The Internet Curmudgeon: "KIDS! EARN BIG MONEY SELLING GREP!"
by Daniel P. Dern
Copyright (c) 1994, 1997 Daniel P. Dern
A version of this article appeared in INTERNET WORLD magazine. This is what I wrote, not the edited version. I've made a few very minor update changes. - DPD
The Internet has become the latest lure for get-rich-quick dreams. Here is a cold dose of reality.
This past spring I had the pleasure of teaching an Internet adult education course in New York City. Because the catalog labeled the course "How to Profit from the Internet," the usual wide range of attendees showed up (from newbies who'd yet to power up a modem to a few technoids hoping to discuss the finer points of PGP). Many of the attendees were expecting me to tell them:
a) There were exciting, well-paying jobs in the Internet.
I admit to having been caught off guard the first time, and was perhaps a bit too blunt in saying, "If you're here at this seminar, you're unlikely to be qualified for the bulk of the Internet-related jobs out there." I was informed later that many people were also there in search of prospective dates and mates; I suppose it's encouraging that being an Internaut has become a potential social benefit rather than a stigma.
But the notion that a few hours of adult ed; for which one paid not much more than one would for an Internet book; would qualify the taker for a new job and career . . . well, the mind boggles.
I don't know whether this notion is pervasive to the adult education scene or to the world at large. I suspect the latter because other would-be tycoons of cyberspace have been sighted. For example, a writer for a major business magazine, acting under the unsubstantiated notion that Sutter's Mill; dormant since the California gold rush of the last century; had opened up a Web page (Thar's gold in them thar virtual hills!), had hopped onto the Internet, with the expected flailing, wailing, and learning-curve bumps.
What many recent Internet gold rush prospectors have discovered; as many of us already settled down in our cubic foot of cyberspace know; is that the streets of the Information Highway are still paved with cobblestones, not gold, and that the Internet is not, at present, material for a new series of Horatio Alger success stories.
The Provider Proviso
If you follow Usenet newsgroups such as alt.internet.services, alt.internet.access. wanted, news.newusers.questions, or alt.bbs.internet, one recurring question that has attained the status of frequently asked is, "How do I become a provider?" In the words of the immortal Schnozzola himself (Jimmy Durante, of course), "Ev'rybody wants to get into the act!"
More often than not, the asker is a youngish person (by my standards, under 28), possibly with an extra PC and modem or two. I've run into one or two of these hopefuls in person; many of them have never used, much less administered, a TCP/IP or Unix system.
Again, the naivete is simultaneously charming and mind-boggling. People like MCSnet's Karl Denninger may have indeed started on a shoestring, which in turn was charged to a credit card. But if you look carefully you'll see that the majority of successful, growing Internet connectivity providers typically have five to ten years of serious Unix and Internet experience; as well as a business plan.
I'm not saying don't try to set up an Internet site. By all means, go ahead, be my guest; this is an exciting, fun, grass-roots arena, where anyone with a thousand bucks and some initiative can set up the Internet equivalent of a small BBS (bulletin board system).
But don't count on this being a business, livelihood, or ticket to wealth undreamed of. You don't see World's Barry Shein or Digex's Doug Humphrey driving a Jaguar. Keep some perspective; and don't quit your day job.
Useful Advice and Pointers
At the risk of losing my curmudgeon status, let me offer some useful, positive thoughts regarding the Internet, jobs, and careers.
The Internet can be a source of job information. There are Usenet newsgroups, Gopher sites, and World- Wide Web home pages for careers, job postings, jobs wanted, employment advice, and the like.
The traditional places to look are within Usenet newsgroups, such as:
Remember that many of these jobs are: a) highly technical, and b) posted by head hunters. Be sure to find and read the FAQ/charter document, and follow the group for about two weeks before posting (although you may want to follow up a job lead ASAP!).
Other good Usenet sources reside within regional hierarchies, such as ne.* (New England), ba.* (Bay Area), etc., which may offer specific .jobs newsgroups or have job threads running in subgroups such as *.wanted, *.general, and *.misc.
Gopher and the World-Wide Web also have job-finding areas. The oldest, I believe, is the OnLine Career Center (OCC), started by MSEN. Available by Gopher (occ.msen.com) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), the OnLine Career Center offers a jobs database, resume listing service, and searching by location or keyword.
Then there's CareerMosaic, a WWW home page (at http://www.careermosaic.com/cm/) developed and brought to you by Bernard Hodes Advertising, which points to information about prospective employers such as National Semiconductor, Read-Rite, Symantec, Tandem Computers, and US West.
Other job and career net.resources include the H.E.A.R.T. Career Center, which lets you search for jobs by company, position, or state. Telnet to career.com (184.108.40.206) and follow instructions.
E-SPAN, Inc., has opened up the Interactive Employment Network (IEN) on the World-Wide Web at http://www/espan.com (or e-mail to email@example.com for more info) with job listings in a wide range of professional, technical, and human services fields, plus a resume database. It also hosts job advice columnists Joyce Lain Kennedy and Marilyn Moats Kennedy, who provide interactive interview practice questions and resume and interview tips.
So What About That Million Dollars?Hey, you've got a good memory, and you'll need it if you want to be a Unix user! The only sure-fire way I know to make $1 million in the Internet business (the same method can be used to make $5 million, by the way), is simple: Start with $2 million. (For the $5 million, start with $10 million. A tip of the fedora to Bruce "U.Utah" Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest and America's most feared folk singer, for the loan of this joke.)
Sorry if you're disappointed, but that is more or less the point: There are no sure-fire fortunes, easy or otherwise, currently to be made in the Internet biz, to the best of my knowledge. Like I nearly said to my adult ed students, "Y'know, if I really knew a secret like that, why would I be here?"
One last note: The title to this piece derives from ads that appeared in comic books when I was a kid. The ads encouraged you to sell a magazine called Grit, and thereby earn points towards prizes. I still read comics, but haven't seen any Grit ads lately.
Daniel P. Dern (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Internet analyst and technology/business writer, and is author of The Internet Guide for New Users (McGraw-Hill, 1993).
Copyright © Daniel P. Dern