Three paths to an Internet career
UNCONTROLLABLE GROWTH and a proliferation of new job types muddy the Internet
economy's employment picture. All the new job types -- from Web content manager to
Internet researcher to e-business evangelist -- can be put into one of three
categories: content, infrastructure, or business. Each job classification poses a
unique set of benefits, prospects, and trade-offs. A professional knowledgeable of
trends in all three divisions will be in a good position to negotiate with prospective
employers and will be able to better determine the course of his or her career.
Without content, what's the point?
Content providers always will have a place in the Internet economy, for without
content, the Net is an empty shell. Although editorial or graphic talent is necessary,
it alone is not sufficient for career success. What may surprise some are the varied
job titles that make up this category: animator, computer-aided designer, copywriter,
icon designer, multimedia director, photographer, sound designer, translator,
typography designer, videographer, virtual reality artist, and writer.
Think of the unique attributes that the Net imposes on everything it touches:
digitalization, interactivity, multimedia, and personalization. If you can be creative,
preferably outrageous, while seamlessly delivering interactivity and editorial or
graphics, you can achieve career success in content development.
At this point in the Internet career evolution, content is boring; infrastructure
is sexy. That's the way it is for now, but it won't be for long. The Internet's
inexorable logic soon will reverse this condition.
Content is the edge
Content developers will be amply rewarded, and here's why: In the Net economy,
technological advantage simply cannot be sustained. All technology, no matter how
revolutionary when first created, eventually devolves into a commodity. Furthermore, in
the Net economy the value of commodities eventually approaches zero. Any work building
an IT infrastructure -- say a great online stock-trading infrastructure -- will be
copied and enhanced by someone else.
Content, separate and apart from the technology, will not suffer from that
particular dynamic. Whereas great technology can and will be replicated in the digital
world, great content providers are unique. Many organizations with mature
infrastructures have figured this out. America Online is busy acquiring the content of
Time Warner; Sony and Yahoo are spending big bucks buying media companies or creating
their own original content.
Content emerges as the only way to increase a Web site's appeal to attract visitors
and create stickiness, thereby bolstering online advertising revenue. Organizations
developing and maintaining portals have strategies to keep traffic within the site's
domain, hence the large number of Web site and content partnerships among companies.
Look for huge shifts in valuation as the market starts to reward the message -- and the
creators of that message -- more than the medium.
Content must become dynamic
The Net supports an increasing spectrum of media. But most Net content is still
brochureware: material from the print world dumped onto the Web, static and two-
dimensional. The Net is moving away from fixed media or content that is created, saved,
stored, and delivered exactly the same way over and over.
Organizations are looking for people to create dynamic and interactive content,
such as streaming video, CD-ROMs, interactive TV, and computer gaming. In an
interactive medium, exquisite personalization is possible, resulting in markets of one
where each consumer is served a unique message. Users get to shape the experience by
their choices. Being able to dynamically modify all content to reflect each customer's
preferences is difficult. A company's commitment may waver. This places a heavy burden
on those who do the original project design, storyboarding, and event sequencing.
Making the Web safe for content
Building and maintaining the Internet's plumbing -- its applications and
infrastructure -- produces some of the most lucrative Web jobs. Professionals with the
skills needed for these disciplines will be in demand for the foreseeable future.
Currently the number of such job openings outstrips the number of available people,
thereby putting Web developers and their brethren in the driver's seat during
employment negotiations. With good technical skills, developers often can choose which
projects to work on, when, and where.
Today, software, not hardware, is king of the Net. More often application software
is written to run on operating systems software rather than on hardware platforms. The
software arena has become the place where most companies attempt to create a
competitive advantage. To this end, companies need skilled developers, programmers, and
information architects able to work across platforms, in various languages, and
protocols. But that is not enough. These professionals must then be able to weave these
elements into a synergistic whole.
Predicting the OS to beat
The OS is at the very heart of every business application. A developer with good
skills working with the hottest operating systems can write his or her own ticket. The
trouble is predicting which OS will emerge to be successful in the market. For
instance, more than one developer bet his or her career on IBM's OS2 and lost.
Most evidence points to a consolidation of operating systems. Businesses do not
want the complexity of supporting multiple operating systems. These days, the smart
money and many professionals believe that Unix and Windows 2000 will emerge as the de
facto business operating systems.
Not all Internet infrastructure professionals want to play it safe. A gutsy career
move would be to focus on Linux, an open-source variant of Unix. Whether Fortune 1000
organizations will make big bets on the free OS remains to be seen. Nevertheless, a
critical mass of smaller organizations have embraced Linux. Career opportunities exist
in the Linux environment.
Applications over systems software
This software infrastructure category also can be segmented by systems software and
applications software jobs. Opportunities with applications software have the edge over
systems software for the simple reason that systems software will become increasingly
commoditized. Nevertheless, there is much life left in a career developing systems
software for Web-based applications.
Enterprisewide computing opps
With the complexity of enterprisewide computing comes increasing demands in areas
such as data security, capacity planning, asset management, performance measurement,
and storage managementt. Internet growth has created upward pressure on many
organizations to beef up their systems support areas. Most of these organizations will
find the cost of managing all their systems software is unsustainable. The software
solutions focused on this area -- a class of products called enterprise systems
management -- are career gold to those with the right Web skill sets.
The business of e-business is business
Businesses create and sustain Internet jobs. E-business, after all is said and
done, is simply business by another name. The result is an insatiable demand for
business-and tech-savvy people who can apply their highly evolved skill sets on the
The fast-changing e-business landscape leaves no time for examining Net precedent.
As enterprise dependence on information and on the Net continues to grow, even heavy-
duty technology types will find themselves increasingly drawn into business decisions.
The more comfortable a Web technologist is with the business side of his or her job,
the more successful he or she will be.
MBAs are certainly not necessary for success in this bottom-line category, but a
keen business sense -- one with the customer in mind -- is a must. If an activity does
not conspicuously enhance or extend the customer relationship, question the activity's
All three paths offer promising careers. No one is better than the others. In the
near future (read 15 years), each career path will offer candidates unlimited
opportunities to do creative work, to make a meaningful difference in the biggest
revolution in history, and to generate some wealth for themselves.
In the longer run, the odds favor opportunities on the content side. However we
automate the infrastructure and business sides of the Web, it is difficult to imagine a
world with less demand for content than there is today.