The following is a guest article from David Parmenter, director of data and engineering at Adobe Document Cloud.
Just when industry adapted to the millennial world of cloud apps and remote collaboration, an even younger generation is coming of age.
Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2010, has never known a world without touchscreens, personalized social feeds and voice-activated assistants. In the same way that millennials are digital natives, Gen Z is quickly earning the title of artificial intelligence (AI) natives.
These 61 million Gen Zers are entering and graduating from college right now — and they're poised to comprise 64% percent of our workforce over the next 10 years. They've got different priorities from the digital-native millenials who preceded them, and they're proposing different kinds of solutions.
Most intriguingly, they come from a highly diverse range of hands-on education and career paths.
But as Gen Z's emerging voices begin to make themselves heard, they're already sparking controversy.
Let's take a closer look at how they see the world — and how their employers and coworkers can expect to adapt as Gen Z gains influence in the workplace.
Repeating debates about millenials
Most of industry has grown tired of hearing the same old refrains about millennial workers: that they're lazy, self-centered and disinterested in career advancement (all of which are demonstrably false).
In fact, many now rely on tools and workflows that digital-native millennials introduced to the workplace. It's hard to believe that just 10 years ago, some of us were skeptical about screen sharing, video calls and cloud documents.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that pundits are now leveling similar accusations against Gen Z. These young entrepreneurs are maligned for being overly dependent on their mobile devices — where, as it happens, they do much of their best work — and, of course, for being lazy and impatient.
The truth, though, is that Gen Z has simply grown up in a world where information is surfaced to them all day, every day — and in many ways, this experience has empowered them. For example, they're far ahead of millennials when it comes to self-educating through online resources like blogging, social media and emergent platforms like Twitch.
Gen Zers are also more likely to seek out college-level courses that train them for real-world skills, rather than passively listening to lectures.
As a result, Gen Zers are following educational and career paths no previous generation could have imagined.
Career pathways for Gen Z are more diverse
It's often said the future belongs to people who can write code. Although that's still true to some extent, the reality is more complex.
Building a mobile app certainly requires coding skill, but apps in all industries are becoming increasingly AI-centric. In the emerging world of AI-centric app development, the ability to reason abstractly and mathematically, rather than hard-coding skill, will be the primary predictor of success.
For example, two summers ago I hired a Gen Z intern who came from a pure mathematics background. He'd never written a line of code in his life and didn't even know what Git was, but he was fascinated by AI and the amazing world of Bayesian probability.
He spent the summer learning to write code — and today he's the CTO of a funded Silicon Valley startup, training AI models for global credit-reporting systems. He's not an isolated case, either. AI-based app development now attracts Gen Z developers from a wide range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.
However a robust team needs not only Gen Z mathematicians, but also experienced coders and PhD-level scientists.
Even so, Gen Z is on to something here. To succeed in the emerging world of AI-centric apps, companies will have to leverage a more diverse range of skill sets and interests than ever before.
And to attract that range of talent, organizations will need to shift more focus to the issues Gen Z cares about most deeply.
Gen Z focuses on privacy, autonomy and meaningful experience
More than any generation before them, Gen Z has grown up with the expectation that their personal data is always under scrutiny unless they actively opt out.
What's more, that personal data is constantly being used to offer them personalized digital experiences and to connect them with people who share similar interests.
This deluge of data has affected Gen Zers in positive and negative ways. On the one hand, they feel an astonishing sense of global connectedness and place a high value on meaningful experiences over material goods — as witnessed in just about every Instagram feed.
At the same time, they express deep concerns about personal autonomy and privacy.
These priorities and concerns carry clear practical implications for any workplace that aims to attract Gen Z talent. A full 77% of Gen Zers surveyed by Forbes reported that "feeling safe" was their top priority in a workplace, while 73% rated work-life balance as the top measure of career success.
They want to make active contributions to projects, but they also want the autonomy to design their own workflows and the freedom to focus on work they feel is meaningful.
The sooner industry begins to act on its understanding of Gen Z's priorities, the more effectively it can leverage their skills and passions to create the new institutions of our emerging AI-centric world.
Gen Z may not quite be AI natives yet, but they're the closest companies have — and they and their successors will lead the revolution that's already underway.