telling press that there is a growing trend in online organized crime rings hiring college students to do their dirty work and solve difficult technical problems - often under pretense that the work is legal security consulting. Here at RWW we're seeing, even participating in, a related trend of hiring college students for online work blogging.The British government is
Hiring college students to work online is desirable for a number of reasons. Below we discuss some of those reasons and offer a short list of alternatives to working on the dark side online.
In case you missed this weekend's announcement, we've got two new bloggers here at RWW. Our newest, Frederic Lardinois, is a graduate student (and a great guy) and the fabulous Corvida is an undergrad. Both have built established independent blogs, are blazing fast, wildly creative and have the people skills to make really great news bloggers. While everything they'll be doing here is completely legal, we hope, there are some common threads explaining why we, almost every other top blog in the web 2.0 space and international criminal organizations are now hiring students.
We hired our two newest because they are awesome, but here are some general themes underlying why college students in general have some key advantages in the new online economy.
Why Hire College Students?
While some news blogging work is done on a strict schedule, it's also regularly going on at all hours of the day and night. Presumably that's even more the case for online criminal organizations - the labor being hired for can go on at any hour but sometimes there's probably some code-busting that needs to be done in a hurry. College students are more used to working in short bursts, at odd times, than a typical family-aged full timer responsible for a mortgage is.
In the competitive worlds of professional blogging and organized crime, you can either work 24-7 or you can be ready and able to work at just the right times, no matter when those might be.
They have at least some training
New tools have enabled a far wider number of people to work online than ever before. How many of us bloggers would be writing online all day were it not for easy to use CMS software? Similarly, the barriers to entry in coding get lower every day as well. While all of that is wonderful for the world at large, when companies are making hiring decisions, it's nice to have access to some candidates with at least some formal training in the basics and beyond. It's great when people come up from outside academia (it's better than great - it's fantastic), but for day in and day out hiring - college students are very nice to be able to evaluate to fill positions.
High turnover is OK
The new economy of online work is one of high turnover, including quick occupational advancement. Students are often available for a summer, or a single year, and are far happier with such arrangements than the vast majority of people would be.
They are affordable
Let's not kid ourselves - the traditional reason businesses hire college students is that they don't have salary requirements as high as other people. An interesting wrinkle to this part of the story, though, is that the organized criminal groups hiring students are paying them particularly well.
Paul Simmonds, chief information security officer for AstraZeneca, commented on the original story linked to above, highlighted in subsequent coverage on Geek.com:
The root cause of the issue is that the bad guys are better funded than we are ... They have research and development programmes, they are putting people through university, they are calculating return on investment and they have better quality assurance. By comparison, the legitimate security industry is under-funded, under-resourced and constantly on the back foot.
Ouch, that hurts. Insurgent blogs challenging traditional mainstream media cannot say the same thing - we are not in a position to outbid old media in pay. As web-based new media grows more competitive, though, we may find more startups changing their priorities to offer premium pay to hot college workers.
College is a time in a person's life when building up the resume from scratch is a top priority. Right now this is mitigated to some degree by the relatively low profile of even most top players online (low brand recognition) but that's sure to change soon.
While students working legitimately online have a great opportunity to work as hard as possible and greatly strengthen their resumes, it's sad to think about students unwittingly hired by black-hat firms they thought were legitimate security consultancies. They may very well find themselves in a endless downward spiral of code-breaking, long nights of opium smoking and a resume that grows increasingly seedy every day. It might not be all that bad - but we're sure there are some people who would like to avoid such a fate!
Other places you can look for work
Are you a coding or social media savvy college student? Consider looking for tech work in the non-profit world. Sites like Idealist.org, NetSquared or NTEN are good places to find nonprofit tech jobs or introductions to organizations that might be hiring.
They won't pay you as well, their tech will be lagging behind the bleeding edge (that's where you come in?) and you'll likely spend a fair amount of time frustrated watching the for-profit sector eat your lunch - but for many people it's a great arrangement.
Or, if you'd like to get a job blogging - that's a great option too. You missed your chance for now here at RWW - but try checking out the top blogs in any other niche, keep your eyes peeled (or a spliced feed filtered for keywords) and you may very well get a chance soon. The opportunities for students to work online, for good or for evil, are growing in number quickly.