Internet and E-Commerce: A Range of Opportunities

It is often said the Internet is like a mirror that reflects the entire world. Just imagine how big that mirror must be. In North America, 251 million of us are now connected, but that¿s just a drop in the bucket when we count a worldwide Internet population of 1.57 billion, the majority of whom are actually Asian. In the U.S., e-commerce in the form of retail sales has defied current economic trends, rising 17 percent in 2008 according to Forrester Research. Americans spent $204 billion online last year ($24 billion on computer equipment alone), and the ever-increasing amount of time they’re using to surf motivated marketers to devote $23.4 billion to online advertising campaigns in the U.S. in 2008, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Since its inception in the early ’90s, the Web has let us reinvent almost every aspect of our lives, and the sudden spectacular rise of social networking – 12 percent of all Internet users are on Facebook – along with the increasing availability of WiFi and 3G-enabled mobile devices, portend a future in which more people will spend more time online working, shopping, communicating, entertaining themselves, and generally getting things done. The possibilities for anyone with technological smarts and a head for business are still limitless.

Since the beginning of 2009, recruiters from all around the country have reported job openings throughout the tech sector, including Internet specialties, have been relatively scarce. However, one interesting trend playing into this is the increasing interest in “cloud computing,” the practice of moving at least some of a company¿s computing power and storage off its own internal servers to a Net-connected provider that charges the company with a pay-as-you-go pricing scheme. While this phenomenon is causing traditional server room IT experts to be laid off, it is also opening up new specialties for Internet experts who can create the management tools that make the cloud model work efficiently and securely.

As the total number of Web sites worldwide inches toward the 200 million mark, it is important to remember the sites people regularly visit for information, entertainment, and shopping are only part of the Internet story. Virtually every company large and small is online in some form, and most use an assortment of Net-based services to run their businesses. Google may be one of the largest examples, employing 20,000 of the world’s smartest Internet experts and maintaining some of the world’s largest data centers, but even local real estate brokers are likely to have relatively sophisticated Web sites and tools to help them make sales. Anywhere there is a connection to the Net, there is the potential for someone to come in and help make it work better.

Entry-level salaries across the wide world of Web development tend to vary regionally, but in general, recent college graduates with proven skills can expect to make somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000. According to Salary.com, Level I Web designers earn an average $50,555 nationally, while entry-level programmers earn $52,000. Web software developers earn around $60,000, Java developers can earn up to $78,000, and e-commerce marketing managers (who may need a business school degree) can earn over $80,000.

Roles and Career Paths

There are many paths to a career focused on the Internet or e-commerce. Technological entry points are usually through some form of Web development expertise acquired during college or grad school computer science courses, ideally combined with the kind of practical real world experience recruiters look for.

On the client side (also called the “front end”), coders use development environments such as HTML, Flash, JavaScript, and AJAX to build the sites and interfaces that Web users see and interact with. On the server side (the “back end”), several technologies, including Adobe’s ColdFusion, IBM’s Websphere, and Microsoft’s .NET environment are popular building blocks for the underpinnings of any site or service.

In recent years, an explosion of open source (and often free) tools has made Web development more collaborative and less expensive than ever, sharply reducing costs and opening up new possibilities for coders who want to create reusable (and resalable) widgets, and for cash-strapped entrepreneurs who want to start their business on a shoestring.

Since, as some technologists are fond of saying, everything is a database problem, there are also fields of Internet expertise that center around back-end database tools such as DB2, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server. E-commerce operations have a particular need not only for such online database gurus, but also experts who can attach payment systems to catalogs of products. Making everything secure in an age of increasingly sophisticated e-crime and identity theft is yet another growing specialty, not to mention an important focus of the 2009 economic stimulus bill, which targets $111 billion overall for technology projects.

All these technologies are just the basic building blocks of the Net. On top of them are wide open worlds of search engine optimization, e-commerce tools, graphics, video and content creation, and marketing. It’s in these specialties that people who may not have deep software engineering or programming experience can find a path to an Internet career. All sorts of opportunities have opened up in recent years for writers, editors, content creators and managers, graphic designers, project managers, and marketers to add their expertise and polish to the foundations being laid by the development teams.

Skills and Qualities

  • Boundless energy to keep up with constantly evolving technologies and trends
  • A sense for business and how Internet traffic can yield dollars
  • Ability to move between solo work (coding) and teamwork (site building) easily
  • Flexibility to try new techniques and designs on the fly

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