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Silicon Valley's Irrational Ageism
March 24, 2014 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.” And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’ ”
posted by sf2147 (213 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
It always astonishes me how startup culture seems to think it exists in some magical realm where employment law does not exist and they are free to do whatever they want. Why haven't people been suing over things like this? I mean, when a site literally has “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.” wouldn't you pretty much automatically win that lawsuit? And what kind of unprofessional idiot does their HR?
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:41 PM on March 24 [60 favorites]


I'm suspicious that the cultural roots of this is less driven by the idea that "young people are smarter" as much as the idea that "young people are dumber - they'll work more hours for less money and less security and more risk because they don't know better and don't have families yet".
But it wouldn't make sense to say that to the young people. What you say is something that makes them feel good about what you're offering, maybe something like... "Young people are smarter"?
posted by anonymisc at 4:41 PM on March 24 [192 favorites]


You know, as a thirty-something programmer, I am certainly sensitive to this issue and to my own increasingly imminent obsolescence, but I don't think the CEO is the "ageist" in that exchange. I will bet money that that engineer's younger co-workers had attained the age of majority and maintained their own households. His implication that they were not actually adults is just garden-variety disrespectful assholery, not some piercing social insight.
posted by enn at 4:42 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Get off my lawn.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:45 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


My takeaway :

* Keep your skills up-to-date. Don't let yourself get pigeonholed.
* Try to move into management if you can.
* Take care of your body, try to stay young-looking.
* Don't put your graduation date on your resume.
* Every once in a while, drop the earliest job on your resume. If you're managing your career properly, your best jobs will be the most recent. Ain't nobody gonna care about your college summer internship or first job out of college.
* Save your damn money. Don't spend it on useless things or dumb/speculative investments.

That's my strategy anyway. It's worked well so far. Let's check back in a few decades from now and I'll tell you how it all turned out.
posted by evil otto at 4:48 PM on March 24 [22 favorites]


enn: I disagree, based upon having worked for companies where the kidults range in age from early twenties to mid-fifties. Those places can be miserable to work in, if there are too many of those or if they're in decision-making positions.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:48 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


garden-variety disrespectful assholery

Disrespectful to who? The asshole CEO? You get what you give.
posted by MikeMc at 4:49 PM on March 24 [16 favorites]


I'd rather have a functional business plan and be generating positive revenue on a shoestring budget with a bunch of fuddy duddy forty year olds than be in that kind of rat race. With that said, anyone have a cool $1.5MM they want to lend me?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:49 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


His implication that they were not actually adults is just garden-variety disrespectful assholery, not some piercing social insight. Anecdotally, I will say the exact opposite. I am experiencing this now, and have experienced it in the past.

(or what slva just said).
posted by combinatorial explosion at 4:50 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Never trust anyone over 30.

How quaint that seems!
posted by chavenet at 4:54 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


It always astonishes me how startup culture seems to think it exists in some magical realm where employment law does not exist and they are free to do whatever they want. Why haven't people been suing over things like this? I mean, when a site literally has “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.” wouldn't you pretty much automatically win that lawsuit? And what kind of unprofessional idiot does their HR?

Because then you become The Guy Who Sued His Boss and that is not only totally not cool within the realm of would-be future millionaires, that's also a good way to ensure you never work in that town again. The startup world talks like any other small community. I get referrals for jobs from people I worked with at startups 7 years ago and haven't talked to since just because I was a cool dude when we worked together. It's not even the SMALL companies, either, there's a suit going on about collusion between big companies like Apple and Google to not poach each other's talent. Good luck working on the West Coast ever again if you file that suit.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:54 PM on March 24 [15 favorites]


“Young people are just smarter,”

Translation: They are cheaper, easier to exploit and are naive enough for us to keep them in their place and by the time they finally clue in, we'll dump them...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:54 PM on March 24 [40 favorites]


Disrespectful to who?

To his co-workers, obviously.

enn: I disagree, based upon having worked for companies where the kidults range in age from early twenties to mid-fifties. Those places can be miserable to work in, if there are too many of those or if they're in decision-making positions.

The context makes it very clear that he was deriding their age specifically, not their judgement, inexperience, or lack of skill.
posted by enn at 4:54 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


"Young people are just smarter,”

Fun to beat, easy to cheat.
posted by valkane at 4:55 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


I just recently turned 30, and sometimes literally cringe at the thought of how ignorant I was 5 years ago. Go back further, and I want to fight that guy. The utter devaluation of experience is depressing.

Then again, I didn't find a way to monetize pseudo-anonymous sexts, so maybe I am the wrong guy to talk to.
posted by Dark Messiah at 4:56 PM on March 24 [28 favorites]


Good luck working on the West Coast ever again if you file that suit.

The people who file the early lawsuits always seem to pay a really high personal price, but if the tech industry is as egregious on this issue as is claimed it'll take a couple of expensive court battles before it changes.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:58 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I gather the other end of this is that everyone's supposed to be a retired millionaire by the time they're 40, so anybody still in the workforce at that age can be treated with open contempt.
posted by anazgnos at 5:01 PM on March 24 [31 favorites]


His implication that they were not actually adults is just garden-variety disrespectful assholery, not some piercing social insight.

No it's broader than that. The corporate perks, like the meals and laundry service and the haircuts and whatever go hand in hand with an infantilization of Generation Y, perhaps partially self imposed, but especially common in this industry.

I'm a twenty-something programmer in SF, and I'll tell you that it's not just the tech companies. Look at the hot new real estate projects looking to attract tech industry millennials (meaning a one-bedroom starts at $3.5K). They offer swanky club lounges, gyms, coffee and pastries in the morning, group outings like chartered ski trips to Tahoe, refrigerated storage to receive your grocery deliveries, and all sorts of other goodies. Basically, they offer a high-rise (and high rent) version of all the amenities a modern college dorm provides.

There's a real question about why we're choosing to live like this. Sure, it's convenient and fun, but there's something very wrong here too.
posted by zachlipton at 5:02 PM on March 24 [48 favorites]


That's probably a huge part of what's going on, yes. Who knows if one of the other 22-year olds is the future founder of a billion dollar company? The 45-year old is likely not.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 5:03 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Is at least some of this based on the technology and ways of thinking changing so dramatically in even the last five years of the industry? I mean (and caveat I'm no expert), if you were to post up a job description like "Be very proficient in NoSQL, Hadoop, Haskell, Rails, large scale data processing, extreme cloud scalability" or whatever, that immediately sounds like the kind of stuff that older generations just didn't have to deal with, and younger generations come to the field intuitively understanding that they'll have to get deep into. Granted, a good worker is one that adapts and constantly learns. But maybe there is something to the idea that younger people simply have more malleable skillsets in an explosively changing environment.
posted by naju at 5:04 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


I'm 35 and if I met myself at any point prior to the age of about 30 I would throw myself through a fucking window. In five years I will likely send myself back in time to kill me as I am typing this com
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:08 PM on March 24 [283 favorites]


I remember working at a company that had been a startup but was later bought by a Fortune 500 company you know (hint: they probably do your paycheck). I was a tech writer and older than the rest by a bit. We teleconferenced with our colleagues on the west coast (not California) and I remember one of the kids saying "How can they be that old and still be tech writers?" and going on to say that she herself would be in management by that age, with the implication that any worker worth their salt would be.

This was 15 years ago and not in a tech hotspot, either. I'm halfway through the article and not a word of it surprises me. Peers of the kids who worked with me then are the people making decisions now.
posted by immlass at 5:10 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


I've known a lot of older people who are very good, certainly better than me; but I've also known a lot of older people who learned C++ twenty years ago, have grudgingly picked up Java or C#, and now resent the implication that they should learn anything new. I think that part of the problem is that hiring a younger person can be less of a crapshoot because, if they're obstinate and moderately anti-social, at least they're in the process of fossilizing into something that's current, at least right now.

It's also worth noting that the hothouse start-up culture is not the only environment you can work in, in tech; it's a choice, as much as working in quant analysis on Wall Street or mouldering in the bowels of some god-forsaken AS/400 shop in Toledo.

That said, the best programmer I know is about 45 and frightens me with his intellect.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:10 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Previously
posted by surplus at 5:10 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


But maybe there is something to the idea that younger people simply have more malleable skillsets in an explosively changing environment.

It doesn't work that way; remember, currently employed 30-40 year olds are not off on C# Island or something; they're (we're) using Rails and Hadoop and NoSql so forth in production, too.

Cognitive elasticity is a job requirement in this field, but it's not the exclusive purview of people in their twenties.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 5:11 PM on March 24 [38 favorites]


That said, the best programmer I know is about 45 and frightens me with his intellect.

Seriously. Easily one of the most incredible pieces of high-performance C++ code I saw was written by someone in their 50s.
posted by spiderskull at 5:12 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


I'm so glad that I don't live in California and do live somewhere where you're not looked on as an oddity for being old enough to remember the 80's. I work in a software shop right now where the ages range from 21 into the sixties and age doesn't seem to be an issue.

It is a challenge to keep up thought, you really have to love learning new tech or you'll be behind within a few years. I'm currently having to learn Ruby, Cucumber, Capybara, MongoDB and a bunch of other stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 5:15 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Look at the hot new real estate projects looking to attract tech industry millennials (meaning a one-bedroom starts at $3.5K). They offer swanky club lounges, gyms, coffee and pastries in the morning, group outings like chartered ski trips to Tahoe, refrigerated storage to receive your grocery deliveries, and all sorts of other goodies. Basically, they offer a high-rise (and high rent) version of all the amenities a modern college dorm provides.

Well, suburban real estate promotion has been one curated Stepford family sales pitch since the 60's. Buy a perfect house, with a perfect lawn, and perfect neighbours one after another. We'll all golf together, go to this perfect park together, and we'll even put up a gate to keep the poor and minorities away!

It's all superficial, but I don't really understand why people buying juvenile fun in their 20's is much different than buying the impression of a perfect family in your 30's, or those bizarro golden age condo projects in your 70's. None of it is real.
posted by rutabega at 5:16 PM on March 24 [18 favorites]


mr. zuckerberg, if old people (i'm 58) are really dumber than young people, why are the younger people disproportionately uploading all their intimate details to your social spyware network?
posted by bruce at 5:16 PM on March 24 [40 favorites]


zachlipton, presumably whatever campus-style perks his coworkers had, the quoted engineer also had.

Like I said, I'm not arguing with the larger thesis that there is a toxic culture in Silicon Valley of looking for cheap, inexperienced workers with few commitments who can be induced to work ridiculous hours and put up with a lot of bullshit.

Even though I'm far from Silicon Valley (in large part specifically because of that culture) in a tech market where the up-or-out thing is less pronounced, it's still definitely present and I am constantly thinking about alternative careers or other bail-out options for the day when I am too old to remain employable in this field.

But attacking young workers for being young is going after the wrong target.
posted by enn at 5:18 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Remember when Circuit City fired all of their senior sales staff and went out of business?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:19 PM on March 24 [18 favorites]


As was explained to me in the opposite context many years ago, it is completely legal to be ageist in your hiring. I found this out when, as a 21 year old service technician I walked into the lobby of my employer's client to be confronted with a sign like this (paraphrasing, since it's been a long time):
At $BIG_LAUNDRY_COMPANY we do not hire people under the age of 24, because we prefer employees who come to us with an established level of maturity and experience. If you're under 24 please come back to us when you've got some more experience. For your information this policy is completely legal, as age is not a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, and we are free to hire whoever we prefer.
Oddly, it didn't seem to bother them at all that I was doing critical and rather technical service work for them.

I naturally vowed that I'd never work for them, and actually arranged to minimize my visits to their facility. They are, by all accounts, a great place to work for, but even today at the age of 50 I wouldn't work for them if the only alternative was saying welcome to Wal-Mart a thousand times a day.
posted by localroger at 5:21 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


localroger, actually age is a protected class, but only for people over 40. Cite.
posted by enn at 5:23 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


Well, $BIG_LAUNDRY_COMPANY isn't discriminating against people over 40, so they're golden, ain't they?
posted by localroger at 5:25 PM on March 24


If a programmer is any good — even if they come into your shop cold, knowing only what they can look up on the Internet about your language and framework — in six months they'll be as good as your best person.

Let's not even get into how 20 years experience isn't as important as the right degree.

Not that I'm bitter…
posted by ob1quixote at 5:26 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


But yeah, they weren't breaking the law, and I guess the tech startups actually technically are. This doesn't exactly make me feel smug as I wait to have my cardiac stress test tomorrow.
posted by localroger at 5:26 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Of course young people actually are smarter, on average, by the means we have of quantifying intelligence—which is also tied in to the network of privilege and other -isms that usually causes people to face discrimination in the workforce. I agree that ageism is a problem but exactly because it's been a recognized problem for some time now you'd think we might be at the point where articles about it could investigate whether it's at all tied to the other sorts of rampant discrimination our society abets or question whether the "dedication to meritocracy" of this industry is real at all in the first place.

Like, does the 73¢ on the dollar thing for women work out better or worse in Silicon Valley or the general tech industry than it does in our wider society? I don't know but my instinct is to suspect it's actually worse.
posted by XMLicious at 5:27 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


So what do these folks do and where do they go after they hit 35 if they didn't make it by then?
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:30 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I'm sitting among moving boxes, waiting for a moving truck to come tomorrow, between a job at a San Francisco startup where I was feeling old at 30 and a job at a company you've heard of (hint: telecom with a one-letter stock symbol) where, you know, maybe I'll learn something from people that have been around the block a few times. Plus higher pay and lower rent. Pay me in money, I'll bring my own snacks. It's the right move.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:30 PM on March 24 [32 favorites]


INT.ARKANSAS HOUSE.DAY

HUSBAND: oh look, bruce is ok, he just updated his facebook status. he's going to the liquor store.

WIFE: again?
posted by bruce at 5:30 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


It used to be, the company hired a young person based upon their potential, and an older person based upon their experience. So now it's only about potential?

So Gattaca is right around the corner, no?
posted by valkane at 5:33 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


I'm suspicious that the cultural roots of this is less driven by the idea that "young people are smarter" as much as the idea that "young people are dumber - they'll work more hours for less money and less security and more risk because they don't know better and don't have families yet".

It's probably a little bit of both. Young people are smarter, at least in the ways that can wow people, AND their inexperience makes them more exploitable.

Because then you become The Guy Who Sued His Boss and that is not only totally not cool within the realm of would-be future millionaires, that's also a good way to ensure you never work in that town again. The startup world talks like any other small community.

There's probably a startup working on a product that mines plaintiffs from workplace discrimination court cases and feeds that into an automated resume-rejection system.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:35 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


So what do these folks do and where do they go after they hit 35 if they didn't make it by then?

Mostly they just work for companies that aren't start-ups. I'm 31, and I'm one of the younger people at my current company.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:35 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I have a friend in his late 40s who's worked in tech in San Francisco for more than 20 years -- he said it's pretty infuriating and gross to feel that he could be put out to pasture at any moment now, a good 15+ years before he ever thought he'd have to start thinking about retirement, no matter how good his work is or has been.

He also says that sometimes he would welcome the excuse to get the hell out of the place that SF has become. A while ago, he told me about one of his 20-something coworkers who had announced, in all seriousness, that he had come up with The Perfect Solution for San Francisco's homeless problem: start a reality show in which homeless people are given temporary housing while they're taught to code. Then, after a certain period of training, they'll go head-to-head in coding battles. The winner gets to keep their housing. The rest of the losers get put back on the street, but with their great coding skills they can now apply for jobs.
posted by scody at 5:40 PM on March 24 [23 favorites]


I'm almost 43. My coworkers range in age from 21 to 35. They don't give me any bullshit about being old, I don't give them any bullshit about being young. Our best programmer was born in 1990, one year after I graduated from high school. That's a weird feeling, but he is talented and deserves his job as much as I deserve mine. I wouldn't want to work someplace that doesn't want me. I get at least ten recruiting voicemails or emails a day. Maybe working in a mid-sized Midwestern city is a lot different than the situation in Silicon Valley. My skills aren't a dime a dozen here.

naju: "I mean (and caveat I'm no expert), if you were to post up a job description like "Be very proficient in NoSQL, Hadoop, Haskell, Rails, large scale data processing, extreme cloud scalability" or whatever, that immediately sounds like the kind of stuff that older generations just didn't have to deal with, and younger generations come to the field intuitively understanding that they'll have to get deep into. Granted, a good worker is one that adapts and constantly learns. But maybe there is something to the idea that younger people simply have more malleable skillsets in an explosively changing environment."

I'm kicking ass and taking names with Rails. Anyone who wants to stay in the game needs to stay sharp. I'm also having a lot of fun. New technologies let me do things easily that would have been a massive pain in the ass when I was younger.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:41 PM on March 24 [12 favorites]


I just went through an interview cycle in the Bay. I met with more than a few startups, and I enjoyed watching their faces when I said 'I have 15 years large-scale database experience.'

The were equally impressed I had an original Nintendo.

In one case I whiteboarded out all the failures they had made in their design, the stopgaps, the work-arounds, all perfectly accommodated with very well known techniques. Normalization people. It is magic.

I got passed over twice, after meetings with the CEO as I was 'too mature for the scale-up mode.'

Sigh, fine. I went to medical industry, which has no such blinders vs. pure-play tech. My interviewing manager was around 50. Not a CEO, no. Big whoop.
posted by mrdaneri at 5:42 PM on March 24 [20 favorites]


I talked to this reporter last summer for hours on the phone and we talked about every instance I'd seen up until that point. Like someone else said upthread, you don't want to be branded as the guy that sues companies over stuff like this, so when the reporter said it was finally published as the cover story I was hoping I wasn't directly quoted or sounding like a pissed off old person shaking my cane at young people.

I told the reporter about the "points system" used in interviews. That came out around 1999-2000 and I recall back then (I was only 27) that my friends and I were joking that on that scale we were like 5-7 points each until a friend (a brilliant programmer still to this day) said his tally was over 35 points on that scale and I realized how awful the culture could be.

I'm the guy he paraphrases that shits on the Outbox service. I remember it was new at the time and I was talking about how every new app seems like something only busy 24 year olds working at Facebook would need (taskrabbit, uber, etc) and I said "have you seen this crazy new snail mail service where people visit your actual mailbox three times a week to scan your mail and it's only five bucks a month?!" because honestly, it's not THAT hard to get mail out of your mailbox once every few days yourself (and I say that as someone that used a centralized service called PayMyBills.com in the late 90s, but it was all automated). I could tell that company was never going to survive and employees of Twitter/Facebook had to be their target market.

Anyway, funny enough now that I'm 41 I've heard a lot more stories and actually experienced it myself several times where someone at a famous tech company emails me out of the blue, says you're the perfect person for a job we have open, we have a great phone call, but when push comes to shove I can't relocate my entire family and whatever offer they had vaporizes. Oh to be 25 again and be able to drop everything and jump at those chances.
posted by mathowie at 5:44 PM on March 24 [39 favorites]


I'm so glad that I don't live in California

Silicon valley is not all of CA.

The tech community in southern California exists, and is much different.

I'm 34, and we've recently hired a couple of people that are older than me. The average age here is probably over 30. We just went from startup to happily acquired.
posted by flaterik at 5:44 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


I was 'too mature for the scale-up mode.'

WTF does that even mean? It sounds like something from a Dilbert strip.
posted by MikeMc at 5:47 PM on March 24 [14 favorites]


Has anyone seen statistics about the portion of tech employment that the Valley (and its wannabes around the world) makes up? The Valley startup culture is a fucked up, narrow world full of cultural horror stories, but it's certainly not the entirety, or even particularly representative of the tech world. Hot startups may not want experienced programmers, but established tech companies frequently love them, especially in this climate of desperate hiring.
posted by fatbird at 5:48 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


double block and bleed: "I'm almost 43. My coworkers ..."

I could have written this paragraph. Except that I also work with a couple guys in their mid 50's and a sixty year old woman.

I don't do much in the IT world anymore, but I've known coders in their 70's and coders in their teens. Experience should be more marketable than it is. Experience should be more quantifiable than it is.
posted by Sphinx at 5:48 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


so Logan's Run was prophesy?
posted by photoslob at 5:50 PM on March 24


Mostly they just work for companies that aren't start-ups. I'm 31, and I'm one of the younger people at my current company.

Bummer. It sounds like you're not on the fast-track to arrogance-of-youth billionaire status (me neither). But here's a little secret, and it's called Happiness Economics.
posted by valkane at 5:50 PM on March 24


Translation: They are cheaper, easier to exploit and are naive enough for us to keep them in their place and by the time they finally clue in, we'll dump them...

..and they get sick less, and don't have kids/grandkids/elderly parents to take care of...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:55 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


I work adjacent to IT and I just turned 30 and I have had a hard time getting jobs due to lack of experience. This thread is surreal.
posted by bleep at 5:59 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Keep your skills up-to-date.

Anyone who wants to stay in the game needs to stay sharp. I'm also having a lot of fun. New technologies let me do things easily that would have been a massive pain in the ass when I was younger.

This is true on one level. It's easier build some kinds of apps than it was in 1995. Or 2000. Or even 2005.

Strangely, though, no matter how much easier Shiny New Platform™ claims to make software development, the assumption seems to be that none of those gains will be readily accessible to people experienced with Older More Difficult Older Platform -- nope, you have to spend years with new stuff in order to reap its gains.

I think this is the closest some less experienced devs can get to recognizing there's this thing that happens where what's popular shifts but the capability gain is somewhere between modest and marginal... and meanwhile, you still do have to invest in the ephemeral arcanum of the moment in order to get stuff done, because your nifty abstractions will either leak or fail to adapt to the problem domain at some point.

And staying "stay sharp" is more or less resigning yourself to the curse of the ephemeral arcanum.

If mastery means 10,000 hours or decades, what does that mean in an industry where an application platform may not live that long?

How do you escape from being a human compiler -- how do you become someone who solves problems instead of someone who transcribes ideas in the language du jour?
posted by weston at 6:05 PM on March 24 [31 favorites]


“Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007.

For real? I mean, I certainly hope so. I've always considered him punch-worthy just on general principles (the moronic grin, the dopey hoodie, the BS product), but for him to say something that abysmally stupid - well, just a good end to a bad day.

If mastery means 10,000 hours or decades, what does that mean in an industry where an application platform may not live that long?


Well asked.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:07 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I think one of the things that is disagreeable about the post-40 crowd is that we have less energy for all sorts of things.

For example, I work for a marketing agency, and out clients are generally SME's with a marketing manager.

I've learned that, basically speaking, anyone with the title "marketing manager" is essentially a jumped-up little tyrant with shit for brains (which is why our technical marketing team is called in to turn things around), but somehow plays the political game really well.

I don't have the energy anymore to deal with these people.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:09 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]


It seems like age is part of it, but also a lot of things that come adjacent to age. I have a feeling that being older is probably a lot less of a handicap if you happen to be, say, an extremely hyperactive 40-year-old with no kids who enjoys working until midnight. Or, well, a male 40-year-old who doesn't mind not actually seeing his kids. It's part of what seems to make things generally more hostile to women. The startup thing expects you to live your work. Some people love that. Other people don't love that. The older you get, the less likely you are to really want that to be your life. But, on the other hand, there are definitely ways to make a living outside the tech thing. I used to wonder why my brother hadn't moved somewhere more urban, but compared to those places, he basically makes an adequate living on half the hours and half the stress and several times the job stability, because his job doesn't try to be sexy.
posted by Sequence at 6:11 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


From a couple weeks ago: Ask Hacker News: What happens to older developers? (There's this nice farm in upstate New York, according to some of the hilarious Twitter responses to this thread that I saw.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:13 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Turns out that Silicon Valley is actually Sugar Mountain, huh?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:14 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


This is ABSOLUTELY true. And, conveniently, just as our culture is starting to age, SCOTUS has made it nearly impossible to sue for age discrimination. If you sue, the burden of proof is extraordinarily high - way higher than it was just 10 years ago.

I have several acquaintances who have been aced out by H1-Bs and age in Silicon Valley. It's a scandal and not a single person has gone to jail for it. What happens is that Company A (like Google did with Reid, the executive it screwed over some years ago, due to his age) will "settle". This is just like what has happened with the banks.

Last, I can vouch that Silicon Valley is now one of the most workplace and socially toxic places I have ever experienced. If this is the future, we need to swiftly evolve past it.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:15 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


If mastery means 10,000 hours or decades, what does that mean in an industry where an application platform may not live that long?

Well, many programmers start young. (I started when I was about 10, and I know others who started as young or younger.) Furthermore, application platforms aren't really something you "master;" you master problem solving, algorithms, and generally the ability to abstract what you're doing. Some people do this better, some worse, but the gist is that mastery is not about whatever the framework du jour may be, but rather a suite of different tools to solve problems.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:17 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I'm 43. With beard, I look 43. Without, mid 30s. You bet I shave or grow my beard depending on the audience I'll have or teams I will be working with at the Silicon Valley company I work for.
posted by davejay at 6:17 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


There's this nice farm in upstate New York

I live on this farm. There is a lot of snow.

How do you escape from being a human compiler?

Metaphor Alert! The successful person at the house-painting company is the one not holding the brush.

I've learned that, basically speaking, anyone with the title "marketing manager" is essentially a jumped-up little tyrant with shit for brains (which is why our technical marketing team is called in to turn things around), but somehow plays the political game really well.

This is SO corporate, it really takes me back. Thanks for the memories.
posted by valkane at 6:25 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


This is SO corporate, it really takes me back

Why I now longer work for any employer with more than 10 employees. The political game sucks, and so do the people who play it.

LinkedIn really is the perfect social media platform for this subculture. So bland, bourgeois, homogeneous, shallow, and obsessed with appearances.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:28 PM on March 24 [12 favorites]


There are some good things about getting older. I miss my red hair, but I'm kinda digging having it turn silver. I don't miss the angst of my teens and twenties at all.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:29 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


The political game sucks.

Amen. And they're terrified of hiring anyone that might actually be smarter than themselves. Which curves back into the main point of this FFP. Really.
posted by valkane at 6:31 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


I used to wonder why my brother hadn't moved somewhere more urban, but compared to those places, he basically makes an adequate living on half the hours and half the stress and several times the job stability, because his job doesn't try to be sexy.

I have sort of hit this point myself. I am 33 but have probably a decade of startup experience if I went back and counted but honestly I am so over the startup scene and I'm at a spot now where I live in a nice but not high cost of living city (until everyone fleeing from San Francisco finishes moving here and driving the rent up, goddammit) and I make enough that we're really comfortable and don't have to do things like "figure out if there's room in the budget for me to go down to San Jose to hang out with my friends tonight." But my career's basically stalled because I'm not going to move to San Francisco and work for $50,000 a year and free snacks in the breakroom, so I'm working on retooling and skilling up for more senior roles.

Nowadays I just laugh when recruiters try to woo me with the whole free soda and beer and working 80 hour weeks pitch because you're offering me less than what I make now for a job that's undemanding and I can do it on my porch. And if I lose this job, my wife's salary's enough to pay the bills and keep us from homelessness rather than my reaction last time I got let go in San Francisco, which was to coolly lay out our savings and expenses and realize if I didn't find something in 3 months, we'd be living on the beach. Because yeah, I could cancel cable, but rent was $1400 a month, the $60 for cable meant jack and shit. (And rent for that place is up $800 a month since we left).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:37 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Ageism in the IT field is everywhere. It's rampant in nearly every industry and every city. As long as it's an IT job then it means only hiring young people and work them to death for below market pay.

I'm sorry but there are limits to things that I will do. I'm older so I have a family, I have hobbies, I have a life. I'm smart enough to know not to throw my life away to some bullshit job that pays me shit wages and expects 60-hour weeks and 24/7 on call.

That means there are lots of jobs that I won't get. But it doesn't need to be the case. IT workers are in demand, but as longs as there's illegal collusion between employers, overabundance of H1-B, and strong government lobbying, employers will completely control the pay and work hours.

It's all about the money. It's not about skills or cognitive decline or any of that bullshit. I've got 30 years experience and not a day goes by that I don't use something that I learned 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. I get paid for one thing only. I learn new technology fast.

I'm over 50 now. I've worked in IT my entire life. (Started in High School). Portland is just as bad as San Francisco and the Bay Area.

For all you "move into management folks" I've been in management. I've been working in upper level IT Management most of my life. Now I have to beg for crappy contracts and feel lucky to get them.

For all the younger naysayers who think they'll be the ones who will strike it rich. Good luck. I feel sorry for you. The culture of ageism is only going to get worse. I feel lucky to have been able to stay in IT into my 50s. I have great skills, but due to ageism I have to beg for every gig I get.
posted by f5seth at 6:37 PM on March 24 [12 favorites]


I never understood this concept of working 16-20 hour days. I work my eight and I'm out. I want to spend time with my kids while they are still kids. I want to spend time with my wife, too.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:38 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]



I'm 35 and if I met myself at any point prior to the age of about 30 I would throw myself through a fucking window. In five years I will likely send myself back in time to kill me as I am typing this com


"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." -- Mark Twain (attributed)

"By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong." -- Charles Wadsworth
 
posted by Herodios at 6:43 PM on March 24 [27 favorites]


Furthermore, application platforms aren't really something you "master;" you master problem solving, algorithms, and generally the ability to abstract what you're doing.

Which is why there are so many more job posts that look like this:

REQUIREMENTS

* general problem solving skills
* search / sorting algorithms
* data structures
* skill building composable abstractions
* familiar with a handful of various programming languages
* math/problem domain knowledge

instead of this:

REQUIREMENTS

* 3+ years experience with Iron Ruby on Grails, BABLESS/SASSY, and HAMLET
* Redis, Sphinx, Memcached, Cheffy, Pomplamoose, grit, Hemingway
* 2+ years experience MongreSQL
* HTML5, CSS3, IcedCoffeeScript Ninja
* high scores on Flappy Bird and 2048

right?
posted by weston at 6:44 PM on March 24 [43 favorites]


I want to spend time with my wife, too.

You'll never make it, pal. No offense. I didn't either.

I worked under a VP who stayed at his desk until 8:30 pm just doing the Jumble in the newspaper. For appearances. It's stupid, but the corporation will keep an eye on you, and demand total loyalty (without returning same).

Startups are different, and ill be damned if any of these kids infront of the podium would turn down an older employee with a name like Jonny Ive. But anyway, your wife? C'mon.

Would you rather be happy...... Or rich?
posted by valkane at 6:45 PM on March 24


and going on to say that she herself would be in management by that age, with the implication that any worker worth their salt would be.

I've been a developer for over a decade now, and pretty much the entire time, there's been pressure to move into mgmt, but I've always resisted. I'm a team lead/tech lead now, which I guess is quasi management (I lead development teams), but I still get to code, too. If it weren't for that, I'd be miserable. If I hadn't looked to older developers for their wisdom over the years, I never would have learned half of the really important stuff I've learned (I.e. the real underlying skills that are transferrable from one fashionable new tech to the next, the fundamental engineering concepts behind software development).
posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


When I see a job description that calls for 10+ years of Ruby on Rails experience, I just chuckle and delete the email. It hasn't been around that long.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:47 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I would love to hear which industries hire 53 year-olds for rank-and-file staff positions.
posted by GuyZero at 6:47 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Who the hell are these bizarre people who want to spend their Friday evening at work, no matter how many whiskey whatevers they put on? There has to be something seriously wrong with you if that's seen as a positive.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:49 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]


Ageism isn't limited to IT, of course, though it seems obvious it's worse in that field. I recently switched to working for a government office and the guy just brought in to run it because of his political skills regularly refers to needing to hire "a cheap, young worker" to bolster the staff. He seems to hate my guts; I'm not fond of his.
posted by etaoin at 6:49 PM on March 24


localroger, actually age is a protected class, but only for people over 40. Cite.

Similarly, in housing you can't discriminate on the basis of "familial status". It turns out this means you can't refuse to house children, not much to do with any other status of being or not being a family.

(I.e. the real underlying skills that are transferrable from one fashionable new tech to the next, the fundamental engineering concepts behind software development).

Yep. I've hacked shit several times on personal projects where I don't even know the language. My computer's volume control applet needs hacked and it's in JavaScript I've never touched before? Whatever, it's obvious what needs to be done.

In addition, I have a strong feeling that the all the libXYZ.so's and .a's that run everything underneath will continue to be written in C for the remainder of my career.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:52 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I would love to hear which industries hire 53 year-olds for rank-and-file staff positions.

Retail. Construction. Government. Sales.

Off the top of my head.
posted by valkane at 6:52 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


All of these people bitching about age are gonna get old themselves someday. What are they gonna do?

Honestly, I dunno about working in Silicon Valley. But I am biased today because a friend of mine just got shitcanned from one of the big ones. Friend had coworkers actively trying to sink them (and admitted to it after the canning because that chick wanted to not be the one laid off), AND the lady who did the firing....well, let me just say that I WISH that suing was an option, because that bitch said something that just made my mouth drop the hell open and nobody, but nobody should be saying that shit as a manager in a job. I probably shouldn't blab it on the Internet, but man, I wish so we could all point fingers and scream.

That is a vicious, vicious world and makes me appreciate where I work, where we've had 50something-year-old programmers do just fine, thanks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


How many of these start ups are going to turn out like the ones in the dot com boom, when the company "suddenly" fails because their staff of go-getter twentysomethings all got married, had kids, and can no longer be coerced into working an unpaid 40 hour weekend with beer and pizza?

Young enough not to know better, indeed.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:54 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


"All of these people bitching about age are gonna get old themselves someday. What are they gonna do?"

be billionaires after disrupting the parking space app market bruh c'mon
posted by klangklangston at 6:55 PM on March 24 [28 favorites]


Anyone who thinks just-out-of-school people are smarter should be forced to test their software for a couple of years. Or worse, maintain it.
posted by underflow at 6:57 PM on March 24 [31 favorites]


^ This.
posted by sfts2 at 6:58 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


And a lot of the "no more unpaid weekends" is why I stopped trying to get a music writing job after a bit — turns out, I actually enjoy getting paid for the work I do, and getting to stop doing it when I'm at home.

One thing that I will say I find incredibly frustrating is that for all the LOL OLDS, whenever I've tried to find younger people who know basic shit like simple HTML or wordpress code, or even that you can't just blow up 72dpi jpegs and have them look decent, I've been sorely disappointed. There's a myth that all young people get this shit, instead of just one subset.
posted by klangklangston at 6:59 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]


C'mon, they'll just hire more twenty somethings to kludge together something until the market drops out on parking spaces apps.
posted by valkane at 7:00 PM on March 24


There's a myth that all young people get this shit, instead of just one subset.

Just because you own an iPhone doesn't mean you know how it works.
posted by valkane at 7:03 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


I have found the following two things absolutely essential in staying gainfully employed in both the DC and SF internet industries:
  1. Be good at understanding and explaining new technologies, and
  2. Have a large network of contacts and stay in touch with them
For a long time I regretted not getting into programming, because the money was (and is) insane. On the other hand, so are the hours and the degree of work it takes to become and stay proficient. I'm a technical writer. I explain things for a living.

And, in that segment of the industry, experience is nothing but a good thing, because the longer and more varied your career, the more weird shit you've seen and explained, and the better you get at it.

I'm not sure that the ageist premise is true. I think it's more that people who do startups tend to hire their friends, and their friends tend to be from the same age cohort as them. So, ten or fifteen years ago, it was all my friends starting companies. Now it's someone else's friends.

I can see this being daunting to people who don't have a professional network, because having that professional network means you can stay on top of which of your friends are hiring, or starting a company, or have become an executive somewhere, etcetera.

But, in practical terms, I've noticed that most of the startups I've worked at consist largely of people in the same age cohort, skewing younger or older depending on who's doing the hiring. I think a lot of this wailing and gnashing of teeth is because us older types aren't taking as many risks any more, and are generally more content to stay at stable companies because we have families to support, and it looks like those crazy kids are STARTING UP ALL THE THINGS and GETTING ALL THE MONEY.

I think it's probably more likely that we were those crazy kids, and now we're seeing that demographic and culture from the other side. All of the young people at Google and Facebook are going to get older and have kids and change how they feel about life, and as the people who are doing the hiring change, their hiring practices will change. And sooner or later they'll be 50 years old, hiring their 50-year-old friends.

But, then, I'm white, male, and 41 with two kids. I'm playing on easy mode, and that skews my experience. I don't doubt that people are experiencing age discrimination. I'm just not convinced it's any worse now than it's ever been, at least in the Internet industry. Because, in 1995, we were hiring mostly mid-20's kids, because we were mid-20's kids.
posted by scrump at 7:05 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


In addition, I have a strong feeling that the all the libXYZ.so's and .a's that run everything underneath will continue to be written in C for the remainder of my career.

Not if my Grand Plan to rewrite it all in Ada works out, it won't.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:05 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Against the mentality described in the article, assuming it is real, there is no defense. You can become facile in as many new programming frameworks as you want - they just don't want you, if you don't fit the "culture". Older programmers probably ought to just move, work in government or education or established companies.

I'm way, way too old to try to enter the Silicon Valley world, even if I wanted to, which I don't. It sounds sort of awful, like a bunch of people yanking the lever of the VC slot machine, mainly motivated by dreams of wealth, while congratulating themselves that they are "changing the world" with some kind of little innovation in social networking.
posted by thelonius at 7:07 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


“We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

What this translates to is "We Want People Who Are Young Enough To Happily Accept A Short Salary And Will Leave In Their Mid-life, Because If We Have Senior Employees Who Stay Too Long, We'll Have To Pay Retirement, God Forbid."
posted by BlueHorse at 7:07 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


So what do these folks do and where do they go after they hit 35 if they didn't make it by then?

They go work at real companies that actually make things...

I was there at the dawn of the internet age, a young man full of piss and unvested stock options, my company was going to change the world. Well, it's still around but hasn't changed a thing. I've since moved on to work at a real world company making a real world difference in the lives of real world people. I've yet to find an internet creation that has made anything more than a difference in ad revenue in this world.
posted by any major dude at 7:09 PM on March 24 [11 favorites]


I used to work in software engineering support. Bring them in from another country, where the wages were low, pay them high for three months on a B visa, send them back home. Turn 'em and burn 'em. They weren't really working.

Then they started to ask me to sign the visa letters, and I balked at that, because, then they were breaking US immigration law. That was when they got really nasty with me. All of a sudden I was a problem and my new boss started telling me my work wasn't up to par, the old promises my former boss had made was crap, maybe I needed a psychiatrist.

I walked into work and took all of my personal stuff off my desk, found someone in HR to do an exit interview, told them I had found a better position elsewhere, and I got the fuck out of dodge. Because I am not crazy and those people were taking advantage of software engineers from other countries and telling me to eat a shit sandwich and yum, yum! It's tasty! Until I got a call from the immigration dept asking me wtf was I doing. Above my pay grade. Not eating that shit, nosirree.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:09 PM on March 24 [17 favorites]


I've yet to find an internet creation that has made anything more than a difference in ad revenue in this world.

Amazon would beg to disagree with you.
posted by Justinian at 7:15 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I've yet to find an internet creation that has made anything more than a difference in ad revenue in this world.

Amazon would beg to disagree with you.

Metafilter might have something to say as well.
posted by valkane at 7:18 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


BREAKING: Nation Finds Tech Industry Insufferable
posted by dry white toast at 7:19 PM on March 24 [12 favorites]


Then they started to ask me to sign the visa letters, and I balked at that, because, then they were breaking US immigration law.

This was the smart move
posted by thelonius at 7:19 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


The bank I work in has a very nice lady whose been here 40 years, retired for a few then came back as a grunt as she was bored. Her secret was to learn no new technologies and stay proficient in the mission critical one that ran all the banks systems. Also keep all the documentation in your head. Bad managers, of which there are many, won't notice nothing is docuemented until its much much too late.
posted by Damienmce at 7:27 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


This is very easy to explain. When you are young, you're like Luke Skywalker. You're restless and want to do great things, even if you might screw up more often than not.

When you're old, you're like Yoda, and you have to constantly pull dumbass Luke's X-Wing out of the swamp.

From this one can conclude that the VC economy relies on X-Wings being driven into swamps.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:33 PM on March 24 [51 favorites]


Ageism in the IT field is everywhere. It's rampant in nearly every industry and every city. As long as it's an IT job then it means only hiring young people and work them to death for below market pay.

There's a pretty significant east-coast/west-coast split - Boston's Tech Corridor has always been home to more staid and modest operations. Something to said for steady, reasonable profits from an established customer base. They hire and retain people over 35, as experience makes sure the product gets released on time and on budget, and that keeps your established customer base from getting a wandering eye.

Also, if you're in systems administration, you're in trouble as the field was blown up a decade back by VM's and massive datacenters (teh CLOWDZ omg!) and is being nuked from orbit now by devops. On the other hand, before the '90s, it was impossible to get a job as a big iron admin without knowing how to program some - and shell scripting is harder than wangling YAML files in Ansible. Sysadmin jobs are starting to open up again as it's now super cheap to build and run your own cloud (SmartOS, oh my god! Sun's revenge!) but they're being billed as ruby or python dev jobs.

There's a push to run network admins out of town the same way with SDN, but that's spinning its wheels outside of the monster datacenters. Software development costs money, and programmers don't like being on call for when the upstream provider sends your edge device ALL THE BGP! in the dead of night for no good reason.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:34 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


Justinian amazon can beg all it wants, it's no different than the A&P, Sears or the Walmarts that came before them. Valkane, Metafilter was special once but it's lost a lot of its luster in its zeal to compete with the censor and shame-based tactics of Reddit and Facebook. There used to be debate here, people actually were allowed to veer WAY off topic in the pursuit of truth and interesting discussion, no longer. I doubt this post will even see the strike of midnight.
posted by any major dude at 7:34 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Amazon is different than the A&P, Sears, or the Walmarts that came before them. Where do you buy obscure books? What's the easiest way to get a fifty pound bag of kitty litter if you don't have a car? Don't be absurd and act like there's no invention out of convenience. Convenience is invention. I'm all for bashing on the very real issues in the tech industry, but let us not hark and revel in nostalgia for the dusty days of antiquity.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:38 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


I've avoid moving to Silicon Valley or Redmond for close to twenty years. Given what I'm hearing from friends who moved, it's for the best, unless I was lucky enough to hit the startup lotto. Which I already lost once. (Two more years, if the market hadn't crashed for two more years....damn vesting period.)

Even in here in the middle of the country, I didn't get a job a few years ago because the hiring manager couldn't imagine hiring someone more senior than him. Which is amazing to me, what's going to happen when someone older than him is transferred internally to work for him? I've worked for managers far older than me, and currently far younger. As long as they are competent, who cares?

I'm hoping to get twenty more years as a developer or architect. We'll see.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:43 PM on March 24


Ageism in the IT field is everywhere.

The World Is A Very Big Place.

I keep hearing moaning about ageism in tech industries. It doesn't exist everywhere.

Where I work our companies flagship product was designed and largely coded by 2 guys in their 50's. Now that it has become successful, the next generation product is underway - design & most of the code will be those same 2 guys.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:49 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


A catalog that came to your door with everything under the sun for purchase? oceanjesse, you must be very young because the days of the Sears catalog dominance wasn't that long ago. I grew up in the biggest city in the world and even I remember waiting for that catalog to appear and thumbing through it, I can't imagine what that day meant to someone in Bumfuck Iowa. Sears WAS "internet" commerce once upon a time. All Amazon has innovated is a slimming down of the delivery time. Oh, and where did we buy obscure books? We'd go to the Strand and NEVER find what we were looking for and end up buying books we WEREN'T looking for that ended up changing our lives. Wonder how much that happens these days in a world where everyone can get anything that they want. [edit] Hah, should have said 11pm...
posted by any major dude at 7:50 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I think one problem a lot of older tech workers face is that, at some point, they allowed themselves to get pigeonholed. They found some comfortable niche for themselves, and then just kind of stuck with it. And then either the thing they spent their careers on gets phased out, or it's just not seen as very exciting anymore.

"Keep your skills up-to-date" is good advice, but I think it's just as important to keep your real skill set as general-purpose as possible. Your boss doesn't care if you overspecialize. If your company uses Framework X, of course they want you to be good with Framework X. It's up to you to ask yourself, "Am I just learning about Framework X? Or am I also improving myself as an engineer at the same time?"
posted by evil otto at 7:55 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


Valkane, Metafilter was special once but it's lost a lot of its luster in its zeal to compete with the censor and shame-based tactics of Reddit and Facebook.

So Metafilter DID count?

I'm just kidding, and i kinda see where you're coming from. And no derail, but dude, ive made a lot of money on high end collectibles on ebay with no advertising involved.

Yeah, i coulda done it with a hyperlocal antique shop, but, dude, we're talking GLOBAL MARKET.

And, more derail, but Metafilter is still cool, and I guarantee it's changed lives. It's changed ours, because here I am talking to you.

And the end of the derail, as far as I see it, is after the last internet bubble, this ageism thing is just corporate politics catching up with Silicon Valley.

Look forward to more back and forth.
posted by valkane at 7:57 PM on March 24


So, I gotta say this.

If the comments here are representative of how you interact with potential employers, a number of you complaining most vociferously about ageism just don't seem like people who'd be very pleasant to work with.

A lot of bitterness, a lot of LOL KIDS dismissiveness, and more than a little plain WTF of the GET OFF MY LAWN WITH YOUR NEWFANGLED INTERNETS variety.

And I see this kind of stuff a lot in people my age and older in the Internet industry. It's alienating and reeks of entitlement, and nobody wants to work with someone who openly holds them in contempt because of their age.

Maybe the problem isn't what you think it is.
posted by scrump at 8:00 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


[Just a note, if folks want to talk about Mefi in the context of whether websites have impact, by all means. But if things head more in the direction of "Mefi used to be great but now it sucks", I'm going to ask that you take that over to MetaTalk. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:03 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


What this translates to is "We Want People Who Are Young Enough To Happily Accept A Short Salary And Will Leave In Their Mid-life, Because If We Have Senior Employees Who Stay Too Long, We'll Have To Pay Retirement, God Forbid."

In some sort of defined-benefits fantasy world?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:04 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


If you're twenty something and think that magically makes you smarter and you have nothing to learn from people much older than you, then you aren't a grown-up, you haven't grown up yet. That's some pretty basic shit right there to grasp.
posted by lordaych at 8:09 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]


It might not be ageism entirely, but a deeper insecurity of not being the smartest in the company (at a young age). Surrounding oneself with cheerleaders and fawners seems to correlate to their younger age.
posted by Brian B. at 8:15 PM on March 24


BTW, I realize in my hypothetical scenario the 20-somethings working with the "grown-up" haven't said anything to deride him in this conversation and he's merely being defensive when addressing the CEO. But this snide culture is BS and I guess it's best to remember that they are largely exploit-drones, and the ones who are valuable because of their youth are valuable because of that -- not because of "cognitive elasticity" which all people have and smart people maintain and develop on forever.

I remember being in my early twenties and always had the utmost respect for the old school crowd. I've worked with tons of incompetent people who were older than me, but never quite in my exact discipline.

There are a ton of incompetent pathetic people gainfully employed in this country and I don't wish them harm, but they are maddening to work with. It has zero to do with their age except when they do things like only hire people in their age group because "young people will find a better job," as I'm dealing with with one of our managers...
posted by lordaych at 8:17 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


In fact at 33 I just hit the wall a couple weeks ago, where I was working so hard on so many things around the clock that I realized that I didn't LIKE this. I know what it's like to LIKE being overworked and to be exploited, and to be like "but I'm learning!" But I've learned what I need to in order to be valuable, and will keep learning -- and burning the candle at both ends only teaches me that life is more important than how badass you feel for kicking ass to buttress someone else's bottom line. Basically most of the young "baller / player" crowd are sort of like if you combined the NFL and NCAA and high school and just kind of exploited the living shit out of everyone you could manage to, because a few of them think they'll make it to the NFL. But it's the owners, not the ballers, who run shit.

As Z-Ro would say, if you were running shit, you'd be running shit, not bumping your gums together, motherfucker, *gendered insult whoops*
posted by lordaych at 8:21 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the idea that Amazon is no different than A&P or Sears flies in the face of reality. eBay is another good example of an internet company that has made a real difference beyond a new way to generate ad revenue.

I'd put forward Craigslist as another example. Destroying the traditional newspaper industry! That's a pretty big deal.
posted by Justinian at 8:24 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


being on call for when the upstream provider sends your edge device ALL THE BGP! in the dead of night for no good reason.
Being ready, willing and able to figure out situations like this, fix them, and laugh about it the next day is pretty much the definition of a highly desireable Ops hire, at least in my circles.

There is a ton of Shiny right now, but someone has to keep the lights on, the VPN up, the AWS instances maintained, etc. Ops generally skews older, in my experience. Maybe that's because as you age you realize that life is really about getting the little background things done, one day at a time, and Shiny bolts onto that.
posted by scrump at 8:24 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Oh and don't think for a second that I don't feel "played" by this -- this is like xenophobia, racism, and all other forms of class divisiveness. It keeps us fighting for the scraps. LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLO
posted by lordaych at 8:26 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


C'mon, they'll just hire more twenty somethings to kludge together

The twenty-something centipede?
posted by homunculus at 8:31 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Isn't that what we're talking about?
posted by valkane at 8:34 PM on March 24


more than a little plain WTF of the GET OFF MY LAWN WITH YOUR NEWFANGLED INTERNETS

I'm not seeing this in the thread, actually. I say this as a non-defensive, happily-working-with-yoofs-at-a-startup-person.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:41 PM on March 24


REQUIREMENTS

* 3+ years experience with Iron Ruby on Grails, BABLESS/SASSY, and HAMLET
* Redis, Sphinx, Memcached, Cheffy, Pomplamoose, grit, Hemingway
* 2+ years experience MongreSQL
* HTML5, CSS3, IcedCoffeeScript Ninja
* high scores on Flappy Bird and 2048


As someone who literally did read through those "Requires 8 Years of Java Experience" ads back in 1998, flagged as fan-fucking-tastic.

I mean I know programming languages and frameworks aren't as hard to learn as spoken languages, but still. The best poets focus on a language or two and get really good at it. I realize C++ / C / C# are pretty damned close to timeless and now it's all about the platforms and frameworks, which any competent, intelligent person can pick up, and as others have said, figure out in six months before becoming your next star player, unless of course you're afraid or unwilling to pay someone to be a badass nearly out of the gate. If you want to hire a sycophant who hangs on your every word and makes a bunch of fun mistakes because we're all learning together, that's cool, I guess. I never fit into that culture anyway, this whole thing just gets the expected reaction out of me after spending the last ten years transforming from 20-something to a surprisingly not-bitter 30-something on the cusp of a very meager startup as part of his day gig.
posted by lordaych at 8:41 PM on March 24


spiderskull: "Easily one of the most incredible pieces of high-performance C++ code I saw was written by someone in their 50s."

You just know Mel wasn't a fresh faced 20 year old.
posted by Mitheral at 8:48 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Last rapid fire burst: hiring young people doesn't mean you want sycophants , but I do agree that there's a general fear of learning something the easy way from someone who's been there before, and some of that fear is justified. But some of it just comes off as Geoffrey hiring people and not wanting that badass knight dude working for him because he's a badass old knight dude.

I toured an electronic medical records startup in 2005 when we were deciding whether to invest in their paradigm-disrupty-EHR technology and their CTO really fell all over himself to explain how exploitable their devs were. They love 12-16 hour days! They eat and breathe this stuff! Well that's cool I explained, but it's been 9 hours and I'm going home to chill the fuck out. I was 25 at the time, but it was a funny moment because he was trying to make me feel bad for wanting this boring fucking day to be over.

I got nothing against nobody ultimately, except the truly powerful who play us like pawns on some glorious chessboard, like that Marines commercial and that game Battlechess amirite remember that shit
posted by lordaych at 8:50 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


I'm afraid I'm dumber than I used to be. That everyone aging is getting dumber. In other words, I agree with Zuckface.

However, aging is merely a fleshwound. It's no reason to give up. Wisdom and conscientiousness increase, and you don't need as much raw learning acquisition as you used to anyway. New tech is somewhat like old tech.

But also, grateful for the egalitarian zeal here if only to rein in my gloom parade a little.
posted by sieve a bull at 8:55 PM on March 24


They love 12-16 hour days!

They also love writing a shit-ton of bugs.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:04 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Easily one of the most incredible pieces of high-performance C++ code I saw was written by someone in their 50s.

I always assume that the oldest, best programmers -- the ones who were brilliant and cut their teeth on the lowest-level, most raw stuff, where none of the heavy lifting was done for you -- simply move on to companies where they keep working on the lowest-level stuff and nobody notices because the next generation of programmers is busy optimizing the level above, that does some of the lifting, and so on up the chain. Every new generation of programmers does something to make it easier for the next people to come along, and so they've managed to collectively keep themselves from being obsolete by ensuring the programmers entering the workforce never need to learn as much as they know.

Unfortunately, there are only so many of those jobs available, and the programming projects have gotten so large and ambitious in general (since they're so easy to code) that the most successful programmers these days aren't really programmers; they're people who can learn simple things quickly, communicate effectively with lots of people (programmers and non-programmers), and keep themselves and others organized. In that sense, I think a lot of people don't move into management simply because they're already managers, just unofficially and without the power to hire and fire...and more effective managers because they're dealing with the code and the requirements and the people on the ground implementing the code to meet the requirements.

Once in a while, of course, a brilliant programmer appears and does something amazing at the lower level, and gets indoctrinated under the wing of some older lower-level guys, and so the support structure keeps evolving. Thankfully.
posted by davejay at 9:04 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


But also, grateful for the egalitarian zeal here if only to rein in my gloom parade a little.

Yup. I think these companies would do better hiring a crew as if they were making a movie, as opposed to some youth equals smarts.

Because you cast a movie, and if you're good, it's regardless of age.
posted by valkane at 9:04 PM on March 24


Oh, and: I work with a lot of young programmers, and it never fails to amaze me how many hours they're willing to put in...but also how many hours it takes them to (re)do the same amount of work that an experienced person could have done and still gone home by five.

PS: want to look like a young programmer and still have time with your family? Do your work from 9-4, bring your laptop home, and answer emails/check in your code from 10-11. Works a treat. I'm told.
posted by davejay at 9:05 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


As a side note, I think saying it takes six months to pick a new toolset/framework/language is not really acceptable. I am in my 40s and a developer but I would never hire anyone who can't pick up a new framework or language in a couple of hours. Just sayin.
posted by trol at 9:07 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Who knows if one of the other 22-year olds is the future founder of a billion dollar company? The 45-year old is likely not.

The founders of the latest "billion dollar company," WhatsApp, are 38 and 42.
posted by zsazsa at 9:14 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


It depends on the language, really. Picking up another Algol clone or CRUD-accelerator, sure. Something like Oz or Mumps? Unless you already have experience in a similar language, it's going to take more than a few hours.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:15 PM on March 24


Metafilter: Old age and treachery will trump youth and skill any day of the week.
posted by drhydro at 9:15 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Wow, the idea that Amazon is some sort of revolution is pretty amazing, and I have to think you’d have to be pretty young to fall for that. You don’t have to believe the hype, you know.

The telephone made mail order quicker, the internet made it quicker still. That’s it. Faster mail order. They don’t have to print a catalog on paper, and instead put it on a web page. It’s been going on for a long time.

Ebay is glorified classified ads, Craigslist IS classified ads. It’s on a screen instead of paper. It’s incremental improvement people, that’s what’s always happened.

The myth that we just stepped out of the dark ages because of the internets is spread by people selling things. It seems to be bought by a lot of people though.
posted by bongo_x at 9:17 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


Are there any languages similar to MUMPS? It's, well- different. It's not nearly as hard to learn as Haskell or Lisp- it's irredeemably imperative.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:20 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Well, so much for my for my backup plan of doing IT if biology doesn't work out (spoiler: it is not working out.)

Is there any career path that isn't a smoking ruin right now?
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:21 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


I would never hire anyone who can't pick up a new framework or language in a couple of hours

For some very abbreviated version of "pick up". I mean, you can certainly get the gist in that time, but it depends on the language and the framework. It's quite easy to come up with languages and frameworks where a few hours is stretching the truth quite a bit.
posted by smidgen at 9:22 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Wow, the idea that Amazon is some sort of revolution is pretty amazing, and I have to think you’d have to be pretty young to fall for that.

Patronize much?

Amazon was absolutely revolutionary when it started. And anyone who didn't see that either didn't care about books or lived in one of the few places with good independent booksellers. Prior to Amazon there were huge swaths of the country for which a "bookstore" was the paperback rack at the Piggly Wiggly. Or if you were lucky a Waldenbooks. And Waldenbooks was utter shit.

It actually boggles me that someone who lived through it wouldn't recognize how big a revolution Amazon was at the time.
posted by Justinian at 9:31 PM on March 24 [21 favorites]


I really don't understand how a paper catalog could possibly trump a database. Or openly democratic product reviews with no barrier to entry. I guess I must be pretty fucking young.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:38 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


In addition to echoing those who've said that salaried workers working long weeks and weekends is some bullshit whether or not you have a spouse and kids, I think it's important to remember that a vast majority of "tech jobs" aren't located in the valley, or even on the West Coast. It's a big damned country, with lots of major companies, educational institutions, and government agencies that need code written for them. You probably won't make $90k out of college with your B.S. in CS, but you also won't be paying obscene rents, and you probably won't have to deal with the dudebro culture. I understand why the media focuses on Silicon Valley as the end-all be-all of the tech industry, but there's a whole lot more to it than that, and I feel like some people forget that when they read so many of these pieces.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:39 PM on March 24 [10 favorites]


The telephone made mail order quicker, the internet made it quicker still. That’s it. Faster mail order. They don’t have to print a catalog on paper, and instead put it on a web page. It’s been going on for a long time.

Ebay is glorified classified ads, Craigslist IS classified ads. It’s on a screen instead of paper. It’s incremental improvement people, that’s what’s always happened.


I believe this comment exemplifies the NEWFANGLED INTERNETS whine described by mr. scrump above.
posted by xmutex at 9:41 PM on March 24


trol: “As a side note, I think saying it takes six months to pick a new toolset/framework/language is not really acceptable. I am in my 40s and a developer but I would never hire anyone who can't pick up a new framework or language in a couple of hours. Just sayin.”
Indeed. However, there is more to working someplace than just the language the software is written in, which is more what I meant. Still, I think you're right and it won't usually take as long as six months for a good programmer to fit in someplace. I was giving the "best person there" the benefit of the doubt as to their capabilities.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:45 PM on March 24


You know what I'm not looking forward to? The day all the kids in this article realise they have wasted their lives making money and left a trail of shattered relationships and drug addled children in their wake. And for what? A three bedroom house in San Jose and a new Prius every year? A condo in Kirkwood that sits empty because it hasn't snowed since 2030?

You think the Baby Boomers were bad, the Millennials are going to make them look like unusually stoic fatalists. Invest I'm spiritual retreats now, you heard it here first.
posted by fshgrl at 9:48 PM on March 24 [14 favorites]


LinkedIn really is the perfect social media platform for this subculture. So bland, bourgeois, homogeneous, shallow, and obsessed with appearances.

I joined linedin recently (yay job hunts?!), and my first impression was, woah, look at all these people wearing ties!
posted by kaibutsu at 9:48 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


You know what I'm not looking forward to? The day all the kids in this article realise they have wasted their lives making money and left a trail of shattered relationships and drug addled children in their wake.

Really dude? This?
posted by xmutex at 9:50 PM on March 24


fshgrl: "And for what? A three bedroom house in San Jose and a new Prius every year? A condo in Kirkwood that sits empty because it hasn't snowed since 2030?"

Yeah, and just wait until they find out that they were trying to replicate the feeling of being in college, but instead they got high school, with the cliquey pecking orders and the same cast of characters in the hallway that you can't get away from.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:50 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Well, I'm a 50-something programmer, and I haven't experienced any of this stuff, or seen it in companies I've worked in. I'll bet it's true - I'll bet most older people won't work the stupid hours that many bullshit companies expect, mainly because they are old enough to know that they're basically going to churn out semi-working crap that will take far more effort to fix than it would have taken to do it right in the first place.

Frankly, I feel much more hirable than I was ten years ago, and much more hirable then than I was ten years before that. I'm a much better programmer - the number of mistakes I've made in the last 20 years is huge, and now I don't have to make those mistakes again!

I do keep up with my technical reading and my analytic skills pretty heavily. I spend at least 30 minutes each day on this alone. But I only read stuff I find fun!

> saying it takes six months to pick a new toolset/framework/language is not really acceptable

First, one of these things is not like the other. A toolset or framework is (usually) just not of the magnitude of a language.

As for a language, it depends on what you mean by "pick up". If you mean, "Able to fumble around and get some sort of results", sure - if you mean, "being productive, doing it right, knowing the traps and pitfalls, not shooting yourself in the foot, not generating technical debt", I'd say six months isn't too unreasonable. In my two strongest languages, Python and C++, I have roughly one and two decades of experience respectively and I continue to work on them - I only went entirely C++11 last summer!

> the internet made it quicker still. That’s it. Faster mail order.

I did laugh at this, sorry. That you could write this on a web forum. Imagine Metafilter in the pre-internet days! (Actually, we had APAs but the turnaround was... somewhat slower...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 PM on March 24 [18 favorites]


And that was how it was! And we liked it!
posted by XMLicious at 9:54 PM on March 24


valkane: Would you rather be happy...... Or rich?

Weird question but not new.

Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, chapter 2.

We all would rather be happy and rich. Who wants us to frame this as a dichotomy? Weber's book (or lengthy essay) is worth reading front to finish.
posted by bukvich at 9:55 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Are there any languages similar to MUMPS?

I've been told writing an app in MUMPS is similar to writing a whole app in T-SQL or PL-SQL, i.e. anything that's essentially sort of a thin veneer of scripting language on top of a powerful DB.

At the same time, one could say MUMPS as a NoSQL database was like five decades ahead of its time. By not changing at all in the last half-century, it's managed to become hip all over again! Sorta like my experience of moving from mid-Missouri to Williamsburg in the early 2000s and seeing trucker hats and spiked mullets paraded around as the heighth of fashion.

The more things change....
posted by evil otto at 9:57 PM on March 24


I think the number from science is statistically money buys happiness up to about $70k/yr.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:58 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


They offer swanky club lounges, gyms, coffee and pastries in the morning, group outings like chartered ski trips to Tahoe, refrigerated storage to receive your grocery deliveries, and all sorts of other goodies. Basically, they offer a high-rise (and high rent) version of all the amenities a modern college dorm provides.

There's a real question about why we're choosing to live like this. Sure, it's convenient and fun, but there's something very wrong here too.


This is an easy one: college anymore is a mix of finishing high school, social engineering, status signalling, four years of coddled sleepaway camp for adults, and an all-inclusive resort. I think one of my greatest advantages in life was going to college that was still college. If there's any youths here my advice is find yourself a real college, minimal amenities, maximal academics.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:03 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


> There's a real question about why we're choosing to live like this. Sure, it's convenient and fun, but there's something very wrong here too.

I should note that I still have dreams about being back at Google, almost five years later. These aren't quite nightmares, but they're still not good dreams - I'm always stressed out and feeling like I don't know what's going on, and there is a lot of food (I had a dream last week where I had taken too much food from the Google cafeteria and didn't know what to do with it, no joke!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:06 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


The best part of the article is definitely the botox.

In my zip code the AM radio has a constant din of ads for weight loss, laser eye surgery and testosterone. No botox that I have heard yet. Is San Francisco AM radio advertising botox?
posted by bukvich at 10:15 PM on March 24


One thing about having a few people in the 40+ demo in your whizbang startup is some of 'em have maybe lived through a speculative investment bubble or two and could tell you how it always feels indestructible and forever almost right up to the moment it bursts.

Compare and contrast: "Why the Dow could hit 26,000 by 2016," 6 March 2014; Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market, November 2000.
posted by gompa at 10:25 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


I'm always stressed out and feeling like I don't know what's going on

Holy shit, it's like you know me. No sarcasm.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:30 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I think the number from science is statistically money buys happiness up to about $70k/yr.

It's true, but the study in question didn't adjust for regional cost-of-living differences. I've seen people do that math, and in NYC or SF, the number is closer to 160k.

Also, other people have said this already, but I just love when people gnash their teeth about how THE TECH SCENE IS LIKE THIS when they actually mean VC-backed start ups in SV.

I'm in my mid-20s and I'm an engineer at Google in NYC. I work on a team where everyone else is in their 30s or older (jokes about me being the fresh-faced young'n of the group are common) and we all work 40-45 hour weeks. As far as I can tell, at least in New York, my experience is way closer to the norm than the team of 22-year-olds fueling endless coding binges on red bull and beer.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:33 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


It's true, but the study in question didn't adjust for regional cost-of-living differences. I've seen people do that math, and in NYC or SF, the number is closer to 160k.

I assumed the same math but never did it. Bit more than I thought, I'd figured I was already nearing full happiness.

Also, other people have said this already, but I just love when people gnash their teeth about how THE TECH SCENE IS LIKE THIS when they actually mean VC-backed start ups in SV.

Shh, let them keep taking all the heat.

BREAKING: Nation Finds Tech Industry Insufferable

This is the problem if you only get your news from the news, 'cause the news is pissed off at tech for reaming them businesswise. You look up some actual tech favorability ratings, politicians would literally kill for those. Google's favorability with Americans under 30 is like 95%.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:50 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


So this article has been causing me tremendous angst today. Mondays are high-anxiety for me and it's my anecdotal observation that Metafilter gets in-your-face-doom-and-gloom-motherfucker! on Mondays, and so I should have learned not to click on those ominous links while on the blue on Mondays. But no.

Perhaps leaving this comment is a form of calming myself. I don't know.

I'm in my early forties and am much further behind most of peers in terms of being both in the tech space and an engineer. I never thought this would be a career (and maybe it won't be, according this article) but I just kind of blindly stumbled into something I seem to be good at. I think it helps that I'm not so much a front-line app engineer, but that I've always been in an analytics space, where how you interpret and surface the data is just as important as how you organize it and move it from place to place. Or maybe analytics is just a fad. I don't know. Regardless, it's a fascinating world, and a part of me loves it way more than the part of me who wanted to be a philosopher or a writer wants to admit.

I've been through 2 startup-to-IPO experiences in the past 6 or so years and I've been on countess hiring committees. Maybe it's that I've always been in analytics-oriented roles or maybe it's that I've just lucked out and worked for good companies, but I've not seen the sort of draconian, rampant ageism that this article implies is the absolute norm. Again, maybe I'm just really lucky. I fully admit that might be the case. But even so, I think it's good to keep in mind that there are exceptions.

Once we reached a certain size, the first startup I was in actively sought out people with long years of experience. We were making stupid mistakes and chasing our own tails and we needed some seasoned people to show us the way. Our CTO had to be coaxed out of retirement (as in, real retirement age, with a full career behind him, not some dude who had cashed in a bunch of options at 40), and we leaned heavily on former academics who really knew how to approach critical business questions from a scientific, experimental point of view. These were people we looked up to.

I've seen similar patterns in the other companies I've been a part of. The company I'm currently at just hired an old crusty (in a good way) VP of Engineering. My boss, who is only 1 year younger than me, is constantly sought out for advice and insight. The situation could always go south, but, so far, I've felt genuinely welcomed and respected.

That said, I don't doubt that the V.C. world is absolutely irrationally insane at the moment. It feels so much like the late 90's that it's simultaneously hilarious, depressing, and alarming. My theory is that everyone can feel that the bubble is about to burst, but wants to make the most of things while they still can and so they're desperately throwing their money at whatever looks and sounds sexy. And, let's face it, youth is sexy, if nothing else.

I suspect that, even if there isn't a bubble about to burst, the sustainable and saner Silicon Valley companies and V.C.'s will realize that throwing money at people who are too young to know what the heck they're doing while leaving the people with real experience out in the cold doesn't produce a good return on investment. At least that's what the optimist in me wants to think.
posted by treepour at 10:58 PM on March 24 [22 favorites]


They offer swanky club lounges, gyms, coffee and pastries in the morning, group outings like chartered ski trips to Tahoe, refrigerated storage to receive your grocery deliveries, and all sorts of other goodies. Basically, they offer a high-rise (and high rent) version of all the amenities a modern college dorm provides.

There's a real question about why we're choosing to live like this. Sure, it's convenient and fun, but there's something very wrong here too.


I guess I don't see it. That sounds amazing. Expensive, probably stupidly so, and the ski trips do nothing for me, but if I had the money to burn damn right I'd have an apartment with free pastries in the lobby. Probably some of those warm cookies in the afternoons too. You know, the ones that come out of the little EZ Bake oven thing. Definitely those.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


bruce: “mr. zuckerberg, if old people (i'm 58) are really dumber than young people, why are the younger people disproportionately uploading all their intimate details to your social spyware network?”

Not that it is really any indication, but it's worth noting that there are many millions more people over 35 on Facebook than there are people under 24. And the 55-year-old and up bracket has grown about 80% in the past three years - faster than any other bracket.
posted by koeselitz at 11:31 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I like the fact taht this was posted on March 24th, my 48th birthday. That's why I ignored it yesterday.

There's a youth culture prevalent across the US that only shows up in sharp relief when one's immersed elsewhere. And its not just a matter of first world/third world, the Western world and the Far East or any of these cliched and superficial stereotypes. This same focus on youth manifests itself in all aspects of society and is crafted by marketing, advertising, women's magazines and the general media. Unlike say France, where there's a concept of a "woman of a certain age", US society ignores anyone over 35 in mainstream media as over the hill. This naturally fuels an entire range of industries, from cosmetics, clothing all the way to cosmetic surgery, herbal supplements and physical fitness.

In the case of Silicon Valley and startups, sure the young might know what's hot and what's current and what young people are going to adopt but is that the only thing that industry is about? Check to see if the VCs are letting youth decide where to invest their gazillions or if the fuddy duddys in all the research labs are breaking any new ground, applying for patents or hiring grad students for their research grants?

Youth will naturally see only the surface and not the underpinnings of the infrastructure and the foundation of innovation and research knowledge that makes the Valley what it is...


and I'm speaking from not only hanging out in a startup space, but my cofounder for my current venture is young enough to be my daughter. I certainly know she can see teh future in a way I cannot anymore but if I walk behind her as we evolve forward, with my hand upon her shoulder for guidance, it also means I'm walking right behind her with my experience, wisdom and skillsets.
posted by infini at 12:47 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]


...this was posted on March 24th, my 48th birthday. That's why I ignored it yesterday.

Great, I'll look at what the wornout old man has to say, maybe some great advice about CGI web programming jobs (just turned 47 here....)
posted by thelonius at 2:12 AM on March 25


Read the first 10% of this thread. Do you know what proportion, what percentage East Coast United States Computer Programmers make up of the population of the Earth?

Round it down by a few reasonable decimal places and it's none.

None. Zero.

It is completely fucked that these companies aren't hiring older employees out of some ignorant ideology. But, the fact is, on the scale of humanity, not many older employees are actually missing out.

Just waiting for the crash. It will be bigger and more fun to watch than last time.
posted by Jimbob at 2:31 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I really don't understand how a paper catalog could possibly trump a database.

There is one formerly popular application that the database can't duplicate.
posted by thelonius at 2:35 AM on March 25 [11 favorites]


And anyone who didn't see that either didn't care about books or lived in one of the few places with good independent booksellers.

What, you didn't have public libraries? Oh. Sorry about your capitalism.
posted by Jimbob at 2:37 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


There's a pretty significant east-coast/west-coast split - Boston's Tech Corridor has always been home to more staid and modest operations.

You always hear about how there are more single women on the east coast and more single men on the west, and it's always seemed clear to me that this has to be because there are better job opportunities for women on the east coast. And where women can get hired, other misfits probably have a chance (over-35s, parents, people with disabilities, etc.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:42 AM on March 25


The best poets focus on a language or two and get really good at it.

This is not the same thing at all. The best programmers I know have great skill across a wide variety of languages, because skill doesn't necessarily translate into language mastery. Of course, there are always "gotchas," but these are gotchas, not something that you learn because it's so fantastic (for example, autoboxing in Java, or Python's horrific scoping rules, or Ruby's "wonderful" flexible syntax gotchas). Almost everyone I know who I'd consider really good has at least one language from the various paradigms (Imperative/Functional/Logic) as well as mastery of SQL, plus a low-level language like C or C++.

REQUIREMENTS

* 3+ years experience with Iron Ruby on Grails, BABLESS/SASSY, and HAMLET
* Redis, Sphinx, Memcached, Cheffy, Pomplamoose, grit, Hemingway
* 2+ years experience MongreSQL
* HTML5, CSS3, IcedCoffeeScript Ninja
* high scores on Flappy Bird and 2048


I have always gotten jobs against the stated "requirements." The requirements are a filter that the HR people use; if you get a referral from someone at the company, you can bypass it. Alternately, if you have experience in a couple of the major topics, the HR department will often pass you over to the hiring manager, and you can get an interview.

The trick is to do a lot of different things at your job, so that you can list projects with some detail; saying "Supported an application based on SQL Server and T-SQL" in a bullet point is enough to get you past the drones. In the interview, it'll likely come up as: "How good are you with T-SQL?" "I can write it, but I've mastered PL/pgSQL, the Postgres procedural language, so I think I can pick up what I don't know about T-SQL quickly." "Oh, that's fine."

It's hard to hire programmers, and usually the hiring manager will forgive gaps in the "requirements" if you can get to the interview at all.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:41 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I have always gotten jobs against the stated "requirements." The requirements are a filter that the HR people use; if you get a referral from someone at the company, you can bypass it. Alternately, if you have experience in a couple of the major topics, the HR department will often pass you over to the hiring manager, and you can get an interview.

This is just more evidence of non-meritocracy. If everyone at the company is young, white, and male, what is the group of people getting referrals going to look like? And what about the group who's confident enough to ignore the laundry list and apply anyway -- somehow I think there's going to be a demographic skew there as well (although it might favor older programmers who have seen a lot of these fads come and go.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:56 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


This is just more evidence of non-meritocracy.

Oh good grief. Hiring is a numbers game. It takes some huge number of incoming resumes to find one person you feel like hiring. It takes far fewer referrals to get to that same hire. It's just empirically a more effective sourcing channel.

If you think that's because it's horribly biased and self-reinforcing, fine. I'm not going to argue with you about whether hiring if intrinsically fair or not. But referrals being somehow "fair" isn't the goal. It's just recruiters trying to be effective.
posted by GuyZero at 5:32 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Also the notion that the only people that young white guys know is more young white guys is more than a little biased itself.
posted by GuyZero at 5:35 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


The "Five Years Java Experience" ads in 1995 are pretty easy to understand: some policy requires that for x level position people have y years in the primary competency. It was funny though, that these ads, excluding everyone but James Gosling and the Oak team, existed.
posted by thelonius at 5:46 AM on March 25


This is just more evidence of non-meritocracy. If everyone at the company is young, white, and male, what is the group of people getting referrals going to look like?

This is a very, very good point. Most of the women and non-white/non-asian people I work with now came to our company through co-operation with a local college and the Air National Guard. Without a deliberate decision to diversify the workplace, we'd be relying on recruiters and referrals, as it's the path of least resistance. Judging by the quality of my women and non-white/non-asian co-workers, the path of least resistance does NOT produce employees with the largest benefit to the organization - these are some really sharp professionals, and you really won't find a lot of people who look like them in the waiting room of "John Galt Staffing."*

This is actually the second gig I've been at in the past ten years where HR decided to make an effort to diversify in hiring, and the results are great. There's a lot of talent out there that's been marginalized because they didn't fit some preconceived notion of "cultural fit" - shorthand for "looks and acts like us."

(*That is not a joke name. The one time I was in there, a woman in a S&M Wonder Woman outfit was carrying a cake into a meeting room full of leering guys in suits for one reason or another.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:01 AM on March 25 [15 favorites]


* Try to move into management if you can.

That's bullshit. I don't want to manage. I want to write code, and then go home and do something else.


* Take care of your body, try to stay young-looking.

Yes on the first part, bullshit on the second part. I'm a programmer, not a rom-com actress. Any place that doesn't know the difference isn't a place I want to work.
posted by Foosnark at 6:22 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


Yeah, one of the things I love about being a deveoper is that I can make good money and get a decent amount of job security without being forced to move into management. If my choices are to (a) spend more than half of my days in meetings and the rest slinging Gantt charts, or (b) to spend some time keeping my skill set fresh, it's going to be (b) every time.

I don't begrudge anyone who goes into management, and we definitely need pointy-haired types who still know the tech well enough to herd the cats effectively, but the idea that moving into management should be a deliberate strategy is a way to avoid obsolescence seems backwards to me. The first people to go are middle managers, the last ones to go are the ones who know the tech.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:38 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Because then you become The Guy Who Sued His Boss and that is not only totally not cool within the realm of would-be future millionaires, that's also a good way to ensure you never work in that town again.

This. People fail to understand how much power employers have to discriminate by simply choosing not to hire someone and not telling the reasons why. I work in the nonprofit world, and there is screaming, blatant, waving-a-red-flag job discrimination all over the fucking place. Like, so much it hurts.

But if you have sued your last employer, that is like the Kiss of Death. You will never get a job in the nonprofit world again. Because HR knows that their nonprofit, like every other nonprofit, is probably violating some sort of employment law, and they don't want to let anyone into the party who disagrees with that and/or is aware and willing to change it.

The other thing is, I vaguely recall that age discrimination law only kicks in at a certain age - maybe over 50? There's no law protecting people from being discriminated against in their late 30s, because previous to this culture, there didn't need to be because it wasn't happening.
posted by corb at 6:48 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Oh good grief. Hiring is a numbers game. It takes some huge number of incoming resumes to find one person you feel like hiring. It takes far fewer referrals to get to that same hire. It's just empirically a more effective sourcing channel.

Sure, it's easy. So is writing a list of requirements like weston's upthread parody. His argument, I think, was that companies who place these ads aren't looking for people with the best generalizable problem-solving skills, despite the meritocratic-sounding rhetoric you hear. "But you can bypass the list if you're best buds with someone at the company" isn't a counter-argument.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:09 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


This has been on my mind because science, as a discipline, operates in much the same way as tech/venture capital.

Young people knock themselves out trying to do something impressive, and a few of them "get rich" which in science usually means getting a tenure-track position. Largely, I agree with the interpretation that this is an elaborate mechanism to get starry-eyed young people to do a lot of work for below-market compensation. You tell them that what they're doing is glorious and important, dangle an impressive-seeming prize in front of them, and people will ask for amazingly little up-front compensation in return for the prize on the horizon.

When I was a grad student I used to think to myself, "Well, I'm a graduate student, I'm not a real scientist yet." Now that I have a little broader view of the system and how it works, I see that the vast majority of the actual work of science is done by armies of grad students and postdocs. So I've given myself retroactive credit for those years -- I was a professional scientist during the years I spent in grad school.

Of course, most people don't get rich, and most PhDs don't become professors. Most projects in science -- like most tech startups -- will fail. The problem is that it's difficult or impossible to tell beforehand which ones will succeed, so the system as a whole proceeds by having lots of expendable people (grad students and postdocs) try every possible strategy. Doing science requires a lot of grunt work, and the system as it stands is a way of maximizing the grunt work performed per dollar paid. Young scientists put up with long hours for comparatively low pay because of the potential for glory -- scientific discovery and tenure.

There's no malice in the system -- it wasn't designed by an evil genius. There's only indifference -- it's the result of a lot of people at different levels pursuing their own interests. I'm pretty cynical about both systems -- I basically agree that they're mechanisms for exploiting young people who don't know that they're being exploited.

However, young people do indeed have one huge advantage: they do not yet know what's impossible. Every groundbreaking project is risky, and there's usually an argument for why it's impossible. After all, if the project was easy with a clear path to completion, someone would have done it already. Young people simply don't yet know enough to know the argument for why what they're doing is impossible. Very often, the argument turns out to be correct, and the project fails. Sometimes, however, the argument is wrong -- the project is possible, it succeeds, and the result is a scientific breakthrough or a billion dollar tech company.

Long experience helps you avoid traps and pitfalls, but it can indeed be a burden -- it keeps you from trying things that you're pretty sure are impossible. Some of those things that look like pitfalls turn out to be gold mines.

The fact that young people generally don't know anything is both their blessing and their curse. It's beautiful in a certain way.
posted by ngc4486 at 7:13 AM on March 25 [11 favorites]


There's probably a startup working on a product that mines plaintiffs from workplace discrimination court cases and feeds that into an automated resume-rejection system.

Dibs on the name SuitSaintMarie™.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:19 AM on March 25


There's a lot of talent out there that's been marginalized because they didn't fit some preconceived notion of "cultural fit" - shorthand for "looks and acts like us."

Agree emphatically.
posted by gimonca at 7:38 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


* 3+ years experience with Iron Ruby on Grails, BABLESS/SASSY, and HAMLET

I told my interviewers for my new job that I didn't know any of the tech that they were interviewing me for and I they responded, "don't worry about that, you'll figure out". It was refreshing to hear someone acknowledge that if you've worked with a dozen other languages, then learning the 13th probably won't slow you down too much.

A month in, I can't say that I'm any kind of Ruby guru but I'm writing decent code that does what it has to.
posted by octothorpe at 7:47 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


Just to provide a small counterexample, I work for a tech company founded by a guy when he was in his late 30s (in his 40s now), the exec staff is all in their 30s and 40s, we interview and hire people of all ages, and things are generally sane. Some developers have families and management understands that sometimes they need time to take care of things at home. We do hire a lot of younger people as developers because not many good veteran engineers are looking for work, so it has been easier to hire talent out of college or grad school. But we would hire more senior talent if we could.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:51 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I'm a well over 40 software developer, have a broad range of skills, and keep my skills up to date. I've done the start up thing, I've been bought and sold, laid off, did the whole routine. I'm currently a contractor, and like it that way.

I usually play the adult in the room in my projects.

I think there is something behind the "the kids are smarter". I sure as hell can code a hard problem better then most of those kids, can debug at least 5x faster, and can often tell them what they did wrong without touching the code, just by a quick description (and knowing who wrote it...). But, if I was to do a start up, I'd still hire a lot of kids. It isn't because they cheap, it is because, in a way, they are stupid; inexperienced, lets say. That fact is, start-ups do a lot of stupid shit. They throw code together without regard for maintainability or future, or good sense. They use technologies are demonstrably flawed. The charge ahead with all sorts of crazy goals they will never have a hope in hell of getting to. I know all this, but those kids don't; they'll go right ahead and get it done anyway. Guys like me will make things work well, we'll go for perfection, we'll make the code beautiful, but we are really bad at blindly charging forward without a clue. And, ultimately if you want to be really really disruptive, a large chunk of foolishness is required. So present your idea to me, I'll be all "really? we tried that in 89 and it didn't work", but that young guy will be "oh cool, I get it!" and race off. And sometimes, he'll be right. You want me when you want it good, and want to make a profit. You want him when you want to take a stupid risk.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:02 AM on March 25 [13 favorites]


Huh, so if I'm reading the room right, most folks seem to think having a company full of nothing but kids is a bad idea, because they'll make stupid mistakes without some adults in the room. At the same time, there's also a sense that a company full of old fucks will be so risk-averse and set in their ways that they won't hit any major breakthroughs. If I didn't know better, I'd see this as strong evidence that corporate diversity is more than just political correctness, it's a competitive advantage, and something that should be actively encouraged in hiring practices.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:15 AM on March 25 [13 favorites]


a company full of nothing but kids . . .[wi]ll make stupid mistakes without some adults in the room . . . a company full of old fucks will be so risk-averse and set in their ways that they won't hit any major breakthroughs. . . . diversity . . . should be actively encouraged . . .

This was how society worked when everyone, old and young, high and low, were stuck with whatever society they were born into.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:34 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Re the East Coast / West Coast split in tech ... I think the big difference is that on the East Coast, the tech companies are focused on serving large customers, not chasing VC money (as much).

Most of the tech "startups" I know in NYC and DC are spinoffs from larger companies, and often have a consulting element to them. Basically a bunch of people from some major company decide to specialize and start their own company, generally poaching a customer or two, maybe built around a particular industry-specific product. I don't know any that were formed by people in their 20s. It's mostly veterans in their 30s or 40s -- often betting their 401(k) funds or taking traditional business loans rather than panhandling for VC cash -- and then sometimes hiring young guns to do development work.

I'm not as in touch with the Boston tech ecosystem, and it's been ~8 years since I've lived up there, but it's always seemed to me that in most cases the companies there arise out of ideas from MIT and the other .edus, when someone decides to try and take their research interest commercial and build a business around it. That's different from deciding first that you want to have a business, and then scrounging around for a concept, maybe over and over until something sticks.

There are an increasing number of West Coast style, VC-funded, app-of-the-week startups (particularly in NYC for some reason), but that's, in my experience anyway, not the dominant paradigm. If you want to play the VC lottery, you go to California. Which suits me just fine, here on the East Coast. I don't want to work stupid hours for stock options and I'm not going to come in on Saturdays for free pizza. I didn't want to do that when I was 21 and I certainly don't want to now.

Though in fairness, some "startuppy" stuff like free sodas, casual dress code, etc. that have seemingly trickled back from the West Coast to smaller firms here in the East, presumably in order to compete for new hires, are very welcome.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:42 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


He also says that sometimes he would welcome the excuse to get the hell out of the place that SF has become. A while ago, he told me about one of his 20-something coworkers who had announced, in all seriousness, that he had come up with The Perfect Solution for San Francisco's homeless problem: start a reality show in which homeless people are given temporary housing while they're taught to code. Then, after a certain period of training, they'll go head-to-head in coding battles. The winner gets to keep their housing. The rest of the losers get put back on the street, but with their great coding skills they can now apply for jobs.

Ok, I haven't read the rest of the comments yet, but THIS, THIS is why I wake up every day and ask myself whether I can continue living in the city I was born in. It's not even the rents, I found an affordable place and I can find another one when I move, it's THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE that I have to listen to every time I meet a new person my age.

I'm 26 years old but I work in print book publishing. The other day I was walking down 16th street and texting on my dumbphone, and a gray-haired woman waved her hands in my face and shouted "LOOK UP!" We are all constantly at each other's throats and it makes me crazy.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:50 AM on March 25 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, sunset, that kind of shit is more a factor of age than geography or industry. It's not all that different than 20-something Ibankers in NYC saying that the solution for poverty is for poor people to stop being so damn lazy, or 20-something OWS-niks saying that the solution for poverty is full-blown Communism. Young people (and I say this as an avowed Young Person) are dumb as shit. VC-istan just breeds a slightly more obnoxious kind of dumb.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:35 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


I was a sysadmin back in the days when the internet was just a little baby! I didn't do very well at it then, never made a million when they were growing on trees, although it was definitely fun for a while. But I have to admit when I read things like this I am deeply grateful that I moved to Portland and became a nurse. Didn't need no stinking million, anyhoo :)
posted by eggkeeper at 10:51 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


> Guys like me will make things work well, we'll go for perfection, we'll make the code beautiful, but we are really bad at blindly charging forward without a clue.

This is why I say that software engineering is not a mature field. Imagine having this attitude for, say, civil or mechanical engineering! You'd see a lot of dams collapsing and airplanes falling out of the sky.

There has to be some charging forward to get things done, but if you are thinking of your business as a business, then you need to be writing solid code that nearly always works right the first time, is tested and can be maintained. Technical debt will kill your adolescent company dead every time.

The only - the only! - reason that people work any other way is that they aren't really seeing what they are doing as an ongoing business but as a lottery ticket. Their hope is to get there firstest with the mostest and then get the IPO or the "first mover advantage" (which is garbage, by the way - none of the big tech companies were first movers, not Microsoft or Google or Facebook or Apple...), and then once all the money comes in, they can hire code monkeys to fix up their fuckups while they drink Mai-Tais by the pool and ogle the models.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:54 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


"This is why I say that software engineering is not a mature field. Imagine having this attitude for, say, civil or mechanical engineering! You'd see a lot of dams collapsing and airplanes falling out of the sky."

To be fair, the stakes are often lower, and there's a culture of iterative improvement in software — I never expect an alpha or a beta to be without substantial flaws, but I'm usually excited about what they can do as a tool (and I'm not even really in software). And in mechanical engineering, there definitely is a huge amount of trial and failure as a process (just like there is in most creative work).

"The only - the only! - reason that people work any other way is that they aren't really seeing what they are doing as an ongoing business but as a lottery ticket. "

As someone who inherited what I feel safe in describing as the world's worst non-profit database, there's also Not Knowing What The Fuck They're Doing and Doing It Fast And Sloppy in order to get stuff out the door. Nobody sees my place of work as a lottery ticket, it's just been that most of the older folks don't have a clue about proper database and data hygiene, and most of the young people have had the responsibility as, like, their fifth priority at best. I mean, Christ, I only know enough to realize that we're massively fucked, not enough to fix it, and that makes me a technical genius (because our last technical genius left rather than deal with the intractable anti-funding priorities for maintaining this shit).
posted by klangklangston at 11:05 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


> there's also Not Knowing What The Fuck They're Doing and Doing It Fast And Sloppy in order to get stuff out the door.

If you built houses that way, you'd be criminally liable. Yes, the stakes are much higher in construction, but many, many valuable companies have collapsed simply because far too much of their employees' time was wasted on technical debt so no actual business got done.

I blame management pretty squarely. It's their responsibility to be doing the long-range planning. They're the ones with the big picture view who watch while these situations slowly develop - and say nothing. Indeed, they're the ones who say, "Do it fast and sloppy to get it out the door."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:18 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, sunset, that kind of shit is more a factor of age than geography or industry. It's not all that different than 20-something Ibankers in NYC saying that the solution for poverty is for poor people to stop being so damn lazy, or 20-something OWS-niks saying that the solution for poverty is full-blown Communism. Young people (and I say this as an avowed Young Person) are dumb as shit. VC-istan just breeds a slightly more obnoxious kind of dumb.

I dunno... the attitude toward the homeless in that quote is kinda just the shit cherry on top of a profound shallowness that allows someone to believe that a reality show is really a great solution to a social problem that we've battled for generations. I mean, I don't love the other views you describe either, but it's not really on the same level for me.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:35 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


The engineer that wants to solve homelessness would be a Do Not Hire on my list, simply because they have no idea about developing anything that scales gracefully.
posted by bastionofsanity at 11:54 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


"I blame management pretty squarely. It's their responsibility to be doing the long-range planning. They're the ones with the big picture view who watch while these situations slowly develop - and say nothing. Indeed, they're the ones who say, "Do it fast and sloppy to get it out the door.""

Yeah, though to be fair, I've been at my job longer than any of the senior management have been at theirs. A lot of the trouble is because we were without an executive director for over a year and the board did very little long term planning during that time.
posted by klangklangston at 12:28 PM on March 25


The other day I was walking down 16th street and texting on my dumbphone, and a gray-haired woman waved her hands in my face and shouted "LOOK UP!" We are all constantly at each other's throats and it makes me crazy.

Just for the record, when you are walking down an even moderately busy street staring at your phone, smart or dumb, you are like a bowling ball blindly scattering people like bowling pins, trying to get out of your oblivious way. I experience bowling pin life every day. For every insane gray lady who yells in your face, a couple dozen people resent you quietly, whether you/they are old or young.
posted by Kwine at 1:01 PM on March 25 [13 favorites]


As someone who inherited what I feel safe in describing as the world's worst non-profit database

I work in non-profit. That's a pretty bold statement.
posted by corb at 1:22 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]


The engineer that wants to solve homelessness would be a Do Not Hire on my list, simply because they have no idea about developing anything that scales gracefully.
posted by bastionofsanity


In Lieu of Money, Toyota Donates Efficiency to New York Charity. Led by engineers.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:26 PM on March 25


Yeah, I've been thinking about that since it happened... I do try to glance down at the phone occasionally rather than vice versa and I don't walk into the street while texting, but I don't want to be the super special snowflake who thinks she can handle texting while walking even though everyone else can't, or whatever. She was walking three abreast with two other people and I would have had to dive into a tree to get out of her way, so I didn't. But point taken.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:26 PM on March 25


Though in fairness, some "startuppy" stuff like free sodas

Sodas have caffeine in them, why would you not give them out?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:47 PM on March 25


Usually because that's covered by the free coffee.

But redundancy is good engineering.

Sometimes I wonder what the broader range of free stimulants in the office commissary will look like if the day comes that drugs are broadly legal.
posted by weston at 4:55 PM on March 25


"I work in non-profit. That's a pretty bold statement."

I use an unsupported legacy CRM+CMS product that is riddled with over 100 custom fields with free-form entries, created for everything from event registration to volunteer scheduling, and just got back from a tech and non-profit conference where even the mention of the name of the program was enough to get me free drinks and sympathetic pats on the back. And I'm finding it nigh impossible to put together a reasonable plan to get off it (which isn't even my job anyway, but who knows when that position will be filled) because even bringing in a consultant to spec out cleaning our data is likely to be pricey.

We have this because in 2004, somebody signed a 10-year contract. I'm not sure whether I'd use my one time travel trip to kill Hitler or them.

It's a pretty bold statement, but often I'd rather work at a place that just had this junk in excel spreadsheets, because at least then it'd be relatively simple to move forward with it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:58 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]


I'd rather work at a place that just had this junk in excel spreadsheets

At least you could dump it into Access!
posted by thelonius at 5:00 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


save alive nothing that breatheth: “Sodas have caffeine in them, why would you not give them out?”
I did a contract in a software house in the '90s where the management was so shortsighted there wasn't a single, company-provided coffee machine in a building with a thousand programmers in it.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:19 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, I once worked at a lab where there was a coffee machine that cost 50 cents a cup. Considering how heavily caffeinated scientists are, I'm amazed that we never had a full-out, cars-on-fire riot.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:15 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


One thing that I will say I find incredibly frustrating is that for all the LOL OLDS, whenever I've tried to find younger people who know basic shit like simple HTML or wordpress code, or even that you can't just blow up 72dpi jpegs and have them look decent, I've been sorely disappointed. There's a myth that all young people get this shit, instead of just one subset...

...I only know enough to realize that we're massively fucked, not enough to fix it, and that makes me a technical genius (because our last technical genius left rather than deal with the intractable anti-funding priorities for maintaining this shit).


I've been really intrigued by your career progression, klangklangston, 'cause I think there are so many nonprofits out there that need someone like you, but don't realize it—or who do realize it but think that some 23-year-old with no experience is magically going to know how to fix their database or do a good job of updating their website and social media. It reminds me of the stuff that Wired Impact is doing, helping nonprofits get (website-related) tech right. There should be more businesses doing that, and more nonprofits should be hiring people with our type of skill set. That said, of course, a lot of people with our type of skill set are preoccupied with chasing sexy jobs.

I blame management pretty squarely. It's their responsibility to be doing the long-range planning. They're the ones with the big picture view who watch while these situations slowly develop - and say nothing. Indeed, they're the ones who say, "Do it fast and sloppy to get it out the door."

I just had yet another a conversation last week about this sort of thing—and I'm getting so tired of having this conversation. There's long been a push in my workplace (yea, in our field at large) to do things fast and sloppy and get it out the door, with little regard for the essential details. Then the managers get anxious when I take the available time to go back and fix all the sloppiness. Somehow, the conversation always becomes about why I'm spending so much time fixing things and never about why there's so damn much to fix in the first place. What can you do to help me, guys? Stop being so sloppy! Stop pushing everyone to cut corners up front—it always hits us on the back end.

But no one wants to hear bad news (or even realistic estimates, sometimes) or change their way of doing things. They just want to hear that magic will happen yet again, that the black box still functions. And apart from cost, that's why managers hire young and inexperienced people, because they still believe that if they weren't given clear guidelines or can't hit unreasonable deadlines, it's their fault, and they'll pull all-nighters to make it work. Never mind that the all-nighters are a symptom of the problem, not a solution.

And if the youngs complain? Management will fall all over themselves to fix the problem, 'cause they don't want to lose the juice they imagine the young have. I mean, they wouldn't be complaining if there wasn't a problem, right?! They have just the fresh perspective we needed to realize we had a problem, right?! And most problems can be fixed with more donuts in the break room, right?! But if the olds complain, well, who asked ya anyway? You know as well as anyone that this is how we've always done it. Back to your chains, mortgage slave.

I sure as hell can code a hard problem better then most of those kids, can debug at least 5x faster, and can often tell them what they did wrong without touching the code, just by a quick description (and knowing who wrote it...)... You want me when you want it good, and want to make a profit. You want him when you want to take a stupid risk.

Pretty much. I will be your QA department and your institutional memory (yes, I can answer that reader's question about which issue a story appeared in five years ago or tell you what AP says about the word "underway"). I will make what you give me beautiful and accurate and ready for market—and I can tailor what I do to whose work I'm editing, 'cause I know that this writer really likes to throw in gratuitous instances of "with a twist" and this other writer likes to put a comma inside every end quotation mark and still another writer is bored with the notion of writing complete sentences altogether. That's OK; I will take care of it for you. You just have to give me the resources I need (time, trust, functioning technology)—and even then, it's kind of a "pick two" scenario. I can probably do I've been doing it with just two of those at any given point; I can even do it with just one, but not for long.

But so much of this goes back to Rands' essay "Bits, Features, and Truth"...
posted by limeonaire at 7:32 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


Buddy of mine is an employer of a lot of people. From what he says he likes to hire older, married people because "they have mortgages. They can't just walk off the job."

Made sense to me at the time. And he's successful.

From the FPP it makes me wonder what exactly is holding people at Silicon Valley?
It seems like it's that "super-unicorn" dream.
Which seems like a life plan of winning the lottery. (Oh, don't get me wrong, I haven't a clue about money. Hell, I thought I'd be dead 20 different ways by now. But I'm fine with working for a living).
posted by Smedleyman at 8:31 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


I've done my share of inheriting crazy "databases".... klangklangston, you are doing God's work.
posted by thelonius at 9:33 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


From the FPP it makes me wonder what exactly is holding people at Silicon Valley?

The fact that there's so many jobs here.

On one hand there's a lot of turnover in the startup end of the corporate spectrum. Those people might change jobs every 2-3 years.

At the other end there are a lot of lifers at the Ciscos, Oracles, Netapps, VMWare, Googles, Yahoos, etc of the valley that actually keep those companies going so that the young 'uns can cycle in and out every few years.

From the perspective of employers, there's a huge pool of extremely qualified people who possess extremely specialized skills that are very hard to find elsewhere. There are academics whose entire careers are devoted to studying why Silicon Valley exists, why it continues to exist and whether it can be duplicated. There's no simple one-sentence answer.
posted by GuyZero at 10:24 PM on March 25


seems like a life plan of winning the lottery.

Only To get back what is owed us for we are all temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

what exactly is holding people at Silicon Valley?

The world is spikey* . . . and they went down with a spike right through their heads.

It's a gas.

* PDF
posted by Herodios at 9:03 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Na na naaah na na Na na nuh Naa naa na na naaaah na na na na na
posted by Smedleyman at 6:29 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


NPR interview from Monday with Noam Scheiber, author of the piece in the FPP.
posted by XMLicious at 10:14 PM on March 26


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