Fast Track: Help Desk: Getting into the Net

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The problem

I am 27, English, with a BA in philosophy (2-1) from Cambridge and an MA in philosophy from the University of Southern California. Since I graduated in 1997, I have worked in Los Angeles with small interactive media companies, mostly on a freelance basis. I am now back in England and seem to have reached a career choke-point. I have had a long-standing interest in IT and, through pursuing it as a hobby, have quite a lot of general knowledge and basic programming skills, enabling me to move into the Internet industry relatively easily. But while my existing technical skills may be useful to companies, they are fairly basic. My management skills are also limited, as are my client-facing skills, etc, which seems to rule me out from serious progression in consulting, which would be another option. I do, however, have entrepreneurial ideas, and the thought of starting some kind of small Internet business appeals - although I have no formal or informal practical business training or skills and am not a natural team player. My current plan is to register for a one-year MSc in computing, starting in October '99, and until then find some kind of technical work that will enable me to learn as much as I can during the next six months. But it is frustrating to be studying at my age, and I feel uneasy about graduating aged almost 29, still looking for interesting and financially rewarding work.

JAMES MAYER, BERKSHIRE

The solutions

Dr Raymond Madden, director of executive development at the City University Business School, says:

There is a wealth of MSc computing courses available, so choose carefully. You should aim to complement your existing skills by broadening and developing your technical knowledge. It may be worth considering a course that allows you to opt for some media-related electives. The more serious courses offer a summer project and/or a company placement, which could provide an opportunity to try out IT consultancy at first hand. The IT and media industries are continuing to develop extremely rapidly, and so the wider the experience you can gain the better off you will be. Your business interests and age make an MBA another attractive option. Some of them offer a degree of specialisation (City, for instance, offers an electronic business option) but employers tend to regard these largely as a tool- kit.

John Kiss, client services manager of Business Link Thames Valley, says:

Establishing a business can be very rewarding, and the Internet and IT are growth areas. But there are great risks and pressures. As well as a good idea, you still need the skills and temperament to succeed. Surveys reveal a number of reasons for starting a business: independence; job satisfaction; achievement; success; and money. But you will still need discipline, energy and the ability to get on with others, and wealth is by no means guaranteed. Qualifications are equally essential, as are business skills such as marketing, strategic planning, finance, personnel management, etc. If you want the business to grow you must employ people, so the ability to show leadership and to manage staff will be critical. Advice and training can be obtained for all this from an impartial, experienced business adviser. Contact Business Link via the national signpost line on 0345 567765. Business Link will bring in the Enterprise Agency or Training and Enterprise Council as required.

Mark Jones, head of New Media, Bernard Hodes, says:

I really wouldn't spend time and money taking an MSc in computing. The programming side of new media is becoming increasingly specialised and I think you would find yourself playing catch-up for the next few years. On the other hand, there is certainly a strong demand for project managers and client-facing consultants who have a good grasp of both the technical and strategic issues around new media and are able to translate this into effective solutions for clients. This sounds to me like a better use of your talents. I suggest you go on a project management course and brush up on your communication skills. Then you could look for a project management or consultant position with a new media agency. In this way you will also acquire the skills you are going to need if you decide to translate your entrepreneurial ideas into something more concrete.

Interviews by

Carmen Middleditch

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Middleditch, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2068; or e-mail c.middleditch@ independent.co.uk

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