The digital generation – not special when it comes to the internet

I’m reading a book called Build for Change that has a really good message, but the way that the author talks about Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever the hell else the people born from 81-2000 are called. Essentially, he pushes forwards the theory that because we grew up at the same time as computers were truly personalized and in homes, that these folks some how have a better understanding of the internet. That these folks are more self-centered and all about me and thus harder customers to handle than any generation in the past.

Being born around computers doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a deeper connection with the technology. To some extent, since I’m frequently around computers and know how to use them in a lot of different ways, I’m surprised when I hear people my age or younger that don’t get technology. That learning to code is terrifying or how code works is a foreign concept. I’ve also met a lot of people that are older than myself that know as much or more about computers and technology than I do. Some of them are in IT, but some of them, like my Dad, aren’t truly IT specialists. They just understand that technology is a powerful tool and computers are probably the most flexible tool we’ve ever had.

Social media is one of the tools that the author claims all Millennials know how to use. This is a complete and total misconception. Sure, the kids might have a better idea than the parents, but it’s not because the parents can’t understand social media – it’s not hard to learn – they don’t have the time or the desire to learn the tool. Furthermore, just because you’re interested in computers and other digital content doesn’t necessitate an ability to understand how to use social media effectively. After working at AMD I learned first hand that I was one of the few people at the company that truly understood the tools available through social media and I definitely don’t consider myself an expert or sophisticated user of any of the social media platforms. Many of my older co-workers weren’t fluent in any of the networks, but that’s because they had other things that mattered more.

Social networks are to some extent extremely fast word of mouth networks. The difference is that between some users there used to be an intermediary – like a news paper or TV show – that would share the information with interested parties. Now, if you want Jaden Smith’s thoughts on tibetian monks and she happens to tweet about it, you’ll be able to retweet that instantly. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same reach or that all tweet will be treated equally. In fact because there is STILL an intermediary, algorithms, between trending tweets and hashtags, the reach of a given topic isn’t endless.

I’d also argue that the people that will claim they are social media experts, for the most part, are not Millennials, they are Gen Xers or Boomers. This is an obvious result because they are snake oils salesmen and a lot of social media users¬†know they are full of crap.

The choice to be fluent in a given technology platform or “language” isn’t a matter of growing up with it. It’s about making a choice to devote time and energy to the topic. It’s no different than anything else. The big difference between a parent and the kid, is that the Kid has a lot more free time to mess around, while the parent is out working.

Business, processes, and things to drive improvement

About a week ago I was at PegaWorld. I’ll tell you what, for a rather dry business application – business Process Management, those guys know how to party. That being said, it is a really powerful platform to help automate existing processes or to interact with other systems to put a wrapper around the inputs and outputs of that system. That’s pretty powerful. Pega is one of those pieces of software that has the potential to “disrupt” the way traditional software is built. Essentially it eliminates the need to actually develop software the old fashion way, and allows users to create process flows that then generate the underlying Java. Now that doesn’t mean all coding will go away, especially at the interface API level, but it’s still a huge step forward to leveling that playing field.

I think this raise an interesting point, software is going to eat the world according to a lot of VC type folks. However, what happens when a piece of software enables more people to do what software was enabling people to do? I think it’d drive down the cost of enabling automated solutions. Not only are there super high level “languages” like Pega, there’s also a great deal of higher level programming languages out there, such as Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Python, and others that help to develop the application as you’re building it. Swift from Apple is another such language. It shortens the learning cycle. I’m partially through building an App in Rails and I’d never used it before, it’d be a lot harder to do the same in Java alone.

All of this really drives a concern – we could just automate bad processes. Things that doing faster don’t actually help any customer or ourselves actually accomplish any sort of goal. This is a problem if you don’t actually understand what you’re trying to do. This is something that I think a lot of startups miss – who cares that I can really efficiently do something, when some thing isn’t really worth doing? It’s a waste of time, energy and activity to do that. Software eating the world or other types of automation are only useful to anyone if they actually work to improve the underlying structure they are being built upon. PegaWorld had some interesting talks of people that looked into this, but it was basically tangential when it needs to be at the core of everything that’s happening.

Apparently in the show, Silicon Valley, every startup ends up saying that this product is going to make the world better. Simply saying that doesn’t make it so – I’m sure that Ubisoft and EA believe that their games are going to make the world a better place. You could argue that by excluding something from the next Assassins Creed game really did make the world better by driving a conversation about the choices that developers and companies make when bringing a product to market – and how poorly those decisions can go for the company that makes them. It’s important to understand the root cause of a problem as well as any risks changes pose to the business when you don’t deliver on something you are selling.