Revenge of the Nerds

Has there ever been a better time to be a techie? These sites are designed to help programmers, Web designers, and other IT professionals get great jobs, find cool projects, and stay in the loop.

Who can forget the stirring proclamation by Gilbert at the end of "Revenge of the Nerds," the 1984 comedy that turned thick glasses into a status symbol? Gilbert calls for an end to "nerd persecution" by invoking pride in his clan: "All our lives, we've been laughed at and made to feel inferior. Why? Because we're smart. Because we look different. Well,... I'm a nerd, and I'm pretty proud of it."

Sixteen years later, nerds hardly need to defend themselves against popular scorn. There has never been a better time to be a programmer, a tech-support specialist, or a systems integrator. So it's no surprise that more and more Web sites are competing to meet their needs -- to help them find good jobs, land high-paying freelance gigs, and stay in the loop with fellow nerds.

Techies.com (www.techies.com), a network of 38 regional Web sites, aims to be a one-stop career resource for technical professionals. The site is already a force in IT recruiting, with nearly 200,000 members, and features profiles of more than 1,500 companies with jobs to offer.

How do you put techies.com to work for you? The site's "techfolio" serves as a command center for your career. You can use it to log all of the standard resume information: career objectives, skills, experience. But the site also helps you to track your job applications over time and to follow the talent market across the country. Plus, you have complete control over which companies see your information, and when.

Living in Boise, Idaho but thinking about a move to the Bay Area? Then use the site's "techbroker" tool to follow the job market in the Bay Area. Even better, compile a list of Bay Area companies where you would like to work, and add them to your "techwatchlist." That way, companies on the list can view your credentials -- and you don't even have to apply for a job.

Sure, you want to let companies know all about you. But it's just as important to find out as much as you can about prospective employers. That's where the "techspectus" comes in. For each organization profiled, it includes a company history, a summary of benefits, employee testimonials, information on the company's technical environment -- even photos of the company's offices.

Not all techies are interested in full-time jobs, of course. If you operate as a free agent, one Web site that you won't want to miss is iXmatch.com (www.ixmatch.com). Using its proprietary "matching" technology and its validation process, iXmatch.com makes smart matches between the skills required for projects (at companies such as AT&T, IBM, and Lucent Technologies) and the skills offered by the service's users.

You start by entering data about yourself into the site's "SkillsAgent" feature. The service then codifies your experience and expertise in seven different categories -- from technical skills ("database," "OS/tools") to business skills ("leadership," "project"). The site uses this skills profile to match you with projects that fit your credentials. It also takes into account your availability and your willingness to travel.

IXmatch.com doesn't just help you land gigs -- it helps you run your business too. Its services include automatic-deposit processing, billing, tax assistance, and time-sheet tracking. It also uses the buying power of its online community to get deals on products, services, and benefits packages. If you use the site regularly (by posting and answering questions), or if you refer other free agents to it, you'll earn "iXpoints," which you can redeem for merchandise, training services, or admission to conferences.

More and more techies are finding that demand for their skills puts them in a position to call the shots. And one way for them to stay in demand is to stay in the loop. No site does a better job of helping techies stay connected than Slashdot (www.slashdot.org). Its motto: "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters."

Slashdot brings together original articles, postings, rants, and links, and organizes them according to more than 70 topics -- from what's happening at specific companies (Apple, Intel, Microsoft) to what's going on with specific technologies (Linux, Perl, Unix). Indeed, the site is so full of stuff that it's a little hard to navigate -- a design principle for which the site's creator, Rob Malda, 23, is unapologetic. "I'm not catering to the lowest common denominator," declares Malda (aka Commander Taco). "To be a geek, you need to be able to figure a few things out."

The most impressive feature of the site is the way that its community function is moderated. Slashdot gets more than 4,000 comments a day -- not all of which qualify as world-class insights. So the site puts members of its community into a pool of potential moderators. Members are selected at random to perform a kind of virtual jury duty, assigning a score to each comment according to its value. This system, which is easy to use and easy to understand, serves as a form of "community policing" for geeks.

Imagine: a Web site of nerds, by nerds, and for nerds. Gilbert would be proud!

Gina Imperato (gimperato@fastcompany.com), a Fast Company associate editor, is based in San Francisco. She swears that she's not a nerd.

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