The Millennial Generation

Good Morning, my name is Tom and I love the Millennial generation. I don’t love everyone or everything about them, but I love what they will become. Are they perfect? No! Do they ALL want the same thing, no? Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. Yet, I can’t seem to follow along with my generation and call them lazy and entitled. After all, the Gen X’ers were called the “slacker generation,” and now we’re starting to run the world. The Millennials are next and they’re going to blow the doors off everything.

I’ve heard my colleagues and friends calling Millennials ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled.’ How they don’t want to ‘cut their teeth’ and do the grunt work. To my generation, when did we get so old? What’s next? Screaming ‘get off my lawn?’

Understanding the intergenerational work force is something I’ve been curious since I lived both sides of the divide. When I graduated college, I entered the Civil Engineering world. I was young and had high expectations when I entered an industry dominated by ‘old white-haired men.’ A lot of my expectations were quickly ‘managed’ and my creativity squashed for the standard ‘this is how we do it since the dawn of time.’ I learned what it was like to survive and thrive in Engineering world but If I started out as a square peg, I was quickly whittled down round peg over time. Then I made a move to the ‘startup world’ and worked predominately with bright young Millennials. I was the ‘old white-haired man’ in the room. There was no ‘this is the way we did since the dawn of time,’ because everything was brand new! Everything was about agility, sorry-not sorry, break the rules, and make shit happen!

Why is it so hard?

Working with Millennials (M’s) requires a new way of attacking problems and letting ‘go of shit.’ It’s not like we’re talking different languages, just reframing the questions better. It’s helped me because M’s are fresh, creative, and haven’t had life beat them up too much yet. Yet, my generation (Gen X) and the Baby Boomers before them still have a hard time assimiliating the M’s. Rightfully so, so many M’s are completely disrupting the ‘order’ before them. They’ve given us AirBnB, Uber, RobinHood, and many more new ways to do old things better. The M’s look at our old way of doing thing and say, “Why do we do it this way?”

They strip old processes apart, re-engineer them with the latest technology, and then free up time and money to go do something fun. Whereas we would take that free time and go back to work. This pisses the older generation off. To my generation, why do we do this? M’s threaten the existing order with their ‘new fangled technology’ and touch upon a lifestyle we all dreamed about since graduation.

I think we’re jealous.

Communication breakdown

Last year I angered someone over Twitter about this very subject. It was a typical intergenerational misunderstanding that reminded me of this Ted Talk from Kelly Williams Brown.

Some key takeaways from this video:

  • Question: What is a Millennial?
    • A. A narcisstic a–hole
    • B. An Instgram/Facebook/Self-branding manchild
    • C. Someone who ‘rejects the system’, opting instead for parental subsidies
    • D. Someone born between 1981 and 2000
  • “The Now Generation has become the Me Generation” – NY Times about Boomers in 1976
  • “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder…” – Time Magazine about Gen X in 1990
  • Estimated 52 to 86 million Millennials
  • Entitlement is always attached to Millennials
  • Collective wringing our hands over young people, why are they young?
  • What do we expect from work? 22 year olds want more pay and less work than a 50 year old
  • Why is that? 22 year olds don’t understand the working environments, expectations too high
  • Millennials were told their path to success was to make themselves special, take classes, rack up college debt, get unpaid internship, and then a job will come
  • The path to success for Millenials has not been this way, it’s way volatile
  • Asked, what do Millennials care about? #1 Answer: Be a good parent (via Pew Research
    ** Second answer: Be a good husband or wife
  • Third answer: Be a good member of the Community
  • Look at the assumptions you’re buying into, don’t blindly follow the “lazy/entitled” mantra
  • Question the narrative

Kelly fights back against an intergenerational onslaught. The M’s are not taking it anymore. They saw how Gen X’ers just rolled right over. When we were the “Slackers” and bumbled our way into the workforce, We woke up one day and wondered what happened, we lost control. We got pushed around and now we want revenge too.

Lindsay Pollak goes a step further and tells us to stop shaming Millennials. Instead of taking intergenerational revenge on M’s, we have a chance to make it better for generations to come.

Some key takeaways from this video:

  • Older generations tend to shame newer generations
  • Speaker got a grad degree, couldn’t understand how to get a job
  • Moved home, read books on how to do find a job, ate ice cream
  • Former co-worker helped her make an introduction
  • Since then she helped young people succeed in jobs when starting out
  • What if we supported young people vs shaming them
  • Mullennials will become the largest working generation (75% by 2025)
  • Marketers have been studying this generation, they want to sell to them
  • “No one gave me a trophy when I started out, they’re being entitled”
  • Coaching and development tends to matter more to Millennials than money
  • Companies that get it provide ‘instant feedback’ via apps/realtime, all generations love that
  • Millennials (and me) love flexibility in working hours/environment
  • “They don’t want to do their grunt work”, Millennials want to know why this work matters. It’s about transparency
  • Do you want to what is effective, or do you want to get revenge on how you were managed (ed. big one)

The Time is Now

All of us will come into contact with Millennials, whether socially or at our work. We owe it to ourselves not to be jealous or seek revenge for perceived wrongs in our past. We owe it to them to nurture, guide, and mentor them. They’ll be the ones shaping our future today and we can either be a part of that glorious change or start screaming ‘get off my lawn.’

On Self Reliance

In 1994 I moved to Albuquerque. I had just graduated with my engineering degree and was offered an entry level position at a firm out there. I packed up my meager belongings and drove 2,000+ miles cross country to start a new life. I learned about New Mexico, traveled through the state, and made long lasting friendships. The Land of Enchantment still holds a dear place in my heart to this day.

Yet not everything was great. I learned what it was like to work in a corporation with all the positives and negatives. I had new responsibilities and I had to navigate new social situations. I made mistakes but I learned from them all.

The highs were high and the lows were low. I was getting pretty miserable after a while but then something happened that changed everything. One morning I read the Albuquerque Journal and spied a column called the Corporate Curmudgeon. It was a weekly column about inane corporate life but this week the author picked an inspirational topic. A half and hour later I was stunned by what I read. My life had changed.

The author quoted Emerson’s essay On Self Reliance and that lofty essay has impacted everything I’ve ever done up till today. It taught me to always re-invent myself, to persevere in the face of adversity, and made me into the man I am today.

On Self Reliance

This particular quote is what struck me hard.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

On Self Reliance, Emerson

What Emerson says is that failure is ok as long as you learn from it. Make your mistakes but follow the truth! Don’t compromise who you are and walk tall. Don’t be discouraged when things go wrong, just pick yourself up and keep going.

After all, what else is there?

Yet Another Language to Learn

In today’s Advanced Analytic landscape we often hear about the mythical Data Scientist that can cure all our problems and unearth value hidden deep in our data. He/she needs to know Math and Statistics, be able to Hack, and have deep Domain knowledge about a given problem. Drew Conway famously put together a Venn Diagram to show you what I mean. Yet, I always found this Venn Diagram a bit lacking for the softer skills. Sure you need to know all those hard skills, but what about having the ability to effectively communicate your results? You have yet another language to learn young (or old) Data Scientist! It’s public speaking!

It appears that recruiters are searching for those communcation skills as well:

However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.

Public Speaking

One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started off a conversation with them I would say, I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover. They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.

Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere. It is imperative that you communicate effectively to non-technical people as to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.

So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.

Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part. My suggestion for being able to speak clearly is to join a public speaking group such as Toastmasters, they’re very lowcost and you get a high return on your time/investment.

Yet Another Language to Learn

If you want to learn how to write well I’d suggest getting a copy of The Elements of Style. My first copy was a gift from a dear friend and it’s made a difference in my writing.

Finally, if you want to learn how to make high impact visualizations, I’d suggest visiting an Art Museum or at least look on the Internet for Zen and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I’m a big fan of the minimalist, but powerful visualizations, where less is always more.

Tl;dr: Hey Data Scientist, take some Toastmasters courses!