The Senior Developer’s Dilemma – Guest Blog Post

Guest Blog Post By: Wallace Q, Software Engineer & Digital Nomad

The Challenges of a Co-Generational IT Department

Multi-generational IT team can be a benefit to all–if you have an open mind.

A former colleague of mine sent me an email the other day, asking for my thoughts after he took to Reddit to vent his frustration. He is a developer with 18+ years of experience in the tech industry (15 in Java alone) and like so many other working adults, experiencing first-hand how to get along in a very multi-generational workplace.

The company where he works has an IT department that had weathered many storms, but this storm was one that had been slowly brewing for quite some time; the frustrations of the younger tech staff who were tired of the “operational inefficiencies” and leaving the company as a result. The high turnover in turn forced upper management to take notice and get to the root of the problem: my former colleague and his cohorts of other senior-level development staff.)

In all fairness, these people have cushy jobs that they built to be somewhat predictable. They do just enough to keep their jobs and make management happy and like it that way. When new blood was added to the mix with fresh ideas and eager to make an impact, that’s when things got hairy. The seniors weren’t having theses noobs upsetting their hard-wrought apple cart. They liked things just as they were and thwarted any and all attempt by the new talent to make any changes.

The noobs frustrated and defeated left and thus began the probing by HR and the newly formed “Employee Engagement Committee.” (You can only imagine how this panned out for my former colleague.)

Evolving the Dinosaurs

His email/advice solicitation:

“W –

In so many words or less, they are telling me to evolve with the times or look elsewhere for a job. They didn’t put it in those exact words per se, but I can read between the lines. I’ve endeared weeks of surveys, 1-on-1’s, small group sessions with my team and management, and now they’ve brought in a consulting firm to help us “rapidly innovate from within.”

They want us to completely change the way we’ve always done things to a new development model (Agile/FDD). They also want us to mentor the younger staff and have made it mandatory that we give a presentation twice a year on a new language, tool, or something of other benefit to the company or my colleagues.

Not sure if I can take much more of this. What do you think?”

My reply/advice:

‘Hey R –

After several emails and now this one, I think I understand what they problem is here – it’s you and everyone else in the department who thinks it’s okay to sit in a job nowadays and not take proactive measures to keep current with the times. You all work in the tech industry. This sector changes rapidly, you know that. The entire of our field depends on new thoughts and ideas to propel it forward. If you’re going to insist on being resistant to change, perhaps it is time you look elsewhere.

What they company is asking of you can only MAKE YOU MORE MARKETABLE. Yes there will be a learning curve and probably some work outside of “normal office hours” but for someone who supposedly always loved diving into a new meaty challenge, you’re certainly contradicting that guy now.

As a person who has worked in various development models, I think you’ll like Agile/Feature-Driven-Development. And if the company is willing to invest in getting everyone up to speed, you would be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity. This might not be the answer you were hoping for, but those are my thoughts.’

The last I had heard from my former colleague was that he decided to give it a go and is actually enjoying learning some new things from his 22-year old protégé. Unfortunately other people from his team decided they weren’t up for the challenge and have moved on. The ones who have stayed are deeply engrossed in learning and seem to have adapted well.

The Bottom Line

If you work in development, evolution is something you should expect. It’s in your best interests to be keep an open mind and be adaptable. Your job just may depend on it.