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Tom W. Shinder M.D.

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A Woman's Place is in the Home
(At the Computer)

Back in the pre-computer age, most women basically had three choices: staying home to mother their children (and foregoing the income they were capable of contributing to the family coffers), going out to work in the "outside world" (and sacrificing the opportunity to provide the close guidance they'd like to their children), or trying to do both via a usually-menial "work at home" job like stuffing envelopes, taking in laundry, typing term papers, and the like.

Sure, a few creative women were able to make a decent living as writers or artists, working out of their homes. And the occasional bright and ambitious entrepreneuress got rich doing direct marketing or sales from the comfort of her own castle. But by and large, options for at-home workers were few. That's all changed, thanks to the Internet-oriented, computercentric, "connected" world in which we now live.

Telecommuting is catching on. Companies are recognizing the very real cost benefits of not having to provide office space to employees, and female workers in particular are welcoming the chance to do meaningful, well-paid work without having to farm their kids out to babysitters or spend time and money on driving, parking and business attire.

And more and more women are finding the market is ripe for starting computer-based home businesses of their own. Opportunities abound. Creative women are opening companies that are devoted to graphic arts or website design and maintenance. Technically trained women are getting into programming and the currently hot area of database design. Those with less expertise can still make good money providing services such as data entry or word processing or computized bookkeeping. If you're tired of the rat race, but your family is dependent on your income, you might consider some of these options for yourself.

A common question is: what kind of equipment do you need to do computer work from home? There is a misconception among many women that a huge initial investment is required. But today's computer hardware prices are at an all-time low, and a functional, relatively high tech home office can be set up for far less than you might imagine.

Even top of the line quality computer systems can be purchased for under $2000 these days. This is for a high powered workstation capable of doing complex graphics manipulation; a standard system for text-based tasks can be had for only a few hundred. Internet access in most markets is available for $20/month or less. Even high speed ISDN, ADSL, and cable modem service can be had in many locations at very reasonable rates (less than $100/month).

Does the home business you have in mind require more sophisticated equipment, such as video teleconferencing capability? Never mind -- you still don't have to mortgage the house to swing it. Color cameras, such as the Connectix, cost less than $200 now, and the software in many instances is free. Not only that, but it's becoming easier and easier to set it all up yourself, saving you the cost of paying someone to install your new peripherals.

Once upon a time, laser printers were something you found only at the office -- few people could afford them at home. Now compact laser printers from major manufacturers, which give you the same publication- quality print as those that cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago, can be bought for under $300. Check out the Xerox P8 for an especially good value.

Another advantage of working at home is the freedom to set up your workplace to suit your needs. Don't skimp on comfort -- if you're going to be spending a lot of time at the computer, it pays to invest in an ergonomic keyboard such as the Microsoft Natural Keyboard or the less expensive (but almost identical) PC Concepts. The latter comes in several models, some of which include built-in mini-trackballs or touchpads.

Speaking of pointing devices, you'll find that there are many alternatives to the familiar old mouse that most companies supply on-site. Get yourself a nice Logitech Trackman or a Kensington Expert Mouse and feel the difference.

For only $2000-$3000, you can have computing power equivalent to systems that companies paid $20,000-$30,000 for only five years ago, $200,000-$300,000 for fifteen years ago, and couldn't get at any price twenty-five years ago.

Operating a home business is hard work, and it takes time and effort and talent to make it successful. But if you have those, with a little money and a little luck, there has never before been a better time for going into business when your business is done with a computer.

by Tom W. Shinder M.D.

Thomas W. Shinder, M.D., M.C.P. is a neurologist-turned-computer systems engineer who practiced medicine in Texas, Oregon and Arkansas before moving to his present home in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metropolitan area.

E-mail Tom at:

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