Can I make you some bucks?

how the net is transforming the way we work and earn

My life without Latitude August 23, 2008

My digs’ mate has a rather interesting morning ritual and coffee lovers may be shocked to hear that it doesn’t involve caffeine. In fact those grappling with caffeine-dependency will probably find this a useful caffeine-withdrawal coping mechanism. She certainly seems to get quite a kick out of it. And it’s really quite simple. All she does is count down the number of days we have left at university. And I swear it’s given her a spring in her step.

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See, we have a small whiteboard attached to outside of our fridge door and every morning she updates it. Currently we have 62days left as students. 62 days!!!!!! (Forgive my amateurish abuse of the exclamation mark) And it’s only now that I have stopped to think about what this innocent daily ritual means. Needless to say, panic has set in.

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I’m not too sure what I was expecting. I think in my mind I was looking forward to the end bit of the countdown. You know that part. Where the dramatic music starts building up tension and then the final countdown begins: 5 days. 4 days. 3 days. 2 days. 1 day. Lift off. Perhaps that’s how it was all worked out in my mind. I’d get the grand send off to some exotic destination armed with several cans of chickpeas and that all important slab of dark chocolate. And then I’d be ready. I’d be invincible. But then what? Chickpeas and dark chocolate to the rescue? Oh yes, they’d get me far. But they’re unlikely to get me a job.

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For the past week there have been several career workshops as well as a careers fair, which was held yesterday, at the journalism department at my university. All in the spirit of helping lost soon-to-be-graduates find themselves and a job in the process. And of course the predictable was emphasized. How you need a comprehensive CV with an accompanying cover letter, nothing flashy, colourful or scented. Plain. Professional. To the point.

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And then of course, no good career talk would be complete without mentioning the importance of networking. Yes, this is useful to know. But haven’t we moved beyond this? This talk of office jobs and CVs? For let’s face it, such a recruitment process is about landing the lucrative job so that you can work your way up to your own private corner office. Complete with a view and the humdrum of 9 to 5.

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Well, no thank you. Not for me. I think it’s an outdated way of thinking about your first job. Why must it be an office job? First prize is not the office job. Not in today’s working environment where the telecommuting possibilities seem endless.

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At the careers fair, I was tempted to approach some of the companies and offer them my services as a freelancer. Or is that a bit presumptuous?

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But you see, there is a reason careers fairs are still held even though employers find themselves bushwhacked by the shmooze of graduates. And why prospective employees attend them, no make that flock to them in obsequious droves clutching that all important CV. You won’t believe it, but it was Dell’s announcement that they are releasing a new laptop model that made me realise this.

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See, Dell’s new E range of laptops, part of the Latitude family, offers up to 19 hours of battery life. And when the battery does run low you can use the high speed charger which means that within an hour 80% of the battery life will be recovered.

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But wait, there’s more. This range of laptops has a built in function known as Latitude On. This allows you to switch between two different processors cutting out lag time as information is processed. The Intel Core 2 Duo processor is used for Windows but for surfing the web you have the option of switching to the Latitude On system with its Linux operating system that runs separately to the laptops CPU.

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And then I think of my Celeron laptop and how it plods along struggling to process even the simplest multitasking session. And I’m left thinking perhaps I should have handed my CV out to people at this career fair because it’s clear that I just don’t cut it. I don’t have what it takes to be part of the new emerging workforce.

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Dell calls them Digital Nomads. But they go by many other names: Bedouin workers , Digital Bohemians. Call it what you will, these are IT workers, generally, who make a living without being tied to the office relying instead on wireless connectivity and other technology. These are individuals who are unlikely to attend careers fair. Why would they care about things like internship programs or the ethos of company x. For such workers, employment isn’t about making a good impression or how firm your handshake is. It’s about getting the work done. And if that happens at 3am over a glass of chocolate milk then so be it.

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But of course, there is a catch to all of this :

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Neo-nomads and digital bedouins sound very exciting, but we mustn’t forget that this will only ever be a viable way of working for a small, skilled and privileged minority of people.

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These kind of workers are often self-starters. The entrepreneurial type. And one of the most important things you need in order to be part of this class of new workers is access to the latest technology. The rest of us, the plebs should just stick with office jobs. Of course you don’t necessarily need one of Dell’s new laptops to be a Digital Nomad. But you have to have the latest technology and you need to keep that technology up to date.

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Ok, so I did approach some of the companies at the careers fair about doing freelance work. They seemed reluctant. And all I could do was nod, smile and politely move on next set of surprised eyes as I told them about my plans for next year.

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See my bag of tricks consists of the following : one dying Celeron that would never be able to support Photoshop or Adobe Auditon or anything from the Adobe family to be honest. A digital camera which doesn’t have AV or TV modes. A voice recorder which could be my saving grace. And a cellphone that while cute, compact and impressive-looking is not compatible with many of the latest mobile applications. Much to my dismay it can’t even support Fring. So where does that leave me? In the same place as most graduates, I guess: with a CV and a place at the end of the unemployment queue.