In a recent article, we introduced you to our WashingtonExec series about the youngest government contractors in our industry, the Millennials. We also highlighted some of the common misconceptions about this generation and profiled one Millennial — Branko Primetica — who is breaking the mold by carving out his own success story at eGlobalTech.
Our next Millennial Maverick is Brian Conn, an Associate Systems Architect at SRA International. In his role, Brian designs and develops software, and he has also helped SRA with software system architecture, educational game design, server administration, and other technical tasks.
Brian graduated from MIT in 2013 with a double major in math and physics, as well as double minors in economics and business. However, during his junior year, he became interested in software development. That was the year he took an 8-month internship at SRA and launched his government contracting career.
Now, Brian is a full-time government contractor whose passion for technology spills into his free time as well. Outside of work, he enjoys creating web applications and contributing to the open source community. He also moonlights with a startup after hours and on the weekends.
WashingtonExec: When you think about the Millennial generation, what comes to mind? What positive and negative stereotypes surround Millennials, and are these stereotypes warranted?
Brian Conn: When I think of Millennials, I think of the Internet. Our entire generation has been defined by the technology that has evolved during our lifetimes. I also think of job hopping. Older generations tended to find careers, while Millennials find jobs. I think both these stereotypes are warranted, and each has its own pros and cons.
WashingtonExec: What do you think are the biggest differences between Millennials and other generations – professionally and personally? What sets Millennials apart?
Brian Conn: I think the biggest difference between Millennials and other generations is the emphasis on skills, not knowledge. Before our generation, knowledge was gained mostly through education and the more knowledge someone had, the more qualified they were. These days everyone has access to a vast amount of information on the Internet. The knowledge playing field has been leveled, so skills and experience are what differentiate Millennials. We can already see the change in emphasis through the transformation in secondary education that is currently happening.
WashingtonExec: What were your expectations when you first entered the workforce? What were your fears?
Brian Conn: Honestly, my biggest fear was that I was unqualified. My education had very little to do with what I was doing; I knew nothing of the business world, and I expected everyone else to know what they were doing. I quickly found that others had more experience than me, but we were all learning new things along the way. That has led me to learn with my coworkers as much as from them.
WashingtonExec: How have technology, the economy, the recession, American culture and other generational factors affected your outlook on life and the workplace as a Millennial?
Brian Conn: I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was a little disappointing to find out that most people are learning as they go and that they can make mistakes that have very real impacts like the recession. On the other hand, it’s very exciting to know I’m on the same level as everyone else. I can build software, create startups, and be successful just as much as anyone else. The thought has been very freeing and has increased my drive drastically over the past year.
WashingtonExec: Describe a significant experience you’ve had in the workplace with someone outside the Millennials generation. Was the interaction positive or negative, and what did it tell you about different generations of people working together?
Brian Conn: SRA tends to have an older workforce with set expectations on how fast business and software development can move. I also work in an environment where 5, 10, or 15 years of experience is required to “be experienced” in something. I grew up surrounded by information, so I instead developed learning skills instead of “knowing” skills. That means I am able to push the pace and learn new things quickly, often surprising older, less flexible members of older generations.
WashingtonExec: What’s most important to you in life? Do you think your ideals as a Millennial are similar or different to those of a Baby Boomer, Gen-Xer or other generation? If you could be part of a different generation, which would you choose and why?
Brian Conn: The most important thing to me is having the freedom and ability to create. I enjoy creating and using software and hope that software I create is used by and helps others. Of course it would be great to have one of my programs “make it big”, but the most important thing to me to love what I do. I spend way too much of my life doing it not to. There isn’t another generation that I would rather be a part of than the Millennials.
WashingtonExec: How do you most often get your news?
Brian Conn: I don’t read much news (usually tech news), but when I do it is from the Internet. Usually social media sites such as Reddit or Facebook.
WashingtonExec: What are your thoughts on Millennials with respect to home ownership and finances? Are Millennials more likely to rent or buy a home? For example, a recent Yahoo! article on Millennials shared Trulia survey results that suggest Millennials don’t save enough to buy a home, and often rely on the bank of “mom and dad” for a down payment.
Brian Conn: I think Millennials have a lot of financial problems as a whole, and those problems stem both directly and indirectly from two sources: personal responsibility and our parents’ generation. First, I think Millennials have grown up in a time when personal responsibility hasn’t been as much of a focus. There haven’t been any times in our lives when “everyone had to chip in” like the depression or the World Wars. We’ve been able to get by relying on our parents the whole way.
The other problem is that our parents let us do just that. With the rising costs of college education, many Millennials have immense debt when they are first starting out. I think the increase of debt when starting a job means that many Millennials don’t have the capital to own a home. Financial responsibility after getting a job isn’t the problem; secondary education is.