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Keeping up Competence in a Fast-Paced World,
or Life Histories of Swedish Internet Pioneers

Anna-Maria Ahlén
Department of Education
Uppsala University, Sweden
May 2001

How is it to work in a field in considerable flux? A field where skills are quickly outdated and where a substantial amount of money can be made for those with the "right" qualifications and ideas? How have pioneers in the field of interactive media gained the necessary knowledge and skills to lead the industry? In my work, I use the life histories of pioneers and others in the field of interactive media in Sweden to study their educational and professional careers.

Interactive media for the Internet is a relatively new enterprise. Consistently developing throughout the 1990's, it has become an important part of the infrastructure provided by the Internet and other networks for communication and has changed the behavior and habits of billions of people around the world, both at work and at home. I regard the field of Web page production as one of the cutting edges of this development.

The broad interest of my study concerns the relationship among society/the economy, individuals in the Internet business, and educational institutions. The specific interest of my study focuses on individuals in the field and their professional development and uses of education. I use the following questions as a guide:

  • How do individuals’ educational and professional careers develop? How do they gain the knowledge they need for working and remaining in this field? How did they make good use of what is applicable?
  • How do they experience their work?
  • What are the backgrounds of the people entering this field at different phases of its development?
  • How has education emerged and developed in relation to this field? How, in a broad sense, have educational institutions developed in relation to this field?

These questions will be addressed through looking at the educational and professional careers of consultants working to produce Web sites in Stockholm, Sweden. I am especially interested in the pioneers who helped create the field, some of whom have also taken part in the creation of interactive media education. Several of my sources for my master thesis mentioned that they had developed skills for producing Web sites in 1993, but at that time there were very little commercial demands for their skills. Some were hired to teach classes on the subject and others took up other educational positions. The Internet, however, soon became more and more commercialized and after a while they stopped teaching and began working as consultants within the field.

The pioneers' educational and professional careers are captured through life-history interviews. I am also, however, collecting detailed material on the educational and professional backgrounds of whole groups of employees working in interactive media companies, which will be analyzed using a kind of multivariate analysis. Through this I will study the relationship between the year they entered into the business and their educational and professional background. I am also interested in the many different competencies involved in producing Web sites.

My criterion for finding the pioneers is to choose those who started working in the field before 1994. However, since I am in the early stage of my study, I must still decide how best to find my sources.

One reason for choosing pioneers working in Stockholm is that the city is not only the capital of Sweden, but it also holds a leading position within this industry in Europe. It has a relatively long and innovative tradition within the field and several international companies have emerged there. Sweden also ranks as a country with one of the highest percentages of its population using the Internet on a daily basis.

It is my hope that people involved in the educational planning for this field, as well as individuals and companies working within the field, will find my research interesting. I also hope that those involved in educational planning in society in general, which also deals with the interaction between the emergence of a new business field and its accompanying education, will make use of my work. Furthermore, the usefulness of this study could go beyond mere scientific interest within the field of education and could also be of interest to other human and social sciences.