How it is like to work with a bunch of Millennials

February, 2016


I am 41. My co-founder is 23, a millennial. All my other coworkers are millennials too. My years of experience as an Engineer and a Manager didn’t help me to deal with this unique situation. This is an account of few things I have learned working with them for the past 30 months.

Starting off a new journey with a bunch of people half my age was a huge call for me. When you take a choice like that, you don’t expect much as an outcome.

Millennials have fewer hang ups than you think

When I started off as a professional programmer, 18 years ago, the platforms matter. We choose the jobs based on the platforms/programming language of our liking. It was the single most decisive factor in deciding on which offer to choose. And most of us fought to protect our favorite programming language/platform. Newsgroups and mailing lists during the time saw some fierce fights. The goal seemed less important.

Millennials are the first generation to recognize how futile these fights are. They seem to agree on the fact that goal is more important. Languages/Tools/Platforms are just a mere path to achieve the goal. They have come to the sane conclusion that the algorithm is more important and language is a tool to express it.

As a manager, I caved into this prejudice that they had a preference like I had. I might have encouraged them to take sides also. This ridiculous adoration sometimes forced us to use unfit technologies. Now, I leave the decision to them. The Engineering team chooses the platform. As long as they can convince me the benefits, I am good.

Despise authority, love the process

I had the good fortune to work in different type of Organizations. I started in a traditional engineering team, where we reported to an Engineering Manager. When industry adopted a matrix organization, I grew into it. A few years later the agile method caught on. I had no problem easing into this nimble style of management either.

So, don’t for me; the process is important as the product. Scrum and meetings are precious to me. Issue tracking and recording the work has become a part of my habit. I despise anyone doesn’t respect this process. I fought with vigor to inculcate this discipline into my organization. It didn’t fly too far. I came out with some bruised ego.

We settled on a middle ground. Now we have a just enough process to get through the tasks at hand. The meetings, scrum and introspection meetings have become informal. We meet once a day for the scrum and go around the table. We just do it with the available quorum, the rest catch up.

Millennials are the free spirited generation the world has yet seen. Discipline by authority is what they despise. I wish I had figured this earlier.

Explore their connections for hiring

Millennials are a well-connected generation. They can make meaningful connections with a diverse group of people. Culture and languages are not a barrier for them.

I can’t emphasize how much this one aspect helped us in hiring people. I just had to dig deep into their connections. We had better luck with people who came through this referral system. They blended well with the culture than people hired through traditional hiring channels.

There again, I had spent quite a lot of money and energy trying to hire people who are wrong fit in the first place. We now follow a thumb rule to explore our network before heading out.

Why is more important than what.

The millennials value their time more than their previous generations. They enjoy a perfect work life balance. Hence they are critical about how they spend their time. Nothing can motivate them better if they know the business implication of their tasks. Why is more important than what!

I overlooked this during the first half of our 30 months. The results deviated from the original spec many times. I kept blaming this to the lack of motivation. And tried various measure to tighten up the process. Which resulted in anguish and revolt.

Lesson learned is, don’t try to translate the business decision to an engineering spec. Just throw the business case as such. They will be happy and motivated to tackle the challenge. The results are best when the tasks have a purpose. Over time, we have seen the team producing results, often times exceeding the expectation

In short

The workforce is changing. Just like suits and tie gave away to denims and Ts in 90’s; the attitude of the workforce is changing. We are dealing with a generation who are much more free spirited and rational. We need to adapt and change to use their potential.

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