It was privilege once again to be able to speak to students at the IT Leadership Academy program at Naugatuck Valley Community College. A show of hands indicated that about 20% of the students had some familiarity with Linux. Michael Mino, the program director, had provided a laptop with Red Hat Linux to each of the seven school groups so they could learn more about it. After my talk the students broke into groups and I looked over the shoulder of some of them to see what they were doing. One student was using Red Hat and I asked him how it was going. "I am figuring out how to use it", he said. The point is that he didn’t have a reference manual, had never been to a class, and didn’t need to ask any questions. He was just "figuring it out."
That is how kids are. They just figure things out. They grew up playing Nintendo games that dwarf most computer applications in complexity. Some people say that Linux is harder to use than Windows or that Linux is just plain too hard. Not to the kids.
What we consider esoteric or even bizarre our kids consider normal. When we think of an insurance agent we think of a person. They think of a Java applet that runs on the Internet finding the optimum deal for insurance coverage. When we think of opening a bank account we might think of sitting in front of a desk while someone is filling out a form. They think of “click here to open an account”. When we hear someone say they had a chat with a friend we are thinking of them doing so in person and the kids are thinking of instant messaging on the Internet. When the kids talk about Kazaa or SimCity, we don’t even know what they are talking about.
There is so much we can learn from the kids. They represent the way e-business is going to be. I recommend to CEO’s and CIO’s that they hire a student for a few afternoons a week and make it their job to review the company web site and look for things that you can’t do. There are plenty of them. Listen to the students; ask for their suggestions. They think about things differently – like most of your customers are beginning to think.