The information infrastructure of the last thirty years has primarily been built on the backs of the Baby Boomer generation.
From microcomputers to minicomputers, from servers to PCs, and from tape drives to disk drives, the plumbing for the internet was essentially created during the Boomer generation’s prime earning years.
The four horsemen of the internet (Sun, Oracle, Cisco, and EMC) employed and advanced the careers of thousands of Boomers both during and after the dot com boom.
Many Boomers are wondering if their run in high-tech is over.
As they approach retirement age they are witnessing the rise of the most technology-savvy digital natives in the history of humankind. Is there any way for Baby Boomers to compete with a generation that has been completely immersed in technology since birth?
The answer is an unequivocal yes.
There are two important dynamics that can still tilt the odds in the Boomer’s direction: certification and reverse innovation.
The first dynamic is the relative lack of university curriculum that addresses the explosive growth of digital information. Browse the course offerings at any Computer or Information Science department and count how many courses address the critical topic of information storage.
There aren’t many.
Of the four horsemen, perhaps no technology company is sitting as pretty as EMC. The information storage company has diversified its product portfolio to include information security, cloud backup, document management, and information compliance (to name just a few). Most college grads, however, lack the basic training in key information technologies such as snap copy, replication, deduplication, and virtualization.
This levels the playing field for those old dogs that are still willing to try a new trick: certification in information storage technologies. EMC’s Gina Minks explains:
“There is a critical lack of skilled storage professionals. This is a big problem, given exponential data growth, ever-increasing business and regulatory requirements for data retention, and the widening array of devices that generate information. Poorly designed and/or managed infrastructures put all of that data at risk. Certification programs, such as the EMC Proven Professional program, are a formal validation of storage expertise. The program provides instruction and hands-on practice for individuals interested in learning about everything required to plan, deploy, manage and leverage an information infrastructure.”
Minks goes on to explain that different levels of certification can address different types of job offerings:
“High-tech enthusiasts can sign up for ‘open’ certification (which focuses on all segments of information and storage management) or they can focus on EMC-specific certification. There are three levels of certification for all tracks that are based on a person’s ability: Associate, Specialist, and Expert. Whether they take the open track or they focus on EMC technologies, certifications can open many doors during the job seeking process.”
In fact, employers that can’t find qualified candidates will often send new employees to certification programs in order to train them more quickly. Certified professionals have already self-organized and formed “Proven Professional” groups on LinkedIn (over two thousand certified professionals are currently members of this group).
The lack of extensive university training won’t last forever.
EMC itself has bumped up against this problem as part of its own hiring needs. They’ve begun to partner with hundreds of academic institutions as part of the EMC Academic Alliance. The window is still open, however, for Boomers that want to work through a certification program.
The second dynamic in favor of continued Boomer high-tech employment is the global phenomenon known as reverse innovation. For the last twenty years large corporations have strategically planted R&D centers in developing countries to take advantage of cheap labor rates. Boomers once again played a large role in the creation of these “off-shore” locations. In many cases they built strong working relationships with their foreign counterparts, and learned how to conduct business with different cultures. Innovation was often created in the US and a portion of the work was transferred overseas.
In 2010 reverse innovation is taking place.
The global R&D centers are creating products for developing markets and exporting the new products back to the US. This situation places a very high value on those US employees that are experienced in the transfer of high-tech product specifications and collaborative development.
When it comes to this type of international high-tech collaboration, Boomers are preferred. Distributed development teams are complex and difficult to manage efficiently; experienced Boomers can add value by drawing on their previous experiences.
In the short term, the iPod-toting, cell-phone using, Facebook-savvy all-digital generation does not necessarily have the advantage when it comes to tech jobs. Boomers can still work hard at understanding the information plumbing of the internet. They can continue to leverage their international experiences.
And they can start to tweet about it. All the way to retirement.
Steve Todd is an EMC Distinguished Engineer currently in his third decade of building high-tech products for the information storage industry. Along the way his inventions have generated billions of dollars in revenue and over 150 patents and patents pending. Steve is the author of Innovate With Influence, a book describing his career journey from college co-op to corporate, global intrapreneur. Steve writes about technology on his personal blog, the Information Playground.
"Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$!", airs tonight, March 4 at 9pm ET on CNBC and will also air Saturday, March 6 at 7pm ET; Sunday, March 7th at 9pm ET; and Monday, March 8th at 8pm ET.