commerce reports that over 300 companies in this area focus on high-tech, with job openings and opportunities to match.
  5. NYC, NY: This huge metro area may be expensive but it also beats the national norm for the ratio of job openings to employment in various technical jobs, with the chance that healthcare changes might open even more opportunities, thanks to a large number of healthcare providers and health technology companies in its immediate vicinity.
  6. Phoenix, AZ: With over 4,000 companies in high-tech and more than 80,000 related jobs, Phoenix is home to most major high-tech players as well as LOTS of second- and third-tier employers. This probably explains why Phoenix gets high ratings for tech jobs open overall, and for ratios of job openings to employment for numerous IT specialties.
  7. San Diego, CA: City officials often observe that this area has one of the highest concentrations of high-tech companies (and jobs) anywhere in the US. San Diego also ranks higher than Washington, NYC, and Boston when it comes to IT salaries.
  8. San Francisco, CA: Home to Silicon Valley in the south Bay area (San Jose), SF also enjoys a lower-than-average unemployment rate of 9.3 percent (2.5 percent lower than San Jose’s, in fact) thanks to a higher number of startups and a lower number of manufacturing firms than in the south Bay area.
  9. Seattle, WA: With a sizable roster of big-name, well-known tech companies, Seattle is also experiencing a bit of a boom in tech startups, especially for software engineers. This probably explains why Seattle ranks third in average pay, bettter than DC and NYC.
  10. Washington, DC: As I’ve already explained in an earlier blog of my own, the DC area includes a concentration of high-tech companies and is benefiting from the influx of federal stimulus dollars. It leads in terms of overall IT job openings, and in their range and diversity.

To compile this list, US News started with a database of 2,000 cities to dig more deeply into metro areas of sufficient size to offer numerous different kinds of IT openings, and also looked for areas with high numbers of graduate degrees relative to population. They cross-matched this with job search hits at an unidentified “tech-specific job site,” then looked at local supply-demand rations for various technical occuptations from a company named Wanted Analytics. Their analysis also included salary data and considered the cost of living. All of this combined to identify the preceding list of cities, at least two of which I’ve mentioned in other blogs of my own.

Now, all I want to know is why so many of these cities suffer from high traffic congestion (only Huntsville is not completely swamped with cars, but even this city does experience jams on its high traffic corridors from time to time)? Is there some correlation between longer commute times and IT employment? It’s probably just a function of population density in these mostly-large metro areas, but that sure seems to be the case.

Sigh. It’s always something!

September 18, 2009  4:54 PM

More on Bernanke: It’s No Pleasure to Be Right

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In following up from my preceding post “Bernanke at Brookings,” I’ve noticed that my reaction to his news about the technical end of the recession mirrors lots of other reactions. I saw a great political cartoon on the editorial page in my morning paper today that showed somebody holding an umemployment sign responding to the remark by Bernanke that the “recession is likely over” by saying “No, it’s not!”

I have to agree that while technical measure may be important to economists, and that while leading indicators may signal the end of a recession, it’s only when trailing indicators — most notably, employment and consumer confidence — participate in an upswing that the “person on the street” starts to put some credibility into claims that the situation is improving.

My understanding is that we have anywhere from six to twelve months still ahead where other signs of improvement will begin to appear here and there, leading ultimately to a general sense of better times and conditions. But until the IT employment situation turns around and actual job growth begins to show itself, I don’t think most people (including myself) will be feeling too sanguine about the state of the economy and the technical status of the recession or any subsequent (technical) expansion.

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