Susanne Bullo is a capable software programmer who until recently had few job options. She is a stay-at-home mom who has three young children and helps care for an elderly father with diabetes. Although she lives minutes from the Redmond (Wash.) headquarters of Microsoft (MSFT), Bullo's commitments keep her from pursuing a career at the software maker. It doesn't help that she's self-trained and female -- traits viewed suspiciously in the geeky programming world. "I see tons and tons of men out there with four-year degrees getting different jobs and work," she says. She managed to find contract work, but it wasn't easy.
That changed two years ago, when Bullo came across the Web site of a small Sunnyvale (Calif.)-based company named oDesk. The startup has built a business around making connections between companies that want outside help with tasks such as programming, graphic design, or technical writing and people like Bullo, scattered all over the world, willing and eager for work.