January 11, 2023

We Were Cool People: The Struggle of Finding Expertise in the Digital Age

As someone who has spent four decades in the IT industry, working with giants like Microsoft, Google, IBM, SAP, and AWS, I’ve had the opportunity to see the field evolve and transform over the years. We’ve advanced from the era of mainframes to the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Along this journey, I’ve seen the IT workforce change dramatically.

But let me tell you, the challenges of finding genuine expertise today are more significant than ever before. This isn’t to say that the current generation of workers lacks talent or potential. On the contrary, I believe millennials are the most technologically fluent generation we’ve ever had. However, there seems to be a growing trend of what I call “expertise inflation,” and it’s affecting our ability to build strong, capable teams.

The Illusion of Expertise

The first issue I’d like to address is the illusion of expertise. The internet has democratized knowledge and made learning more accessible than ever. With a quick Google search, one can acquire surface-level understanding on almost any topic. While this is a massive leap forward, it’s also become a double-edged sword.

Millennials, being digital natives, often mistake information for expertise. It’s not uncommon to encounter candidates who present themselves as experts because they’ve taken an online course or two. However, genuine expertise is not just about theoretical knowledge; it’s about experience, understanding nuances, and being able to apply that knowledge in real-world situations. As the saying goes, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

Unrealistic Expectations

Another problem is the prevalence of unrealistic expectations. With the rise of start-up culture and the glamour associated with it, there’s a certain sense of entitlement and impatience that wasn’t as prevalent in previous generations. Many millennials want to become experts overnight and climb the corporate ladder at lightning speed. They want challenging, high-impact roles right off the bat, often disregarding the value of starting small and learning the ropes.

The Skill Gap

Lastly, let’s talk about the infamous skill gap. Despite the abundance of educational resources available today, there’s a significant discrepancy between the skills that are in demand in the IT industry and the ones millennials possess. Universities and online courses struggle to keep up with the rapidly evolving tech landscape, leading to a workforce that’s not fully equipped to meet the needs of the industry.

We Were Cool People

Reflecting back on my early career, we were ‘cool people,’ not because we had instant access to knowledge or because we expected to rise to the top without paying our dues. We were cool because we were willing to start from scratch, make mistakes, learn, and grow. We didn’t pretend to know everything. Instead, we asked questions, sought guidance, and acquired wisdom through experience.

The future of IT is in the hands of the millennial workforce, and I believe they have the potential to surpass us. But to do that, they need to realize that genuine expertise requires time, patience, and a willingness to get their hands dirty. A generation that appreciates this will not only be cool but extraordinarily effective. Let’s redefine what it means to be an expert, together.