web analytics

It’s become a cliché to say half of today’s job titles didn’t even exist a generation ago. But there is some truth in the statement. About one-quarter of currently advertised job titles only appeared in the last decade or so.

We’re not just talking about those dumb name changes where say, a cleaner becomes ‘hygiene facilitation operative’. Nor are we talking about BS job titles, (while we’re on the subject can you believe this bloke is serious?)

Thanks to the rise of the knowledge economy, the nature of work is morphing at warp speed to embrace new skills, services and functions as well as new combinations of more established skills. To illustrate this phenomenon I’ve selected ten job titles that came into fashion in the last twenty years but already seem to be disappearing.

Web Master: In the early days of the Internet, the web master was a jack (or Jill) of all trades, keeping the system running, maintaining data communications channels, designing pages, writing text, taking pictures and answering email feedback. Today the nearest equivalent role tends to have a broad range of definitions, but they all involve some degree of responsibility for running and developing web operations. Sometimes the job involves managing content, but more often a new breed of specialist handles this.

Content Producer: It didn’t take web career paths long to bifurcate. While the web master did everything, the content producer concentrated on words and pictures. This mainly involved writing and commissioning editorial, but it also included responsibility for finding pictures and other artwork as well as overseeing page designs. For a while the content producer was to web media what an editor is to a newspaper.

Evangelist: Apple Computer started employing evangelists in the mid-1980s as a way of rallying the faithful and keeping waverers on board during the competitive onslaught from Microsoft and Intel-based products. Their job was to ‘spread the good news’ by communicating with specialist communities such as designers, developers and other interest groups. Today a wide number of companies still use people with this job title but it seems to be on its way out. In some respects evangelism is similar to public relations, but it tends to work more on a one-to-one basis and there’s often an educative element involved. Some companies use Advocates to do similar work.

Web Cam Performer: Ok, this one is a rather small niche, but for a short time before and after the dotcom boom there were people who earn a crust by living their lives in front of a web cam. In many cases it’s just a thinly veiled form of pornography, but some  were genuine artists. You don’t see them around any more though.

Outsourcing Consultant: The rise of virtual corporations brought in its wake a new class of management consultancy which specialised in brokering outsourcing arrangements and getting such deals to work. The job required a mixture of business, legal, financial and technical skills. You needed to be good with people and patient. Today outsourcing is mature (some would argue it is in decline) and there’s less need for specialists to broker deals.

Business Coach: Think of these as being like personal trainers, only instead of making individuals fit, they knock companies into shape. In many cases they are used to bring in skills that a business operator lacks, particularly in a lean, mean new era virtual business where there aren’t too many bodies. Business coaches were extremely visible in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they’re not so common today.

Professional Surfers: Keeping search engines and portal sites up-to-date required a huge investment in time and money. Some of that investment was spent hiring people who working lives involved checking and rechecking information on web sites. It didn’t tend to be a high-paying job, but given that many people spend their whole working day browsing web pages anyway, it was popular for a while.

Chief Knowledge Officer: sitting at the top of the knowledge worker tree was a special breed of key executives who planned and implemented knowledge winning strategies for large corporations. Salaries tended to be upwards of $250k. In some cases the term was synonymous with Chief Information Office (CIO) but more generally there was a difference, while CIOs are often technical and have to worry about technology issues, CKOs tended to have a more philosophical bent and are more worried about ‘why’ and ‘what’ than about ‘how’. I haven’t seen this job title in ages. Does that mean companies no longer need knowledge?

Piracy Specialists: Working on the principal of ‘silver lining in every cloud’ a whole range of jobs briefly emerged to deal with various on-line nasties. Among them were Disaster recovery specialists who cleared up the mess after virus and hacking attacks. Elsewhere piracy specialists are being hired by companies like Microsoft to hunt down and deal with people who illegally sell software. More recently piracy specialists have found work for record companies and film studios worried about illegal on-line distribution. In recent years these roles have all been wrapped into more general security positions.

American personal finance site Get Rich Slowly looks at ten of the best recession-proof jobs. It covers a range of industries including knowledge-based areas such as information technology, entertainment and engineering.

While Get Rich Slowly drew up the main list for North American readers, there’s good and bad news for New Zealanders. The author thinks America will boost agricultural employment in order to move away from importing food.

Maybe, but New Zealand produces high-quality food cheaper than anyone else and the exchange rate is dropping. So our agricultural exports should continue to do well in the coming years.

Education holds recession-proof potential

One career that pops up in the Get Rich Slowly story is education. For a long time teaching was underpaid and undervalued. But there’s a shortage of teachers in most countries and plenty of young people to educate.

There’s a wealth of information in the story including a number of alternative views. I’d be interested to hear what others think about recession-proof careers.

No-one doubts the quantity of information on the internet, what about its quality?

There are millions of websites. Each site can have one page or thousands. Which means there is a lot of information out there – a few gazillion words and pictures.

It’s the kind of resource our ancestors would have killed for. Indeed, in ancient times they fought wars over access to knowledge repositories.

Would they fight the same wars to get net access? Probably. Our ancestors liked a good scrap.

While the modern Internet might be chock-a-block with information, it’s light on knowledge. It is not always the place to seek wisdom.

Let’s face it, how many dead bodies would you walk over to unearth the lyrics of ‘Spice Up Your Life’?

Information but thin on knowledge

Catalogues of high-resolution photographs showing supermodels in bathing costumes might be aesthetically pleasing. But unless you are a rather slow teenage boy wanting to study female anatomy, the knowledge content is slight.

Likewise all those painstakingly collected lists of quotes by The Simpsons characters: entertainment value high, enlightenment quotient low.

Then there are the millions of dumb home pages filled with photos of cuddly animals, basketball stars and soft porn princesses. Adventurous, but unimaginative amateur developers decorate pages with sound clips of heavy metal or rap. Some even craft complex Java scripts that do nothing special.

If you’re brave, you can find some of the most atrocious poetry ever written.

Surf the net at random and you’ll find page after page of pure rubbish, mind-numbing sameness and precious little gold.

Professional rubbish too

Of course, the web isn’t just the domain of gifted (or otherwise) non-professionals. These days commercial sites run by highly trained specialists dominate. Of these, most either sell something directly or people who sell things finance them.

Which dilutes their value as independent information sources. How much credence would you give to free online personal finance advice given to you by a bank?

In engineer-speak, the Internet has a low signal-to-noise ratio.

That is, you have to sort through a great deal of rubbish to find anything worthwhile. But that implies a message is there. There might not be. Even if you know exactly what you are looking for and use the best search tools, you can still come badly unstuck.

A chilling example

A medical doctor recently surveyed 20 websites offering help with self-treatment of common ailments. Each site looked plausible. Yet of the 20 sites, only three offered advice that squared with the accepted medical procedure. A number of the sites offered seriously flawed advice. Some were no more than quackery. We’re not talking about cultural differences; we are talking snake oil. Sooner or later, real people with real health problems are going to roll up at these sites, take the advice at face value and damage themselves.

This isn’t funny.

In my view, the worst aspect of this problem is that the good, well-researched information is drowned out by the sheer volume of trash. Web-boosters used to say users would learn to recognise good information from bad by its brand. So, for example, you might trust a news report from the ABC, BBC or CNN, but not from the National Enquirer. There’s certainly some truth to the idea. But would you know which brand to turn to for medical information or financial advice?


Open source software is free.

Anyone can download an open source program. You can run it, copy it and pass it on to friends and colleagues. You can look at the code and see how the developers made the program. None of this means paying a license fee. It doesn’t break any laws. You have permission to do all these things.

Money, or cost, is not the most important point. Advocates think of word free as in ‘free speech’, not ‘no payment’.

Freedom means that users can change the programs to suit their own needs. That would be illegal with most other forms of software.

Open Source freedom means responsibility

There is one restriction: you must, in turn, pass the same set of freedoms on to everyone else. Altered open source programs must be made available to everyone.

This approach decentralises control. In turn, that means developers continually improve the software.

At the same time, having large numbers of people looking at and improving on programs means that bugs are quickly eliminated. That improves quality control.

A lot of important programs and applications are based on free software. It runs the internet and underpins some of the most popular operating systems.

Is there a difference between a ‘resume’ and a ‘curriculum vitae’? The answer is there may well be an important difference or none – it all depends on who uses the terms.

Employers and recruitment specialists in Australia tend to use the term ‘resume’ when asking candidates to supply a written work history. Like other aspects of modern Australian language use, it follows the American model. Although you’ll find New Zealand and UK employers are starting to use the same term, they still more often ask for a CV or a ‘curriculum vitae’.

While the British and New Zealanders might prefer to use CV, they generally regard the two terms as synonyms.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines resume as curriculum vitae. The dictionary suggests the word resume is an Americanism for CV.

Americans often make a clear distinction between the two terms. In their book, a resume is a career summary designed to sell your key skills and experiences to a prospective employer while a CV is a fuller record of your work and life history. You can read how one American sees the difference between the two.

By all means, read the essay, but I wouldn’t take what the headhunter has to say about European-style CVs too seriously. That’s because British employers prefer short, snappy CVs and they certainly have little relation to whatever it is he is describing in the essay.

For example, when I started hiring people in Britain during the early 1980s people would send CVs on a single piece of A4 paper. Some would make it to a second sheet, but anyone who required more than two sheets of paper would be regarded with suspicion. Admittedly I was hiring journalists and those days word economy was a virtue.

Nevertheless, good British CVs are generally short.

On the other hand, when a recruitment consultant in New Zealand approached me about a particular job she said a two pager is insufficient. She said nothing less than six pages would be adequate.

The simple truth is that there’s confusion about employer expectations of prospective employees. It varies from industry to industry, grade to grade and company to company. Some recruiters ask specifically for a two-page resume, that’s good; many more are vague.

Unless you know what the employer expects my advice is to ask the person handling the recruitment exactly what they expect to see.

That way you do three things. First, you end any ambiguity and can deliver to their exact requirements.

Second, you’ve flagged an interest. You may get to talk more and show something interesting, that way the person at the other end will look out for your application when it arrives.

Third, you’ll be able to figure out some clues about what kind of person or company you are dealing with before making any commitment.

One last point: take care with any blanks.