As a millennial entering the workforce, Amy Jackson had an enviable array of experiences under her belt.
While earning multiple degrees from Michigan State University, Jackson worked as an intern in the operations department of a large insurance company, helping to identify how technology could improve day-to-day business processes. She spent time at a large automaker, charged with similar responsibilities, and she delved into online search and Web technologies while interning at small, 25-person digital marketing shop.
Exposure to IT life in both large and small organizations pointed Jackson toward the track she wanted to take after graduating with a B.A. in marketing, a B.S. in retailing and a minor in IT management. While the fast-moving pace and camaraderie of a small, youthful culture held appeal, Jackson opted instead for a well-defined career path at a traditional company. Her reasoning? That route would provide the broadest exposure across both technology and the business.
"Based on my internship experience, going with a large corporation was something I wanted to do right out of the gate," says Jackson, 27, who took a service specialist position within IT at Dow Chemical upon graduation, and now, five years later, serves as a business analyst there. "I felt it could give me the most breadth of experiences in a shorter period of time, and there was so much room to grow."
Some might find it surprising than an IT up-and-comer like Jackson was drawn in by such old-school trappings as a clear career path, mentoring by seasoned leaders or formalized training programs. These were often sought-after benefits for past generations of IT professionals, but millennials' affinity for better work/life balance and indifference to the corporate hierarchy seem better aligned with the free-wheeling atmosphere of a high-tech startup.
No doubt, the free food and drink, dog-friendly workspaces and on-site workout facilities synonymous with high-tech startup life are highly seductive to millennial IT job seekers. But even all-night coding bashes, direct access to the executive brain trust and the ability to wear multiple hats aren't enough carrot for some twenty-something IT workers, who prefer the stability and structure of an established organization over a startup's continuous upheaval.
"A traditional company lays out its organizational and hierarchical structure so the person coming in has a pretty defined path and knows the roles, responsibilities and positions that can be achieved within the organization," says Marshall Oldham, director of recruiting for TEKsystems, a provider of IT staffing and talent management services. "If you're the type of person who likes to have some clarity and vision in terms of what it takes to move up, then it's the right way to go."
By the same token, recent grads who are attracted to constant change or feel a need to blaze their own trail are prime candidates for startup life. "Startups work well for those people who don't mind juggling responsibilities and who find uncertainty exciting as opposed to causing them stress and anxiety," Oldham says. "It boils down to an individual decision, and it's different for everyone."
For Jackson, Dow Chemical (one of Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT) presented the opportunity to gain global exposure and learn the ropes of a wide-ranging business. Currently immersed on a team of 12 IT and business specialists located in different countries, Jackson has had to hone her communications skills and learn how to collaborate and manage projects with colleagues spread across different time zones.
Not only has Jackson gained exposure to technology deployments in different geographic areas, she's also had a crash course in the operations of the various functional areas of Dow's business. Another benefit of working for an established behemoth: Her team is able to plan and implement the various business strategies within the context of a mature IT infrastructure. "I've learned so much about the technology needs of people whether they are in finance or the supply chain and how they are different across the business," she explains. "Maybe there's not as much focus on starting from square one, but you have the opportunity to do continuous improvement."
Audra Hovick, 29, came to General Mills as a programmer/analyst right out of college in 2007, a virtual hire plucked from Waldorf College, a small private institution in Iowa. Part of the attraction was familiarity with a brand she cherished her whole life (General Mills likewise is a Best Place to Work designee), but there was also the opportunity to take part in the packaged food giant's rotational program, which allowed her to move among various positions within IT.
During her tenure, Hovick has held five positions at General Mills, including a business analyst role in supply chain operations, a stint in finance working on an international accounts payable rollout and program management posts supporting both IT and sales and marketing. "As I've ramped up knowledge of what we do at General Mills, how IT works and what I'm good at, I've been able to quickly transition into other roles," Hovick says. "In seven years, I've gotten exposure to the broad spectrum of what the company does, and there is so much more."
Another great aspect of a large-company experience is the ability to work with multiple generations, not just millennial peers, which tends to be the makeup of smaller startups, Hovick says. "The age diversity is really cool here," she says. "You get to work with people who have been here for a really long time, and they see value learning from young leaders as well."