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Websites 101:

Last year, all the RC students were required to make a website in TOM. For some reason, the TOM faculty elected to remove the requirement (probably to introduce something more practical like The Beer-Game Exercise). At the request of my sectionmates and to fill this gap in our MBA educational experience, I began running Web workshops to help people get a nice site up and to teach them the basics of how the Internet works. This term, we’ve opened up the seminars to the entire HBS community. If you want to attend (absolutely no experience required), email me at skhan@mba2003.hbs.edu.

I’ve wriaten this article in case you are on the fence as to whether it’s worthwhile to make a website (which you will have done by the end of my very hands-on seminar). In future articles, I’ll give you the low-down on topics like “How much should you pay someone to build X”, “The basics of getting a site up,” and “How to know a competent geek when you see one.”

Make the Web fun again
In 1994, it wasn’t obvious that you could make money off of whipping together a little HTML so people did it as a hobby. Pages then were personal, interesting, quirky and sometimes disturbing, but, on the whole, they had character (this is a good thing). Then, some time in late 1995 or early 1996, people realized that there was money to be made in the Web and stopped making personal pages for fun. Before we knew it, it became difficult to find people’s listings of their favorite episodes of The Facts of Life and very easy to find commercials for AbTronics. By making your own non-commercial, personal homepage, you’ll play your part in making the Web a more fun place to be for the rest of us.

The power of self-expression
In this world of labels and resumes, no one knows who you really are. So what if you went to UPenn, worked at McKinsey, and now attend HBS? That doesn’t tell me what makes you different from the 100 other people here with the same credentials. In fact, this is probably a source of frustration in your life. No one wants to just be one of the thousand lemmings running towards the ocean. You want people to know that you’re the lemming who is colorblind, enjoys reading Teen People, and is a certified Yoga instructor. You’re an individual, and people should know it! Also, publishing pictures to the entire world of your little brother running around in Wonder Woman Underoos when he was eight (or possibly older) is strangely empowering.

Employers are impressed
When recruiting candidates, employers are looking for two things: intelligence and personality. Depending on the type of website you create, you just might be able to convince your dream employer that you have both, even before the first interview. Regardless of your background, employers will assume you’re some type of techie-genius if you have a home page. Also, a website is a great place to show off your accomplishments that look cheesy on a resume (e.g., the fact that you were the National Spelling Bee Champion in the 5th grade or that you’re the nephew of a popular pro wrestler). On the personality front, when employers see pictures of you hand-feeding your dog over Christmas break, they’ll realize that you are the type of person that they want to work with.

You’d be less likely to be taken for a ride by web charlatans
Finally, there are people in the world willing to charge you as much as you are willing to pay for most anything. I have seen extremely smart MBAs dish out $10 million for a technical project that could have been built for $100K because they had no clue of how much work was involved. Similarly, I have seen many otherwise competent CEOs hire completely incompetent CTOs because of their inability to evaluate technical skills. Building your own website will not make you a technical expert overnight, but it will give you a sense of what separates a project that a neighborhood kid equipped with a liter of Mountain Dew could do in a night from one that would require 50 consultants and six months to build.

February 11, 2002
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