The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has picked Cerner Corp. to develop its electronic health record system, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin announced Monday. In selecting Cerner for its EHR system, the VA leaves behind its home-grown VistA EHR, a move that’s been on the horizon since Shulkin suggested in March that the department would be […]
About 12 years ago, I visited San Francisco with my boyfriend. One day we decided to ride bikes across the Golden Gate bridge. That bridge is huge, the water underneath it is cold and choppy. The whole image of the bridge inspires awe and can be intimidating too. Plus, it was very windy and chilly […]
While the demand for full-time technology professionals continues unabated, a number of employers are attempting to expand their pipelines in a way that’s not only counterintuitive but seems to be yielding limited results: they’re increasing their emphasis on contract-to-hire positions, trying to turn temporary employees into full-time staff.
Recruiters say the strategy stems from a variety of factors. First, few candidates are interested in entry-level jobs as help desk or field technicians, so more contractors are filling those roles. In addition, some HR people believe offering contract-to-hire positions is an effective way to expand the candidate pool. Finally, contract-to-hire can often put tech pros to work for a company immediately, even if a hiring manager is hard-pressed to get new full-time headcount approved.
Still, most recruiters aren’t sold on the practice. “The reality is it doesn’t open up the candidate pool that much,” observed Chris Mitchell, principal in the technology contract staffing practice at recruiter WinterWyman in Waltham, Mass. For one thing, it’s a candidate’s market right now, which means the idea of having to work under contract in order to secure a full-time job isn’t appealing to tech pros who have plenty of opportunities to sign up with another employer.
“There are two types of candidates,” noted Ben Hicks, partner in WinterWyman’s software technology search practice. “People who’ve always been full-time, who this would be risky for and not attractive. The others are contractors who like contracting. They don’t want to go full-time.”
When It Can Work
Of course, there are times when contract-to-hire makes sense, though many of them are about addressing less-than-ideal situations.
For example, many technology employers struggle to meet salary offers that are relatively high, suggested Doug Paulo, Detroit-based vice president and IT product leader of staffing firm Kelly IT Resources. Offering a contract-to-hire position allows them to bring someone in at a higher contractor’s rate, immerse them in the organization’s technology and culture, then try to convince them to accept a lower salary but perhaps better benefits.
The approach can work, Paulo noted, as long as the company offers a strong culture and pays attention to softer factors, like employee engagement. Employers who expect their workers to shut up and code may not have much success.
For managers having difficulty getting new full-time slots approved, the approach can help them make the case for hiring a particular candidate. After a project is completed successfully, they can make stronger arguments for bringing onboard the contractors involved, Paulo explained. And startups often hire contractors to keep their tech efforts going even as they’re raising money and building revenue, again with the hope that they’ll be able to convert the contractors to full-time when their initial projects are done.
What Candidates Think
From the candidate’s point of view, there are instances where contract-to-hire can be attractive. For example, Hicks thinks such positions can fit the needs of tech pros who left one job before lining up another. Or they could lead to full-time employment for people whose skills that may not be in high demand in their particular region of the country. Those candidates, Paulo observed, have fewer ideal options at a time when many companies don’t want to risk making a bad hire.
Also, contract-to-hire can provide a doorway into a company the candidate has in their sights, even though they don’t meet the requirements for the job they really want. If they do well as a contractor and are smart about their networking within the organization, they may be able to land a full-time role more suited to their background.
How to Convince Candidates
So what do you say to leery candidates who like the company but want to skip the contract part of the process? If they’ve got the right skills, they certainly know they’re the objects of many employers’ affections. Here’s some things to consider, and some arguments you can make.
- Remember that contract-to-hire isn’t right for everyone. As Hicks said, candidates who regard themselves as full-time workers probably won’t entertain the idea.
- Tailor your pitch to the candidate’s individual situation. If they want to break into a new industry or get experience with a new technology, a contract-to-hire assignment can give them the exposure they need to begin building their reputation among the right hiring managers. At the minimum, it will give them something pertinent to put on their resume.
- Contract-to-hire positions can be a good way to try out a new region or an employer the candidate is intrigued by but not sold on. During the months of their contract, they’ll be immersed in the company’s culture and will see firsthand how it approaches technology, not to mention the workforce. Whether they decide to stay or not, they’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
- It can provide an entry point for tech pros whose skills may not be polished or up-to-date, or who are (frankly) less talented. Some recruiters think companies emphasize contract-to-hire positions when they feel the need to lower their standards in order fill a role.
Sometimes contract-to-hire can result in a match that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
Technology companies dominated Glassdoor’s new list of the 25 highest-paying companies in America.
The highest-ranked tech firm: Juniper Networks in third, with a median total compensation of $157,000 and a median base salary of $135,000. The company builds routers and network-management software.
Google came in fifth on the list, with a median total compensation of $153,750 and a median base salary of $123,331. In sixth was VMware, with a median total compensation of $152,133 and a median base salary of $130,000.
Amazon’s secretive Lab126 placed seventh with a median total compensation of $150,020 and a median base salary of $138,700. Lab126 is responsible for the Kindle e-reader, the Kindle Fire tablet, and the popular Amazon Echo.
The entire back half of the Glassdoor’s list is technology companies, starting with Facebook (in 12th), and including Twitter, Box, Walmart eCommerce, SAP, Synopsys, and Microsoft.
It should come as no surprise that, in an industry in which interns can earn an average of $6,800 a month, tech professionals are routinely pulling down six-figure salaries.
Given the current demand for top tech talent, though, employers need to do more than merely offer high wages to experienced professionals—they also need to dangle some perks, including flexible hours. Responding to a recent Stack Overflow survey, 50.4 percent of developers said that work-life balance was a top priority when hunting for a new job, followed by company culture (41.8 percent), quality colleagues (39.9 percent), and flexible work hours (37.1 percent).
For smaller firms without the enormous cash reserves of a Google or Facebook, such perks may be the only way to pull in the talent they need to build cutting-edge products.
In the meantime, tech pros who manage to land a job at the country’s most prominent tech firms can expect to earn a hefty salary in the process.
Tech-industry unemployment hit 2.0 percent in April, down from 2.4 percent in March, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Computer and electronic-product manufacturing gained 500 jobs in April, while technology consulting added 7,300 positions. Data processing, hosting, and related services lost 600 jobs that month.
The tech industry continues to enjoy higher employment than the broader U.S. economy, where the unemployment rate remained at 5.0 percent in April. Among tech professionals, the rate of voluntary quits continues strongly, which many pundits and economists view as a sign of a healthy economy; people tend to leave their jobs, the thinking goes, when they feel confident enough in the strength of their industry to land a new, better position.
Despite those positive signs, not all tech segments have enjoyed robust employment growth over the past few months. For example, the unemployment rate for Web developers climbed to 6.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016, up from 4.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. Computer-systems analysts also saw their unemployment rate uptick slightly during that same period, to 2.1 percent. As with other industries, technology experiences seasonal shifts in employment; the beginning of the first quarter also sees the end of many yearly contracts.
In any case, it’s clear that many tech firms remain in a hiring mood, which is good news for tech pros of all disciplines.
Job interviews are nerve-racking experiences, even for seasoned professionals. As with so many things in life, however, even a little bit of prep work can make a huge difference, both for your nerves and your chances of success.
When it comes to technology jobs, preparation is especially important, as you may find yourself answering mathematical riddles or dealing with complex white-board questions in addition to the “standard” interview queries.
With all that in mind, here are some key tips for prepping for your next big job interview:
Research the Company’s Interview Setup
Every organization conducts its job interviews differently. Some take a more traditional approach, focusing on hiring-manager interviews supplemented (perhaps) by a white-boarding session or two. Others attempt to gauge candidates’ skills and experience by subjecting them to batteries of weird interview questions, impromptu programming sessions, or other unusual tests.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have known what to expect when you walked into a prospective employer’s office. But thanks to the Internet (as well as any colleagues or acquaintances who have interviewed with that company before), you can often find out what’s waiting for you, days or weeks before you settle into the interviewee chair. Do that research into the company’s interviewing style, and prepare accordingly.
The country’s tech unemployment rate hit 2.5 percent last month, a slight uptick over the 2.4 percent reported in February 2015, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The technology segments monitored by the BLS experienced a mix of job losses and gains. For example, technology consulting added 4,400 positions in February, down from 4,600 in January. Data processing, hosting, and related services gained 900 jobs, a notable bounce-back after losing 500 in January.
Computer and electronic product manufacturing lost 400 positions, a considerable reversal after gaining 4,000 jobs in January. Manufacturing has long been a soft spot in the overall technology-jobs outlook, thanks in large part to a combination of manufacturing automation and outsourcing.
Overall, the technology industry continues to enjoy higher employment than the broader economy, where the unemployment rate stands at a (still historically low) 4.9 percent. While some pundits have expressed concern over recent layoffs at large tech firms such as Yahoo, and some smaller startups’ newfound inability to land lots of venture capital, the overall economy clearly still needs skilled technologists to help keep it running.
Data science has lost none of its cachet in recent years; companies all over the world very much need data scientists to crunch enormous datasets and provide insights. Job opportunities abound. But does that demand actually make it harder for a tech pro to land a data-science job?
Hilary Mason, a data scientist and founding CEO of New York City-based Fast Forward Labs, sees “a ton of people asking for data scientists.” Her company’s newsletter has likewise experienced an increase in job postings.
Large corporations such as Ford Motor Co. have also “increased the number of data scientists we hire,” according to Laura Kurtz, the auto-giant’s manager of recruiting. “We recently created a new data analytics group to understand and make better use of them.” Ford relies on data scientists for everything from human resources (to develop better strategic workforce plans) to manufacturing (to study process efficiencies and throughput). The company is hiring data workers from across the whole experience spectrum, including recent college graduates.
But not every company is hungry for more data scientists. Kaggle.com, which organizes data-science competitions and jobs, recently cut seven of its approximately 20 jobs. (Despite its shrinking staff, the firm still runs dozens of contests, some with pretty significant payouts; that’s in addition to posting newsworthy datasets such as Hillary Clinton’s email collection, stored in a SQL database.)
Kaggle isn’t alone in the data-competition department: DrivenData currently runs seven different data science contests, most of which focus on improving conditions in far-flung parts of the globe. Texata.com offers an annual Big Data business-world championship, specifically designed for college students. Numerous hackathons make use of data-science techniques, as well.
If you want to enter this still-vibrant field and land a job, here are a few suggestions from the pros:
Understand What You’re Getting Into
Not all data science jobs are alike, and not all positions carry equal prominence at all companies. Dave Holtz, writing a post for online-learning site Udacity, has put together a great list of suggestions on how you can evaluate different job openings and company types.
His post also suggests eight different skills that you should have in your tool-kit, such as statistics, data visualization, and basic software engineering. Also on the list: advanced calculus and linear algebra.
Mason feels the hiring market has matured to the point where “companies are a bit more aware of what skills they actually need, rather than asking for the kitchen sink. Over the last few years, companies have gotten better at hiring data scientists, both in defining the skills they actually need and in interviewing and supporting data scientists once they join a team.”
If you’re interested in brushing up on your day-to-day data skills, look at some of the online tutorials at Datacamp.com, where you can find more practical exercises such as how to use R and Python scripting for large datasets.
Participate in a Contest
Another way to hone your skills is by participating in a data-science contest. Kaggle’s CTO has put together a list of suggestions on how to win such competitions. These include entering alone (rather than as part of a team), using some kind of data visualization tool, and doing frequent iterations on whatever solution you come up with. If you’re interested, take a look at the next GlobalHack contest, held in the fall in St. Louis, with a total purse of a million dollars in various prizes.
Look inside your own company to see if you can spearhead a data-science approach to some of your thorniest issues. “A number of companies get to the point where they have a lot of traffic (and an increasingly large amount of data),” said Udacity’s Holtz, “and they’re looking for someone to set up a lot of the data infrastructure that the company will need moving forward.” This could be the best opportunity; after all, you should already know your own business.
Competition for tech pros skilled in cloud technologies is fiercer than ever, according to a new report in The New York Times.
In Silicon Valley, six-figure salaries are common for those with backgrounds in cloud infrastructure; data from the Times suggests that anyone with five years of experience can earn an annual salary of $300,000 (if not more), sweetened with stock options and other perks. Workers with the right combination of skills, meanwhile, face a near-constant barrage of recruiting phone-calls and emails.
As Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and Google build out their respective cloud platforms, the demand for those skilled in building and maintaining cloud-system architecture may only increase. That makes things more difficult for smaller tech firms, which may not have the capital to offer highly skilled workers a competitive salary. (One startup co-founder, speaking to the Times, referred to stratospheric compensation as a “Facebook tax.”)
According to Dice’s most recent salary survey, the highest-paying tech skills (by average annual salary) that relate to cloud include:
- PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service): $140,894
- OpenStack (used with IaaS deployments): $138,579
- CloudStack: $138,095
- Chef: $136,850
In a highly competitive environment such as the Bay Area, however, salaries only go higher. Over the past year, other tech hubs such as Boston have undergone similar hiring binges, as companies large and small seek the cloud professionals who can help them build out next-generation services.
Washington, DC tops the list of best U.S. cities for women in tech, according to a new analysis by personal-finance site SmartAsset, followed by Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore, with Indianapolis rounding out the top five.
SmartAsset bases its rankings on U.S. Census Bureau statistics, filtered for 58 of the largest U.S. cities. Using that government dataset as a foundation, the firm calculates the percentage of men and women in computer and mathematical occupations; the gender pay gap; income after housing costs; and three-year growth (or decline) in tech employment.
SmartAsset then averages the rankings, according to a note on its website, “giving half weight to tech employment growth and full weight to the other three metrics.” It also computes an index score based on those averages: “Cities ranked first in each category would score a perfect 100, while a city ranked last in each category would score a zero.”
This is the second year in a row that Washington, DC took the top spot on SmartAsset’s list; women in that city hold over 40 percent of all tech jobs, and earn around the same income as men. On a countrywide basis, however, things aren’t quite so rosy, with the ratio of women in computer and mathematical occupations at 26.5 percent. On average, women also earn roughly 85 percent of what their male counterparts take home.
“There is a significant positive correlation (49 percent) between tech industry representation for women and pay equity in the 58 cities SmartAsset analyzed,” the firm noted. “While it is impossible to say what exactly causes this relationship, it is clear that some cities have a better overall culture for women in technology.”
Here’s SmartAsset’s complete list:
For those tech pros open to conducting their company’s business from home (or a coffee shop), remote work offers many benefits, including a more flexible schedule. But working beyond the walls of a brick-and-mortar office is not without its challenges.
Take the example of Carlos Moreno, a front-end web developer for Oracle Commerce who started out in Oracle’s Cambridge, Massachusetts office before deciding to return to his hometown of Seattle. The company valued his contributions and wanted to keep him.
After the move, Moreno commuted nearly an hour into Oracle’s Bellevue office. Because he worked with East Coast colleagues, he often had early-morning meetings, and it was easier to take those calls from home. Eventually, his schedule led to working remotely full-time.
“My commute is 12 feet to my desk,” Moreno laughed, “and I’m not distracted by people walking by. I don’t have to deal with the noise and other conversations in the office and I can keep my environment quiet.”
Moreno’s biggest challenge is what he refers to as “the cost of a stamp.” Although he takes pride in his communications skills, and works on a highly interactive team, he needs to take a lot of steps in order to establish face-to-face interactions.
“I have to go through this process of [figuring out] what is the fastest or most appropriate avenue to communicate,” he said. While he finds Instant Messenger the most effective way to reach out, and can remotely access his team’s Thunderbird calendar, he must still consider the nature of each communication. Would an email be too formal at the moment? Should he call and, if so, should he use the cell or office number? Does he just need to talk, or should he show a colleague something on his screen, too?
“We have the tools,” Moreno continued, “but it’s always sort of an obstacle to get it to happen. That’s always the most important ‘con’ in terms of collaborating. The thing I’m trying to simulate the most often is, ‘Hey, come over here and look at my screen.’”
Remote workers who interact across an enterprise may encounter similar hurdles when communicating.
Renee Stetson, a data analyst for the Nashville-based Change Healthcare, has a home office in New Jersey. She started working remotely on a part-time basis for health reasons. Although that was supposed to be temporary, she ended up a full-time telecommuter when the company closed its local office.
She’s found working from home to be very beneficial for everyone involved. “They get 150 percent more out of me than they would if I were in the office,” she said. “I have complete focus here.”
Stetson has to gather information over long distances from several different departments throughout the organization. While her home group in sales is responsive, she’s found it tricky to get other colleagues, who may not know who she is, to answer phone calls and messages. She has to be persistent to get the information she needs. “It’s about the button you put in the subject line or first few lines of the email to get their attention,” she advised. “The goal is to not have them filter me out.”
Infrastructure can become another woe of remote employees. For example, as companies gain new subsidiaries, it takes time for legacy software and datasets to integrate into the overall stack. That creates issues for remote workers who need to access that software and data from many miles away. “A lot of the details that I need are dropped on the floor when they upload their data,” she said. “It makes it very difficult for me. I always have to go back to the people who handle those legacy systems and coordinate retrieval of the information.”
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Both Stetson and Moreno see themselves as effective communicators who are also highly motivated and have a strong work ethic. They don’t allow themselves to get distracted; their constant engagement, despite not being physically present, gives them a stake in the workflow of their respective offices.
“My house is an amazing place,” said Moreno, “and there are all kinds of fun and exciting projects just sitting there waiting for me. If I get up to get coffee, I can see four things that could use attention. I have to have discipline to say, ‘No, I’m at work.’ So I get my coffee and return to my desk and don’t play my guitar.”