Generational Differences
August 24, 2017 Workforce

Finding New Optimism in Generational Differences at SHARE Providence

The mainframe industry is constantly buzzing about what to do with millennials: how to attract them, what to do once you’ve got them, why you even need them in the first place. At SHARE Providence, you could have attended a different session every day to hear someone’s take on this issue. Although the conference ended nearly two weeks ago, I’m still reflecting on my experience as a first-time attendee.

Unfortunately, both sides of the generational gap in mainframe development tend to oversimplify the issues, and that can leave you with the wrong expectations and plenty of assumptions. Admittedly, I carried some with me into this conference. I entered my first SHARE conference hyper aware of my “otherness.”

Initial Assumptions Altered

One of those assumptions was that SHARE is a technical conference with only technical sessions. Imagine my surprise when I wandered into one titled “’Socrates Says’: A Light-Hearted Look at Career and Life Planning.” The joke was every attendee scrambling for paper when the speaker implied we’d be writing the answers to all our lives’ questions, yet we all walked out with pages entirely blank but for the words “I am…” scribbled at the top.

The famous words of Socrates are, “Know thyself!” and, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We are no doubt attempting to know ourselves and examine this life when we weigh and compare the differences that blend into our workplaces.

New Generational Positives

I expected those differences to widen as speakers continued to pare down complicated groups of people into the generational tropes with which we are familiar. “Only people born between these years work hard,” “The new people like Snapchat or something,” and, “What do you mean there is a generation between those two?”

Again, I was surprised when one speaker framed each generation’s stereotype in a new light: perhaps building a career before the convenience that modern tech affords explains the incredible work ethic and quality output of the Baby Boomer generation. Perhaps the generation called “latch-key” or “forgotten” became the independent, self-starters they are for that very reason. Perhaps the criticism that my generation was never told “no” is in fact our greatest strength—our perception of the world is limitless.

Persistent Generational Differences

Even with the intriguing reframing of these stereotypes, there is one that is still difficult for me to hear frequently: that my generation is lazy and cannot appreciate what brought us to this point.

I heard such a thing in what I considered to be my favorite session. It was a 50-year celebration of mainframe virtualization, and I was having a wonderful time hearing the stories. The speaker and everyone in the crowd reminisced about different hardware and operating systems: the first thing they worked on, the first machine they broke, the computer that was known for moving across the room because it would rattle so hard. I was enjoying it so much, I forgot for a moment that I didn’t belong.

When the speaker made his remark about young people without appreciation, I was saddened. And contrary! I think there is less that divides us than we think. If millennials are anything, we are nostalgic, and that sentimentality reaches further back than our own experiences. I may have been born too late to have earned any retro cred, but the work I do gets me as close as I can to it. Even if they are someone else’s stories about card punches and terminals, I’m glad I joined this industry in time to hear them.

Hope for Change

If only the older generations knew how much the younger generation also loves the mainframe. We are not here to replace them, and the tools we use are not meant to erase a rich computing history. We are only trying to build from it and look to the future while we do it.

Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living” while on trial. He chose death over exile because he’d rather continue his quest in the afterlife than not at all. With respect to Socrates, I am not about to tolerate the death of the mainframe because we as stewards bobbled the handoff while arguing about our generational differences. These conversations can be enlightening, but since we have more in common than we admit, I hope we can put our combined focus on the future and make certain that the mainframe remains in it.

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