The Jobs of Web 2.0

Is the rise of online social networking creating a new breed of programmers?


Looking for a Senior Interface Hacker? A Ruby on Rails Developer? How about a PHP Ninja? If so, you’re not alone.


These and other curious job titles — all tied to the rise of Web 2.0 — are taking over many tech industry job boards. They’re also breathing new life back into the nation’s ailing IT labor market, recent reports show.

After years of job cuts, the IT sector added 38,900 new jobs over the last three months alone, according to a joint survey released last week by Forrester Research and the Information Technology Association of America.

If that doesn’t seem like much of a rebound, consider that in the wake of the dotcom bust the IT industry cut some 395,600 jobs between March 2001 and March 2004, according to a report by the Center for Urban Economic Development. Over half of those cuts occurred while the rest of the U.S. economy was recovering — hitting a peak industry unemployment rate of 7.9% in 2002, the report said.  

The recent turnaround comes amid renewed confidence among the nation’s information managers, which in turn is leading to more bullish spending plans and investments in IT, the Forrester/ITAA survey found.  

How much spending? According to the World Information Technology and Services Alliance, global output on information and communications technology will top $3 trillion this year — with software as the fastest growing category.


That kind of capital has already boosted IT employment to its highest point in three years, ITAA president Phillip Bond said.

While some of that growth can be attributed to renewed funding for IT projects previously on hold, much of it is being driven by the sudden expansion of Web 2.0 — the often wide-sweeping term for a new generation of online applications and services offering user-generated content, customized Web pages, or social networking — or all three.

“Whenever there are new and very successful platforms like these being widely adopted, they are job creators,” said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Beyond that, Challenger and others said the popularity of interactive Websites — from industry behemoths like MySpace, to Flickr, Riya, and — aren’t just creating new jobs. They’re also creating whole new job categories.

“Much of the building of these systems is about making them client or customer receptive, and that requires both programming and people skills,” he said. “That’s very different from the kinds of programmers we had five years ago.”


As such, standard tech job listings on cutting-edge sites like CrunchBoard or 37 Signals often call for “excellent communications skills” on top of LAMP, DRUPAL, AJAX and open source experience. They also co-mingle with listings for consumer insight directors, online audience managers and other marketing-like positions.

“People aren’t just looking for a designer or a programmer anymore,” said Jason Fried of 37Signals, a Chicago-based software firm that recently launched a Web 2.0 jobs board. “They’re looking for programmers who appreciate design and designers who can program, among other skills. Basically, workers who are well-rounded and flexible,” he said.

Web 2.0 has also created strange new job titles, like PHP Ninja, or Interface Hacker.
“The job titles are kind of goofy, but they resonate with the type of applicant you’re looking for,” Fried said.

A recruiter looking for a Ninja, he said, is after a programmer who is quick and agile.

“Before, that position might have been called Information Architect. But by giving a fun name, you’re only going to attract the people who get it, and they’re the ones you really want on your team,” Fried said.


For Pete Snyder, the CEO of New Media Strategies, an online branding firm based in Arlington, Va., most Web 2.0 employees have to speak two languages: programming and marketing.

“These are people who generally have the technical chops to upload and organize content, but also the social skills to create it,” he said, adding that he’s already increased staff by 20% over last year, including staffers charged with “blogger outreach and the asset distribution of our clients.”

And while the Web 2.0 labor market is getting competitive, “it’s nothing like 1999, when there were bidding wars for people fresh out of school who were demanding $90,000 paychecks,” Snyder said.

Challenger called the rise of social networking and user-generated content a “paradigm shift” in the online industry, and expects the IT job market to keep gaining strength over the next few years.

“I think we’re just seeing the beginning. This isn’t a small change to the way things are done,” he said. “It’s a whole new way of doing everything.”