Millennials: Will they really reinvent IT?

I'm having a bit of a Millennials moment. I'm sick of the coverage about Millennials, also known as Generation Y.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

I'm having a bit of a Millennials moment. I'm sick of the coverage about Millennials, also known as Generation Y. Here's the story line: Generation Y will change the world as the first digital natives. They will change business practices and IT as we know it. You must adapt to Millennials. You're not caring enough to manage a Millennial.

Haven't we heard this before? Anyone else suffering from Millennial overload? Repeat after me--you can't stereotype a generation.

If you're in IT chances are you've heard plenty about Millennials. TechRepublic's Jason Hiner tackles the Millennial issue and notes that these folks are going to "have sweeping effects on the organization and purpose of many today's incumbent institutions as Baby Boomers are displaced by Generation Y in the workforce."

Jason notes that these generation Y workers will bring their own gear, select their own apps, telecommute more and won't stand for centralized IT. SAP? Nah, just use Facebook. Face-to-face meetings? Just text in your sales pitch. Jason says technology managers will have to be more like "shepherds rather than generals."

If you say so Jason. I've heard this generational argument before. Here's the formula: Generalize a generation that fits neatly into a story, sell a few management know-how books on how to deal with them and then focus on the next generation of workers. The argument: This (insert generation here) is different. You must adapt. You must hire consultants to tell you how to handle this new generation.

Here's what really happens:

  • Generation X, Y, Z supposed to change the world.
  • Generation X, Y, Z enters the working world with the theory that they are somehow different.
  • Worker meets boom-bust cycle.
  • Worker humbled.
  • Changes happen, but are much more modest than the revolution predicted.

Also see: BNET: Managing Millennials

So what really happens when these Millennials run into IT departments at large corporations where they are most likely to work? They will run into a brick wall and realize that it makes sense to centralize some IT functions. They'll realize Web 2.0 is insecure. They'll realize you can't share intellectual property on Twitter. They'll realize that remote data wiping is pretty cool when you lose your phone. Bottom line: If there's any touchy feeling collision course between Millennials and business, the latter will win.

Why? Ultimately these people have to get jobs--and often these jobs are at places like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric. Sorry folks you won't be bringing your own management practices--and latest greatest Web 2.0 apps--to those places. You may bring along your helicopter parent (another classic Gen Y stereotype), but mom can't compete with Six Sigma. Your Baby Boomer mom will get chewed up by Six Sigma (image courtesy Wikipedia).

I remember this generational stereotyping with the Generation X crowd. Job market stunk. Generation X was different--they were pissed. They were wearing flannel shirts. We were all slackers. Then the boom happened and suddenly we weren't slacking off as much. Generation X made out pretty well only to be humbled later. Business cycles do that sort of thing.

Same deal with Millennials. You may have to adapt your tech practices and management style a little, but not nearly as much as you'd think. Folks of all generations see through the management flavors of the moment. If today's IT best practices are truly the best they'll withstand the latest generation.

Also see: Naked IT: Author Ed Yourdon on the IT / business divide (includes podcast)

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