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Home  > Article

Getting a Job in Social Networking

By Mathew Schwartz

How do you land a job at a social networking site or online community? We turned to their hiring managers to find out.

Social networking sites, online communities - Call them what you will, they're a hot commodity. Witness the 33.7 million unique visitors to Facebook in August 2007, the more than 1 million photographs uploaded daily to Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site, and the utter ubiquitousness of MySpace.

In social networking terms, those sites are the Old Guard. Lately, a number of upstarts have hit the scene, targeting everyone from pre-tweens to Baby Boomers, as well as a number of different professions. On the consumer side, for example, are relative newcomers such as Maya's Mom, aimed at parents (and recently purchased by Johnson & Johnson); Multiply, a social network aimed at 30-somethings; and Boomertown, for anyone "born between 1946 and 1964."

Meanwhile, a range of professional sites have appeared, including for wireless industry insiders and, where 25,000 licensed physicians consult each other about everything from a tricky medical diagnosis to finding themselves a new job.

If social networking sites dominate the current cultural zeitgeist, they're also at the forefront of another trend: Their reliance on so-called Web 2.0-type technologies. Look no further than most of their interfaces to see strong evidence of Ajax, Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, and practically any other cutting-edge Web approach you can name.

Social Network Job Hunting 101

With all that in mind, how do you land a job at a social networking site? Jason Gasdick, vice president of talent for Sermo Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., replies, "high-performance, experienced workers are always in demand."

Likewise, "we're looking for passionate people with strong technical Java (programming skills) who thrive in a fast-paced environment where releases happen every two to three weeks, and things change on a daily basis," says a spokesperson for LinkedIn, the business-oriented networking site based in Mountain View, Calif. As that suggests, many rapidly iterate their sites, often relying - at least in the case of LinkedIn - on agile development techniques.

In Demand: Ajax, Java, Ruby on Rails

So, exactly which skills will help you land a job?

Of course, strong technical and Web 2.0 programming aptitudes help. For example, LinkedIn says it always needs people with excellent Java, Ruby on Rails, Ajax, and Apache Ant skills, and notes that such talent can be somewhat scarce today. "We are finding them, but it's a competitive market for these types," says the spokesperson.

Bruno von Rotz, vice president for strategy & research at Optaros, a Zurich firm helping build a directory focused on enterprise open source software, echoes the sentiment. "It's not easy to find good, experienced people," he says. "In our case it's PHP and Symfony, phpBB (forum) and wordpress (blogging) ... Good Javascript and RIA (Rich Internet Application) skills are also important."

Meanwhile, Sermo is seeking "very skilled J2EE developers and architects, people who are interested and into Ruby on Rails, and people who get development - not just in one stack, or one language, or one platform," says Gasdick. In addition, he wants to know what makes social networking personal for a job candidate. "We're a group of people very passionate about trying to change healthcare," he says, "and we really offer a lot of work that will make a difference in the world. It's more than just making another online reservations system."

Beyond Programming

What if you're interested in working for a community but don't have hardcore programming skills? Effective project managers are always in demand, especially if they have agile development expertise. Many other opportunities exist early in the life of a new community, when "skill sets that are common with any other Web initiative are needed," says von Rotz. These include creative design skills, user experience, information management, and architecture. Search engine optimization will also be crucial to get a fledging community noticed.

In addition, once a community - especially a professional community - launches, someone needs to beg, borrow, cajole and entice users to regularly contribute to it, says von Rotz. That requires the skills of a community manager. "A lot of a community manager's work consists of establishing connections, reaching out to people, motivating people to contribute, writing blog posts to generate interest, (and) communicating through various forums to attract new audiences," he says. "These roles require both good project management experience and skills, as well as the ability to communicate effectively in writing."

Beyond whichever of these skills you possess, the best answer to "how do I land a job in social networking?" is perhaps the obvious one. Says Gasdick: "You network - use your social network."

By the way, he's on LinkedIn.

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 2008, Dice, Inc. Re-print permission granted by Dice, Inc.

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