The startup scene here in the SF Bay area is so big right now. Investment money is available and there are so many smart and driven kids (I call them kids) that are trying to change the world and be their own boss. It’s definitely a professional decision: trying to do something different because you have the smarts to execute. But I would argue it’s also partially a lifestyle decision: not wanting to enter the hell that is the corporate machine because it can only suck the lifeblood out of your creativity and sense of purpose.
I went on an interview last week at a smaller company– which one would assume would mean that it has the fervor of being a startup. And… fail. Part of it is location in the South Bay portion of the Bay Area. Most startups these days are located in the Peninsula or in the SOMA region of SF. It feels exciting. And perhaps I’m biased because I grew up in the South Bay but whereas South Bay just feels run down and static, the Peninsula and SF feels alive and new. You see hipsters and artists and ad people and it just envelopes you in the excitement.
But part of my eh about the experience was that the company just felt OLD. I can’t even really explain it but I left feeling underenthused about the company– whereas I have to admit the product itself was pretty cool.
Now, I’m no spring chicken myself and if anything, I am heading down the road of being considered old myself. But I would imagine that this is one reason young people will go out of their way not to work at standard, old school companies (though admittedly a job is a job) in pursuit of something fresh and vibrant a la joining a less than stable but fun startup. The people you work with inevitably impact your experience of work, nay– of life. And when you have to go in to work everyday and work alongside people whose mentalities and perspectives hit their prime and stopped evolving past 1999– you kinda just don’t want it. I don’t know how else to say it. You feel gray hairs springing out of your scalp with every passing minute and you want to flee before it further sucks away any more of your youthful vigor.
I know that I dog on my last job a lot but this is exactly how I felt there. I forget how much I have shared about the company– I have certainly not named it. But suffice it to say it was a technology company, we’ll say hardware, that hit its prime 5-10 years ago. Stepping in the company felt like stepping back in time. I was dying a little bit everyday. And what was worse is that the people that were managers, that were safest because of tenure, were the worst employees, like EVER. Any new person took a look at the job trajectory, the leadership, the environment and probably said “no thanks.” I have heard of people leaving this company after just a few months of working here. It was so bad.
Now, I feel like I must interject here and say that there is totally a value to experience. People that have worked in big organizations, who have earned their way up the totem pole and provide oversight and leadership: yes, they are valuable and ought to lead up new ventures. I don’t think that this isn’t true. So I’m not saying that young people should rule the world b/c there is something lacking in perspective and patience when it comes to newer employees.
But on the flip side, there is something so… ugh… so soul killing reporting to people who are stuck in old school mentality. Who talk about the importance of social media to a business while not ever having touched Facebook or Twitter. Who talk about the technology’s ability to change the world! and then turn back to resume typing a letter on a typewriter (well not really– but some version of this exists. Take for example the recruiter that told me that ecommerce didn’t stand a chance of surviving while screening me for a job… at an online technology company! Die a slow but inevitable death, dinosaur old tech company. Go away so that I can resume playing around on my iPad.)
I once talked to a hiring manager for a Bay Area company (with satellite offices) that is now revitalizing what they offer their B2B (as well as B2C) clients. He asked me if I was moderately good at PPT and then said, “I want to see something that will knock my socks off!” Oh my god. I bet he was wearing suspenders and eating soft taffy while he was saying that. And/or rubbing BenGay into his joints.
And yes, I acknowledge that I’m being totally ageist in my comments. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that young people today don’t want to work with old people. Better? Ok, probably not. Rephrase: young people are surrounded by possibilities. They are academically smarter than previous generations. I think this is a fact. They are more savvy and comfortable with technology and all the potential it implies. I believe that this is fact. Because of what they have experienced growing up (DVR, ubiquitous connectivity) they are impatient and efficient and see limitless possibilities to the world and what can happen. Being slotted with older individuals who may or may not be windbags, tech-ignorant and/or just plain not with the program: it kills. I mean really, it kills.