Four Questions Millennials Don’t Want to Answer

When I work with millennials these days in all different management and programming duties, the experience is always very interesting. Each millennial has a very different point of view of IT and data processing. Even within the Big 4 consulting firms’ new hires, the college experience, IT degrees, consulting company training, and aptitude for IT activities is widely different which leads to a lot of discussion about the best solution and the best procedures to use to get the project done.

Talking to millennials is always fascinating, and understanding their point of view is critical for communicating the structure of the massive systems that are running the business environment. Asking the millennials the following four questions can give you a huge understanding why they are having difficulties within their management, development duties and maintenance of legacy IT systems.

  1. What kind of programming did you do in college?  This is an interesting question for the millennials because some of them have never done any programming. Never. Now college graduates can get an IT degree without having to write a single program in any language throughout their entire college curriculum. Some have only done fewer than 10 programs in their entire four-year college degree program and the languages they used were Basic, Python, or some other scripting language.

    Now I understand why all the companies are hiring people from other countries. Some of the non-Americans who I have talked to have at least a little more experience with Java, C++, COBOL, JSON, or similar languages. Understanding programming, its complexity, and its methodology is critical to writing requirements, specifications and efficient IT solutions. The next time you run into a college-aged millennial, ask them how much programming or what languages their college required for an IT degree.  You might be surprised at the answer.

  2. What is the best form of IT documentation you have worked with, and why was it so good?  This is always an interesting conversation because it explores the millennial experience within their studies and brief work experience. It also explores their consulting firm training because usually they are taught a methodology to follow within their consulting firm. Sometimes the answers are really interesting in that the millennials only have Agile project experience  Agile systems can produce good documentation, but they are notorious for not producing any documentation or, at best, useless documentation that has no substance or value.

    Educating millennials on the development specifications and documentation requirements for your company or project is vital to reduce development confusion and overall on-going maintenance costs. Making sure everyone understands the difference between good and bad documentation and how good documentation can be done easily, quickly, and succinctly is critical for the long term success of your project.

  3. What is the largest number of processes that have run concurrently on systems you’ve analyzed, designed or worked on?  Exploring the millennial’s answer to this question is interesting because it gives you an understanding of their working knowledge of analysis, development, and programming of large systems.  By the time I got my degree I had written programs in Assembler, PASCAL, COBOL, FORTRAN, RPG, Basic and done scripting in JCL, KSH and BASH. While I didn’t have any business experience when I started in IT many years ago, the many different programs I wrote, the programming languages, the case study analysis of the complex systems gave me the tools to ask some of the right questions.

    Millennials who work only on smaller Windows and UNIX systems usually don’t have an idea about the requirements of concurrent or constant processing, or availability requirements. When discussing their answer talk about the criteria your company uses to prioritize different applications, the framework for the different priorities, and the different architectural factors that drive the corporation’s processing. Communicate that all the current processing has to continue, not just in the project that is currently under development. 

  4. Which do you think is more important process or data?  This question to the millennials isn’t really fair because the answer in my mind is both. Listen to their answer and their justification gives you some insight into how they may be approaching the IT environment and development tasks.

    If it is one thing I have learned throughout my career about process and data is that one isn’t any good without the other. Any architecture, designs or decisions made without considering both can be disastrous for database and processing designs. What is good about this question is that it explores the person’s attitude toward how to come up with an IT solution. Processing and data go hand in hand, and good IT solutions are not built without considering the requirements for both.

The IT profession is always changing and millennials have a tough job learning all the new and old technology. Use the four questions above to explore millennials’ background and point of view will lead to a greater understanding of the best way to solve the complex IT architecture, design and development issues.

Dave Beulke is a system strategist, application architect, and performance expert specializing in Big Data, data warehouses, and high performance internet business solutions. He is an IBM Gold Consultant, Information Champion, and President of DAMA-NCR, former President of International DB2 User Group, and frequent speaker at national and international conferences. His architectures, designs, and performance tuning techniques help organization better leverage their information assets, saving millions in processing costs.

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