Informing the IBM Community

Who are these millennials with the legacy technology vendettas?


It’s becoming a weekly occurrence. Whether in conversations with customers, or in our industry’s publications, the millennial disdain for so called ‘legacy’ technology is a hot topic.

We are supposed to subscribe to the idea that we have a looming skills crisis because people in my generation treat these platforms with contempt. Where did this idea come from? Have we all been throwing our mobiles in disgust as we check our bank balances, or crashing GSE conferences chanting “death to COBOL”? Do I just miss the invites? If there’s anything causing large scale unrest in my generation at the moment- it’s not screen based applications.

My company are just as guilty, that’s actually what prompted me to write this post. I was reading our article in Compare the Cloud and this paragraph struck a chord “we have technical push back from new millennial-aged employees who simply refuse to work with a system where they can’t touch the screen or point and click. Explaining that the application has been built over many years and therefore not all the processes are linear and in turn the information architecture isn’t intuitive doesn’t seem to quell their complaints”

How irrational are we perceived as a generation, when the lack of a responsive, touch screen UI would make us down tools? That’s it, I can’t pinch to zoom, I’m off! I don’t care that I am likely at a pivotal point in my career, I cannot and will not lower myself to use those function keys.

It’s a tragic state of affairs, well it would be, but it over simplifies and it misses the point. I’m 27, right in the middle of the millennial bracket and I love these applications. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not an outlier, I am. The majority of my generation have no real opinion on it whatsoever. When I asked my friends for their take (it was a wild night) there wasn’t a negative view amongst them. In the interest of full disclosure there were a couple of Matrix comments as I tried to explain the green screens.

There’s no denying the skills shortage though, or the training and retention difficulties with millennial employees on green screen legacy applications. You only have to look around the user groups to see that millennials are thin on the ground. If this doesn’t come from an inbuilt repulsion for the mainframe or the i, where does it come from and what can be done?

Our generation were the first to learn tech from childhood en masse. We learnt, but we weren’t taught and this distinction is important and often overlooked. Few of our parents or teachers could use computers before we could. I have fond memories of teaching my mum to use our computer and watching her pick up the mouse and tapping it on the boxy monitor to ‘click’. We are used to a fast pace of technological change, we accept it, adapt to it and have even come to expect it. I will be quite disappointed if in the next ten years I can’t project a browser from my watch down my forearm and eliminate my phone entirely. My mum would not share this view. In fact, I am already dreading the support calls.

So what happens when we enter organisations and are faced with green screen mainframe applications? Contrary to popular belief, the majority of us don’t throw a hissy fit, or spontaneously combust. We try to learn and adapt, but our default technical learning style makes this more difficult. It’s a weakness.

We can’t learn green screen applications instinctively, they just don’t work that way, so we have to be taught. This isn’t how we previously conquered the Tivo box and mastered applications; it’s unchartered territory for us and it jars. It’s like memorising your times tables when you know you’ll have a calculator. You understand the need, but it seems a bit tedious when you know there’s a much quicker way. Training will take longer, morale may be lower, but in isolation it’s unlikely to make anyone leave.

The real problem comes when those same applications force a convoluted path through 100 screens to enter information that could easily fit on one web page. When you spend an hour completing a workflow when a comparable task on your phone takes minutes. This is where frustration builds. Millennials don’t leave because you have a mainframe, millennials leave because the green screen applications are completely at odds with everything we have learned about technology in the last 20 years.

The applications restrict productivity and breed a level of frustration that may not be as acute in previous generations. For people like my mum who were programmed to learn by rote, so much so that she used to write the workflow for eBay purchases or Google searches in a little book, a green screen application is unlikely to build much resentment. She would accept it as something distinct and follow her process. Learning styles have changed, my generation is adaptive; we are problem solvers driven by intuition, but we are not patient.

That’s actually why I love these systems. They are anything but slow; get the emulator right and modernise the UI and ironically you’re left with a millennial nirvana. Performant, robust applications with almost zero downtime. Responsive applications that are accessible instantly on any browser or device with intuitive navigation.

That’s what I help customers do and it’s probably why my opinion of the mainframe is apparently atypical. I work with other millennials to develop these mainframe applications with commodity skillsets using our no code low code software. I don’t see the skills shortage, or the frustration, I just see the power and it’s a beautiful thing.

Rhiannon Dakin

If you’d like to contact Rhiannon, please feel free to connect on LinkedIn, or contact her at Flynet


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