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Students Getting Paid to Surf

July 08, 1996|KAPEN KAPLAN

Think summer jobs for students and the images that come to mind are of camp counselors, burger flippers and Internet developers.

Internet developers?

That's right. In an office in a cushy Torrance high-rise, about half a dozen students younger than 25 are working at a firm called NetWerks. They are expanding a World Wide Web site dubbed EZ Connect ( that aspires to be a massive directory of other sites on the graphics-rich portion of the Internet. About 15 students have contributed to the project since it started this spring, including three from local high schools.

Unlike Yahoo (, the popular service that aims to be a complete directory of the World Wide Web, the goal of EZ Connect is to catalog the 20,000 or so sites--just a handful, relatively speaking--that account for roughly 80% of the traffic on the Web. So far about 10,000 sites are indexed, and EZ Connect records a few thousand hits each day.

"We kept hearing that there's a lot of great stuff out there on the Web, but you can't find it," said Paul Ashcraft Jr., a senior partner in NetWerks. "It's like having a library with no card catalog or Dewey decimal system."

That's what the students are working to build. Under the direction of Karen Laffitte--only 28 years old herself--students surf the Net and evaluate sites to see if they are suitable for EZ Connect's directory. If they are deemed "cool," the sites' addresses are added to a database and linked to EZ Connect by a NetWerks Webmaster.

"It's such a hip field right now," said Laffitte, who worked in malls and in restaurants when she was in school. "It's a good starting point or a stepping stone to a career. What you learn is more applicable down the line."

Such considerations were not on the mind of 17-year-old Hsu Li when he started working for NetWerks earlier this year. He was merely looking for a fun and easy way to earn some cash.

"If you know just a little bit about the Internet, you can do this job," said Li, who graduated from Torrance High School last month and will attend UC Irvine in the fall. "You don't have to know a lot, you just have to have good judgment and be organized."

Li--who earns a few dollars more than minimum wage per hour--has been surfing the Internet since he was 15 and was a co-founder of Torrance High's HTML Club, named for the computer language used to design Web sites. But even people with less experience are thriving by working on EZ Connect. Chris Umali, the site's assistant Webmaster, is a 21-year-old USC junior who just started surfing the Net last summer.

For Krista Medley, a 25-year-old business marketing student at USC now working part-time on EZ Connect, the rise of the global computer network has meant more meaningful job opportunities.

"I've done office work before, and this is a lot more interesting," Medley said. "Since the Internet has come out, there have been a lot more options in the job market."

Li, on the other hand, says working on EZ Connect is the only option he needs.

"This is a great job," Li said. "The Internet is creating good jobs for young people, and I would encourage every young person to consider a job in this field."

Karen Kaplan covers technology and careers. She can be reached via e-mail at

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