Alums Surf the Net ProfessionallyBy Colleen Kearney
How many Yahoos have graduated from Mason? Two, to be exact. Alumni Adrian Lurssen, M.F.A. '94, and Harold Stusnick, B.A. '91,
One of Lurssen's professional goals when moving to San Francisco three years ago was to find himself a job in the "emerging Internet world."
"While working in a bookstore and making half-hearted attempts to find something, one of my wife's friends put me in touch with someone at Yahoo!," he says. "They were growing fast and desperately needed people. I spent an evening interviewing and, at midnight, walked away with a job."
When Lurssen started at Yahoo!, there was no editorial department. He spent two years building one and now has a team of five reporting to him. Last winter, Lurssen, who is the Managing Editorial Yahoo, lured Stusnick, a friend and former classmate at Mason, away from a job creating web pages for George Mason University to join his editorial team.
As Yahoo's editorial resource, Lurssen, Stusnick, and their teammates augment a large team of surfers who specialize in finding and adding new sites. The editorial team takes "the fruits of their labor," as Stusnick puts it, picks the best, and organizes it into categories including "Yahoo! What's New," which lists the best new sites the surfers have found in the last 24 hours, "Category of the Day," and "Picks of the Week."
Stusnick coordinates Category of the Day (http://www.yahoo.com/new). The weekly picks are Lurssen's baby (http:www.yahoo.com/picks) and definitely show his editorial flair. Altogether, the team has 180,000 subscribers on its distribution list.
"We are like a little boutique at Yahoo," says Stusnick. "We don't necessarily create content. We point to it."
The kind of content they peruse and "point to" includes websites from Happy Days Online, which features a guide to all 255 episodes of the TV show; to The Republic of Pemberley, where Jane Austen fanatics hang out; to the Consumer Report; for Teens, which warns teen buyers of what to beware, to the Haze Online Report, where one can find out the Malaysian air quality index for the day. One can even check out the Barn of the Month now that Lurssen has brought the Michigan State University Barn Journal site to the world's attention.
Tough job, isn't it? "It's a different style of work," says Stusnick. They have daily deadlines, but he admits the organization is "very laid back." And what about those thirtysomething bosses who were featured barefoot in Business Week? "There are a lot of bare feet around here," says Stusnick. "It's a flexible, fun, challenging atmosphere here," adds Lurssen. "Cliqued, but true."
Both Lurssen and Stusnick believe their experience at Mason has served them professionally. "Mason is a lot like the real world," Stusnick says. "You aren't coddled there so you have to take what you are given and run with it. The fact that Mason was prepared to handle technology was also a big help. It was on the cutting edge."
"Obviously, I learned writing and editing at Mason," says Lurssen, "but in the M.F.A. program, I learned and developed less obvious skills [for use in] communicating with the world--like voice, sense of audience, and point of view. Yahoo! finds itself in an interesting position--we are putting a human face on something that is essentially inhuman, a bunch of computers connected to each other. To do this, I use skills I developed as a fiction writer."
"It's thrilling being in the middle of a young, exploding form of communication," he adds. "In some ways people are right when they say the Internet is revolutionizing the way we communicate with each other."
The company is young, the owners are young, and the employees are young--and Yahoo! is growing rapidly. "I was Yahoo's 160th employee," says Stusnick. "We now have more than 300. And I've only been here 10 months. It's getting kind of crowded."