A handful of the 40 coders in my development group are recent college graduates. They have less than two years of professional coding experience under their belts and for this reason alone I consider them juniors. They are all very talented and some day they are going to be absolutely amazing at what they do, but for now they are still just learning the ropes.
I came to this conclusion after working closely with a handful of these developers on a recent project. At first, anything they did which didn’t meet my standards was immediately chalked up to their professional and/or personal immaturity. Let’s face it. I am a seasoned developer. I’ve been around the block and they haven’t. I know best. Well, as it turns out, maybe I just know differently…
Our production deployments typically last well into the night. While “supporting” a release, we drink way too many energy drinks, strike up random conversations and wait for the QA group to sign-off on the deployment. During our last product release, I took the opportunity to give one of the newbie coders a hard time about his work habits. It goes without fail that every time I walk by his office, he has a million browser windows open along with IM, Outlook and, if I’m really lucky, a single instance of Visual Studios. At any time during the day, he can tell me the latest baseball scores or the breaking news on CNN. This (along with all of his silly screen savers, desktop widgets and keyboard shortcuts) I could almost tolerate, but when I found him remotely connected to his home PC and sending personal emails, I just had to wonder about his productivity and I called him on it.
At first he began to lecture me about productivity in the workplace and all the studies which have been done stating that you can only get six solid hours of work out of a developer in an eight hour work day. At this I laughed since most of the time it feels like we’re required to fit 12 hours of coding into a 10 hour day. Once he realized I wasn’t going to bite (and he was most likely digging his own grave) he changed his tune and took another approach. “You see, I’m a Digital Native and you are a Digital Immigrant and our generations do things differently.” Granted, he wasn’t gaining any points by essentially calling me old, but he caught my interest.
You see, my young colleague represents the first generation to grow up with new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, email, the Internet, instant messaging, video games, digital music players, cell phones and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They prefer random access and they function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. And they prefer games to “serious” work. They are the Net (N) or Digital (D) Generation. [ 1 ]
Those of us who were not born into the digital world, but have attempted to adopt most aspects of the new technology are Digital Immigrants. Like all immigrants, Digital Immigrants retain their “accent.” The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen) and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL.) The example we can all related to is the “Did you get my email?” phone call.
My point is there’s a new breed of developers on the rise as one of them explained to me the other evening. They are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet and they think and process information fundamentally differently from then their predecessors. And they function differently too. The next time you think the junior developer’s desktop is cluttered and you think they aren’t focused, please think again. They are simply parallel processing and multi-tasking. Find a way to work with the new generation. Better yet — learn from them.
Reference: 1.Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky
Tip: Tune into Adult Swim or the Family Guy to see first hand how Digital Natives like to consume information.