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Crowdsourcing: A burgeoning jobs market for the jobless recovery

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 26, 2013 11:00 AM

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As the improvement in the nation’s economic outlook—coined the “jobless recovery” by the New York Times in 2010—has been slow-going in some markets, the number of unemployed and underemployed remains high. So the question is, where will the high-paying opportunities of the future come from? Are we destined for a world where these positions are merely sourced offshore to places with a lower cost of living?

Part of the answer lies in an idea whose roots hearken back to the dawn of the “New Economy.” Fifteen years ago, Fast Company touted the benefits of “Free Agent Nation” – the millions who were, by choice, maintaining their independence as self-employed or independent contractors, selectively moving from one opportunity to the next.

As the “New Economy” is increasingly impacted by web and mobile technology, this free agent nation is being reconstituted through crowdsourcing. This concept is enabling independent workers to lend their capabilities – and earn good money – across a host of web and mobile technologies, as app testers, developers, designers, writers or even investors.

In Boston and beyond, we see the benefits of this arrangement for the individual worker, the businesses who tap their expertise, and the companies that bring the two together. There are many companies where the need for thousands of hands-on-deck is imperative for the success of the final product of the company, whether it be ongoing content creation, doing legal research or testing apps. From small startups to massive enterprises, companies are embracing this new notion of work – quite simply because it’s effective. When executed well, it benefits the individual, the company, and the broader economy.

In this era, a career that offers both flexibility and consistency is nearly unheard of. Being part of a crowdsourcing community means that the free agents can work when they want, where they want, and on which projects fit their skills and interest. It is a do-more, get-more mentality and the speed and quality with which a project is completed is in the free agents’ hands. Those who do the work better and faster will be recognized and rewarded – and will get more opportunities in the future.

Most professionals have a passion, but aren’t always able to focus on developing it. Maybe they want to break into a new space, but don’t have the opportunity. Maybe they’ve advanced beyond this in their day job, but want to maintain those skills.

And while many may already have a full-time job in a related field, crowdsourcing offers the opportunity to hone a skillset, be exposed to new technologies and techniques, and make some extra money in the process. The model promotes meritocracy – those individuals who produce the best results will rise to the top and be coveted by companies. In fact, top performing testers in the uTest community often have their pick of paid projects from top companies like USA Today, Google, Amazon, Box and Trulia.

The beauty of crowdsourcing is that, in this economy, no one would think it’s possible. Individuals can actually take their future into their own hands, without worrying about the next round of layoffs, hours being cut, or office politics. For companies weathering the same economic challenges, it’s hard to imagine hiring more full-time employees, regardless of their qualifications.

Increasingly, the concept of building a long-term career with a single company is an outlier. And more often than not, both the company and employees are looking ahead to what’s next. The truth is that many companies cannot afford to add extra headcount to meet peak periods of demand, and offshoring is ripe with hidden costs and drawbacks; there needs to be a staffing solution that creates a process for meritocracy and that’s ultimately aligned with creating real value.

Companies that leverage crowdsourcing solutions to complement their employees’ skills and capacity instantly have a pool of talent at their fingertips that’s been rated by other customers. In a crowdsourced world, a company is assured that those that complete the project are a match for the skill set they need, are motivated to meet their needs, and responsible for the results they produce. And if they can’t, someone else will.

For example, in the world of software testing, a company that uses crowdsourcing to augment its in-house testing team will discover more defects and launch better products than their competitors. Companies, regardless of size, quite often fall victim to the “just-get-it-done” mentality—completing a checklist to hit a deadline rather than creating excellence. The beauty of crowdsourcing is that by tapping more people with the needed expertise and a fresh perspective, the final product will have received input from those with different and real insight, experiences and under different conditions, making for very real and very valuable results.

Crowdsourcing has gained noticeable traction – it is used for project funding, software testing, IT services, localization and globalization. Our team at uTest is proud to call the Boston area our home base – given the city’s strong academic, entrepreneurial and technological roots, we get it.

Our region continues to spur innovation and is poised for more growth. Take Lionbridge – a website translation and localization company with a community of more than 100,000 professionals across 100+ communities; or OnForce, a top source for on-site tech talent in field services in the cloud. These local companies are forging the path for crowdsource innovation, helping companies and freelancers understand the benefits of getting involved in the community.

uTest is leading the way in what “community” can mean in a crowdsourcing model – uTesters network online, organize local testing meetups, create training content to help new testers, and help mentor one another to contribute to the growth and success of the community as a whole. We are proud of what the uTest community has become – and the fact that this promising solution to the “jobless recovery” can trace its roots to Boston.

To learn more about crowdsourcing, tune into the Crowdopolis conference in New York City, February 27-28, where I’ll be joining other industry commentators to discuss hot trends and best practices. For more information on uTest and opportunities around web and mobile app testing, visit www.utest.com.

For examples of other crowdsourcing opportunities, check out the following:
• Software development: www.topcoder.com or www.odesk.com
• IT services: www.onforce.com or www.workmarket.com
• Graphic design: www.crowdspring.com or www.99designs.com
• Online advertising: www.trada.com
• Legal research: www.articleone.com

Matt Johnston is Chief Marketing Officer of uTest, the world's largest marketplace for software testing services.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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