Services like YouTube and iTunes, as well as the proliferation of streaming content on media and corporate Web sites, prove that the Internet is rapidly becoming a virtual universe of sound and images.
That's great news for grads planning careers in Internet media production, as well as for those searching for work in media software development. "Internet media is unbelievably cool," says Rich Milgram, CEO of Beyond.com, an online job board headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa. "There's also a tremendous amount of opportunity."
A New Era
Milgram notes that the Internet is at a turning point, with proliferating high-speed access allowing a rapidly growing number of users to tap into broadband media. Simultaneously, traditional media-such as newspaper, magazine,TV and radio-are flocking to the Internet to revitalize their content and to attract new and younger viewers. "To be in the Internet media space during the time when a lot of the media is converting to the Internet is terrific," Milgram says. "What's cool about this space is the combination of creativity, analytics and traditional software development."
Not surprisingly, grads looking for jobs in Internet media companies often turn to the field's high-profile players, such as YouTube, Google and Yahoo!. Yet job seekers targeting top tier Internet media companies must press hard to find even low-paying entry-level jobs, since these firms are bombarded by job applicants, creating a highly competitive employment environment. "It's a pretty hot space," says Dan Cobb, vice president of Yoh IT, a technology staffing company located in Philadelphia.
"If you've got a taste for true Internet media, if you want to be in something that's providing video or audio content exclusively to the broad market, you really have pursue that area," he says.
On the other hand, even those applicants who aren't able to land a job with a big-time Internet media company will find themselves well positioned to snare a position at a smaller media firm or at a corporation or government agency with Web media needs. "The good thing is, the same skills you would use [at a major Internet media company] you can use in a lot of Web development," Cobb says. "You become more useful in the marketplace just by learning that type of development, the tricks of the trade, whether you get into a specific company or not."
On Your Own
Budding media designers often fail to consider the fact that they don't have to work for a big company or, in fact, any company at all. Many people with Internet media design talents opt to embark on solo careers as freelance designers. Stefan Pinto, a Miami Beach-based freelance graphic and Web designer, entered the ranks of the self-employed seven years ago. He admits that the decision to market himself as a one-man business was initially unsettling. "Technically, I was considered 'unemployed', but I never really was," he says. "I already had one client before I quit my job." Another client soon followed when an employee at his old company jumped to another firm and asked Pinto to contribute his design services.
Most freelance media designers have several years of full- or part-time work experience. Pinto notes that along with art and technical knowledge, a freelancer also needs business and marketing skills. "You need to know how to sell yourself," he says. "Unless you know how to close a deal-and by this I mean a deposit to start work-you will have quite a difficult time sustaining your freelance business."
Assisted by Clark, his office parrot, Pinto has built interactive Web sites for clients such as AT&T, Merck, Merrill Lynch and Topps, as well as many smaller businesses. He says that a grad interested in becoming a freelance designer should build a showcase Web site on his or her own domain. "Show your skills, customize a MySpace page that looks nothing like a MySpace page," he says. Pinto notes that he routinely gets requests to build customized MySpace sites. "One was from an especially large-and respected-advertising agency," he says.
Pinto's final word of advice: "Satisfaction comes from seeing your designs in production."
Yet another way to enter the Internet media industry-particularly for those with strong technical abilities-is to seek a job designing software-based media technologies. Such individuals provide the tools and platforms that make Web sites featuring exciting Internet media productions possible.
Shelley Raaths, recruiting project manager at Sonic Foundry, a Madison, Wisc.-based company that offers enterprise webcasting and knowledge management solutions, says her company seeks applicants with cutting edge technical skills. "We look for people with background in Microsoft .NET and C#," she says. Attention is also paid to individuals who know their way around technologies such as the DirectShow multimedia framework, the Silverlight browser media plug-in and the Windows Media platform.
Raaths states that grads possessing only classroom-acquired skills will find themselves somewhat limited in the Internet media technology business. "What we're finding is that a lot of colleges and universities aren't necessarily focusing on the cutting edge, current technologies," she says. "They tend to do the students a bit of a disservice."
Working in a rapidly moving industry, Sonic stresses self-education. "We look for, and encourage, people to tinker on their own." Raaths explains. "It tells a lot about that person's drive, attitude and aptitude."
Milgram feels that Internet media specialists need to be as flexible and nimble as the field they work in. "You can be very talented, and you can work very hard and do very well, but you're going to have to reinvent yourself just as the Internet continues to reinvent itself," he says.
Cobb believes that the number of Internet media jobs will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future, providing ample employment opportunities for years to come. "You'll have the ability to be as employed as you want to be for as long as you maintain your skills and act in a professional demeanor."