Look for IT staff in unusual places

Who says Internet developers have to start off knowing something about the Internet?

Your next Web wizard may be sitting behind your company's reception desk right now. Or working in the cafeteria. Or hidden away in the mailroom. Why not give a techno-wannabe his or her Big Break? That's what Mitchel Ahern did, and it worked out very nicely.

The sky's the limit

Expect to pay big bucks for Internet professionals these days, according to a survey by Stamford, Conn.-based Cromwell Foote Partners LLC. Especially if you're trying to fill one of the following positions:

Job title
(national average)
Director, Web systems $111,146
Project manager, Inter/intranet $96,969
Webmaster, content/marketing $92,644
Web architect $89,922
Webmaster, technical $87,031
Web security manager
(gaining in pay and prestige)
Web engineer $73,953
Web developer/programmer $67,577
Web systems administrator $63,615

Source: Cromwell Foote Partners LLC

"I lost my college intern because he was making too much money on his own doing Web site design," says Ahern, Webmaster for Eastern Acoustic Works, a Whitinsville, Mass., maker of loudspeaker systems for professionals. Then, "I had a junior in high school--and I got outbid for him."

As chairman of the Association for Internet Professionals, Ahern knew the market was hot. But he never expected to find himself fighting over a teenager.

Desperate, Ahern remembered there was a guy in the mailroom, Dave Menard, who had asked about doing other kinds of work. He "had no Internet background whatsoever," says Ahern, "but the bottom line was he was interested."

Ahern dashed to the mailroom and grabbed Menard, who was stuffing envelopes. He put Menard to work part-time on the Web site.

The natural

Menard turned out to be a natural. Once he learned how to handle simple page maintenance, it became clear that he could do more. Ahern taught him to build pages from scratch. Now, some six months after beginning Menard's training, Ahern is bringing him up to speed on server maintenance. "Basically I'm trying to get him to be able to do anything that I can do," Ahern says.

The discovery of Menard has brought added benefits. While the students who had worked for Ahern had more programming experience, they worked only three days a week and had variable schedules. Often, they were simply not around at crunch time. Menard, on the other hand, works five days a week at the company (some of that time is still spent in the mailroom) and is eligible for--and motivated by--overtime pay. As a result, "I've been here for the past three weekends," says Ahern, "and so has Dave."

Of course, not everyone in the mailroom is capable of learning to maintain a Web site, and even if you're lucky enough to pick a winner, there's the added cost of training--Menard has been in training for six months or so, and he's still learning. But if you need someone in a hurry and don't have a big budget for hiring and recruiting, a bright nontechie can be your savior.

A star is born?

And while being plucked from the mailroom to work on a Web site may not quite compare to, say, starlet Gretchen Mol being discovered while working as a coat-checker in Hollywood, Menard's work life has improved dramatically.

His professional life "has changed 100%," Menard says. "I started in the mailroom. Now I'm doing something that's potentially a money-maker and I feel better about myself."

He has been going through shelves of software, pulling out whatever looks interesting, and teaching himself how to use it. So far, he's mastered optical character-recognition software, Adobe Image Styler, some multimedia functionality, and audio/visual production.

"One of the things that attracted me to the company was that there was a lot of room to grow--especially in the marketing department," Menard says. "If I showed ambition I'd get to learn. And that was definitely what I was thinking when I started with the company."

And because Menard plays saxophone in two bands, he "sees the fun in [the Web] as a performing artist," says Ahern. He has even built a Website for one of his bands, Special 79.

He's doing so well that EAW is now looking for a new mailroom coordinator so that Menard can spend more time on the Web. Has he asked for a raise yet? "He's hinted," says Ahern. "And he'll get one."

Anyone know someone who wants to stuff envelopes? //

Natalie Engler is a business and technology journalist based in Arlington, Mass. You can find her at nre@world.std.com.

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