The E-gener@tion

SYDNEY - They've resisted the dot-com hype and begun their careers in traditional industries. They think such companies can provide a more balanced lifestyle, more integration with business, a broader range of challenges, more stability and a more humanistic cultureLooking at their careers from vantage points that range from six months to four years, these following 'new kids' in IT talk about what they love and hate about work, what kind of environment brings out the best in them, and what their companies must do to keep them.

The new kids say their top sources of job satisfaction are the people, culture, atmosphere and balance, which makes work enjoyable. "I like the culture of family," said Kevin Kaiser, 24, a senior business analyst at Kraft Foods. "My friends at work are also my clients. It makes me do a better job, because I know they're counting on me."

"It's a nurturing environment with a great support structure," said Amy Younggren, 23, an information technology management associate at Prudential Insurance. "If I ever have any problems, people are willing to [help] me along."

The new kids love a challenge. "We are dealing with a lot of new technology, so I'm constantly learning," said Sohil Shah, 22, a Java programmer.

Lorraine O'Connor, 24, a senior systems analyst at State Street Bank, likes the breadth of her duties. "It's very diverse - not just programming or just analysis," she said. "I'm exposed to the whole range of the development life cycle. It's the variety I like."

The new kids prefer working on the leading edge, but they're willing to mix it up. "I work on a legacy system with Cobol and a mainframe," said Marc Dugger, 26, a programmer-analyst. "I'm also on a project that will provide a Web-to-host solution for customers. So, in one day, I can work with a wide variety of technology."

They like options, said Jude Shabry, a 26-year-old systems officer at State Street. "Some things interest me more than others, and I find I can work on projects that interest me, instead of being stuck in the specific role I was hired into," she said.

They also appreciate freedom and crave responsibility. "If I have a priority in my personal life, I can work later some days, leave earlier others," said Mike Vannoni, 25, a senior business analyst at Kraft.

"My boss gives me the business problem, and I have to figure out how to solve it using Web technology," said Ingrid Eikinas, 27, an assistant vice president at State Street. "It gives me a chance to be creative."

Responsibility gives them a stake in their work - and the company. "I've been able to see this project from beginning to end and how the organisation has embraced it," said Madeline Morales, 23, a senior business analyst at Kraft. "There's a sense of pride and ownership."

The twentysomethings have a keen interest in business, and many say working in a particular business is an important factor in their career satisfaction. "My job allows me to combine my knowledge of finance and IT," said Omar Lari, 25, an analyst at State Street, who's pursuing an advanced degree in finance. "By practising both finance and information technology, I get the best of both worlds."

When they talk about what they love, they don't mention money, except as a mistaken priority. "I have a lot of friends who chased money and didn't find a lot of happiness," Dugger said.

The downside

Young IT people come down hard on cafeteria food and commuting, but what really burns them is when bureaucracy or politics impedes progress. "We spend a lot of time talking about making decisions instead of making the decisions," O'Connor said. "I understand the value of analysis, but I can't stand it when we spend all this time talking and talking and never really start working on it."

Policies and procedures often seem counterproductive to these twentysomethings. "I didn't have access to machines I needed, so I had to submit the paperwork and get it signed off by four different people," Shabry said. "I couldn't just make things happen like you can at a smaller place."

They find it particularly irksome to have to wait for authorisation, when they could fix a problem themselves. "It can get frustrating when you're waiting on some alteration to an application that you don't have authority to do," said Jackie Geraci-Barbanente, 22, an associate systems analyst at Kraft.

Because their companies are technology users, not vendors, IT isn't the top priority, and that's frustrating, too. "We're not what makes money, we're overhead," said Chris Meyerpeter, an IT communications coordinator. "If cuts come, new initiatives are put to the side. It's frustrating how that restricts what you can do."

Though they love business strategy, dealing with business people can sometimes be discouraging. "You have to compromise," Lari said. "The business area might have a different idea, [and] you have to live with that. You don't have carte blanche."

The best way to work

To bring out their best, the new kids say, place them in small, informal teams with continuous challenges, lots of autonomy, easy access to resources and interesting, important work.

"I like to partner with people and have a positive support structure," Younggren said. "I like to have fun when I'm working; if it's very serious, it's not for me."

"I [need] a new problem every day," Shah added. "Something I've never seen before and [that I can] figure out."

The physical environment can nurture teamwork. "I like the ability to focus but still have easy access to team resources to work together, too," Shabry said. "I like yelling questions across the room. It helps us work as a team."

Having the proper tools cuts stress. "I want an environment where information is readily available, where all the technology is working correctly, where software's not crashing," O'Connor said.

Ultimately, they have to know that their work matters. "It's important to know [that] anything I do contributes to the team effort," Geraci-Barbanente said.

Although young IT folks are often viewed as job-hoppers, most of these young people chose large companies with an eye towards staying for the long term. But that doesn't mean they won't leave, if their employers don't meet their standards.

"You can have an amazing career and even change careers and stay within one company," Younggren said. "But to stay, I'll need increased exposure to diversity in people, products, everything; continuing exposure to upper-level management, and continued support for career development."

"I need a career path that guarantees a future," Shah said. "I'll be looking for an opportunity to move up."

"The biggest thing for me is to have opportunities on the edge of technology," Meyerpeter said. "If I get to the point where I'm stagnant with nowhere else to go, that would be the biggest reason to leave."

Eikinas said she's determined to be where the action is in IT, and the action may or may not be at State Street. "If we can be comfortable with the changes that are happening and not be afraid to take some risks, I'll be involved in what's going on, and I'll be happy here," she said.

Beyond these factors, long-term work-life balance is a concern. "I talked with all the women, and I'm confident that I can have a family and stay at Prudential," Younggren said.

How that balance will play out over time is clearly on their minds.

"They need to think about the way the concept of work has changed for us," Eikinas said.

"My parents would come home and do something else, but for my husband [who also works in IT] and me, work is so entwined with play.

"Sometimes it seems silly that we put on the suits, commute an hour, sit at a PC, then commute home an hour, change our clothes and sit at the PC," she said. "It's all one to us. Most of the work I do is virtual, anyway. [Companies] should be thinking about more flexible arrangements."

Internet schminternet

Despite the online world they live in, these young people have chosen to begin their careers at ‘traditional' companies, because they think that choice provides better opportunities for growth and a balanced life.

"A traditional company poses more of a challenge," said Meyerpeter. "There's more leeway to dabble different areas and find out what you like."

Shabry said her job as a systems officer allows her the luxury of exploring new technologies. "At a small company, you're basically running everything on a day-to-day basis," she said. "There's no time to explore new things. Here, I get a lot of freedom."

And that includes the freedom to go home. These new kids don't identify with the stereotype of the one-dimensional geek burning the midnight oil.

"I don't live to work, I work to live," said Geraci-Barbanente. "Here, I've been able to work with new technology and maintain a work-life balance. There's no price I could put on time with my family."

Another common thread is a fascination with business.

"Technology wasn't the reason I picked Kraft," said Morales. "Technology is important, but [I want to] focus on business and understand how each function interacts with the other."

"I wanted a company that could expose me to a variety of areas," agreed Vannoni. "Even the latest and greatest is not as fulfilling as business strategy."

Choosing a culture

Although younger people have a reputation for job-hopping, many like the stability a large company offers.

Many were drawn to companies that have well-established cultures. "I had an internship here, and it offered a lifestyle that I like," Vannoni said.

For some, culture trumps even technology. "Startups may have newer applications, but I wanted the culture," said Colleen Campbell, 24, a programmer-analyst who likes the playful, family atmosphere.

In contrast, a startup is culturally volatile, said Kaiser. "The culture could change if someone is having a bad day," he said.

They are highly sceptical of tales of easy money in the dot-com world.

"The stories of [people] going off and becoming millionaires are blown out of proportion," said Eikinas. "I think I can do much better here."

They especially want to be challenged and treated as adults. They want managers to test them, stretch them and give them more than they think the young people can handle. "Throw things at me that are difficult," said O'Connor.

Five years from now, most of these young people expect to have MBAs, helped and financed by their companies. Many plan to integrate their technology skills with business.

"I want to be exposed to a wider range of technology and experience outside technology," Kaiser said, adding he is confident his company can accommodate his plans. "If I get tired of doing systems, I know I'll have the opportunity to move into marketing or whatever," he said.

Some, though equally ambitious, want to stay in technology. "I definitely want to be a tech person," Shah said. "I do not see myself on the business side. I want to move up, but in the technology stream."

What they want

The future may be uncertain, but these new kids have clearly thought about what they want for now. "I want personal satisfaction," Shah said. "Every day I should learn something new."

They don't want to be labelled or limited. "I never want to go so far down one line that I end up stuck there," O'Connor said. "I want to develop [not only] technology skills, but also personal and social skills."

They're determined to enjoy what they do or stop doing it. "If I don't enjoy coming to work every day, I quit," Kaiser said. "If you don't enjoy what you're doing, it makes the rest of life miserable."

They want to be the best. "I want to be able to get the training I need to remain on the edge," Meyerpeter said.

The underlying need is to keep growing. "We're very eager to learn," Dugger said. "Feed us as much new technology as you can. I just want to know everything."

Advice to managers

The new kids aren't reticent about expressing their needs. First and foremost, they say, keep them growing. "The focus of young IT folk usually is not money," Meyerpeter said. "Training is the key to keeping people."

Next - challenge them and have faith in them. "Don't be afraid to give us things you don't think we can handle," Kaiser said. "We want to grow into that. Let us know your goals and the company's goals, and we can help you get there."

Give them freedom and responsibility. "Let them know what the job is, and let them do it," Meyerpeter said.

Don't promise what you can't deliver. "Be straight," Shabry said. "I know people who have had bait-and-switch tactics pulled on them, and they leave."

Pay attention. "If we come up with an idea, listen to us," O'Connor said. "We have a different perspective. It may take a fresh look to see what's been there all the time."

Finally, let them loose. "We don't know any of the old rules, so we do things differently," Younggren said. "We may make mistakes, but give us the freedom to go wild with our ideas. They might be refreshing."

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