Over the Hill in IT, or Just a Late Bloomer?

Susan Hall
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Ten Mistakes You Should Never Make When Starting a New Job

A LinkedIn post by Vivek Wadhwa bears the headline, “The Tech Industry’s Darkest Secret: It’s All About Age.” That’s got to be the worst-kept secret ever.

Wadhwa describes tech as an “ ‘up or out’ profession — like the military. And it’s as competitive as professional sports. Engineers need to be prepared,” though he cites some research to back that up.

An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census data by University of California- Berkeley professors Clair Brown and Greg Linden say that in the semiconductor industry, salary increases slowed for engineers older than 40 and after 50, the mean salary for bachelors-degree engineers fell by 17 percent and 14 percent for those with master’s degrees and PhDs.

Wadhwa notes a premium on youth in Silicon Valley among investors in startups. He writes:

It may be wrong, but look at this from the point of view of the employer. Why would any company pay a computer programmer with out-of-date skills a salary of say $150,000, when it can hire a fresh graduate — who has no skills — for around $60,000? Even if it spends a month training the younger worker, the company is still far ahead. The young understand new technologies better than the old do, and are like a clean slate: They will rapidly learn the latest coding methods and techniques, and they don’t carry any “technology baggage.” The older worker likely has a family and needs to leave the office by 6 p.m. The young can easily pull all-nighters.

He advises older tech workers to become entrepreneurs despite investors’ youth bias; go into management, architecture, or design; and to keep their skills current.

Colleen Aylward, "Bedlam to Boardroom: How To Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track," in an interview with my colleague Don Tennant, had some harsher advice, including:


Lose weight, get a tan, start working out. … if you've let your body atrophy, then we just assume you've let your mind atrophy. If you take a while, and huff and puff to get across the room, can you really work in an agile environment?

Meanwhile, Dr. David Shaywitz, writing at Forbes about 500 Startups founder Dave McClure’s blog post “late bloomer, not a loser,” adds:

"… whether the barrier is an unorthodox career path or a different learning style, biases of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation … or the ageism described by McBride, our ability to succeed and change the world for the better can be limited by our own preconceived notion of what success looks like.

“… McClure’s relatively late success, and that of many others, demonstrate what can be achieved by removing artificial constraints, maintaining an open mind, and focusing only on building the best team possible.”

McClure was 46.



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