Previous entries in the series:
Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 1
The Traditionalist: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 2
Boomers: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 3
Gen X: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 4
Brandon Tweed is a Software Engineer at CA Technologies. He was a good candidate for our batch of posts on crisscrossing generations in today’s mainframe workforce. Not only is he a member of Gen Y, according to the guidelines of best-selling author Jason Dorsey, but his technology career path has crossed with two other members of our series. Brandon worked as a software engineer at IBM, where our Gen Xer Steve Warren currently works as a Project Manager, and he served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Northern Illinois University Computer Science Department, where our Traditionalist Mike Stack is a retired instructor. Brandon and I talked for the fifth and final installment in our series of Q&As.
In his keynote address at SHARE in Anaheim, Gen Y expert Jason Dorsey stressed that today there are 4 generations in the workplace, which is unprecedented in our society. Have you observed this unique situation?
We have a blend of people in our company. Some that are older and have been with our company for 30 years. Others are new engineers fresh out of school who have been here a year, and there’s everything in between. There’s definitely a variety of age groups and generations working together.
Given that no single factor defines any one person or any one generation, in your opinion what strengths do each of these generations bring to the workplace?
Traditionalists? They have been in the industry for so long that, not only do they have experience and technical knowledge but they work well with others. They have everything down to a routine that is well-planned and thought-out. Also, their humor is well developed. One of the guys on my team and I trade jokes by instant message because we get along so well.
Boomers? Their strength seems to be striking a balance between over-thinking, over-planning and thinking ad hoc. They also tend to help facilitate common ground between the generations. They tend to be the mediators between Traditionalists and the other groups.
Gen X? They can be more willing to take leadership roles than maybe Gen Y is at this point. I see a lot of Gen Xers in leadership positions.
Gen Y? We’ll jump in and take on tasks without anxiety about learning new things and getting our hands dirty. We’re known for digging in and enjoying the work for the sake of doing the work.
From your perspective, what should workers in any age group keep in mind about working across generations?
We all need to resist the urge to stereotype. Between all the generations there needs to be a spirit of open-mindedness. There are always individuals who fall outside stereotypes and getting past those issues opens the door to setting aside hang-ups and getting a lot of work done.
Will managing across generations become business as usual? Or will this situation evolve into something else?
We’re seeing a lot of new faces at my company, but we’re seeing a lot of Traditionalists and Boomers staying longer, too. Maybe it’s a mixture of enjoying the work and feeling an obligation to pass along their knowledge. In any case, I see this multi-generational workplace as business as usual.
Can you give me an example of how you convert generational challenges in the workplace into opportunities?
Sometimes we see resistance to embracing new languages such as Java from Traditionalist or Boomer mainframers. Mostly it just comes down to unfamiliarity. Overcoming that is a matter of bringing people from several generations together to discuss the technology in an open-minded way, exposing everyone to these new ideas. These meetings give Gen Yers an opportunity to take the lead and direct the conversation rather than being told what to do. It has to be done in an environment where everyone is free to voice their own ideas without any hostility or pre-defined hierarchy – a meeting of equals. Maintaining good communication across the board goes a long way.
Communications strategist Bob Dirkes attended SHARE in Anaheim and San Francisco on special assignment. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes. Follow SHARE on Twitter @SHAREhq.