On the rise and loving it

A few months back now, The Sydney Morning Herald's monthly e-mag profiled "30 rising stars under 30". These 30 people, all born in the decade that gave us The Bay City Rollers and "Charlie's Angels", were judged to be "the young people to watch in information, e-business, technology, science and design". Web developers, e-producers, design engineers, start-up junkies, portal managers and programmers - all, as they say, on the up and up.

What can we learn from the young turks? What do they have in common?

First up, we learn that it pays to pack a Y chromosome - there's only seven women in a group of 30 people. That's an imbalance that should be corrected.

Secondly, we learn dress sense. To join this set you'll need skater-shoes (Vans or Converse will suffice), hair gel and a wardrobe of the latest urban colour. What is this month's colour? Let's see: it used to be standard urban black, then grey became the new black, then brown became the new grey, and last I heard hot pink was the new brown. As long as it's new you'll be safe. Admittedly, some of our 30 stars are wearing suits but they look dangerously pre-millennial.

Of course, unwritten dress codes are nothing new to IT. Before many of these stars were born, the archetypal IBM engineer wouldn't have been seen dead in anything but a white, collared shirt. And programmers have always worn whatever they could find among the empty Coke bottles under their desks. The exception was an OS/2 developer I once worked with. He had been imported from England to help build a system for an international bank and he wore a three-piece Savill Row suit to work each day. It was a shabby, crumpled three-piece Savill Row suit but there was no denying its origins.

But the stand-out lesson from these rising stars is not dress sense - it's about what work is for them and how they intend to pursue their visions.

There's a pattern among their responses to the question of an "ideal job". Apart from a few nominations for concert pianist, "benign world president for life", and "organic fruit supervisor at an anarchic nudist colony", the most common response is: "I'm doing it right now". Rob Cumming from chaos-labs goes as far as to claim: "I have the best job in Australia right now - I get to work with my 12 best friends and do whatever we want." Before most of us have figured out what we're doing with our work lives, these people are in their dream jobs.

And they see themselves as the keepers of their destiny - "be prepared to work hard", "never give up", "work really hard", "you can never set your goals too high", "go for it", "if you have the will to succeed, nothing will stop you". The clear message here is that these people have been released into professions that they genuinely love with a "can conquer" attitude. But with all that hard work, is there room for "a life", the very thing that this generation is always exhorting the previous one to "get"?

Asked to list their regrets, even after relatively short careers, there are a few voices out of 30 that acknowledge the damage to personal relationships that a demanding career can cause. But the majority can be paraphrased as "I only wish I had started this sooner." They can't get enough of it.

People working hard, having fun, and making serious money in jobs that they love. Is this some kind of cruel joke?

No, I believe it's the result of watching others - often their parents - chained to jobs they didn't enjoy. Yes, such jobs generate a pay cheque, which feeds the kids and pays off a mortgage, which are important and not to be dismissed, but unfulfilling, dispassionate jobs also kill off joy and inadvertently deny that there could be pleasure in work. What price is some measure of joy from almost half of your waking hours? Somewhere in our shared history we've adopted the belief that work must be a struggle and to expect to enjoy it is to expect too much.

In the 1920 novel Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, the "hero" George Babbitt declares on the last page: "I've never done a single thing I wanted in my whole life! I don't know's I've accomplished anything except just get along."

Our rising stars of IT plan to do a whole lot more than just get along.

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