Career Central: Surfing Ills

Web browsing is in the spotlight; students shun "stem" degrees.

The Evils that Lurk in Idle Web Surfing

The seemingly casual act of Web surfing was thrust into the spotlight in April when an administrative law judge in New York City argued that a city employee had been unfairly penalized for browsing travel and entertainment sites on company time.

The judge likened Web surfing to reading the newspaper or taking a personal phone call, an acceptable downtime activity as long as it does not affect job performance.

But several eWeek readers said the judge was missing a vital point: the individual workers responsibility to the security of the network and even to the enterprise itself.

"What does that judge know? Absolutely nothing about security, I guess. If you let your employees surf all they want, then you are just asking for trouble. I just feel sorry for the IS departments that have to put up with that," Talkback commenter Tvantine responded.

According to security vendor Websense, almost one in five organizations (17 percent) has had an employee launch a hacking tool or a keylogger within his or her network, up from 12 percent in 2005.

These results are from the companys seventh annual Web@Work survey, released May 15.

The survey reported that 19 percent of IT decision makers indicated that theyve had employees work-owned computers or laptops infected with a bot.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said their employees had received a phishing attack via e-mail or instant messaging, and, of those, 47 percent said their employees have clicked through, up from 45 percent in 2005.

A phishing-trends study by Websense released in 2005 found that only 4 percent of employees surveyed reported that they had ever fallen for a phishing e-mail, while the IT decision makers polled argued this click-through number was closer to 45 percent.

IT Brains Down the Drain

The Government Accountability Office released a study May 3 that found that the proportion of postsecondary students obtaining degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields has fallen significantly.

While 32 percent of postsecondary students obtained degrees in STEM fields in 1994 and 1995, the percentage fell to 27 percent in 2003 and 2004.

College and university officials and students cited subpar teacher quality, poor high school preparation, and more rigorous and expensive degree requirements for STEM majors as factors that discouraged the pursuit of STEM degrees.

The study was conducted in response to concerns that have been raised about the United States ability to maintain its global technological competitive advantage in the future, an area on which the federal government has spent billions of dollars.

Employment in STEM fields rose 23 percent from 1994 to 2003, with the greatest gains in computer science and mathematics, compared with a growth of only 17 percent in non-STEM fields.

These findings are echoed in a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released May 5 finding that the greatest need for high-skilled workers over the next decade will be in health care, education, accounting and computer services.

Tech Support: How to Draw the Line

A poster on Ask Slashdot on May 8 requested advice on how to reduce or turn down technical support requests, especially from users who arent necessarily clients.

The resulting responses ranged from snarky ("Implement a long-winded touch-tone system that doesnt work ... thats what works for my bank, anyway") to practical. To wit:

• Set a deadline as to when your tech support will terminate, and stick to it.

"Tie the deadline to some milestone so that he wont push you to change it: I start my night classes in two weeks, so thats why I cant do this anymore after two weeks," wrote KWTm.

• Increase your rates until your clients value your time as much as you do.

"The only way to get rid of the support people was to start raising the rates so they would find someone else," loftwyr wrote.

• Send the client elsewhere, either to a colleague or to buy a care package from a software company.

"You might try pointing them gently toward other resources," wrote eonlabs.

"Theres nothing wrong with dumping a customer, but the correct way to do it is to 1) be truthful with them, and 2) if possible, refer them to another professional who can help them," TheMCP wrote.

The bottom line: Dont be a pushover.

"You need to learn to say no. It really is OK to not give out free customer support to people, even if theyre friends or family," said Reality Master 101.

—Compiled by Deborah Rothberg