We’re going to take a short break from our usual techno/gadget/software blog posts and talk about a topic that’s come up a few times in discussions both at home and at work. But first…
I’ve never really felt like I fit in anywhere. I know, I know what you’re saying as you read that. I can hear the exasperated sigh from this side of the screen. My story goes a little deeper than that though.
I’m originally from a small town called Rockford, Illinois, about 80 miles north of Chicago. I was 2 when my parents moved back to PA, so I only have faint memories of the big corn field that was behind my parents’ house there. It actually doesn’t really matter though, because we could have been from Canada, England, wherever. The point is we weren’t from the town we moved into.
When my parents moved into the house I grew up in, we were pretty much immediately branded as outcasts. See, my Dad was working for GE’s Aerospace division (what is now Lockheed-Martin), and they were the ones who moved us back from Rockford. Well, once people got wind of that, that explained why “we were so different from everyone else”. Not only were we from out-of-state (hilarious, because both my parents lived most of their lives in PA), we were taking away jobs from local people who “deserved” those jobs at GE. There were a few people in the neighborhood I got along with, but for the most part, we didn’t really interact with anyone there.
This continued into primary school. I was pretty much immediately branded a nerd and geek and every other derogatory term 8 year olds can come up with. Kids are real jerks to each other, and the memories are still very much real in my head these days. I unfortunately picked up most of my grandfather’s photographic memory, so much of those early years I can replay pretty easily given the right circumstances and focus.
Reality sets in
At one point, around 7th grade, I realized school really didn’t matter. Gasp, horrors, I know. My teacher assigned us some BS assignment to “research the career path you want to take” because you know, at the age of 12, you know exactly what you want to do when you grow up (to the 5 people who did – good for you. You’re the outliers.) I thought I wanted to be a chef, so I researched away. What I came away with profoundly changed me: school really doesn’t matter (oh, I also didn’t like cooking that much). In the long run, the only thing anybody cares about is what you’ve experienced, and what you’re going to do for them.
This naturally led to me starting to slide, but my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Dooling(sp?), she saw through me and read me like a cheap romance novel. She did her homework, and pulled all my standardized test scores. She took me aside after my 8th grade scores came in, and she said “Matt, you know something? You’re smarter than all these other kids here. I’ve got years of tests here that show it. You could be at the top of the class. But that doesn’t interest you, does it? You better get your act together.”
I don’t know if she was right or not. To be honest I like taking standardized tests. They have a certain rhythm about them, and once you find that rhythm, you can pretty easily manipulate them. One thing that she was right about was I needed a focus. But really, school wasn’t going to be it.
I skated through high school, where my earlier suspicions that school doesn’t matter became clearer. I did the whole “honor program” crap that no one really cared about in hindsight. The only reason I dealt with it is it was the only way to get into AP courses, which actually held “real” value in the form of college credit. “You’re telling me I can get done with this school crap sooner if I do this? Ok, sounds like a plan to me.” The only real thing I walked away with was a love for technology, which led me to college.
College was what I felt high school should have been. The classes were challenging, the material seemed relevant enough, and the people seemed interesting. I finally connected with a group of people who I felt really cared, were genuinely good people, and didn’t judge me for my oddball attitude towards life.
Still though, while college was probably the most pertinent education I had since reading and writing and arithmetic, I still felt like I would’ve learned what I learned on my own. And for the most part I did, in dorm rooms with friends late at night churning away on some dream project that never culminated into anything, but allowed us to teethe on technology.
During college was when September 11th happened. Soon afterwards, the IT industry bubble burst, and I was thinking “What the heck am I gonna do with this degree when I get out?” Unemployment in the IT sector was in the double digits, with people 20+ years of experience over me clamouring for the same jobs I was going for.
I am not generation Y
I had come to the conclusion during college that the era of my parents was over. There was no guaranteed job for me coming out of school just because I went to college. My mother at the time was pushing me to continue on to my Master’s degree, at which point we had a large argument about the future and how I felt they were wrong. In hindsight that was probably the only argument I ever won with my mother, and it was a “long-term” win for sure.
The only way I was going to make something of myself was to work extra hard, have a bunch of irons in the fire, and continuously evaluate each one of them to see which one was glowing brightest. I knew technology was becoming interconnected, and during college I had read about the work being done at MIT with touch and wearable tech. So when I caught wind of Apple making an “iPhone”, and that it would run OS X, I started learning OS X development. Shortly thereafter, the iPhone launched, and well the rest is history.
The road to get here though was extremely rocky. To this day I’m still owed money by old freelance clients, got shafted plenty of times, worked for some real assholes, and learned a bunch about how the world works. I also met a lot of great, smart, talented individuals who I keep in touch with to this day.
What kills me is, after all this hard work, dedication, reinventing myself from a hardware IT professional, to a web software developer, to a desktop/mobile software developer working with low-level programming languages, that I then get branded as Generation Y: the entitled generation.
The first time I heard the term I had to go look it up. I knew the term Generation X of course. That was the generation after my parents, born in the 60s & 70s. Generation Y apparently falls on the late 70s and 80s kids. We’re riding the coat tails of our parents, the Baby Boomers. We think we’re entitled to jobs because we went to college. We crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s. So where’s my signing bonus? Where’s my $50k – 70k a year paycheck?
Wait, what? You’re kidding, right? My generation really can’t be like that. They read history, about the steel workers, the car manufacturers, the dotCom burst, right? There’s no way.
Then I read letters like this one: Why I stopped following my dream and gave up teaching. And I just gag. So you thought that just because YOU REALLY LOVED SOMETHING that you would have the opportunity to ply your trade? Hold on, let me introduce you to at least a dozen people I know who are examples of that not happening.
Hey guys and gals of my era, here’s a piece of free advice: get over yourselves. Our parents, and our Generation X forebears, screwed us over. The house down payment is the new wedding ring, thanks to our parents. You’re not going to find a job easily because our parents outsourced them all to China, India, etc. So wise up, stiffen your lip, and put on your game face.
I really, really hope that isn’t necessary though. I hope there’s a silent majority of us Generation Y’ers who are just heads down, working their butts off to make something of themselves, because that’s the only way this United States is going to keep going. I just have to hope, because I really don’t fit in to “Generation Y” .