"Whiz kids need geezers."
October 26, 2015 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Medium's Steven Levy asks for ideas on how to end age discrimination in tech companies. Readers respond.
Age diversity is clearly lacking in many Silicon Valley tech companies. . . "culture fit" likely plays a role in the lack of representation of different age groups, especially if culture fit is defined loosely and subjectively, as it is in so many companies, as "who you want to grab a beer with."


It's interesting to have spent most of my life as a standard-issue white guy from the First World, exceptional in no demographic respects  —  until I got old. Once that happened, I experienced ageist prejudice first hand, as my real and apparent value moved on diverging paths, one up and one down.


Companies aren't adaptable and creative because their employees are young. They're adaptable and creative despite it.


A woman in her mid-40s, with an excellent resume and recent coding expertise, described to me how a 35-year-old with hiring responsibility told her outright, "I'm an ageist." He opined that "older" people usually have dire flaws that will lead to remorse on the part of companies that took them on. To her credit, this woman felt not anger but pity on the man's behalf. After, all by his standards, his own shelf life was reaching an end.

To her further credit, she remains upbeat. "I'll land in a company that does value the experience, trial and error, failure and success," she wrote to me.
posted by tonycpsu (65 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
We need to expose the ageist trend in SV for what it truly is - a thinly veiled cover for worker exploitation. Because it's not about innovation, it's about someone who already has a life outside of the workplace doesn't need said workplace to fill in those gaps.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:50 PM on October 26, 2015 [64 favorites]

Younger people cost less. It's as simple as that.
posted by Nevin at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

I wish it were as simple as that.
posted by JLovebomb at 4:04 PM on October 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

It's not just that they cost less (though that's a huge part of it.) The younger workers are also inexperienced, which means that they don't understand that hey, twelve hour days are not normal. Or that the perks at the office come with an unspoken codicil - the reason the firm gives you everything you need is because they expect you to be there all the time. Younger workers are also less likely to have things like spouses and children to distract them from work. They also dont know when the boss' new idea doesn't pass the "is this legal" smell test.

Which is why Levy's approach won't work - because as Sinclair pointed out, someone whose business model is built on not understanding something will have a very hard time grasping that older workers are assets.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2015 [46 favorites]

We as a culture really love it when someone is "the youngest person to X" or whatever. I'm an older student in college, and it means that when I get out, I'll be entering the workforce many years after other people. I've heard stories of companies, not just in SV, that were suspicious of why someone would be applying to an entry-level job at 40. The subtext is always how badly did you fuck up to be where you are at your age?

Silicon Valley is especially bad about this, but it's a much broader societal problem. I don't get the suggestion that they'd be embarrassed by diversity statistics regarding age. Why would they be embarrassed that they hire a bunch of bright 22 year olds? You're supposed to get in on stuff like this when you're just out of college, right?

I know that's not exactly what this is dealing with, but as long as it's considered abnormal to do things outside a set age range ("10 Reasons to Travel While You're Still Young"), this is going to be a pervasive problem.
posted by teponaztli at 4:07 PM on October 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm in my forties and I am competing with people who are 20 years younger than I am (in a tech field). I get by as a contractor, consultant or freelancer (and because I speak another language and can work with clients around the world), but it would be very tough to get a job in the local tech industry doing what I do, for enough pay to support my family.
posted by Nevin at 4:08 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

The idea that old people are especially valuable employees is almost always totally wrong. The most valuable employees are the ones who are under some delusion that the better part of their own goals and the company's goals coincide, that their interests are not exactly opposite to yours. They tend young as there is a diode between those who haven't yet learned the truth and those who know.

NOBODY EVER unlearns a truth and replaces it with a falsehood. Well, nobody you would ever want to hire anyway.
posted by bukvich at 4:15 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Digital natives" is hilarious.

I was sector editing saved games on floppies before the average millennial was born. I'm pretty sure we're well past peak "digital native". Of course, maybe that seems quaint and terribly old and somehow a strike against me.

FWIW I haven't personally had to deal with ageism yet thank goodness. My department is has a buch of mid-level middle aged men (and a few women I guess although I'm not sure if I could tell you how old all of them are). My vibe is that this is more of a small company problem than a big company problem. But I definitely don't look forward to my 50's when changing jobs is going to be next to impossible unless I manage to move up to the VP level of seniority rather suddenly. I picture myself interviewing for an IC position at a small company with fully grown kids and honestly, it seems pretty crazy. Hopefully not.
posted by GuyZero at 4:15 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Other than health care I'm not sure there's a big cost difference by age. By level, sure, but level and age are not nearly as correlated as in some industries. (And many devs "top out" at something approximating "Senior Engineer", as levels above that tend to be manager-y or at least "strategic vision" sort of things). A "Senior Engineer" can be 25 or 45 and will make roughly the same pay (which is reasonable to me if they are doing the same job).

I'm almost 40 and so far haven't seen any issues, but (a) "almost 40" isn't that old, and (b) I've worked for some high profile companies which helps a lot on the resume.

Some of the bigger companies are better about work-life balance and as such aren't as aggressively young. Startups LOVE young people because they want to squeeze a ton of hours out of someone without much pay. The issue is less bad at established companies, but I'm sure it still exists.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:16 PM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm in my fifties and still gainfully employed in tech, hoping that I can keep it going for another fifteen years. I'm on a team of seven developers/testers and five of us are over forty and one is in his sixties and we still manage to get a quality product out more or less on time.
posted by octothorpe at 4:16 PM on October 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

I recently went on a bunch of tech interviews in New York, and one startup straight-up told me (a 43 year old) that they prefer to take on recent grads so they can shape them in their image. More than one place said that while I had solid algorithmic/development skills, and the experience to pick up anything, they were looking for someone who had recently used the latest AmazeballsFramework.

It's actually really helpful to hear how shallow these people are during the interviews, rather than realize it on the job 3 months later.
posted by swift at 4:23 PM on October 26, 2015 [30 favorites]

My smartest coworker, who i've learned more from than anyone i've ever worked with(and is by far the most interesting person i know to get lunch and just chat with)... is 74. Maybe even 75 now.

He works super part time contracting for several companies pretty much whenever he feels like.

Then again, he's an electrical and mechanical engineer, not a dev. Still, he has a massive amount of experience and is regularly able to pot shot problems by making a left field suggestion or going "well what about this Obvious Thing" that me and someone else will have both skipped over as "no that's way too stupid/obvious there's no way it's that simple and we checked that!".

He's right more often than not, and very very fast at troubleshooting and problem solving. He knows enough about admin and network stuff to often solve problems i work on day to day.

And i know that most places my friends work wouldn't hire him. He's the wrong kind of "weird", which is a set that doesn't just include old. You have to be modern weird.

Younger people cost less. It's as simple as that.

In my experience this isn't true. Young, new hires are getting paid more than old employees that have spent years climbing the ladder. And then when those people go look for a job somewhere else, they're either overqualified or get passed over essentially for being in the industry too long.

This is absolutely a thing, and i say this as someone firmly in the young bracket of this industry. I know people a couple years out of school outearning people who have worked in the industry since before windows 95, doing essentially the same job with almost or the same title... At the same company, even.

I'm definitely on the team with the theory that this is about boundaries and workplace exploitation. Young people are way more willing to work too fucking long and hard, and jettison the rest of their lives to work "crunch time" for no legitimate reason.
posted by emptythought at 4:26 PM on October 26, 2015 [27 favorites]

one startup straight-up told me (a 43 year old) that they prefer to take on recent grads so they can shape them in their image

Yeah. Even as a somewhat-old-guy I see the appeal. The argument is that new grads have no habits, bad or good. Which is true. Simplistic and kind of dehumanizing, but I suppose true in a reductionist way.

Younger people cost less. It's as simple as that.

In tech, at least in the valley, it's not like young people are all that cheap or as if companies are cost-sensitive. It's just a set of weird stereotypes.
posted by GuyZero at 4:28 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Agism hit everyone who isn't following the route of the dominant cultural norm. It's often a (possibly unintentional) filter against people who aren't considered typical.

For instance, it strongly impacts women reentering the workforce after child care. I have a friend who took ten years off work, had a truly stellar cv in marketing before that time, managed a small business while she was home with her kids and still can't get past the interview for a new job. (One company actually told her that she'd have better luck if she dyed her grey hair.)

In another case, there's a young woman I just met here in Hong Kong who comes from quite a poor family. After high school she took time off to help her father with his recycling business, and then returned to school four years later for economics (in the US--she won a scholarship). She can't even get an interview with the big firms now because HR teams think there's something wrong with her because she is starting so late with a first job ( 27).

(And I don't believe the cheaper thing-- not unless you are in a country with collective bargaining agreements, but even then the difference is not as large as described.)
posted by frumiousb at 4:36 PM on October 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm in my early 40s and definitely saw this kind of attitude, both at the tech startup I worked at and at others I worked with or had friends at. I was involved in interviewing at my company and there were people I would have liked to have brought in but I knew there was no way they'd ever be accepted. "The kind of person you'd want to have a beer with" as hiring yardstick wasn't even an unspoken rule, it was company policy from the CEO on down. At 40, I'm not sure I'd have even gotten an interview if I didn't have a friend there who basically strongarmed them into hiring me.

The tech company I work for now is muuuuuch bigger -- like, corporate Death Star with staff the size of a small city bigger -- and it sucks in some ways compared to startups, but at least it has the benefit of a few hundred people in HR and Legal whose job it is to keep management from making those kinds of biased hiring decisions. Most of the people I interviewed with were younger than me, but I never for a second felt unwelcome or out of place in the way I often have in the tech startup scene.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

one startup straight-up told me (a 43 year old) that they prefer to take on recent grads so they can shape them in their image

I, and most people in software I think, know this guy. He generally has some of the worst practices around and is typically trying to keep the workforce young and inexperienced so they won't call him out on his BS and/or realize the degree of his incompetence.
posted by zachlipton at 4:44 PM on October 26, 2015 [17 favorites]

It's often a (possibly unintentional) filter against people who aren't considered typical.

Yeah, this is my take on it too. There's that whole "A players hire A players, Bs hire Cs" line of thought and the Lake Wobegon effect where companies all think that they can consistently only above-average people. And they take some pretty iffy signals to try to achieve those ends, like looking to avoid people who started late.

Let's be honest, most companies are really, really terrible at hiring. Like, if they did their primary business as badly as they did their hiring they'd be bankrupt in days. While is fine to chuckle about in abstract, less so if it means you can get a job when you're more than qualified.
posted by GuyZero at 4:45 PM on October 26, 2015 [14 favorites]

Younger people cost less. It's as simple as that.

I wish that were the case because I could use a raise.
posted by octothorpe at 4:45 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Most companies are really, really terrible at hiring.

This. And too much is delegated to HR, and HR often doesn't have a background in the main business of the company. You get a young grad with a spreadsheet and a stack of cvs doing the first evaluation, and you're in real trouble.
posted by frumiousb at 4:48 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Age 45 here, switched to front-end web development this year (but not in SV). It's awesome.

The place I work has an older development crew, and it shows. Problems are flagged way before they become problems. Code is delivered on time. Tools appear in the common repository that everyone can use, not just the person that wrote it. Delivered code can actually be built and installed. We have fewer testers, because we need fewer testers. And all of this just happens, not because of some bullshit management philosophy of the week, but because people know how to do their jobs.

It's not all sunshine and roses: arguments can develop over what didn't work a couple of decades ago. But on the whole, it's really a lovely place to do tech.
posted by underflow at 4:58 PM on October 26, 2015 [26 favorites]

Time to print up some business cards with "Consultant" on them, which is corporate for "Mercenary".
posted by The Power Nap at 4:59 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Younger people cost less. It's as simple as that.

Yep... I spent 20+ years working at Intel. Towards the end, when my manager and I had a discussion on pay raises, he had the gall to tell me I needed to work harder because he could hire a kid straight out of college for half of my current wage. Finally was RIF'd in 2001 and I'm certain that the reason I couldn't find an internal job was my age (54 at the time).
posted by jgaiser at 5:03 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am experiencing this right now. Contract Enterprise programmer for just shy of 20 years and have worked on single projects that had over billion dollar budgets. For six months I have been beating the pavement to get a job as my entire department has been let go. I have had zero success I am over qualified and cost to much is always the answer or just plain not even a call back. It is pretty disconcerting at this point. Then I came to the blue and saw this...
posted by mrgroweler at 5:03 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Well, despite my comments upstream I would say there are ways around it. Networking (connecting with people to find out what's out there) works better than replying to want-ads.
posted by Nevin at 5:12 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's a problem that solves itself - kind of. In that there's definitely some observable correlation between companies that aren't on their way towards becoming flaming disasters and those that hire well.

Kind of. The problem is that there are few companies that hire well, and many that prioritize/fetishize allegedly useful markers like age or degree or GPA or brand name company on the resume (even though they were there for 6 months and either never shipped or shipped something useless or tangential).

I do think it's a little much to expect a place as emotionally immature and socially inept as silicon valley to handle this well. Also - it's been a while since I had to interview, but I do remember there being a day and night difference between the sharpness of the folks I talked to at places that have turned out to have done well over time vs. places that you could just tell weren't going to go anywhere. Sometimes that correlated with age - but I will say that the more diverse the company, the better. The companies I talked to that trotted out parades of cocky white dudes have pretty much all failed except for one ponzi scheme exception.

So what's the answer? I'm in my 40s, and according to valley average I should have switched jobs 10 times already instead of just 5. Barring my network coming up with a pretty sweet new gig, my plan is to GTFO or hang up my own shingle after my current job runs its course.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:17 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Interestingly, I am a woman in tech and have not had this problem. Probably because I went insultant early. I do QA but have also done architecture and BA stuff, and more often than not they come to me. I only work about half the year because I can't deal with the bs for longer than that. There is always more work for a generalist, and I have spent a lot of time larnin the young ins to problem solve and speak respectfully to one another. I also am not SV and have no children to support, I would imagine that makes a difference. FWIW, I'm 47 but am told I don't look it. They may be saying that cause I would clobber them miss piggy style otherwise.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 5:26 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's like this outside tech, too. In graphic design, unless you're able to keep a stable of clients freelancing, you might as well hang it up once you get into your late 40s. No shop is going to hire you at that age unless you have a monster portfolio and CV. And, even then, at that age, if you're not looking for the Creative Director position, they look at you like you're broken.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:32 PM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, 50 here. Been doing web stuff since 1995, tech stuff since the late 80s. Key part of teams with multiple successful ipo offerings. Couldn't get a salary job in tech for love or money. Perhaps if I were a marathon runner, and spent a fortune on plastic surgery, but a well padded middle aged lady who isn't ashamed of aging, not so much.

And freelancing gigs are paying a lot less than they used to, because kids with college loans are desperate for income and will work for less than I made 20 years ago.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best software engineers I ever worked with was at a small company where the average age would've been at least 40, with some in their 60s or 70s. Now all my colleagues are recent grads and it's like Lord of the fucking Flies.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2015 [16 favorites]

Also, young managers feel funny managing someone their father's age.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:37 PM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

64 here. Long term experience in software development (almost 40 years as a professional). Got a job last year - for a company that doesn't like to pay anyone much, and really likes to hire young and cheap - but i was willing to work cheap as long as my health insurance was paid and they paid me enough that I could save some money along the way. It helped that I didn't need much to relocate - just a local apartment - I'm on my own here (the cats and Mr. D&G are living in a house I own and that's paid for).

I'm the oldest person in the office by far. There are some good youngsters there too - but a few of them are just way too clever and love to write fancy looking but unmaintainable and inefficient code (I've been there myself, learned better). Some of them just looked at one of those pieces and instead of replacing it with something maintainable are now going to replace it with something even more clever and (they claim) faster and way less maintainable. I'm dubious, but my expressed doubts have been ignored. Heh, their loss - it does mean that I may not claim the stock they're giving me cheap as I'm not convinced it will be worth much.

My goal is to last here as long as I can, working 40 hour weeks and aiming for retirement. Once that happens I plan to see if I can find some part time, maybe remote work - but it won't kill me if I can't.
posted by Death and Gravity at 6:49 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

For the people who have been out of work for a while (eg, people who took a break to raise kids/see the world after graduation), I wonder how much of the problem is not having internal referrals. In my experience with BigCorp, huge blocks of hires come from internal referrals from existing employees; it's a signal that person A who has been hired thinks that person B has what it takes, which is about as good as any other signal you get in a hiring process. I switched out of academia at 33, and felt like 'submit resume' buttons were basically a black hole.

I've also been interested in the rise of bootcamps and such. I've been doing some mentoring work with a data science bootcamp; a major part of their funding comes from employers looking for some pre-screening and training. And most of the bootcampers I've worked with are people doing career changes; the bootcamp more-or-less stands in for having a social network in their new area. The people who thrive most have some knowledge at the start of the camp, learn a little bit more, and do a kickass project.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:07 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

eeek. I got into the field when I was 38. Closer now to 60 than 40.

I've had flat-out ageism, and yes it's mostly with the startups; bigger companies generally interview better, so I have a shot if they ask the right technical questions.

A bigger impediment is not having a degree. Of course I dropped out of uni about 2 decades before the Internet got big. Still, this means I usually get filtered out by resume-scanning software.

Anyway, just about every gig I've had came from good network leads and referrals. And I'm still willing to learn a new framework every 2 to 3 years -sigh-. I've thought about doing a bootcamp, for a faster ramp-up, the connections and some cred to wave around, but the cost has put me off.

Coding is still fun though, and I still giggle occasionally that people pay me for something I'd be doing anyway.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:29 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Joe Chip- you hit the nail on the head. The last gig I had was being lorded over by a real live Bronie. Who sucked at his job, and was the only person I have ever met that had not one redeeming quality.

And be sitting down for this one-

The architect needed my lowly QA help to be able to deploy a feature that allowed them to put.an.image.in.a.webpage.

I was ashamed for all of them.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I quite enjoy coding, even after all these years - but the stuff I do at work doesn't count really. It's mostly navigating through a maze of badly designed databases, weirdly connected services, and more objects than you can point a stick at.

I do keep writing fun code for myself though, but it's mostly nothing that anyone else would care about (solutions for various puzzles and games, a restricted web link explorer). That code I try to keep clean and elegant.

The stuff for work is mostly just a mess of glue code sticking together a mess of legacy glue code. It is fun when it works, but getting there is often more painful than fun or interesting.
posted by Death and Gravity at 7:56 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like some others who've chimed in so far, I'm heading toward my 40s with some amount of apprehension about the next time I have to hit the job market. I sort of got my feet wet again with an interview a few months back with a "mature startup" in the area, but even thought it isn't a Silicon Valley company, the management philosophy and culture seemed very much oriented toward having younger engineers work their asses off because they had stock options, rather than paying people a fair salary for a 40-ish hour work week, so by the end of the day I knew it wasn't going to work out.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by some that this is less about the fact that 20-sometings cost less in salary and more about the fact that they're more likely to work longer hours, especially if you give them a sliver of equity in the company. This is, of course, typical penny wise, pound foolish mismanagement. God knows what kind of code you're getting out of them during their 58th hour that week, but I wouldn't want to have to fix it.

The frustrating thing is that there are more remunerative career paths a late 30s or older software engineer can take, but they all involve doing things a lot of us just don't want to do. Team lead-level management, project management, and architect positions are generally within reach to any competent engineer who has any modicum of soft skills, but some of us really do like writing code and are still really good at it, and just want to be able to do so and maintain some semblance of a life outside work.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:55 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

33 here. In an interesting position:

I've got a high school diploma, a little college, no university. I've been working full time since I was 18. My first jobs were all computer repair gigs. I did that for 7 years, then traded 'up' to generalist IT guy for a small company that grew rapidly. Being the only tech there, as well as an introverted, soft-spoken guy my contributions and hard work went unappreciated by the people that mattered, and though my pay grew over my years there, they never quite trusted me and never promoted me to dept. head to let me hire underlings. When I finally got an 'assistant', he was hired, pretty transparently, to replace me. I found myself doing nothing all day and quit, severely depressed at the loss of the job I thought might be my career. Quite honestly, the money, regular hours, and relative ease of my job kept me in a place I was unhappy for far too long. Like, about 4 years too long. Having done both code and general IT in my last job, I figured I'd try transitioning to just code. It took almost 2 months to find a new gig, making more than $10,000 less a year, at a startup.

Having no diploma, the big corps won't hire me, and finding steady work for a mid-sized company with more relaxed hiring policies was proving impossible. I was getting less than 10% callbacks. The startup hired me right away and is at least paying me enough to live off, though I'm going to have to tighten my belt. I expect to be working pretty hard, but at least it'll give me a few more buzzwords to put on the 'ol CV if the company doesn't become the next [insert big web company of the moment here].

So, I'm alright, but I fear for the future. When I was young, I taught myself to code, I taught myself IT, and I'm still learning new things today but as I approach 40 I'm really asking myself if I shouldn't just go to trade school and become an electrician or plumber or something. It seems like if you're in tech, you'll be hustling your whole life if you can't land a big corporate job. Even if I went and got a diploma, I don't think a big corp is really where I want to be anyway.

I love programming, I love computers, but honestly the idea of going from startup to startup or forever trying to find that perfect niche position in a medium-sized company is terrifying. I just want a good salary, clear expectations, normal hours, 4 weeks vacation every year... security. Does it just not exist anymore?
posted by signsofrain at 10:51 PM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

IT guy here, been supporting small business networks since around 1995. I'm 52, and I'm pulled in a couple of directions here.

Yes, I would hire a young tech over an older one for a typical tech position. I'm sorry, but (a) cheaper (b) much more eager to get out there and do the work (c) not absolutely bitter about past experiences with frustrating clients (d) much easier to train in how I want things done without a lot of friction. At the same time, I'm not going to hire a young person for design or consultation on complicated networks. I want experienced people for that, and that comes with time in the trade much more than time in school. If you're 65 and have good solid network and system design skills, that's more valuable to me than some new kid who knows how to install antivirus but can't figure out that the antivirus is the problem.

I realize I have a shelf life as a tech, and I'm much more effective as the Elder Statesman that is often called in to talk the client out of "The Cloud" as an example of the new, trendy shiny thing that is going to solve all their business problems while at ONE WHACK saving them a ton of time and effort. It didn't happen when the 30 year old went to the owner and said "a website will double our sales" in 1998 (no, it won't, especially when said website is just your catalog rendered in HTML, without a whole lotta work behind it), it won't work with the cloud, when an Amazon instance blink can take your scheduling software offline for a whole afternoon, it won't work when you spend 30 grand on a smartphone app that's nothing but your marketing leave behinds.

Sorry for the long rant.
posted by disclaimer at 2:01 AM on October 27, 2015

In the US, the word "geezer" is never heard outside of the context of "old geezer".

In the UK, it's just a very casual word for "bloke" or "dude". This changed my initial parsing of the title a bit!

also I'll never get over the insistent association in my brain that it's "wiz" kid, as in "wizard", and "whiz" is just onomatopœia for pissing
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:03 AM on October 27, 2015

My point being that there is absolutely a place for young AND old people in this field, and it's important that I clarify this about "young" techs: if you're 22 and fresh out of school, great. If you're 35 and fresh out of school great. If you're 35 and have been working in this field for longer than a few years, you're gonna have some habits that I might not want. If you're 35 and changing careers, let's talk. It's got nothing to do with your physical age. It has everything to do with your skill level and your expectations and what's needed to do the work.
posted by disclaimer at 2:08 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Geez, reading this thread, how does anyone find work over age 45? Makes me wonder if there are cities of homeless middle aged people out there.
posted by gehenna_lion at 4:31 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I often wonder if my delayed college career helps me get interviews. I didn't graduate from Pitt until I was almost 34 years old so if you're looking at my resume and see that 1998 graduation date, it looks like I'm in my mid-thirties not my early fifties. Of course I walk in for the interview and they see my gray beard and bald head and the jig is up.
posted by octothorpe at 4:54 AM on October 27, 2015

I switched software jobs this year. I'm in my mid-40s, with a lot of experience and advanced degree, so I was making good money (well, so you'd think, but in Fairfax County, VA...anyway). More than one recruiter and company were really keen to talk to me after seeing my resume, but when the topic of salary came up, recruiters told me that could make me difficult to place and companies often said sorry, that's not in the range for this position. One startup told me they don't pay purely technical folks what I was making, and I'd have to do business development. Thanks, but no. Just no.

It took about 6 months (during which I had a full-time job that I wasn't even sure I was quitting), but I found a company I really liked and got an offer at the same salary (and better benefits). So I jumped ship this summer and it's been great. I have more leadership responsibility and less coding than would be optimal, but everyone I work with is great, and the project is interesting, so it's still fun.

TL;DR: At least around here (DC metro area), it seem like age matters a lot less than other factors, like salary and enthusiasm (and sometimes security clearance). Some companies focus too much on LatestAmazingFramework(TM), but there are also ones looking for competent, smart people who can learn.
posted by at home in my head at 6:11 AM on October 27, 2015

I'm 33 but still get mistaken for being in my late 20s by some of my younger co-workers. Still, I'd rather have a beer with my colleagues who are in the over-40 cohort; they are way better conversationalists then the youngsters.

I'm also a hiring manager and I work really, really hard to not let age (or any other non-work-related factors) bias my decisions. I also never turned someone down because of "lack of culture fit". Candidates who otherwise look good on paper but don't pass muster interview invariably fail because they turn out to be liars in some fundamentally critical way. Seriously people, DON'T PUT IT ON YOUR CV if you can't actually back it up.
posted by Doleful Creature at 6:33 AM on October 27, 2015

What's the difference between 33 and late 20s ... 4 years? That's like if you're 29 and you're mistaken for being 25. Age carries so much cultural weight it's crazy, and I have to be honest, it bugs me out a little, especially when it comes to making a living. Which reminds me that I need to take my career to the next level up, like, right now.
posted by gehenna_lion at 6:45 AM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I suppose blind recruitment doesn't work for age, as experience is what comes with it.
posted by asok at 6:55 AM on October 27, 2015

Oh and I should add that my all-time favorite colleague to have a beer with is my former team lead at a small software shop. He's in his mid sixties, has the lamest jokes but the most outrageous stories. I'd have a beer with him every day of the week if I could.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:23 AM on October 27, 2015

Gehenna_lion, you're totally right of course but it's hilarious every time I tell a 25 year old that I'm 33 they're like "whaaaa??? I thought you were like 28, dude". And they sound so crestfallen! Like you just fell down a peg, like being over 30 is the expiration date on being iteresting. It's crazy and stupid.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:27 AM on October 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Geez, reading this thread, how does anyone find work over age 45? Makes me wonder if there are cities of homeless middle aged people out there.

Slight derail here, but as far as I am aware, the unemployment stats that get released periodically do NOT include those who would like to work but have given up the search. It also doesn't include those who can't find work in their field and are just getting by in some McJob. And of course, the longer you're out, the harder it is to get back in.

One of my long-time friends, fellow nerd, got his diploma in electronic technology and started a career in component sales, got laid off in his late 30s, and was never able to secure fulltime work again. They get by, his wife's a nurse and he enthusiastically took on the role of stay-at-home dad, and he's got a small part-time business going. But basically he got knocked out of his career track and could not get back in.

So they're mostly not homeless, but yes there's a non-trivial number of middle-aged or older people who have been knocked out or shut out of their field. And yet the companies cry they can't find enough STEM people and have to import visa workers...
posted by Artful Codger at 7:41 AM on October 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

HA- I'm studying for my PMP as we speak. And clear expectations in tech is a thing of the past- agile has put paid to that idea. In startups- primarily because they have no fucking clue what they are doing for the most part. Every time I go into a new space I have to sit sr management down and ask them what they really, actually want. Then derive a plan for them to get there, because they wave their hands about using buzzwords that don't mean anything.

That being said, I have gotten to work with some really great youngsters- a few of them I keep an eye on for when they are good at what they do.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 7:41 AM on October 27, 2015

I'm in my late 50s working for a (non-SV) tech company and looking at a major restructuring in early 2016. I have no expectation of getting another job at the level I'm currently at. I wish it were different but I understand the reality. And I believe there are more pressing problems with regards to diversity. Let's solve them first.
posted by tommasz at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've got a high school diploma, a little college, no university. [...] I just want a good salary, clear expectations, normal hours, 4 weeks vacation every year... security.

signsofrain, I was in the same boat, and like someone else in the thread finally got my degree in my early thirties. It's not a CS degree, but a liberal arts degree in something I love and which will make me approximately zero dollars. But it's opened lots of doors at places where the requirement isn't so much that you have a CS degree, but some kind of degree, and some kind of programming experience.

So if you can finish up your studies, it might help land you a gig at a relatively secure company, though I wonder if the kind of security you want is a thing of the past. Small companies get swallowed by big companies or run out of money, and big companies adapt too slowly and leave a trail of forced reductions.

Insecurity seems to be the norm in 2015.
posted by swift at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's no such thing as security in a job in 2015. You could work for a small company but then they run out of cash or get bought or their board of directors decides that the company needs to be leaner to be a good acquisition target and you get laid off. Or you could work for a big company but then they decide to consolidate your department to North Carolina and you get the choice of moving (at your own expense) or getting laid off. Or you could work for government but then the new mayor/governor/president decides to cut the budget on your agency and you get laid off. Or you could work for yourself but then you never have any security because your're always hustling for contracts and you never know if the last client will ever pay you.
posted by octothorpe at 11:13 AM on October 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

And I believe there are more pressing problems with regards to diversity. Let's solve them first.

Except, as I pointed out earlier-- ageism is linked to other kinds of diversity problems. And it's one of the areas where people don't even feel ashamed about admitting they discriminate-- even in this thread!
posted by frumiousb at 4:43 PM on October 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I did that for 7 years, then traded 'up' to generalist IT guy for a small company that grew rapidly. Being the only tech there, as well as an introverted, soft-spoken guy my contributions and hard work went unappreciated by the people that mattered, and though my pay grew over my years there, they never quite trusted me and never promoted me to dept. head to let me hire underlings. When I finally got an 'assistant', he was hired, pretty transparently, to replace me. I found myself doing nothing all day and quit, severely depressed at the loss of the job I thought might be my career. Quite honestly, the money, regular hours, and relative ease of my job kept me in a place I was unhappy for far too long. Like, about 4 years too long.

Oh god. This is me. Oh god, what the fuck do i do.

(no but seriously, this is EXACTLY my story)
posted by emptythought at 6:12 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the weird benefits of my current company is that nearly everybody, from the executive team to the middle managers down to the newest hires, come from an atypical background. Our COO only got his GED and never set foot in a university. Half the executive team are immigrants for whom English is their second language. Hell even our legal counsel got into law after spending over a decade as some sort of wandering bartender/tattoo enthusiast.

We're not a diverse workplace because of any special HR dispensation. We're diverse by default...and while I think some biases still creep in on an individual level (I'm constantly checking myself for blind spots) on the whole it turns out that I work with an extremely diverse group of people, not just diverse by gender or race, but also by age, socioeconomic status, level of education, and everything else you can think of. Sometimes I wonder how we manage to all "have a beer together" (we actually have regular company-sponsored happy hours after work) but we do, and ultimately I think it comes down to a few key leaders who really invest in the idea that camaraderie is less about common background and more about common cause.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:41 PM on October 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

the unemployment stats that get released periodically do NOT include those who would like to work but have given up the search.

What exactly happens to those people, anyway?
posted by thelonius at 5:41 AM on October 28, 2015

A New Study Shows Age Discrimination is Widespread in the Workforce. (And it seems to impact women more strongly than men, from these numbers.)
posted by frumiousb at 8:10 AM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I read an article that has stuck with me (but can't seem to do the right search to turn it up) that a man's perceived range of peak competence is something like age 28-55. During that time, many people view him as leadership material, competent at his job and trustworthy. For women, it's something like 33-42. I'm starting to think that botox should be classified as a business expense.
posted by amanda at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2015

... a man's perceived range of peak competence is something like age 28-55

On a social/emotional basis I'm barely 28, and still laff at farts. So there's that.

Anyway, yesterday this codger just secured a contract for the winter. It came from me checking with my network.

Old guy advice: Never never burn bridges. I don't stay in touch with or kiss up to people I despise, but if companies or people treat me fairly, I always try to leave on a good note, ask for and respect their opinion of my work, and thank them for the opportunity.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Slight derail here, but as far as I am aware, the unemployment stats that get released periodically do NOT include those who would like to work but have given up the search. It also doesn't include those who can't find work in their field and are just getting by in some McJob.

Actually, they do. I believe you're looking for U-6. That's not usually the number touted in headlines, but it is being measured. (U-3 is the "official" measure.)
posted by jimw at 10:49 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Old guy advice: Never never burn bridges

This. Especially if you live in a smaller city, the person you piss off at your last job may be the hiring manager at your next job.
posted by octothorpe at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2015

I'm 42 years old now and count me as another one here who has worked in tech for almost 20 years but never got around to getting a college degree.

I grew up with computers so I was always good with them. After graduating from high school in 1991, I dicked around for a while but after some time I got serious about getting into the workforce doing what I loved: computers. I got my start in SV doing desktop support contract gigs and eventually got hired by a startup. This startup got bought out by a megacorp in the late 90's and I was living the .com boom dream. At least, until the bubble burst.

There were literally no jobs anywhere in SV for an IT generalist like myself after that. I looked for work, but my stock money and severance pay ran out and I couldn't even afford the shitty studio in Fremont that I was renting. So with my last $1,000 I moved to Los Angeles, got a shitty studio in Koreatown, and delivered pizza. I finally scored a technical analyst gig in 2002 and have been with the same company ever since, very slowly climbing the ladder. I now hold the title of Senior Systems Engineer, but my pay is medium-low.

I sure wish I didn't fuck around right after high school and had gone to college instead. I reckon I'd be much better off now.

A couple years ago I started attending classes at a local Community College with the aim of getting an Arts degree. I know Arts won't do anything for my career in tech, but at least I'll have something to get me past the robotic scanners if I get laid off again. And Arts is something I enjoy :)
posted by starscream at 1:52 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

The more I read about the plight of tech workers, the more baffled I am that there isn't a union for them.

I can see why, say, Walmart employees aren't a union: Their employer actively fights against it. But, unless it it being completely unreported, tech workers aren't even trying to unionize. And I can't fucking understand why.
posted by clorox at 10:18 PM on October 28, 2015

And I can't fucking understand why.

Because they're so fucking smart.

There's also a thing where you identify with the 1% and assume that you'll be one of them someday or at least aspire to that (who doesn't want to be comfortable and in charge?) and so you don't want to vote against your own future interests.
posted by amanda at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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