Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pay Attention to the Trends

Twice over the past weekend I overheard people talking about the rise of businesses like Netflix and Hulu.  Getting right to the point, here are the two examples (paraphrased):

Example 1:  I was at a Starbucks behind two college-aged people standing in line, waiting to order.  They were discussing two "television" series that are apparently only available on Netflix.  The individuals were talking about how "edgy" Daredevil is and were wondering what would happen to some of the supporting characters and whether or not they would make it through the season. The second show they were talking about is called "Orange Is the New Black (OITNB)".  I couldn't pick out much of what they were saying about that one because I was a little too obvious in my snooping (in other words I got busted). I did pick out that they thought the friendship between "Piper" and "Alex" was not going to last.

Example 2: This morning I was listening to a radio show where one of the two hosts was describing how he moved his son into some college dormitory.  As they were installing the "flat screen" TV (who says that anymore?), the host noticed that they weren't near the cable outlet.  He asked his son if they shouldn't relocate it closer to the jack so that the TV could hook right in.  Apparently the son told him, "Dad, I don't watch TV.  Anything I want to view is on demand on the Internet or through Netflix or Apple TV".

Think about these two examples for a minute.  Although some might consider it a stretch, you could make the conclusion that network TV is becoming a thing of the past.  After all, if "younger" people no longer watch cable TV in favor of "on-demand", what does that mean for the broadcast business as a whole?

Being a data-driven thinker I asked a colleague to help me find some statistics on just where different age groups go for their visual entertainment.  It took her about eight minutes to find this graphic:

Television has basically been a staple of modern (first world) life for about 65 years.  Is it hard for you, the reader, to believe that could all radically change in less than five years?  Believe it or not, the era of domination for NBC, ABC, and CBS is already over.  People just may not feel it yet although advertisers have caught on.

Relevance to IT
The Netflix phenomena has direct bearing on the world of IT.  The move towards virtualization of everything has happened so quickly that the following staples of (previous) IT shops are becoming obsolete.  Consider that if you're 40 or older and in an IT career, these things may not make it 2020:

  • Company owned physical data centers - Azure, AWS, vCloud Air, and other service providers have made a compelling business case as to why a company should not own a physical presence
  • Desktop computers - with virtualization through Citrix, VMWare, Mobile Iron, etc. there is little reason anymore to buy PCs for employees.  (graphics intensive users may be immune)
  • Servers and storage arrays - remember those cool data center commercials from IBM?  Now, it's hard to find a reason to invest in a capital purchase of server hardware or storage arrays.  You can get it better/faster/cheaper through a cloud provider
  • Voicemail - does your company *really* need this service anymore?  Why not just text, IM, Skype, or FaceTime somebody?
  • Physical Offices - while, as Yahoo pointed out last year, it's important to see people for purposes of collaboration, do you really need to be in an office setting to be productive?
  • Faxing is dying and hard copy printing is fading with the Baby Boomers

One of our purposes as IT leaders and hence business leaders is to pay attention to where the currents of the world are taking us.  Pay attention to the trends in the world, your company, and the IT shop.  Things are changing so quickly and so radically that the jobs we were trained to do yesterday are not the ones we'll be called on to perform tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The End of Apprenticeships

For most of the history of human civilization, the way that new workers were created came about through the process of an apprenticeship.  Ripping the definition directly from Wikipedia:

Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study...

Essentially, a young individual, typically a pre-teen (10-12 years old) would be paired with a professional of some sort.  This "child" would live and work with the adult on a day-to-day basis, learning a craft and honing expertise through increasing levels of participation in the creation of the final product.

For thousands of years this process generated a consistent flow of new blacksmiths, carpenters, cobblers (shoe makers), coopers (barrel makers), sculptors, doctors, farmers, and philosophers.  There are many reasons why this method worked.  In part, it wasn't until the 19th century that advanced schooling - elementary through University - was available to people of all demographic and financial groups.  The apprenticeship was typically the only viable and affordable way for a person to gain financially relevant skills.  But there was another factor at play.

Discounting for the occasional localized setbacks due to war, famine, and disease, the trajectory for growth of the human species has steadily trended upwards.  The ever increasing human population was important because it provided a constant supply of fresh apprentices.  In turn, the result was/has been that our societies have almost always had available professionals and experts to handle all of our needs.  That is, at least until now.

Something interesting happened after World War 2.  There was a population explosion, especially in the United States, that is referred to as the "Baby Boom".  So many people were born in that period between 1946-1964 that when they entered into the workforce they became the dominant generation. Yet, during the same time something almost paradoxical happened.  The Baby Boomers, especially the earlier ones, were so absorbed in making careers and enjoying a standard of living unknown to any other generation in history that they weren't very fertile.  The "Boomers" and, to a small extent their predecessors called "The Silent Generation", were responsible for creating "Generation X".  These people were all born in the timeframe between 1965-1976.  Compared to other generations, X'ers are somewhat few and far between...

Let's take a quick look at the relative size of the generations dating back from the 1920s until today:

Some of the very late stage Boomers combined with the Gen X'ers to establish the next generation group called "Millennials", which some also see as Generation Y.  The point of the graph shows that Generation X, which should have been the group of people who would take over the professional positions vacated by the Boomers, never had enough individuals born into it to have the required volume to be viable as a complete generation.

What this means is that because of the economic conditions dating back to 2008, those Boomers who would have retired to make way for the X'ers to take over never left the workplace.  They probably won't do so until the 2020s when age forces them out or sooner if the economy ever picks up (not likely).  So, the millennials coming into the workforce should have apprenticed with the Gen X'ers, but couldn't because (a) there were too few of them and (b) the Boomers were still in charge.

Whether you see it first hand or read about it in some publication like this blog, the Boomer and Millennial generations do not mix.  There are many resources available to prove this statement whether you want a simple comparison or a detailed matrix of specific differences. The point is that as of today, about 70% of the U.S. workforce consists of either a Baby Boomer or a Millennial and they don't have a relationship that leads to much knowledge transfer.

If you are a Millennial then here is your reality:  You will have to hit the ground running.  It is very unlikely that you will have a Boomer or an X'er there to help you learn your given trade.

As a Generation X CIO, I am one of the lucky business executives (unlike my peers).  Because technology is so prevalent, the learning curve for teaching new workers in their 20s how to become IT professionals is not very steep. Unlike any previous generation, the Millennials grew up always having technology integrated into every facet of their lives.  Unlike me trying to explain to my parents how to set the clock on their VCR (what is that??), Millennials enter the workforce already knowing about coding, mobility, virtual resources, and the science of application development.

It's a new world that we are now living within.  How will human civilization advance now that the four-millennia-old tradition of apprenticeships is over...?