Generation Next or Generation Y in technical communications

Upon reading my recent request to hear from Gen Next in tech comm, Julian Ramirez answered my call and wrote an excellent essay reflecting up on his experiences. He’s in his first technical communication job, working for Dee Elling, whom I interviewed about wikis and tech pubs. Thanks Julian, for offering your perspective. You may even inspire me to write a similar essay from my Generation X perspective.

Julian, take it away:

Here is a (not too brief) autobiography of my life so far growing up as a Next Gen’er to provide some personal background and an introduction to my generation:

In 1984 I came bursting on the scene, born to two loving parents in northern california. As a kid growing up I played Nintendo on a color TV and ate microwaved popcorn. I was about two years too late for Atari, I’ve never known black and white television.

In elementary school my dad bought our first computer, it was an old DOS machine that my brother and I would play Reader Rabbit on, I’m actually not sure if it was used for anything else. It used floppy disks and my dad had to write out the DOS commands onto a sheet of paper so my brother and I could start the game on our own. In 1993 we upgraded to a Macintosh Color Classic that I would occasionally use to write reports for school. Nintendo had better games though so I didn’t care much about the computer. When my family and I visited my grandmother in San Jose I would always gaze at the Adobe Towers standing tall alongside the other large buildings. I never thought that the Adobe I read about in the news could be headquartered in the town grandma lived in, there must’ve been some other San Jose somewhere, Adobe just had their name on those towers as a kind of odd billboard-type ad. The tech-bubble was growing and it seemed like all the news talked about was the latest young millionaire.

It was when I started high school in 1998 that I believe things got interesting for genY. School papers went from being optionally typed to required and my parents bought a new computer to replace our aging mac. The new computer came with a cd for some ISP, my parents signed up and I discovered the internet. At school my friends and I all had AIM and email accounts by the end of freshman year. Our parents had the Summer of Love, we had Napster and free music. Through high school I saw many of my friends’ parents get divorced, I bought my first stock, saw Y2K come and go, and the government kill our beloved Napster. The news would report on the dangers of online chat rooms and dangerous websites but us kids had already developed a cyber common sense. Towards the end of high school Wikipedia started taking off and the internet was cited in more and more school papers. Cliff notes were replaced with SparkNotes.com and my history class was online. The human genome was sequenced and the Twin Towers fell.

In college genY continued our love affair with technology. I joined friendster and facebook (back when it was still college only) and just for good measure MySpace, Bebo, and Xanga. Kazaa became popular and it seemed like everyone had Photoshop. We ditched landlines and went with cell-phones, felt guilty when we couldn’t recycle, and the library was where you went to get peace and quiet, rarely ever to actually check out a book. Smart drugs and other pharmaceuticals started showing up more and more at the college party scene. Jobs started getting outsourced to India and China, some of the same ones that we were hoping to get out of school. We weren’t that surprised by it, we grew up with “Made in China” printed on all our toys, this new outsourcing wasn’t all that different. After reading Dilbert for years and hearing about our parents getting laid off we cynically looked outsourcing as just another step that corporations will do to save a buck, the individual be damned. iPods and their white headphones became ubiquitous on campus with the question *which* one you had and not *if* you had one.

My degree is in bioinformatics, the study of data from high-throughput biological experiments, it is a multi-discplinary science that combines mathematics, engineering, and biology. It’s also a degree that could only exist today, my university had only just approved the curriculum one year before I came and it’s still only offered at a few schools. I chose it because it combines my two favorite topics, biology and technology. I took many of the standard computer science classes, learned Java with Borland’s J-BuilderX and was taught object-oriented programming right from day 1.

Almost one year ago exactly I started working my first real job. Many of my friends had already graduated and after taking some time off were starting their job hunt. I had one class remaining but decided to join them in the job hunt because the class was only offered in winter quarter and so I had about 6 months to kill. My first job was at Codegear where I worked as a technical writer few months before transitioning to my current position as documentation build engineer.

You interviewed my manager Dee Elling also about a year ago who I greatly enjoy working with in the pubs department. Despite my odd background in bioinformatics I’ve been finding it to be a very relevant degree. In bioinformatics one of our focuses is in developing tools to help researchers, as the documentation build engineer I get to use the same mindset to develop tools for our writers. Dee and I both love wikis and we’ve been working to combine her experience in documentation with my experience as being a “digital native” to experiment with new solutions to improve the quality of the help systems for our customers often using new web technology.

Oddly enough despite being a “digital native”, beta-holic and near web2.0 fanatic I haven’t been very vocal in the professional community yet. Next Geners are very aware that anything we say online lasts forever and can easily be found with just one Google search. I’ve been spending much of this past year just trying to get up to speed in the professional world and to figure out who’s who. I want to make sure that when I start talking it can be taken seriously and not just written off as some kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I heard this point-of-view echoed by many of my friends in several different fields also.

5 Comments

  • Melissa Burpo
    June 18, 2008 - 11:53 am | Permalink

    As a member of the XY Cusp generation (I was born in 1979) and as a second year tech writer, I completely identify with Julian’s conclusion – I also want to take time and make sure that I know what I’m talking about before I commit my words to the web. Of course, I’m on the fence about which potential professional hazard is worst: having no web presence at all or saying something unfounded that will linger on the web forever.

  • June 20, 2008 - 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Gen-Xer and while I should know about everything on the web lasting perpetually I still speak my mind. When I look up an old email address in Google I stumble upon ancient posts in some music listservs I once read. Do Gen-Yers know about listservs? The early days of the big-I Internet.

    While I believe in the value of education, I know I would have had more fun in school had there been courses like Bioinformatics way back when. I think we earn our education so many different ways, and a degree is only one representation of that paying of the dues. Plus, the present-day preoccupation with academic credentials when hunting for a job frustrates me, because many organizations filter candidates out for their lack of credentials rather than comparing those candidates to others with relevant experience.

    Fortunately for me I have a constantly evolving web presence. I posted a bit about finding my current career in my own blog, which I started just after meeting Anne and others at a conference. I’m pretty sure my web activites helped to encourage forward-thinking employers to consider my services in the absence of a specific piece of paper. Some even commented that they thought I’d cost too much (a comment I didn’t expect).

  • July 3, 2008 - 9:02 am | Permalink

    I liked this essay and share many of the same memories. I grew up with *slightly* less technology than that (my family didn’t buy a PC until 1996 when I was in 6th grade), but I used computers at school ever since kindergarten. I had a Super Nintendo in elementary school, and that was high-tech and loads of fun. I think my first email address had a 14 in it (since I was 14 at the time), but no one knew it and I think I had it until I graduated high school. I didn’t have a cell phone until my senior year too.

    I typed a lot of papers in middle and high school, but I never learned PowerPoint until college, when I needed to learn all the Microsoft and Adobe software for my Technical and Professional Communication major. I don’t know what I’d do without all that software now.

    The world has changed A LOT in the past 10 years since I was 13. I can’t live without my cell phone/PDA (no land-line), I’m constantly checking my email and Facebook, I got my current job partly because of my online portfolio/website, and I work at a software company.

    I think, though, that I had just the right mix of low-tech and high-tech in my life. Kids now start playing computer games and talking on cell phones way too early and I think they miss out on slower things in life. I guess many older people would say the same about me, too.

  • July 3, 2008 - 10:10 am | Permalink

    Hi Tony – what an interesting response to your web activity… I have the opposite concern, which is, I have a master’s degree but I don’t want potential employers to think I’d be priced out of their range.

    Thanks for your note, Laura! I like that you and Julian probably represent the full range of the generation with Julian being the early technology adopter and your experience being a little bit slower, perhaps. As a parent of a 4-year-old and a 20-month-old, I have been constantly balancing how much technology they’re exposed to – both at home and at school, and it’s no easy task. :) Thanks for sharing!

  • July 7, 2008 - 2:33 am | Permalink

    @ Anne – That comment came out of left field. Something to the effect of, “we may be able to use your higher end skills on a contract basis…” I wouldn’t turn the work away if it ever came to that. But two years later, I’m still waiting. ;-)

    I honestly don’t think I look expensive. Of course, while I’d like to be paid well for my work I often work for free or less because the project is interesting, or tugs my heart strings. You know how that goes.

    Hey, thanks again to your influence, I’ve got my bloglines up and running. Much more accessible than Google Reader. Nice.

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