Competing with the IT Youngsters as an Older IT Pro

Kachina Shaw

Ageism is alive and well in Silicon Valley. SFGate.com last month collected first-hand descriptions from readers of what it’s like out there in the area’s employment realm when you are (gasp) over 40. Or maybe it’s over 30.

Readers told SFGate.com that though they are well aware that their employed days are numbered, or just plain over, in the tech industry, they are not sure how they can prepare to be shoved into another line of work, since ageism is in play elsewhere, as well.

One reader tried to find the bright side to being a 58-year-old, experienced tech professional with skill sets reaching back a few years, saying, “… I could probably still get a job in Sacramento for the state government or IBM."

If you can’t find employment with a governmental office or company operating on antiquated technology, taking steps to address the perceived weaknesses of older workers is the preferred advice. Probably the most important of these types of strategies is finding a way to demonstrate that you are flexible and able to handle change gracefully. As Rebecca McCarthy writes in a piece on overcoming ageism on Patch.com:

“A stereotype about older workers is that they are more likely to want to do things how they've always done them in the past and may not be open to change. One way to overcome this stereotype is to incorporate and highlight problem solving, creativity and ability to learn new skills in your application materials.”

If you are unsure of whether you have found an effective way to demonstrate your youthful flexibility, consider asking a younger person for feedback on your approach. If you can get that feedback from a younger person working in IT, that may be even more valuable information on how you are perceived as an older IT worker.

And while proving age discrimination during a hiring process can be extremely difficult, for employees, finding a way to demonstrate that it is happening may be slightly more feasible, as more opportunities to observe patterns of behavior will likely be available. As with any other discrimination claim, documentation is vital. Age-based comments, changes in discipline, exclusion from events or training, and other behaviors specific to your company culture may demonstrate ageism, but you will need to consult with legal counsel to find out how best to document and proceed.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 10, 2013 2:23 PM Steve Schreiber Steve Schreiber  says:
With all due respect to Kachina, I found this to be a very poor article. The article has a "Put Out To Pasture" feel to it, advising "asking young people for advice" and, taking steps towards litigation. Huh?!?! How about this: "How To Succeed As An Older IT Worker" Take on IT work that is unpopular with other workers. For example: Documentation: Frequently, older workers have good written skills. Customer Service and Working With Users: If you have this skill, and (gasp) even like it, then this is huge. Research: Read technical documentation and figure out how things work. Planning and Organizing: Combined with Documentation, this can be powerful. Younger people certainly like to be organized and have To Do lists and plans, but the Planning and Review Cycle is typically avoided, and frequently detested. Shoring Up Infrastructure: the unsexy, less-visible business of IT for keeping a reliable, robust operation. (That ultimately proves helpful in avoiding or responding to disasters.) Risk Mitigation: Experience is frequently an asset here. The Tough Projects: Older workers have more experience facing fear and producing achievable goals out of large work. Just a few... Reply
Oct 10, 2013 9:58 PM rgrein rgrein  says:
Of course companies are discriminating against older workers! Generally we see through the political 'stuff' used to overwork younger workers and see little point in cooperating with the latest death march to outsourcing. Worse, we generally get 'priced out of the market', although when full value is considered we can be a bargain. (How many Jr. level network techs try for 'just one little config change' that takes the system, and the company down for half the afternoon?) Fortunately not all do. Part of the solution is, as you say demonstrating that you have the energy to compete, and the wisdom of your years. Prove you're a valuable package! Reply
Oct 11, 2013 4:47 AM Klaas Klaas  says:
In my own experience, and according to the comments by some prominent figures in Silicon valley (see http://www.quora.com/Silicon-Valley/What-do-people-in-Silicon-Valley-plan-to-do-once-they-hit-35-and-are-officially-over-the-hill#), age isn't really a factor. If one consider the comment by Jason M. Lemkin on the referenced page, age can actually count in your favor. I do interviews for the software development company I work for, and we do not care about age, only about ability and attitude. If you can deliver value, you're hired, period. And often we do hire software engineers in the 30 to 50 range. Reply
Oct 21, 2013 11:59 PM ybyte ybyte  says: in response to Steve Schreiber
@steve: your comment was the better article -- thank you for that. Katchina apparently sees older workers as losers, I do not: I got hired in my current job when I was 55, the one before that at 50. I do think I will have trouble finding a good job after this one though, not necessarily because of age discrimination but because I'm no longer that into IT, and it will show. But I consider that part of evolving: I am replacing my waning interest in IT (which was my passion for 30+ years) with an interest in finance and investing (for myself, not working for others) and have been gradually replacing my income sources from working for others to income that continues whether I get out bed and go to work or am sick or out of the country. This is very satisfying and more stable than working for someone and hoping I am popular and attractive enough to keep my job. I wish I thought of developing passive income 20 years ago! Older people observe, analyze, and keep getting smarter; I know I am. Reply

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