Booming with a Gen X

By Johanne Lavallee | STC Member and Joanne Vidal

Their names are Joanne and Johanne. Joanne is a Baby Boomer from Australia living in Quebec City, Canada. Johanne is a Generation Xer from Quebec who got her education in Ontario, Canada. Joanne (the Boomer) was working for a manufacturer of traffic signaling equipment such as variable message signs and arrow signs. The company sells a lot to Australia, so her background was most helpful. The company was growing fast and that’s how Johanne came in to work with Joanne.

Emptying my social stereotypes bag

Working with a Baby Boomer was a precious experience. I used to be ageist. Working with Joanne helped me find out I just have issues with what past generations left us, not necessarily Baby Boomers. Joanne has issues with past generations, too! It made me realize that women Boomers don’t fit the stereotypes (ambitious, self-gratifying, and career-centric) attributed to Boomer men.

I came to my current company and found Joanne as the reference on our products. She had amazing social skills and knew a lot about how the company behaves, about everybody’s background. I liked her right away. Since I was a full-time, permanent employee and she was a contractor, I had the responsibility of managing our documentation team. Joanne did not seem to mind. I would take care of the admin and she would take care of me! She would warn me about how to behave with certain managers. She would teach me about our product’s quirks. I would assign us the work.

We built this knowledge exchange relationship. She was an excellent reviewer in English; I had to get this done in French. So we helped each other with vocabulary in both languages. She knew a lot about our products and had excellent writing skills, and I helped her with technical writing tools and the more technical side of using Word.

My mom is almost a Boomer (1944), so after a while, I started drawing parallels. My mom used her age to say she could not learn anymore. Totally untrue! One time she visited a friend who had just gotten an iPad, and she told me in one minute how it worked and her impressions, so I kept referring to that whenever my mom used the age excuse. I knew that it was a question of interest. How could I keep Joanne interested?

One day Joanne decided to leave because she had too much work outside the company. I managed OK, I kept a contractor translator for a while and made it, but I really missed Joanne and I missed her company, too. Thanks to her, I can see myself in 20 years and be optimistic, because we got along so well. I just hope Millennials will treat me well.

The one thing I would recommend is to really listen to their needs, because someone more experienced in life than you are is perfectly capable of telling you what she needs. Just listen and ask questions until you understand completely.

Forget about articles on working with Baby Boomers; women are different. Most of them have had more than one career, they are loyal and hard-working but not really self-gratifying and career-oriented as much as men.

Another thing to remember is the words we choose. We don’t all use words the same way. Sometimes someone uses a word and it has a completely different meaning to you. It was not the case with Joanne, but my mom and her friends have a completely different set of definitions!

Joanne’s story

I’ve never really liked the term Baby Boomer. I can’t see the point of labeling groups of young people, as if they all came out of a mold somewhere. We all grow and change and shape our lives in what we like to think is our way.

This is how I saw/see working with Johanne. We came together in an industrial factory setting, i.e. strongly male-centred and sexist. Even the company president, a woman, was known by her male nickname. I kept telling myself that my colleagues were nice men (and they are!) and that their hypermasculinity was just a mask. I knew that if I got affronted or came across as a lady, then I would not last long in the job.

When Johanne arrived, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that she was right for the company. She has a much more technology-appropriate skillset than me. I could write but she has a better understanding of what manufacturing the product involves.

Show me how to do it and I will learn!

Johanne’s arrival put me into a very insecure state. She was permanent and I was freelance. She was, dare I say it, younger and, very importantly, quick and totally at ease with all the authoring software.

But she was not at ease with her new work environment. I resented what I perceived as her assumption that I was too old to learn. It had to come to a head, and it did. It says a lot for her that we managed to talk it all out and reach a place where we could work well together.

I eventually moved on and she stayed but we still work together and she is often the needle in my side to get me moving on new things, like this article and the Spectrum conference. The Jo(h)annes are still a team and the respect is mutual. We both continue to learn, challenge conformity, and keep inquiring and open minds as we move onward to new adventures.


The Jo(h)annes have been keeping in touch, having lunch, Skyping. Joanne is a grandmother of a boy almost the same age as Johanne’s son and she gives good advice to Johanne. She also has a lot of daylilies to share. They share many values! Four years after working together, in April 2016, they decided to go to STC Rochester’s Spectrum conference. They both enjoyed and got a lot out of the conference. Joanne got useful information about freelance work. Johanne got inspired to become more involved with STC. They both have fond memories of Finger Lakes, barbecue ribs, and talking back to that car GPS.

JOHANNE LAVALLÉE works at Signalisation Ver-Mac in Quebec, Canada, a manufacturer of portable intelligent traffic control solutions and equipment. She has spoken at LavaCon 2015 and Spectrum 2016. She is now secretary on STC Rochester’s council and volunteers for Technical Writers Without Borders.

JOANNE VIDAL is currently a freelance editor of academic papers and a French-to-English translator. She is curious about all aspects of life and living, and has a love of languages and people. She attended Spectrum 2016 and was impressed by the quality of the gathering.

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