I’ve long been of the opinion that many of my fellow Generation Ys are suffering from a crisis of desire in regards to the Australian property market. It’s an understandable phenomenon as most of us grew up in what are now quite nice suburbs, central to a lot of services and now considered to be an extremely desirable place to live. It then comes as no surprise that our generation would want to replicate this with their first home purchase and regrettably this leads many to believe that the property market is unaffordable, which at that level it most certainly is. Buying out in the mortgage belt, like most of their parents did back when the time came for them to do so, has been my solution to the issue for quite some time now but some recent reading has pointed me towards http://fhareversemortgagecalculator.com/ which in turn pointed me in another direction, one that I hadn’t considered previously.
To give you some background on where this thought came from I’ll point you in the direction of a really solid article from The Atlantic on the drastic change in spending habits between Gen Y’s and their predecessors. In it Thompson lays out the idea that perhaps Generation Y has replaced the home and car as the most desirable objects with modern technology like smart phones. This is coupled with an increasing tendency towards sharing those same goods (called collaborative consumption) that have such a high capital cost which means total ownership plummets whilst use sky rockets. It’s an interesting idea and I was wondering if the trend translated across to Australia.
Turns out part of it does.
Whilst I couldn’t find any good information around car ownership with Australia being a country that’s heavily focused on property ownership there was a lot to dig through in regards to Gen Ys attitude towards property. Shockingly, at least for me, the vast majority of Generation Ys do intend to buy, somewhere on the order of 77% which is actually above previously generations. Faced with the decision of not being able to get the home they own many will consider a cheaper investment property initially in order to be able to leverage it later into the property they actually want. That’s not the interesting part though, what I found out is that 72% of Australian Gen Ys would buy a house with a friend or family member. Whilst I’ve known people who’ve done this I had no idea that it would be so common and that’s an intriguing insight.
I’ve long held the position that the median house price on a single income is unaffordable in Australia and it appears that Gen Y is aware of that, at least on some level. Collaborative consumption of the housing resource then is our way of reacting to this, in effect shrinking the affordability gap by spreading the pain around a bit. Indeed I did something very similar to this when we bought our first house in Canberra by renting out two of the rooms to friends for the first year. The experiences from others are similar as well with the sharing arrangement usually only being temporary (on the order of years, not decades) before they’re able to part ways into a home of their own.
This means my hammering away at the point that Gen Y is suffering under a crisis of desire (they still are, at least in my opinion) probably isn’t going to help them change their minds. What I should probably be focusing on instead is the ways in which to structure these kinds of sharing arrangements in order to make the desired property more affordable or what strategies they can use in order to get themselves into a position to make it affordable. As you can probably tell I’m still wrestling with the best way to approach this and the ultimate idea will have to be a post for another day.
If there’s one thing that us system administrators loathe more than dealing with users its dealing with users who have a bit of IT smarts around them. On the surface they’re the perfect user, being able to articulate their problems and requirements aptly so we have to spend considerably less time fulfilling their requests. However more often than not they’re also the ones attempting to circumvent safeguards and policies in order to get a system to work the way they want it to. They’re also the ones who will push for much more radical changes to systems since they will have already experimented with such things at home and will again want to replicate that in their work environment.
Collectively such people are known as shadow IT departments.
Such departments are a recent phenomena with a lot of credit (or blame) being levelled at those of my generation, the first to grow up as digital natives. Since the vast majority of us have used computers and the Internet from an early age we’ve come to expect certain things to be available to us when using them and don’t appreciate it when they are taken away. This doesn’t gel too well with the corporate world of IT where lock downs and restrictions are the norm, even if they’re for the user’s benefit, and thus they seek to circumvent such problems causing endless headaches for their system administrators. Still they’re a powerful force for driving change in the work place, enough so that I believe these shadow IT departments are shaping the future of corporate environments and the technologies that support them.
Most recently I’ve seen this occurring with mobility solutions, a fancy way of saying tablets and phones that users want to use on the corporate network. Now it’s hard to argue with a user that doing such a thing isn’t technically feasible but in the corporate IT world bringing in uncontrolled devices onto your network is akin to throwing a cat into a chicken coup (I.E. no one but the cat benefits and you’re left with an awful mess to clean up). Still all it takes is one of the higher ups to request such a thing for it to become a mandate for the IT department to implement. Unfortunately for us IT guys the technology du jour doesn’t lend itself well to being tightly controlled by a central authority so most resort to hacks and work arounds in order to make them work as required.
As the old saying goes the unreasonable person is the one who changes the world to suit themselves and therefore much of the change in the corporate IT world is being made by these shadow IT departments. At the head of these movements are my fellow Gen Y and Zers who are struggling with the idea that what they do at home can’t be replicated at work:
“The big challenge for the enterprise space is that people will expect to bring their own devices and connect in to the office networks and systems,” Henderson said. “That change is probably coming a lot quicker than just five years’ time. I think it will be a lot sooner than that.”
Dr Keiichi Nakata, reader in social informatics at Henley Business School at the University of Reading, who was also at the roundtable, said the university has heard feedback from students who have met companies for interviews and been “very surprised” that technologies they use every day are not being utilised inside those businesses.
It’s true that the corporate IT world is a slow moving beast when compared to the fast paced consumer market and companies aren’t usually willing to wear the risk of adopting new technologies until they’ve proven themselves. Right now any administrator being asked to do something like “bring your own computer” will likely tell you its impossible, lest you open yourselves up to being breached. However technologies like virtualization are making it possible to create a standard work environment that runs practically everywhere and I think this is where a bring your own device world could be possible.
Of course this shifts the problem from the IT department to the virtualization product developer but companies like VMware and CITRIX have both already demonstrated the ability to run full virtual desktop environments on smart phone level hardware. Using such technologies then users would be able to bring in almost any device that would then be loaded with a secure working environment, enabling them to complete the work they are required to do with the device they choose. This would also allow IT departments to become a lot more flexible with their offerings since they wouldn’t have to spend so much time providing support to the underlying infrastructure. Of course there are many other issues to consider (like asset life cycles, platform vetting, etc) but a future where your work environment is independent of the hardware is not so far fetched after all.
The disjunct between what’s possible with IT and what is the norm in computer environments has been one of those frustrating curiosities that has plagued my IT career. Of course I understand that the latest isn’t always the greatest, especially if you’re looking for stability, but the lack of innovation in the corporate space has always been one of pet peeves. With more and more digital natives joining the ranks however the future looks bright for a corporate IT world that’s not too unlike the consumer one that we’re all used to, possibly one that even innovates ahead of it.
Look I know I’m fortunate to be in the position that I am. I’ve taken a lot of risks and almost all of them have paid off significantly, landing me solid jobs and even seeing my pay packet go up in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis. It’s because of this I’ve been able to do many things that people told me were next to impossible and I know I have the world of IT to thank for much of my success. Still all this wonder that has been graced upon me because I managed to fall into one of the most lucrative industries of our time didn’t stop me waking up last December and experiencing one of the most dreadful yet inspiring moments of my life: I hated my job, my career and where I was in my life.
Now anyone who knows me would’ve told you it was no secret that I wasn’t happy where I was. Pretty much every job I’ve had over the past 6 years has seen me come in with a kind of enthusiasm and vigor that only young whipper snappers like myself are able to muster. However over time that feeling was soon whittled away by lack of work, over abundance of bureaucracy and broken promises. For the most part though I consoled myself in the fact that I was making quite a packet for someone who hadn’t had the experience of 90% of the people in the market. That idea kept me going for a good 3 years and saw me past buying 2 houses, getting married and maintaining that I would one day leave the rank and file employees for the glorious world of management where I could finally seek the job satisfaction that had long eluded me.
Everything changed on that fateful day back in early December. I remember waking up and feeling quite lucid but there was this nagging feeling at the back of my head, something that just wasn’t quite right. Over the course of the next 30 minutes I began to question why the hell I was doing all this, getting up early in the morning and struggling to get ready to go to a job where I would only waste time until the clock struck closing time. Whilst my blog posts don’t seem to show this moment of frustrated clarity (they’re all surprisingly normal, which is even more freaky) I began looking over every possible option I had to get myself out of this situation I had put myself into. Remembering a project I had began some months before (which was making me on average $2/day) I resigned myself to scaling it up to income replacement level and thus The Plan was born. I spent every moment of the next 6 weeks implementing, testing and refining my strategy until on the 19th of January I declared the project completed and set the countdown clock for 6 months until freedom day.
Now I’ll forgive you if you think this sounds like a call for sympathy or a attempt to grab compliments, because its not. More it’s to tell my story in the world of IT that I know resonates with so many of my colleagues. Last night I tweeted about how jealous I was of my dad and his current embracing of retirement which spurred this reply:
(Yes that was a shameless plug to use the new Twitter quote feature, which unfortunately looks god awful on this theme, go figure EDIT: I’ve replaced it with an image because their CSS inheriting code doesn’t play nice with WordPress)
I’ve long had a post in my drafts folder titled “Post IT Careers” which was initially inspired by many a conversation over lunch with my fellow IT workers. Ask anyone who’s been in IT for a while what they plan to do in 3~5 years and most of them will say something like “hopefully not IT”. Whilst I’ve never had enough to talk about on the subject it begs mentioning here as most people in IT, but especially those in the under 30 bracket (which squarely pegs them as Gen Y) got into IT because it was easy, lucrative and at the time relatively interesting. After spending years being the equivalent of janitorial staff for the realm of computers the shine starts to wear off and the dizzying prospects that once danced in your head fade into the cold reality of resetting yet another user’s password.
It’s all made worse when I hear people talking about how they’re in the wrong career and they should switch to IT. Whilst its usually just belly aching after they hear about the amount of money some of us make they usually fail to consider that they’d just be trading their current set of problems for another set of unknown problems. It only seems more feasible to them since you know, anyone can do IT, they never say “I should switch to being an anethstatist” failing to see that (whislt there’s not as much time invested to become an IT professional) they require years of training to get to the level we’re currently at. Unless you’re willing to dedicate half a decade of your life to doing this sort of thing (and then thinking of your own post IT career) you’ll just put your career back at the start. Then again some people might be looking to do that anyway.
I had a feeling that it wasn’t just IT that suffered from this problem however, more it was our generation. Whilst my friends will say that I’m the exception to the rule it appears that most Gen Ys are happy to hop jobs like crazy, looking for the next best deal or a workplace that suits them better:
If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these young people have great — and sometimes outlandish — expectations. Employers realize the millennials are their future work force, but they are concerned about this generation’s desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace.
Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement. Older adults criticize the high-maintenance rookies for demanding too much too soon. “They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from corporate recruiters.
You’d think I’d lash back with some quip about us being the future or some other kind of dribble but I completely agree, we’re entitled and we expect the world to change for us. The job hopping I’ve gone through is a testament to me trying to change my work situation, failing and then trying to find another suitable place to try again. Whilst it’s also provided the benefit of upping my pay packet considerably I happily admit that had I got caught in the right job at the start I’d probably still be there today. I think this was why I lasted so long back at Dick Smith Electronics, I had free reign there over pretty much whatever I wanted to do and enough gadgets and gizmos to keep me entertained for hours on end. The real world of work however is nothing like that and my employment history is a testament to that.
Maybe I’m just channeling my inner Tim Ferris and Tony Robbins but after hearing so much about what is possible I just couldn’t stand to be in my position anymore. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life chasing the almighty dollar and now I believe its time to shift gears and start chasing those dreams that have eluded me thus far. So whilst my generation might be disillusioned with their careers I hope they, like me, have that awakening moment where they reconsider what’s important to them and start taking steps towards their ultimate goals.
I’m no stranger to the interview room. At least once a year for the past 6 years or so I’ve found myself sitting in front of a panel of other people convincing them that I’m the right person for the job. Initially it started out of sheer boredom since the first couple jobs I had were entry level and seemed to come quite easily to me. Eventually it graduated into a thirst for new challenges as once something became routine the boredom would start to creep back in, and I’d get itchy feet. Whilst this has been one of the fastest ways for me to climb the IT ladder (believe me, I tried to advance within before looking externally, it never worked) it has more recently led to a few uncomfortable questions about where my loyalties lie. Switching to contracting has stayed these concerns somewhat, but a resume that spans as many jobs as years still raises questions from our current Gen-X and Baby Boomer employers.
For a long time to I believed that I was an exception rather than a rule. Many of my close friends and colleagues have been in their respective positions for years or have dedicated themselves to long term study (been there, not interested in going back just yet). Coming from a family parents who are Baby Boomers themselves having clocked up decades in employment in a single place certainly added to the stigma of jumping jobs as rapidly as I did. However taking a look outside my obviously small and biased sample showed me that I might just be yet another Gen Y upstart:
Additional high-level findings of the 2008 Life After College Survey include:
- 43% of Gen Y are not in the career they expected to be in after college, either because they couldn’t find a job, or another opportunity presented itself
- 60% are currently looking for another job or career, despite the fact that 57% indicated that they are also happy at their current job
- 74% of recent graduates are in a career that aligns with their college major
“Constant job hopping can create frustration for employers, who would prefer three years of service out of each new hire,” says Jenny Floren, founder and CEO of Experience. “However, HR managers can increase retention by making slight shifts in their organizational practices to accommodate entry-level employees.”
It’s quite scary how accurately this lines up with my experiences. Technically I’m a Computer Engineer by training and whilst that has a strong focus on things like software development I also did quite a lot of hardware design as well as management courses. I took up a help desk position in the public service as it was an easy, well paying job and they were quite flexible with my hours when I was still at university. However the next job I managed to land was a junior system admin position (which in all honesty I was barely qualified for) which then snowballed into the position I’m in today. It’s not that I didn’t consider the career in an actual engineering firm, far from it. More it was that when I got that piece of paper in my hand switching into another career would’ve seen my pay packet take a hefty hit, around a third if memory serves me. For a 21 year old that was a fair chunk of cash and the cost/benefit didn’t quite add up.
If you’d asked me what the positives were in any of my other jobs (and really the same could be said for my current position) I’d tell you that I have an enormous amount of free time, the work is easy and the workplace is relaxed. Sounds pretty good right? Well the other side of the coin is the lack of challenge in most of my jobs. Maybe it was systemic since all the places I’ve worked at have either been in the public service or working for the public service (outsourcer) but most of my time isn’t spent solving novel problems. For the most part its battling bits of bureaucracy in order to get small packages of work done or explaining my decisions via reams of documentation. I think this is why I find so much pleasure in things like Geon as there are no barriers to progress but myself and every single step is an engineering problem just waiting to be solved.
It’s like crack to my inner engineer.
I think this also comes down in a shift in ideals between generations. The Gen Y crowd have grown up on a diet of rapidily evolving technology and if something can’t be done from home on their desktop or on their iPhone whilst on the move then it’s probably not worth doing. Again it seems like I’m not alone in thinking this, as the NY Times points out:
Old assumptions about what employees value in the workplace don’t always apply with Gen Y. Friendship is such a strong motivator for them that Gen Y workers will choose a job just to be with their friends. Boston-based Gentle Giant Moving once hired an entire athletic team. “It looked like a great work environment because of the people,” says rower Niles Kuronen, 26. “It was huge to be able to work with friends.” It feels normal for Gen Y employees to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week. Sun Microsystem’s telecommuting program, for example, has kicked into high gear in response to Generation Y’s demands. Today more than half of Sun’s employees work remotely.
Honestly I could see myself working at a company for a much longer time period if I spent 50% of my work time telecommuting. Unfortunately the norm for most workplaces is that face time is of the utmost importance, despite how productive you might be. The inertia really comes from having to switch from a simple metric of “were you here on time” or “I could see that he was working” to “they achieved 100% of the goals I set”. The problem is predominately the difficulty employers have in defining solid metrics that guage how effective employees are when they are working remotely. There’s a definite shift occurring in some companies who have experienced positive results, but they’re still the exception to a long lasting rule.
Personally I feel its due to us Gen Ys growing up in a world of easily accessible information that drives us to get exactly what we want. Sure we’re happy to settle for whatever we can get in the interim but as long as we know there’s something out there that might better suit us we’re willing to take the risk of going for it. In my small sample world I think my bias towards them not being job hoppers is because they’ve found exactly what they were looking for, and the Gen Y drive merely propels them to excellence.
I’ll have to make a mental note to revisit this topic in a years time.