Weaving that Web
Aside from housing volumes of information, the Web promises new job opportunities
This month we explore the World Wide Web, its resources, and its future for the career-minded. The Web has not only created new ways to find jobs, but has spawned a promising new online field that will generate markets, companies, and jobs.
I've spent a bit of time surfing the Web and casually exploring the job sites. Is this a good place for finding jobs or is it basically the same as classified ads?
The Web is a good medium for just about anything. The convergence of the world's networks has created something of a global hard drive, which is accessible by way of a mouse-driven graphical interface. But just because you can tap into the planet's largest library doesn't mean that you can successfully navigate this sea of information. A search of this kind, regardless of the medium, requires some diligent study.
Aside from the stores of information (both personal and corporate), which can serve as potential business leads, there are three basic kinds of Web sites which can be of use to the jobsurfer:
Online classified listings sites are potentially more effective than newspaper prints of the same information. The Web supports fillable forms which allow the user to reply to a listing and even send in a resume instantly. The technology also permits the webmaster to constantly evolve the site and update the job listings.
But be warned: Not often do you find places where all the information is valid, pages are maintained, and mail is answered. My main piece of advice regarding these kinds of Web sites: Keep checking for dynamism and content. Remember the neglected, unweeded sites are probably a foreshadowing of the poor follow-through and low degree of career assistance you will encounter if you submit your resume. A constantly changing, interactive site reflects how committed that organization is to understanding and supporting the open computing industry.
Recruiter Web sites vs. company personnel sites
Sometimes companies take it upon themselves to list the jobs they need to fill. On the pages of large companies with long lists of open positions you may stumble upon something that interests you. But here again, you have to ask: What's behind this site? Most Human Resources departments bounded by real space, walls, and windows are effectively dead-letter offices -- mausoleums of dusty resumes.
This is not necessarily the fault of the HR people. They are flooded with stacks of resumes from unqualified or unserious applicants buried among which may be a few good resumes. Lacking the resources to read and effectively screen them all, the HR departments let the stacks pile higher. Note that there are oftentimes repositories of data on these corporate sites that contain valuable contact information, but just because an HR department offers a cool, cutting edge facade doesn't mean the department is any more effective. Chances are your mail is feeding a dead e-letter office.
Unlike companies with understaffed HR departments, recruiters are in the business offering career services. The same caveat, however, exists for their flashy sites. Though they may offer a nice interface with all sorts of great sounding stuff, the key is finding out what is going on behind the facade. Get a clue by examining the presentation: Do they offer any valuable information aside from listings? Do the listings ever change? And once you do establish contact and respond to a given position, do they respond to you?
As I've mentioned in earlier columns the world is full of good recruiters and bad recruiters. Scan the sites, read the literature if you have time, because a discovery of the former is an asset. (We've tried to make our site a model. Check it out and let us know what you think.)
Avoiding half-baked job sites
Much on the Web today is high on glitz and low on substance. Web enthusiasts by the thousands, with not much to say but the hardware and software to say it, litter virtual space with "Under Construction" signs, which are euphemisms for "Might Do It Someday." The trick is to avoid the half-baked sites while hotlisting the places that are worth your time.
But once you've successfully searched and found the listing that you feel matches your resume, the real work begins: preparing your resume, meeting (impressing) the hiring manager as you weigh the salary/benefits/ location pros and cons, and preparing yourself for another interview.
There are artful nuances to an endeavor such as a job search: fine
tuning your resume, developing and maintaining contacts, defining your
career path and goals, and perfecting your interviewing skills. Explore
the Web, hotlist the good, dynamic sites and keep checking them. But,
more importantly, get to know the people behind the good listings, good
companies, and good Web sites.
Places to start a job search:
I'm a programmer with a few years experience in the financial marketplace -- working in a Unix environment developing fixed-income applications in C++. I also do a bit of work with Sybase. I make a decent amount of money and generally like what I do, but I have become recently enthralled by the Web. I would like to eventually move out of the financial arena and into this burgeoning market. The problem is that I would like to continue to bring home the cake. What's your take on cyberspace? What are the hot technologies and where will the big money be made when it fully opens for business?
Billions of dollars are changing hands as the global community rushes to get wired and get the right software to navigate the world's networks. But you're right in your assessment that the Net has not yet opened for business. Most of the lines have been in place for decades and the majority of the software is distributed for free in hopes of gaining market share.
Today, all of the world's technologically aware companies are rushing to stake out a presence on the World Wide Web, though it is not yet certain exactly how or where the money will be made. The full integration of security applications into the Internet is generally slated for the end of 1996. The advent of this security software will open the virtual registers and allow cake to be baked, cut, and eaten. At the moment, however, we're looking at a virtually idyllic forum of chaotic democracy, in which everything is free and shared.
Although many companies have already begun to use Internet applications to facilitate information transfer internally, the magic of this medium, the sugar that makes big business drool, is its lines of global distribution. By establishing a presence, you can serve up data, graphics, and software directly and individually to all the world's screens. E-mail costs almost nothing to send and a well-maintained Web site can reach millions effortlessly.
Leveraging your Unix skills
Considering your desire to shift to Internet-related work, your experience with Unix is fortuitous -- this operating system represents the lifeblood of the global network. Most people who have interaction with Unix are those connected through schools and businesses and consumers are typically wired in through PC's, using MS Windows-based software. But all Internet-related software must take into account the networks and systems on which it is running. Windows software must interface with Unix at some point, and this kind of experience is therefore essential.
All indicators point to the World Wide Web as the medium of the future. In addition to being the slickest and easiest to use, it supports all the other major protocols, making it the only client-side interface you need. The key, as in all areas of the computer industry, is to stay abreast of the hot technologies. In exploring your future as a developer in such areas, it is important to recognize two languages in particular that hold the potential to shape the future of the Web -- Java and the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML).
Learn Java & VRML today
These technologies infuse the Web with a new level of dynamism while giving it the illusion of three-dimensional space. Developed at Sun, Java is a portable, secure, architecture-neutral, object-oriented programming language that looks and feels much like a stripped-down version of C++ (Bill Joy supposedly calls it "C plus-plus minus-minus"). The HotJava web browser allows users to pull mini Java-coded applications, referred as "applets," over the lines and onto the client side where they come alive in the form of animation, sound, or video. The browser is built to look for handlers which interpret the various protocols -- making the web inherently open to instant upgrades and new types of objects and images.
Another language in its embryonic stage that shows great promise is VRML. Like Java this technology is geared to run alongside the existing web protocols. Designed to transform cyberspace from two to three dimensions, this language will add spatial perspective to the existing archives of flat text and graphics. Although superior technology doesn't guarantee market share, both Java and VRML will, logic permitting, become the next major standards on the Web.
If you want to get into cutting-edge Internet work that actually turns a profit, I would look to moving and shaking companies on the Net like Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and Starwave. Or else check out the club-like providers such as AOL, Compuserve, Delphi, and (soon to come) Microsoft.
Though the mention of the "Internet" and "World Wide Web" has become hackneyed, there is still massive potential for innovation, corporation, and cake, either with a big conglomerate or a young start-up. Or even on your own: Follow the hot technologies, develop an application, distribute it as freeware, gain market share, then reap the benefits when you're holding the standard. (Given, this is a bit more difficult.)
As always, good luck on all your career moves!
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