Remember your first job?

You might even recall how much you got paid and your boss's face. But odds are you didn't own part of the company.

Of course, that was before the Internet economy. Last weekend a Washington company made the unusual move of giving its 250 college-student representatives shares in the employee stock option plan.

It's a sign of the times for companies that more and more are using creative tactics to attract and keep good workers. "One of the great advantages a start-up has is the power of equity," said Eric Kuhn, 28, chief executive of VarsityBooks.com, the company passing out the options.

VarsityBooks.com's purpose in life is to get college students to buy textbooks at its Web site rather than at the campus bookstore. So it hires students to promote the site at their schools, giving them an hourly wage and commissions. Last weekend, the company brought 250 of them to Crystal City for a two-day "boot camp" on such topics as how to write a marketing plan and how to hire their own staffs.

Kuhn got up and gave them the news of options (he won't tell us, however, how many shares he'll give them).

Wearing the campus uniforms of T-shirts, shorts, jeans and baseball caps, the kids responded with whoops and whistles. "I was flabbergasted," says Kevin Cunningham, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Virginia. "I'm an undergraduate student. This is unheard of." Cunningham says he and all his friends avidly watch Internet company news and dream of starting a company of their own someday.

"The Internet is where all the money is going these days, where all the smart people are going these days," Cunningham says.

Never mind that VarsityBooks now has only 80 full-time employees. On the Virginia campus, Cunningham has his own staff of five students. (Only the "lead reps" get in on the stock deal.) "I promote the hell out of the company," Cunningham says proudly.

When the 250 representatives have all set up their marketing campaigns this fall, VarsityBooks expects to have a grass-roots force of 2,000 people.

Walking through a purple-and-teal hallway, past two biometric hand readers and through a "man trap" where unauthorized visitors can be caught by slamming doors, you feel that Equinix is more like a "Mission: Impossible" set than a new Internet company.

A joint venture of Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Benchmark Capital, Equinix is the latest to claim to be the home of the Internet.

Its plan is to set up 15 "Internet business exchanges" across the country that will let Internet service providers interconnect more efficiently with one another and their customers. Equinix officials say it's neutral like Switzerland, making sure one company doesn't benefit more than another in the arrangement.

This week, Equinix opened the first of these centers in an unmarked building in Northern Virginia--we're not supposed to say exactly where.

But it's close to some of the most important communications companies, such as America Online Inc. and MCI WorldCom Inc. Washington was the first choice because more Internet traffic passes through the area than anywhere else in the world, says Jay Adelson, chief technology officer at Equinix. "The greatest demand for interconnection is right here in Virginia," he says. "It was a no-brainer."

Adelson and chief executive Al Avery founded the company about a year ago. The two previously built the Palo Alto Internet Exchange for Digital Equipment Corp.

"This is the living Internet," says Adelson. "Literally, it's passing over your head," he says, pointing at wires in the ceiling.

Customers so far include big names such as MCI WorldCom and Teleglobe Inc. and lesser ones such as Akamai and RemarQ.

What's happening at Equinix goes beyond "peering," a practice by which Internet service providers link to one another's networks. Those connection points have become clogged, says Adelson: "In the world of peering, you're talking about two networks sharing privately. Usually, no money changes hands." That is, each company accepts traffic from the other on a gratis basis.

Equinix, of course, is charging--this is a for-profit enterprise.

Plans call for its second center to open in Newark in October, followed by centers in San Jose in November and Los Angeles in February. For the long term, the hope is for 20-some international centers, too, starting in 2000.

Equinix organized a tour this week for area officials and potential customers. Virginia's secretary of technology, Don Upson, admitted that, weary of seeing one more data center, he thought of getting his public relations person to call to say he was running late and wouldn't make it. But the tour turned out to be much better than he'd expected. "You can imagine Harrison Ford running through the facility," he said.

One thing learned at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc.'s technology conference in Reston this week: Jim Cramer is much more entertaining than David Spade.

Comedian Spade underwhelmed the crowd with old jokes such as "World Wide Web? More like world wide wait." He even slammed his benefactor: "Uh, F-B-R, the most unmemorable, generic letters."

The real fun at the conference--and the subject of much hallway chatter afterward--was a lunch speech Monday from TheStreet.com's Cramer.

He said what many people, including FBR executives who recently launched the online brokerage FBR.com, might want to say about venerable firms such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, but can't in public.

"The offline brokerage houses now are just living off rapidly putrifying cream," said Cramer. "These firms are like giant dinosaurs. They think they can never be brought down."

He went on to say initial public offering roadshows are irrelevant, and compared the ethics of stock analysts, who are asked for objective comment about companies their employers underwrite, to those of professional wrestlers.

"Can you imagine if ABC put on a show and paid the critics to review it?" asked Cramer.

He also took aim at news organizations, even the cable network on which he appears as a regular guest commentator. His answer to whether CNBC maintains journalistic integrity was: "I didn't know that was part of what they had to do."

Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at henrys@washpost.com.