IT, the aging workforce, and future generations.

I work for a somewhat unique company in that the average tenure is over 18 years.  This has been and continues to be incredibly valuable to my company; training costs, HR costs, and customer relationships are all better off.  It also poses a huge looming issue that is facing many companies, the retirement of the baby-boomers.  Over half of my companies entire workforce is expected to retire in the next 15 years.  This means that we will be replacing the older generation that has been in place for 30 – 40 years with middle age Generation X’s and young Millennials.

The History

Firstly, baby-boomers came with all sorts of interesting IT issues.  On one hand, they were the first generation to see computers at the college level and many of them contributed to significant advances in computing (I have the great pleasure of working with a wonderful lady who was on IBMs relational database team in the 60’s – 90’s).   On the other hand, many (most) of the generation had little exposure to computing technology until the early 1990’s.  When it was introduced into the workplace there was an emphasis on making computers seem like a mythical or magical machine, but very fragile and delicate.  To this day I have my baby-boomers asking if a 100kb Excel spreadsheet is too big to send via email or store on a server.  With baby-boomers I deal mostly with simple problems and often they can go weeks or even months with an issue that they simply just ignore or work around.  They love to print email, spreadsheets, anything.  They understand an honest days labor, showing up at the office 15 minutes early and leaving 15 minutes late.  I’m going to miss them.

Gen X’ers, this to me is where the problems are; they know enough to be dangerous.  The whole time they were in college the emphasis was that computers were the future.  Automation systems were completely taking over factories and the youngest of the generation grew up with computers in the elementary school classroom.  These are the “hip” 40 somethings with an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro and can’t use them to save their lives.  They remember the days of dial up internet and slow/no networks.  They understand files take up space and that it’s a bad thing (delete ALL the things).  They excel at generating revenue using computer technology unless they are distracted by trying to understand why Facebook is updating again “for like the third time this month”.  They want (and often fail) to find better ways to complete task and will waste endless hours trying.  They view the office as a social hub, and show up and leave the office precisely on time.

Millennials, our future.  Never a day without a computer in the home, and had parents that were distracted by laptops and cellphones.  They view computing in a completely different way.  They don’t concern themselves with network speeds (unless it’s slow) or file sizes, it’s all about data availability.  These kids grew up with broadband in the home, bandwidth means nothing to them.  Literally, they don’t understand it; the same goes for data.  I was speaking to our photographer and he couldn’t understand why we could just “give” him 4 TB of production storage for his RAW images.  He had no idea of the cost or work required in doing so.  Millennials don’t see the workplace as a static place, it’s more of philosophical state of mind. To them, work is time spent on a email at a cafe, at home watching Game of Thrones while connected to the VPN, and taking a call when in the car on the way to a concert.  They want to work how and on what they want to work on.  They won’t even consider working for you unless their technological needs are met.  They are driving for the Internet of Things (IoT).  The office doesn’t need to exist in their minds, it’s an archaic prison of the past.

What does this mean for IT?

Goodbye handholding baby-boomers, hello whining Millennials.  Be prepared to spend more money on bandwidth, multiple ISPs (heaven forbid the internet (Facebook) go down for even 15 seconds), diskspace and the almighty Cloud.  Bandwidth and diskspace are not the rare commodities they once were.  Network and data security are going to continue to be areas of concentrated focus as users move out of the traditional office to anywhere there is an internet connection.  Be prepared for a huge influx of network (specifically WiFi) connected devices as the IoT takes over the straggling remains of the office space.  To survive, you’ll need to understand multiple ways of delivering applications to the new fluid workforce.  As a matter of fact, HR is going to demand this since they won’t be able to retain the workforce without it.  Rather than rolling out standardized devices for everyone in the workplace bring your device (BYOD) is going to be king.  The distributed network infrastructure to branch offices is evaporating into the hyper-converged networks that offer nearly 100% uptime to meet growing demand from Millennials.  As all this happens, sysadmins will need to move away from managing individual servers and towards managing automated application delivery platforms.

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