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How Rafat Ali Found a Job (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Sep 5th 2008

SM: The fellowship you received enabled you to attend Indiana University. Were there any requirements tied to that fellowship?

RA: Two of us were given a fellowship, and our mandate was to create an intranet for the university’s professors to use. It sounded grand, but we could not achieve it over the year and a half I was there because professors did not want to collaborate. We gave that up, and the school realized it was not going to happen. We were also teaching assistants for Web Writing 101 and for web design. It was basic back then; we started with Netscape Navigator. After the first semester we changed over to Dreamweaver.
Bloomington was near Chicago. I subscribed to the Chicago Tribune, which published one of the first mainstream stories about blogging – Julia Heller wrote about what blogs were.

SM: What year was this?

RA: It was 1999. I still have her story somewhere, although it is not online anymore. Salon did a story on blogs as well, and some of the early bloggers’ names came up. Since I was teaching web design to kids, I decided to start a blog which documented my journey as a student coming to American and learning a new culture. Coming from India to the middle of Indiana was tough: I had to adjust to an area that completely alien white; there were 3% non-whites in the whole university. I did not have any friends the first year. When I left India I did it with a mindset of rejecting everything. I wanted to move to a new country to start over. I now realize it was not the best thing. Studies were going great, but life outside of studies was just horrible. That is what I documented on my blog.

SM: Were people reading it?

RA: They were. It developed into this ironic look at American life from an outsider’s perspective. I did it for a year and a half, and it gained a good following. I learned a lot about blogging, the blogging culture, and being a part of that ecosystem. I finished my schooling in December of 2000 with the maximum GPA possible in journalism.

SM: Were companies actively hiring journalism majors?

RA: I came out at a really bad time. The Internet bubble had burst, and I wanted to write online. I was teaching, reading, studying, and writing Internet. I did get some interviews with consulting firms and one job I almost took. I pretty much had no choice but to move to New York. I had one year left on my visa to work. My best friends in India had come to the US via the software route, and that is where they were living.

They were generous to let me stay with them for the first six months I was there. I got an internship at Inside.com, a news site covering all things media. They started in May of 2000, right after the bubble burst, and only lasted 18 months. I was there for eight of those months. It was a great ride. I started at $6 an hour and worked three days a week. They then got bought by Brill Media Ventures. A lot of people got laid off, but I was worthless at $6 an hour so they brought me along. Steve Brill then hired me as a journalist.

We were running out of money, and then September 11th hit. That was a huge blow, and we closed down in October. I was banking on them sponsoring me for an H1 [visa]. I had already moved to Manhattan, so I sent an email to Jason [Calacanis] at Silicon Alley Reporter, who had been reading my stuff, and I got an interview. I told them to hire me for two months, and if they did not like my stuff to fire me. He hired me right there.

This segment is part 2 in the series : How Rafat Ali Found a Job
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