Out of work? Time to brush up on your Bluetooth

WAP has been slow to come, but wireless communications are here to stay
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Only a few months ago a quick course in HTML and a cocky attitude could get you a great job at an Internet start up. You'd get an inflated salary and maybe even a pile of share options to keep you happy. For the best Web talent, the rents were paid in hot areas of London like Notting Hill or Clerkenwell. Dot.coms were going for gold and wouldn't let a minor issue like an overinflated salary stop them from getting the best programming or designing talent.

Only a few months ago a quick course in HTML and a cocky attitude could get you a great job at an Internet start up. You'd get an inflated salary and maybe even a pile of share options to keep you happy. For the best Web talent, the rents were paid in hot areas of London like Notting Hill or Clerkenwell. Dot.coms were going for gold and wouldn't let a minor issue like an overinflated salary stop them from getting the best programming or designing talent.

Sadly, those days are long gone. The opulence and decadence of the dot.com boom have now been replaced by the New Spartan Age. The reason is clearly related to a number of internet companies going bust, but the scale of the closures is only now beginning to hit home. It was not just the Boo.com, Dressmart or ClickMango failures that have caused the shock in the internet job market. It's those other 300 internet start-ups that have closed their doors since February and filled the streets with hundreds of Web designers, Java developers and online marketing experts looking for new bosses.

The irony is that many of the people who have suddenly found themselves in need of a new job were the most overpaid ones, as the companies that went bust first were often the ones which paid the highest salaries. The shock to the system was in many cases so severe that a number of the refugees from the Great Internet Shakeup decided to throw in the towel or go to Agia Napa to find themselves. Now with holidays behind us and the job market waking up, it is worth evaluating what is really going on and if the situation really is as drastic as the post-startup escapees would have us believe.

On first inspection, it appears that the number of positions hasn't dropped that dramatically. Daily newspapers and trade mags alike are still reasonably full of job offers for the talented internet crowd. In the creative, technical and business development areas there are still a number of positions going that seem attractive. But take a closer look and you'll see something rather more sinister.

Jobs that offered salaries over 28K a few months ago - like Java development, senior Dreamweaver designer or Flash developers - are now suddenly going for a rate 40 per cent lower. Mysteriously, the same jobs advertised in February as demanding only 6 months' experience are now listed as "don't even think about applying unless you have been designing for at least a decade". Junior designers are asked to demonstrate portfolios worthy of creative directors. Programmers are asked to show they can manage teams and liaise with clients - not a skill easily obtainable amongst the hardcore coding crowd.

Suddenly multi-skilling, solid experience and hardcore programming skills are the name of the game. What's more, many employers who are actually looking for staff instead of sacking everybody are bricks-and-mortar or traditional companies with new media offshoots. They couldn't afford the big dot.com salaries but many have a decent, often profitable internet division and are building up their teams, picking up the talent that was spit out in the dot.com collapse. Companies like Tesco, Kingfisher or Marks & Spencer are generally not known for paying top salaries and would not dream of giving the big money to even the hottest talent. Such behaviour would cause disquiet amongst their traditional employees.

Thus there are, in fact, a good number of jobs going, but with much lower salaries than was the case back in February, and with a lot less risky companies (which for most people is a plus). How can you ride the new job market wave? With great difficulty, unless you get yourself solid training in Dreamweaver or Flash. If you are on the tech side, getting a couple of serious Java projects under your belt will prove invaluable.

For those looking further than the next six months, a crash course in wireless interface or application development is a must. WAP has been slow to come, but wireless communications are here to stay in a number of ways. Bluetooth rollout for wireless networks is an area where lots of new jobs will be created. Bluetooth (www.bluetooth.com) promises to remove the need for cables when connecting electronic devices and at the moment there is not more than a handful of people in town who can tell their infrared data associate from their short-range radio links, which Bluetooth uses. Bluetooth will allow us to connect printers, modems, wireless devices and PDAs to each other via short-range radio modules installed in each device. That means lots more interesting opportunities for collaborative computing will be created, thus developing a great job market for all the wireless specialists.

All the big networks and device manufacturers are going to be looking for people from around the fourth quarter of this year, with the peak number of job vacancies predicted for around mid-2001. Since Bluetooth development is a bit of a black art, the companies will be looking for adventurerous, creative folk who can think out of the box and are not afraid of experimenting. I suspect that many of the internet pioneers will move over that way as well, but the growth of wireless communications should ensure there will be space for all, including dot.com refugees.

So don't despair if you are looking for a new job, but skill up, go on as many courses as possible and start reading Wireless for Dummies, as this is where your next pay cheque is likely to come from. If you enjoy emerging technologies, this is a ride you simply can't afford to miss out on.

eva@never.com

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