IT pros who grew up in the Baby Boom are dinosaurs who just don't get it. Generation Y is full of Facebook-happy slackers with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. But beyond these broad generalizations lie some real differences between the generations of geeks who do tech for a living, from Boomers to Generations X, Y, and the Millennials.
"Today's generation was born into a world where technology is about interaction, whether it's playing video games or using social media," says Larry Johnson, age 62, co-author with daughter Meagan (age 40) of "Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters -- Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work" (Amacom, 2010). "They spent hours at it, the way I spent hours watching 'Rin Tin Tin.' So their brains are structured to interact with technology in an entirely different way."
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That in turn affects everything from how and where each group works to what motivates them to the way they approach and implement new technologies. Whether you cut your teeth on Cobol or were raised on a steady diet of open source software, there's plenty you can learn about the folks on the other side of the age divide.
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The biggest conflict along the generation divide is the notion of work itself -- what it means, where it happens, why it's done, and how it integrates into one's life.
For boomers and the generation that followed, work almost always happened in a particular location during certain hours of the day, and it usually ended when they shut off their computers and went home. For today's generation of tech workers, it's all about flex time, says Dries Buytaert, the 32-year-old co-founder of Acquia and the creator of Drupal, the popular open source content management system.
"The definition of work is changing," says Buytaert. "For the younger generations work is more fluid. The notion of coming into an office disappears for some; they work wherever they are and are more flexible in terms of hours. The older generation tends to be more stuck on the idea you have to come to an office and be there from X to Y."
Because the boundaries between work and play have blurred, conflicts can arise when a 40-something manager catches a 20-something cube rat tweeting out status updates during working hours.
"For boomers, a big part of who they are is what they do at work," says Meagan Johnson. "For Generation X, a big part of their identity is what they do outside work. With Gen Y their personal and work lives are interwoven. That's why they might be on Facebook at 10 a.m. in the office but working on a big project on Wednesday evening at Starbucks or answering work emails at the movies on a Sunday afternoon."