For many years, I have had the privilege of being on the Board of Advisors for the MS-MIS Program at Florida International University, otherwise known as FIU.  I’ve always enjoyed being part of a group of leaders collaborating with professors in shaping the IT curricula for the workforce of the future. Being in a university setting is so invigorating. Campus life is always teeming with energy and possibilities.  It makes you reminisce about your college days and that’s always fun to do.

In addition to making you feel energetic, did you know that college campuses across the country give you a sneak peak into the future?  They do.  The Board meetings for FIU were obviously held at their main campus.  From the beginning I made a habit of getting to the campus an hour or two before the meeting and just immerse myself in the campus life.  By now, you know that I like to observe people and things.  So at the FIU campus I was like a kid in a  candy store.  My favorite place to hangout was the cafeteria.  You remember the cafeteria back in your day, right?  That’s where the students are having fun, and studying and having great conversations with one another and just plain relaxing.  

At the time, I was already intrigued with Millennials and trying to come to terms with their unfamiliarity.  One day, as I was sitting in the cafeteria, I saw a student join his friend and tell him he had recorded his last class. The friend gave him a high 5  and quickly began to upload the file to his Apple MacBook.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the friend had cut class and was uploading the recording to catch up with the lesson when he had a chance. As I saw that,  it dawned on me that today’s students had so much technology available to them that the entire campus life of a student would probably be very different than when I went to school. Back then, students had no PCs, cell phones, smartphones, IPods, IPads, and the list goes on. When you cut class you had to rely on the bad notes your friend made during class. Or worse yet, his or her bad penmanship.  It wasn’t worth the bother. We still did it but it really wasn’t worth it sometimes.

I started wondering how the technology departments on college campuses were coping with the technology the students were bringing in and trying to connect to their network.  Where years before the campus could probably control the devices coming in, it appeared as I looked around the cafeteria that the days of control were gone.  The students’ usage and comfort with technology were probably driving a lot of change in the way the school managed and dealt with technology.

My visits to the campus took on new meaning because I knew that whatever the students were using and doing with technology on campus would automatically follow them into the workplace when they found jobs.  I made it a point to talk at length to the technology folks at the school.  Whenever I’d bump into a technology person from other campuses at some local function, I’d talk to them. I was curious to learn about their challenges and the issues and problems they faced with such a highly tech savvy student body.   The answer was universal:  the students kept them on their toes.  Controlling the technology was also difficult because many of the students were so tech savvy that they knew how to get around rules. The answer many times was to work collaboratively with the student body or a committee made up of students to find a solution that worked for both sides.

As Millennials slowly entered the team, I understood what the campus technology groups had to face everyday.  Instead of creating an environment of friction, of  ”us vs. them”, I had some tried and true techniques that the university technology teams applied on campus and tweaked it to fit the corporate campus.   The fact that I was able to observe college students in their natural habitat helped me prepare for what was to come when they came to work.

As more Millennials enter the workplace, I think technology leaders would get a lot out of spending a day at a local campus or their kid’s campus. Walk around, go to the cafeteria, attend a class, enter the dorms.  Watch the technology and more importantly, watch how they use it.  It will open your eyes and hopefully open your mind to the future of work.  The students of today are not like those of yesteryear.  They are tech savvy and their expectations and usage of technology in the workplace are high and in today’s wired world, this should not be a surprise to anyone.  But strangely enough, it continues to be.

I have a solution to that, though.  In addition to having a “bring your child to work day”, why don’t we institute a “bring your CIO to school day”?    I guarantee it will be, well, er,  educational  …