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On Millennials and Special Snowflakes

January 1, 2014 in Musings

I’m really sick and tired of all the boomer and gen X tsk tsk-ing those dreaded me-first millennials. All of these articles, which you’ve no doubt seen by now, follow a similar pattern:

  • Start with a reference to “too much praise” and too much emphasis on self-esteem. Bonus points if the writer mentions “everyone gets a trophy”
  • Then the writer lays down the hammer! And writes as if they’ve stumbled upon some grand discovery! “You’re no special snowflake” indeed.
  • Cue up some old-school expressions of insecurity that the writer mistakes for “tough love.” Back in my day, grown-ups rubbed our faces in our own failure. And we loved it! It was character building!
  • Add in some almost too revealing subtext of bitterness upon entering middle age while accomplishing zilch in the writer’s lifetime. Which, of course, has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the writer’s irrational jealousy of a whole generation of kids. NOTHING AT ALL, I SAY.
  • Add a sprinkling of cherry-picked facts to support the argument. Because I said so, that’s why. ZOMG, millenials will sic their parents on you when they fail!
  • Get off my lawn!

The most heinous example of this was David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, who stupidly masturbated to his own self-importance at a high school commencement address, wagging his finger and telling them all about the BIG SCARY REAL WORLD and how “they’re not special!” Contrary to what many commentators may have written, this is not some refreshing new phenomenon, and I remember it well – adults who couldn’t get over their own failures trying to cut us down to size to help them cope with their own failures, insecurities and underachievement. We’re afraid that the next generation may show us up, so we better chop them down while there’s still time.

There’s a lot to be said about how middle class values have evolved over the decades, evolving from working class, blue collar families to white collar workers looking to get ahead. At every single stage, with every hand-off from the preceding generation, the new kids were always told to a.) get an education so they could improve upon the older generation b.) follow their dreams, unlike their elders, who didn’t have that luxury and c.) marry for love, not settle for whoever happens to be around. In the boomer generation, that means improving upon your parents farming or blue collar background. In the “gen x” days, it meant bettering your parents service jobs or blue collar history.

And now it means… what, exactly? Seriously, if the whole “improve on your parents outcome” has been completely baked into every facet of society, what did we expect out of this current crop of kids? Pretty much everyone with some means has gone to college and worked in the white collar world their entire post-education lives. And now, with a present and future of very limited growth, the world is an extremely competitive place, rife with fear, loathing and self-doubt, which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Parents are hell-bent on making sure their kids “get ahead”, so they enroll their kids in every competitive sport, spend exorbitant amounts of money to send their kids to the best public schools, enroll them in art and music programs, and push them into every extra-curricular thing they can afford. The archetype of the millenials’ parents is not the coddling, always-praising sunshine pumper, it’s the tiger mom. And the implicit message to the kids is, “you had better succeed. You cannot fail – you’re our only hope to maintain our status. And we will do *anything* to protect that hard-fought status.”

I call outright BS on the special snowflake business. That’s not the problem. They’ve been taught since they were plucked from a crib to go to art class that this is a hyper-competitive world in ways that it never was before. I do not understand how anyone can look at the lives of young adults who came of age in the 90’s and 00’s and come away with the impression that they didn’t face enough consequences of losing. They faced those consequences quite often, thank you very much – from the first time they learned they weren’t in the G&T classes, to the first time they didn’t make a sports team, to the times their teams, in whatever activity, didn’t win. There is now an unprecedented pressure on the middle class, not to mention baked-in anxiety of of falling down the status pole, with many people from below trying to rise up to the “American Dream.” Then add to that the stories shared by parents about that other kid/cousin/neighbor down the street who’s accomplished some amazing thing, evoking pangs of anxiety and jealousy from their kids. To magnify that effect, there’s now social media with its pervasive humble braggers to drive home the point that you’re a loser, baby, and no special snowflake. The pressure on millennials is about performing up to higher standards, achieving perfection, and making the impossible possible.

There’s an interesting psychological concept that manifests itself in particularly pernicious ways as society becomes more taxed by inequality. People tend to focus on those who are above them in status, which means that they don’t even notice those who are lower in status. The result is that the more successful you are, the more elusive success becomes, due to the goalposts of success always being in motion. You don’t notice those peers you’ve just joined – only those who are at a level above you. So, parents who may have started from modest roots never quite appreciate the distance they’ve traveled, and this class anxiety transfers seamlessly to their progeny. And that anxiety, and how they deal with it, explains many of the complaints you hear about millennials.

I don’t think millennials think they’re special snowflakes. I think they’re scared shitless that they’re losing. The era of lowered expectations means that everything they’ve been told when they were growing up is a complete lie. There is no attainable success – it’s always elusive, just beyond your grasp. Having established that, forgive them if, frankly, they don’t feel the need to jump through your horseshit hoops because, ultimately, it doesn’t really amount to anything substantial. Forgive them if they’d rather pursue their wild-ass dreams instead of whatever you think they *should* be doing. Whenever I read articles full of free, unsolicited “advice” for millennials, I’m reminded of my med-school friends who told me about the horrors of 36-hour shifts. When I asked them why they continued this practice despite its obvious potential for failure, their response was simple: because their predecessors had to go through it, it was only “fair” that this next crop go through the same self-abuse. Lather, rinse, repeat. Got that? It’s not about better results, it’s about equal suffering. So no, I don’t think millennials are a blight on humanity. In fact, I think they’re our best hope for a sane, future work-life balance.

Because they, more than most, understand that our current systems of blind obeisance to fascistic organizations should not be a mandatory rite-of-passage that everyone follow. Rather, we should seriously analyze how we got where we are, study the results of our current systems, and if need be, either reform them or start over. Don’t fight the millennials – pay attention to what they have to say.

 

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The Business of Open Source

March 4, 2013 in Musings, tinosc, Twitter

As the Gluster Community Lead, I deal with quite a number of moving parts on a daily basis: mailing lists, web sites, groups of volunteers, workshop schedules, budgets and team members. As we go through our community restructuring (more detail on that Real Soon Now), it occurred to me that managing a large open source community looks a lot like any other upper level management or executive role. I am ultimately responsible for determining strategic direction, writing a business plan that marshalls the resources in pursuit of that strategic direction, winning over support and resources to implement said strategy, and then executing on a plan to reach the strategic goals. It’s part sales job, part taskmaster, part cheerleader, and part captain of the ship.

Gone are the days when managing a community meant taking a low-risk job with low expectations. These days, leading a community comes with deliverables and a ton of responsibility, as well as the sense that you are directly responsible for future revenue and sales. Hey, no pressure! And if you screw it up, your employer and/or the community you represent takes a public hit to the face, sometimes at the hands of an angry mob. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this job for the world. I’m not complaining, just cognizant of how important community leadership has become over the years. Really, it’s very much in line with running a startup, except without having to deal with VCs.

It didn’t used to be that way. For most companies, the community guy was an afterthought, some guy you paid less than your other people to look after some forums and keep the web site running. And even then, there was a good chance that executives above you didn’t see the point of your existence, not understanding why they couldn’t just toss the code over the wall and “let the community take care of it.” If you were lucky, you got a small budget for web site design or maybe to buy some adwords keywords. Now, those executives who didn’t get it are usually no longer with the company, or if they are, they’re not so far removed from you in the org chart. And chances are, there are enough people around who understand what you’re doing without your having to explain it to them over and over again. Now, we have budgets that rival many other departments – all because of one thing: if a company invests in an open source community, it is strategically important. Now, there are many more companies who understand the leverage game, as in, if you have the leading technology in a given area, your leverage increases significantly. And one of the best ways to win leverage? Show leadership in an open source community.

Look around you – open source communities are used by companies to make a statement and put themselves on the map. Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and many others use open source participation as a means to several ends, including recruiting, employee retention, industry disruption and coalition building (frenemies FTW!)

This is the way business is conducted now, and it’s a far cry from when I started. While the risks are greater, it’s especially gratifying to be an equal at the adult table.

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Zou Bisou, Bisou

March 26, 2012 in Musings

The instant classic party scene from Mad Men’s season 5 debut:

Zou Bisou, Bisou

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Gotta Love a Band that Understands the Interactive Web

January 31, 2009 in Musings

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2008 Election Results Google Gadget

November 4, 2008 in Musings

2008 Election Results from Google

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10 Survival Tips for the Modern Wageslave

June 3, 2008 in Musings

When it comes to developing career and business sense, I must confess to being not simply a late bloomer and a laggard, but a complete imbecile for most of my adult life. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to take career development more seriously. And what was the catalyst for that? Why, the birth of a child, of course.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things that I’ll share here. In case you’re wondering, I don’t or haven’t done all of these, but I regret not doing some of them and will incorporate the rest now and in the future. However, I will mention that I’ve used many of these tips to triple my earnings in 4 years. Also, I’ve wanted to write this article for some time now, and it is the accumulation of knowledge gathered from my experience at several companies, not just one or two.

Furthermore, while this is tailored for a tech worker audience, much of it applies across many industries.

  1. ABL == Always Be Looking. If you’re not looking for your next gig right at this moment, then you’re an idiot. Few things are certain in our modern globalized world, except for death, taxes, and reductions in force. In an uncertain world, you can be fairly certain that your current job is probably not your last. We didn’t create this short-term-live-and-die-by-stock-price world, but we usually suffer as a result of it. Better, then, to be prepared because we know not the day nor the hour. Besides, you never know when you’ll spot a better job than the one you currently have. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.
  2. Loyalty is for family. Some companies foster an environment that encourages an us vs. them mentality and puts undue emphasis on loyalty. Of course, it’s great for the company, because it means employees are less likely to leave. Would that this loyalty were a 2-way street, but jobs are removed if the company surmizes that they don’t add to the bottom line. Whether or not you agree with the principle of this is immaterial; what matters is that it happens, and you shouldn’t let things get to that point. By being too loyal to your company, you wind up being disloyal to those who matter most – your immediate family.
  3. Always have an updated resume posted in a public forum. This ties in to #1, above. You never know who will peruse your web site, and you don’t want to miss a great opportunity. Some people take down their resume when they’re not between jobs. This is silly – if you’re not looking for work, you can let people know that *after* they’ve contacted you. Posting an updated resume online lets you continue to build out your network to prepare for your next job change.
  4. Be more visible. If your job isn’t what is called “outward-facing” or “outbound” then chances are the only people who know what you do are those who work with you at your company. This is a problem because it shifts the balance of power in your work relationship much too far to the side of your employer. This is why you need to take up external projects visible to the outside world. Do you blog? Do you participate in non-profits? Conferences? You absolutely should. And if your employer complains about moonlighting, then you needto look for work immediately. Remember, your employer is not going to be there paying for your mortgage if you are laid off.
  5. If you go to work in the morning unprepared to leave by that afternoon, then you’re not listening :)  Always be mindful of the possibility that today could be your last at company foo.
  6. Build your online brand with a web site. In this era of fluid networks and connections, everyone is a brand. Some of you may not like such language, so use a term you find more amenable. Build a web site somewhere and put everything you do there – your work, your hobbies, your thoughts, and anything else that gives people an in-depth look at you. Granted, there are some topics you’ll need to avoid out of common sense – better to not include anything that could be interpreted as hate speech, for example. Also, it’s better if you do this on a site you own, not someone else’s blogging or social media site. More on that next.
  7. Increase the strength of links to your site. The reason having your own site is important is that if you put everything on, to use one example, facebook, without creating links that point back to your main site, then you give all your link power to facebook. Better to have your canonical web site and then syndicate your content on multiple blogging engines, social profiles, bookmarking sites, etc. With multiple sites pointing to your page, your page rank increases substantially. And just to be really on the ball, have your friends link to your stuff, too. This is much much easier to do if you have complete control over your web site and content.
  8. Do you write? Writing articles or even blog posts for prominent web pages will do much for your page rank, assuming you can get all of them to link to your site. Of course, this sort of activity also does wonders for your credibility and name recognition, so you should do it anyway, even if you don’t get any return links.
  9. Track yourself. Have you googled yourself lately? You might think it’s vain. It might be, but it also shows how popular your links are. There are also tools like trackur.com which supposedly can alert you when new content about you is posted somewhere online. I haven’t used the latter, but I google my name frequently to see what shows up.
  10. Manage your site with an eye towards SEO. If certain keywords or buzzwords are relevant, make sure they’re embedded in your page for Google’s spiders to eat. The more ‘buzzworthy’ the content on your site, the more likely it is to get indexed and be higher in the search results. Caveat: the buzzwords you include nedd to be relevant, or else some search engines will penalize you. You really, really don’t want that.

And, as a special bonus just for you

11. I find certain social networking tools extraordinarily useful for the purpose of business networking. LinkedIn is especially useful for all things biz networking – and not just job-searching! So Link to me here :)  I find Twitter useful as well, assuming they can fix their scaling issues. Twitter is useful because I find out what all my peers are doing and get hot tips on trends. You can follow me here.

In summary, here’s the deal: it’s a big scary world out there and nobody’s looking out for you. so you’d better take matters into your own hands and minimize future risk. You do this by being visible and maximizing your web presence so that you’re easy for others to find.

I hope you find this useful!