I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the phrase “Ok, Boomer”—that popular retort Millennials often use to joke about my generation’s perceived lack of knowledge with modern-day technology.
To be honest, I laugh a lot at those jokes but that’s because I relate more to the disconnect between digital master and novice. For years I’ve served as the go-to IT expert for my older, less tech-savvy friends, helping to answer their questions and manage their stress like some crisis negotiator from the movies—“Yes, I can fix your VPN but you gotta’ give me more time!”.
My gripe is more with the pervading false narrative that older workers provide little value to modern, fast-moving tech companies—and that all Millennials are supposedly digital whiz-kids that are entitled and whiny (a stereotype often perpetuated by my generation).
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Painting both Boomers and Millennials with these broad brush strokes is not only lazy, it’s entirely inaccurate.
And here’s why:
Careful, son. We drew the blueprints for the modern digital workplace
A large part of my position is based on teaching my colleagues (both old and young) how to better comprehend and work with digital technologies and cloud computing—the very thing my generation is often accused of not knowing.
As a point of reference, I began my career in IT when mainframes were king. At the time, distributed and personal computing was just becoming popular and the idea of video chat seemed like a fantasy straight out of ‘The Jetsons.’
My generation helped build the foundation for many of the everyday tech products we take for granted today (things like camera phones, portable computers, and even memory foam). Millennials can also thank Boomers for that most ubiquitous piece of tech they hold in their hands—the smartphone. Although many may be surprised that IBM, not Apple, actually developed the first smartphone named Simon, long before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.
My point is not to say the Boomer generation is better, or that their achievements were greater (although I could probably build a case for that). Instead, I want to remind us that today’s modern digital workplace was built upon the very blueprints that many of us helped create. Boomers have deep technical knowledge that can help advance modern digital work environments because we know what lays at the foundation.
Wait, you’ve actually been to a Data Center?!
Cloud computing, even for IT professionals, can sometimes come across like an alien language. At the heart of any cloud computing project sits the Data Center (or sometimes multiple Data Centers). Very few Millennials have actually seen the inside of a Data Center. Some take for granted that the millions of digital transactions they participate in every day have to emanate from some physical structure out there in the world.
I can explain abstract concepts in the cloud because I spent the first 16 years of my career working in Data Centers. I know how they look and feel and are maintained. Many younger tech workers may not even understand that these structures power their daily use of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and the hundreds of other apps they use on their phones.
I recognize that Millennials were raised among modern technologies so it’s difficult for them to consider “why” certain things came to be. But for many in my generation this comes naturally to us because we were there from the beginning.
For IT professionals especially, it is important that we understand the history behind the modern digital workplace so we can apply its lessons and improve the future for businesses and digital workers.
Which brings me to my second point: Boomers are wrong in their stereotypes about Millennials, that they are all experts with technology albeit incapable of sticking to a work schedule and overcoming basic challenges.
A multi-generational workforce is the strongest for modern, digital workplaces
In my experience, especially at Nexthink, Millennial workers are some of the brightest, most driven people I have ever worked with in my entire career.
Are all of them technical whiz-kids?
But they do have the advantage of expecting and demanding superior digital experiences—something I think is misinterpreted as a negative trait by my fellow boomers. We can learn a few things from these young adults who grew up with technology in their hands.
We (Millennials) understand how technology works, and we expect it to improve every year because that’s the only world we’ve ever known.
We Boomers cannot focus only on the customer and treat the employee as a second-class citizen who doesn’t deserve good experiences. Millennials have helped drive this point home these past few years, returning power to digital employees across the globe. Even from a pure business perspective, research shows that companies with engaged employees are 21 percent more profitable than those with poor engagement.
Millennials and Boomers not only can coexist in today’s workforce, they can actually complement each other’s skillsets to push businesses forward—which is exactly what we have going on at Nexthink. We have pulled in some of the brightest minds from around the globe. I admire my colleagues for their deep technical expertise and their multi-lingual skills. But above all, I admire most their infectious desire to learn and stay humble.
Old. Young. None of that matters here. Instead, it all comes down to delivering results that ultimately improve the modern digital workplace today, and for years to come.
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