Hey, you’re good with technology, can you do this? (being the “young” person in the office)

When you are the “young” person in the office, you may often get assigned numerous odd tasks related to technology. I say “young” because it is always a relative term. Sometimes this may be a convenient excuse to assign you tedious tasks, other times it may come from a lack of technological awareness or competency. The latter was often evidenced when a marketing department would hire an intern to manage their social media while today most companies are hiring full-time specialists for each platform. This may change as time passes (I was in the first generation to grow up with technology) but either way I have learned some valuable lessons from my experiences being the “young” person in the office.

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I have been working in higher education administration for almost ten years and have been shocked to learn how slowly education adapting new technologies. This is likely due to the significant expense, and lack of resources or knowledge (I would assume this is similar for other non-profits but may vary drastically compared to for-profit organizations). There are plenty of tools available and many are specialized for education but they are often cost-prohibitive, require substantial staff support especially during implementation, and rarely work well with other software already being used by the university. Schools are also very concerned about data security and have been slow to adapt for that reason.

Several years ago my school switched to gmail after a very long contract and implementation process, much of which had to do with data security. When it was finally rolled out, the university enlisted members from each department to be Google Guides to help their coworkers adapt to the new program. As someone who already used gmail, it seemed silly to me to train someone to be a Google Guide since it was so simple to me. However, I listed to the questions in those trainings and sat with my colleagues as they were learning the new programs and realized just how necessary Guides were. People had become accustomed to using Outlook and it took several months for the complaints in my office to die out. In that circumstance I wondered then as I have many times before, “how can you not see how much better this is?”

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I would assume the expectations related to technological competency vary greatly by field and as time passes, but to some extent every field has dealt with the generational divides created by emerging technologies. The learning curve for adapting new technologies seems to get steeper as one gets older and this has increased dramatically in the digital era (our grandparents had to adjust to improvements to the printing press while today some wonder how long we’ll need to print things at all). As companies were first adapting digital technologies, there were likely many positions or individual people exempted from adapting because at the time it was seen as unnecessary given that training requires allocation of time and money. But as time passes, the skills that are seen as universally necessary are expanding and the baseline competencies seem to be increasing so this generational divide could narrow.

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As an example, I could see a baseline level knowledge of coding becoming a common job requirement as companies increasingly become more digital. And as someone who doesn’t know much about coding, I think my familiarity with computers allows me to see how important of a skill that is for an employee. And while I think my familiarity with technology will lessen the generational divide, I also think for many companies, they have made a generational excuse out of a problem caused by poor training and failure to believe or invest in their employees. They have relied on an approach that leave it to the new “young” staff members, because sometimes being “young” still doesn’t mean they have the necessary skills to be successful.

As a young professional, my department was implementing a long overdue online application and was beginning to look at new marketing opportunities. Because I was the “young” person, I was tapped to help make updates to the website and help with testing the new website. They hired a marketing agency to plan the campaign but because our office didn’t have a marketing person we didn’t have a plan for ad design or google ad implementation and tracking. They were able to working with university marketing for some basic ad pieces and looked to me as the “young” guy who had a good understanding of this stuff to manage the other pieces. I reached out to other departments across the university to see what I could find out and largely speaking this seemed like something new to most of the university community. My supervisor would ask me for updates and reports with more information to see how things were going despite my insistence that I really lacked expertise in the area. While I could follow directions to place embedded code on the website and monitor traffic, I really needed additional training. I was literally telling my supervisor (and anyone at the university who I thought could help) that I was in over my head and could really use some help and training (none of this was in my job description as is often the case). It was basically the best we could do with the allocated resources when universities are reluctant to spend money on things they haven’t had to in the past and little seen return on investment.

While it was often a frustrating experience, I did learn a lot about organizational management, strategic planning, and technology. I think my willingness to help coworkers with their technology needs, ability to learn new technologies quickly, and candor with the limitations of my abilities allowed me to be successful in my bosses eyes, but I know we had barely scratched the surface and needed more resources to be successful (as I shared probably ad nauseum to everyone who would listen). If you find yourself in a similar position, I would recommend being honest and clear about your abilities so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Had I not been transparent, I could have made myself look like a fool. As I mentioned with changes in expected skills for employment, I encourage people to seek out opportunities to learn about new technologies and skills that can make you more marketable and productive as an employee. Lastly, when in management positions, be attentive to the needs and concerns of your employees to try to prepare for obstacles when strategic planning. Our office knew we had to adapt quickly but wasn’t quite aware of all the potential hurdles.

12 comments

  1. I laughed at your title. I work in a organization that runs out of the Lynch School of Education. I am constantly helping people navigate google drive and canvas. I am also one of the youngest employees in my organization.

    I do not see this as you failing. You were asked to do a task and you did your best. You are willing to learn on the spot and try new things. I agree that managers need to be more aware of the needs of their employees. It seems like your supervisor was the one who failed not supporting you enough.

  2. I found this post extremely relevant. My company has a bit of an older culture, so I help out with formatting everyone’s PowerPoint decks. I know what you’re thinking, PowerPoint isn’t even really a new technology, but I’m the young guy so I’m immediately looped in anyway.

    I think a lot of companies are slow to adopt new technology because they don’t have the expertise in their employee base to have a successful implementation / roll out, or the executives that are making decisions just aren’t aware of new technology and the benefits it could have on their business. When it comes to technology, I think its our generation’s job to influence upward in our organizations. Kudos to you for taking on a task that was uncomfortable and showing progress and a willingness to change your corporate culture.

  3. Great post and very relatable. Good for you for taking on the tasks and giving your best while letting your supervisors know what you are/not capable of doing, which is not easy to do. I believe that it’s really important to invest in employee skills, and passing these tasks always on to the young prevents the older culture from learning, and perhaps even fostering collaboration. My friend who does coding and programming always seems so smart to me and tech savvy, and the fact that I haven’t majored in computer science (as well) makes me feel how much more I could have been attractive to an employer. These computer skills make employees get snatched so easily in our days.

  4. Great post that is very relevant to corporations that are falling behind in the technology/social media trend. As the young intern in the office these past few summers I found myself giving advice on how to better use googledocs or quickly working through excel worksheets. At first it was nice being able to teach my boss a few things, but then I realized a lot of these skills are going to become basic skills and the older generation might need to catch up. I agree that companies should implement training guides on the latest trends and models in order to stay competitive.

  5. My favorite part of this post was your quote about how companies are making a “generational excuse out of a problem caused by poor training and failure to believe or invest in their employees.” That makes a lot sense to me. I recently shadowed a marketing manager and despite some of their advances in technology, I noticed all the employees use IBM ThinkPads, Outlook, and Internet Explorer (gasp!). Perhaps the reason they haven’t switched is because they’re avoiding a situation like you faced with google guides. They also lean on younger people for more advanced stuff. I also don’t think this phenomenon is limited to the workplace. Within families, grandparents will rely on grandchildren to do tech-y stuff for them. They are probably more than capable of understanding the new technology, but can’t or won’t learn it.

    Lastly, your comment about basic tech skills becoming essentially required is so interesting. When I told my dad I’m going to dabble in programming classes, he couldn’t understand why I would need those skills in a marketing department. That stuff used to be left to the IT guys.

  6. Really thought provoking post. I admire your positive attitude in the situation you were put in, and honestly don’t know if I could it myself! Another interesting thing you mentioned was the increased demand for coding skills in different work environments. This seems especially relevant to me considering how many blue collar jobs stand to be replaced all together by AI and other innovations in years to come. These workers will need to be able to adapt to an increasingly digital environment, and basic coding may help them to do so.

  7. As someone who has been in the workforce and in multiple jobs, I can certainly relate to your experience. I do think that there are definitely different levels of technological ineptitude among companies for a multitude of reasons. Some companies (or schools), as you mentioned, are simply unwilling to continue to invest the resources into keeping pace with technology. These places continue to fall further behind and will struggle. Others are well-intentioned with their investment in technology, but don’t fully commit to it and thus can only barely keep pace. Companies that are able to fully commit to staying ahead of the technology curve are the ones that will end up on top. These are the companies that people should want to work for.

  8. I’ve only had one office job as a summer intern last year, and your title was all too relevant to many of the tasks I was assigned. I feel like in a lot of instances older people in the office have zero interest in learning about how social media can help them in many ways and would rather just pass stuff onto to the “younger” people because we already understand social media. I’ve even had my mom call me from work to ask me about some social media thing that came up during her workday because she was embarrassed to ask her younger coworkers about what they meant

  9. Nice post. It is becoming increasingly important to stay up to date with new technology platforms and software in order to be successful in our career and be able to stay on top of things. Probably in a couple of decades, coding will be a necessary skill for any job description, and as the “young” person we should take up on the challenge of having a steep learning curve at the beginning of our careers. Even those people who are no longer the young person in the department should be eager to learn how to use technology, or otherwise, their skill set might become obsolete in the near future.

    It is common to see that very companies realize that they have to invest in technology but they fail to realize that those systems are going to be run by employees that require the necessary training in order to use the technology efficiently. Investing technology without investing in human capital is just the same as wasting resources because they new systems are more likely to bring more issue if the staff does not know how to maintain and use new tools in the workplace.

  10. Nice post and well done with how you handled that project. Your post serves as a good tool and reference point for what to do when put in a situation like that and how to avoid putting others in situations like that. While I’ve never personally been asked to do stuff like that in an office type setting, I’m constantly asked by my family and friends to help them out with their technology problems. When I tell them that I study information systems, a lot of them immediately jump to the conclusion that I’m an IT person and they think I can fix their computer or figure out what’s broken when it’s not working. While I have been able to help them in the past, that’s simply just been by troubleshooting what seems to be the problem on Google. I’d be in way over my head on that type of stuff but I still at least make an effort because it’s easier than telling them no. If I was in an office setting, I bet I’d have an even more difficult time saying no and it would probably be an even tougher task to complete. I definitely have to keep your advice in the back of my mind and avoid taking on too many unknowns as I enter the workforce. Thanks for sharing!

  11. A great post that I think many of us can relate to. In my own internship experience this past summer, I found that the program people needed the most help with was Excel. In fact, there was an employee that had been with the company for over forty-eight years who needed my help organizing a spreadsheet. It is interesting to hear stories about how previously in the workplace, they would use simple technology like a typewriter. I cannot imagine how much more inefficient businesses must have been during this time. How can you say no to someone who needs help with technology, even if it means you have to stay later? I found this post extremely relatable.

  12. Great post. My issue is when my family asks me all the tech question. My response is always, “have you tried Googling it first?” Teach someone to fish…

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