Millennials and tech: Round pegs in a square cubicle farm

Young developers want more than money and perks. A trip to Thailand shows the problem of retaining talent is global -- and needs real, not superficial, solutions

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Perks are not enough

In Thailand, David Williams of Thompson Reuters said that his company is "relatively OK" at recruiting recent college graduates who speak English. But he has trouble recruiting experienced IT people, because IT is so new, and experienced folks are less likely to have English skills. "Education is growing here and producing people, but taking time to catch up with the market." You could say that about the United States, too.

But in Thailand, Reuters excels in one area in particular: recruiting women. A healthy 38 percent of staff and 45 percent of management are female. How did Reuters accomplish that?

It starts with the basics: a clean work environment at a stable company with good pay and good benefits. Also, according to Williams, the nature of the work helps: "cool, interesting new things, and an interesting egalitarian culture."

Reuters also has exercise and yoga, a mother's room, a multifaith prayer room, a central location, corporate responsibility, and a substantial investment in staff development. Combine this with the fact that Reuters is a large international company offering opportunities to work abroad, and it doesn't have a big problem recruiting -- the younger generation in Thailand likes to work overseas, at least for a little while.

Another company, Soft Square, has been partnering with local universities since the 1980s, delegating projects to students and mentoring them. It's also built training centers in less developed areas of Thailand and is working to hire and mentor in those areas. Part of this is for business reasons, and part is a social and patriotic mission to build Thailand's talent base.

Soft Square combines this mission with personal development and the offer of equity in the company and its spin-offs. The company recruits younger and earlier, and it participates in the community. It has discovered that many university graduates lack the knowledge they need -- so Soft Square created an extensive staff development program in everything from business ethics to Java and Spring.

Build cool stuff -- like robots

I also spoke with Chalermpon Punnotok from CT Asia. The company has little problem recruiting because, for one thing, it built a 

really cool robot! The second reason, Punnotok said, was that "we have culture -- we have DNA that people know in the market. We build crazy things like a robot, so they come. We don’t need so many [developers]. We’re not like a Bangalore outsourcing company where they need lots of developers. We just need a few good ones."

There are many views on the next generation and a variety of management approaches. The bottom line is that mass hiring for the cubicle farm to work on outdated technology doesn't work anymore. The challenges are generational and global. Young developers are in the driver's seat -- and want both flexibility and opportunity, not just in the United States and Europe, but in Thailand and around the world. They grew up with the Internet and the Internet changed everything.

This article, "Millennials and tech: Round pegs in a square cubicle farm," was originally published at Keep up on the latest news in application development and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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