It’s Not About Age…

I keep hearing that employers prefer to select younger applicants over older ones because the younger generation is more “in-tune with today’s technologies.” Please excuse my personal response, but that’s such a crock that I can hardly contain myself.

It’s certainly appropriate for employers to say that they want to hire younger, inexperienced workers because they are cheaper, but PLEASE do not continue to insult my intelligence. Age-related hiring practices are not about a technology knowledge gap.

I’ve worked with and managed generations of “young folks” in IT for the past 30 years. (I was even was part of a “younger generation” once, really.) During that time, I’ve seen the advent of PCs, the Internet and, most recently, social media. OK, I’ll grant you that many of the current twenty-something group utilize Facebook and MySpace for much more than I would ever consider, but they use it for social communications, not for work.

Too Young or Just Inexperienced?

The business interactions that I’ve had with that same generational group (18-30) over simplistic forms of communication (email and SMS) have occasionally been awkward. Awkward, not because of my lack of understanding of a medium, but awkward, because they didn’t understand the importance of communication in a multi-resource setting. They required mentoring in how to use the technologies appropriately and what/when to communicate in a timely manner.

We, of the “older” generation, grew up (during our business careers) with ever more functional communications technologies. We were the ones who lived the operational needs and were often the ones who are pushing the envelope with how these technologies could effectively be employed.

When cellular phones first became available for practical use in my area, I used one in combination with a laptop and a pager to respond to critical alerts on my network. Early one morning, a primary router interface failed and the secondary had not picked up the traffic. I was riding a bicycle to the office, but was still more than an hour away. I pulled the laptop out of my bike saddlebag, balanced it on the rear rack and connected to my network. In a little less than 10 minutes after the initial alert, the network traffic was re-routed and the business functions were re-enabled. This occurred over 15 years ago!

Not “in touch” with Technology?

Try telling me that I don’t understand cellular technologies or their value to business. An integrated cell phone app can now do just what I did 15 years ago on my laptop. That’s fantastic, but where’s the knowledge gap? Just the platform has changed and hidden scripting has replaced manual configuration. I may be initially uncomfortable using an integrated app, but that’s because I don’t have direct control over the individual components or the security protocols employed. That’s a connection with the technologies.

Do you think that I or anyone else from my generation has suddenly stopped tracking technology solutions? We are the ones who have been pushing the limits of technology. We are the ones who implemented the solutions that the Gen-X and the Gen-Y users are now “discovering”. Somebody’s mother or grandfather may be struggling with email or Facebook, but that’s not us “older” technologists.

I will grant you that I had never conceived of flash mob dance events or would never have thought of using an open Facebook session to break up with a long-time girl friend while chatting online with my new “friend” at the same time. Some ways of using social media are very cool. Others, I am sorry, should be abandoned as simply improper, under any circumstances. Functionality and convenience does not necessarily mean that a particular technology should be used for everything.

Do Twitter, LinkedIn and other, yet-to-be-widely-used forms of media / communcations have places in marketing today? Most definitely. Their instantaneous nature, coverage and general use that give them opportunities that other communcations methods never had.

Too Old?

Social media played a huge role in the Arab Spring, but didn’t work quite so well in the Occupy Movement. Was that because the participants in the Occupy Movement were “too old” and unfamiliar with the technologies or was it a failure of planning and organization? (Occupy Portland is now an on-going initiative that has taken on a strong community-growth, mentoring flavor … would that be driven by “older” people or younger generations?)

I was recently reading an (online) article that included a description of how implementations of new information technologies at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare have added value and improved organizational efficiencies. I hope that Dave Smith, the senior VP overseeing those changes, doesn’t mind me saying so, but Dave does not look like a GenX’er to me.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare may not have implemented Twitter or Facebook feeds into their HR system, but they did utilize key technologies to consolidate their data structures and make the appropriate data directly available to their users. They effectively used technology to provide better business solutions to their users.

GenY – Following, Not Leading

An often-quoted, 2010 Forrester Consulting/Citrix Online study claimed that use of social media to support collaborative work efforts was highest, not in the  GenY’ers but in the older GenX and younger Baby Boomer groups. That claim certainly agrees with what I’ve seen.

While some technologies are really fun to play with, their stability or features often don’t match up with what businesses need. Perhaps the divergence of technology use is less about generational “in-ness” and more about solution approaches to problems. The GenY’s have the luxury of available time to play with solutions (and look for problems they can solve), while the rest of us are driven to solve problems (and look for solutions that work). Both approaches have value and, perhaps more important to remember, they are not mutually exclusive.

Too old? Really???

I’m sorry, but even the asking question, “Too old?” indicates a lack of understanding of the challenge faced by today’s technologists. This is not age-generational issue. It is  an issue of solutions-looking-for-problems vs. problems-looking-for-solutions. We need both to take the greatest advantage of the technologies available to us. Let’s focus on what’s important…


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