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11/20/2013
09:06 AM
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Are You Too Old For IT?

Ageism might be a taboo topic among employers, but veteran IT pros say it's very much an industry reality.

Other IT pros in their 50s and 60s agree that age is an evident -- if unspoken -- factor, especially when on the job market.

Michael Meyers-Jouan, 65, was laid off four times in the past 10 years. "I found it harder and harder to get a job after each layoff," he said via email. "In general, whenever I got an explanation of my rejection after an interview, I was told I 'didn't have enough energy.' "

Meyers-Jouan acknowledged that compensation was sometimes an issue -- he sought a salary commensurate with his four decades of IT experience. He also acknowledged that his current skill set, which includes the likes of .NET, Visual Basic, C#, and SQL Server, had a visible blind spot: web development. "I wasn't able to offer one of the areas that many -- most -- employers want," Meyers-Jouan said. "Occasionally I found employers who said they were willing to give me the opportunity to learn about that area on the job, but even those employers ultimately rejected me."

The MIT graduate eventually opted to retire, but that wasn't his first choice. "I would have continued working for at least another five years if it weren't for the constant rejection, which was as much about my age as it was about my skill set," Meyers-Jouan said.

Retirement wasn't an option for Ken Bodnar, 57, who lost his job as chief technology officer of a money transfer and pre-paid debit card firm during the recent recession. His age, coupled with the shoddy post-financial crisis economy, became an instant issue.

"I had neckties that were older than the people interviewing me," Bodnar said in an email. "I was in technology, and technology is a young person's game."

Even after downsizing his expectations -- Bodnar said he was willing to take on lower-level positions to get back on someone's payroll -- interviews went nowhere.

"There was very, very subtle age discrimination. After an initial interview, I was told by the interviewer that they had a particular culture and they were looking for a specific fit," Bodnar said. "This culture consisted of Nerf gun wars and a beer cooler in the lunchroom."

One weeding tactic, Bodnar said, was for employers to ask about experience with newer technologies such as Ruby on Rails or MongoDB -- even though those skills weren't part of the job requirements. Bodnar eventually wrote and self-published a book about the experience, 55 And Scared Sh*tless. It's as much a cautionary personal finance tale as IT career manual; Bodnar freely shares that he'd lived beyond his means and saved almost nothing, which compounded his problems after he lost his job. It details his self-described reinvention, which involved abandoning his search for a full-time job in favor of "micro-jobbing" or "job-chunking" -- akin to short-term freelance or consulting gigs -- as well as seeking passive income opportunities.

"Oftentimes these were the drudge jobs in projects, but they paid well because they required my knowledge base. In other instances, my superior experience prevailed over the abilities of the acne crowd," Bodnar said, adding that the need for such work is more common among smaller companies with fewer in-house resources. "The benefits to the people hiring me [were] that they didn't have to keep me around at a high salary after the need was gone. I wouldn't be a burden on their employee benefits program, and they didn't have to worry about team dynamics and age diversity."

In Bodnar's view, the "micro-jobbing" or consulting path is the future of work for many people, in particular, older IT pros struggling on the job market. In his case, the shift was a success. Once his income stabilized, Bodnar began taking on equity in lieu of cash for some projects. As a result, he's now CTO of SelectBidder.com and a stakeholder in a data privacy and cloud storage company in the Bahamas, where Bodnar now lives. "This whole very negative experience has a positive side," he said. "I have my mojo back."

Hard data on age-related discrimination in IT are elusive; employers aren't exactly keen to publicize the practice. Anecdotal evidence, on the other hand, is not so hard to come by. Huckabone, the Detroit programmer, said it's a topic of conversation among fellow IT veterans. "It definitely comes up in shop talk, and I believe it's very real from what I hear," he said. "People have stories."

Industry association CompTIA doesn't track IT employment data based on age. But information compiled by its research team, based on Bureau of Labor statistics, offers an age-based breakdown of roughly 4.6 million IT positions in the U.S. The 25 to 34 age group accounts for 26.4 percent of those jobs; the 35 to 44 age group accounts for 29.7 percent; the 45 to 54 age group accounts for 23.7 percent; and the 55 to 64 age group accounts for 12.4 percent.

Ageism may be more prevalent in IT than in other fields, too. "The overall consensus from the legal community is that the IT industry does seem to have an overall higher incidence of claims of age discrimination," said Monrae L. English, an attorney with the firm Wild, Carter & Tipton.

English said the issue typically stems from problems of perception. For example, the common notion that older IT pros are more likely to have outdated skills is often wrong. "In fact, most of my cases have clearly shown that an older employee may actually have more depth and understanding of the IT world," English said. "One of my clients was actually a former hacker from the 70s, and while some of the kids who were coming in understood the latest fad software, my older employee had the ability to grasp any kind of software out there and run circles around the younger employees."

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cjohanssonv6t
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cjohanssonv6t,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 4:44:08 PM
Re: Probably a simple reason
Surgeons that don't have steady hands cannot practice, they mentor the younger ones, atleast in Canada (not sure in the US). The surgeon that handled the c-section of my eldest boy was 68, had glasses and a steady pair of hands. As he was showing the procedure, there was two others in training (all in their late 30's) and helping out. As I held my wife's hand, the elder surgeon was asking questions and pointing out mistakes of the trainees. Later I asked about the process, apparently they had to be mentored under an experinced surgeon for 5 years before they could go solo just for the c-section.

This raises another thought, if you're specializing in Medicine: 4 yrs in college, 2-4 years in med school + 7 years specialization + 5 years being mentored ~ 20 years. No wonder most of the doctors with specialization are typically in their 40's.

To answer your question, would I hire someone older than me. Definitely. Are you applying? I see little IT pros out there much older than me so the likeihood would be rare. The older IT fellow that we did hire, it was my staff that suggest we keep his resume in the pool for I tossed it out (it read like he was going for my position hence over quialfied and he didn't address the resume to the position). At the interview, I then spotted how he would be useful in many other areas other than the position applied for.

To be fair, if I was interviewing someone for a position and they said they wish to retire in 1-2 years out, I would probably not. The ave staff rotation at the Univ I work at is 5 yrs hence I use the 5 year rule, I need to have the person in for about 5 years. Getting a new person up to speed takes time and energy.
Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 4:35:28 PM
RE: Keepin up with Tech
Howard:  First, thanks for being so frank -- I'm sure there are a lot of us gray beards out here who can relate to your plight.  Personally, I found that happening, so I put myself through the exercise of figuring out why people would want to hire me.  I literally made four lists:

1. Things I do well and in which I have extensive experience. (social media? finance? tech? Writing?)

2. Things I need from a job to make me really happy.  (money? location? flex hours?)

3. Jobs that require expertise in the first list and offer most of the second. 

4. Companies that offer those jobs. Then I approach those companies and tell them affirmatively that I can help them with that job -- whether they are advertising for it or not.

That may sound simplistic, but it has led me to a series of fascinating jobs over the past 20 years. I have even convinced at least three employers to create a job for me.  I'm 60 now, and have no intention of quitting anytime soon, but when I do, I already know what I'm doing next. In fact, I have a few things in the No. 3 group (I keep the list current, just in case.)
LogicalThinker
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LogicalThinker,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 4:34:16 PM
Forced Retirement
Its a fact, the older you are when you get laid off, the longer it takes to find a new position.  If the length of time to find a new position extends past their Social Security qualification age, many older workers will choose to take Social Security early (ya gotta pay the bills!).  By forcing older workers to retire early, those young bosses are also hastening the depletion of their own retirement funds.

They may not have the retire early option when they get laid off because they are too old in the future.

So, they may eventually suffer for their age discrimination acts - maybe not by the courts, but in the pocket.

It is poetic justice in a way.

 
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
11/20/2013 | 4:21:12 PM
Re: Similar Dynamic
Zuckerberg needs some counseling re employment laws, especially since he is in California, where he could be easily sued making comments about younger people being smarter.  The Detroit guy that was fired for not working 60 hours a week and complaining about it when the new hires just did it w/o complaining would also put that employer in deep hot water violating California and Federal laws, not mentioning age discrimination.  Instead of unions I prefer IT staff use the legal system instead. I would not work for someone like Zuckerberg or a union shop...I am well over 55 and still working into my 70's before I "retire".  Fortunately I have a great employer.
Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 4:19:11 PM
Women -- of any age.
Ageism is one thing. But even more frightening is the absence of women from the ranks. It's rare to see an IT department where women comprise even 10%.  That ain't right.
Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 4:16:41 PM
Re: Probably a simple reason
cjohansson: I've actually heard that if you are having important surgery, it's wiser to pick a top younger surgeon with steadier hands and sharper eyes.  As I know all too well, it is a rare human who gets past their 40s without reading glasses. And now my eye doc is telling me that we all get cataracts eventually.  More to look forward to!

BTW, you've hired one guy who's a little younger than you and some younger folks. But have you ever hired a significantly older IT pro?  Would you?

 

 
HowardL126
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HowardL126,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 4:14:29 PM
RE: Keepin up with Tech
I totallly agree with ageism in technology. I am 58 years old and for the last 8 years getting and keep  job in IT has been a struggle. Not because I did not keep up with technology. I did I was part of the mobile tech boom  working with companies like Palm, Windows, blackberry and others. Then when social media came out I was one of the first on Linkedin, Facebook, and others. I even wrote white papers and spoke a Tech expos on the subject. But the more I kept up with technology the less I found work in the field. In one case I when for a job interview and the interviewer said that they are not sure I could keep up because they used social media to contact their clients. When I told them that I was not only on social media but wrotw a blog that was pick up by IBM Social Media Boot Camp and I was on a social media panel with Luke Shepard of Facebook and that was on my resume. I told the interviewer "you didn't look at my resume  because you would not have ask me that question" All of the sudden my interview was over.

This keeps happening I have had companies read my blog or white papers. Call me up for an interview only to get there to hear you are not what we are looking for when they see me in person.


Now I am working as  a mobile consultant only because I can't get a job. I now kind of wonder what is was the point of getting my degree and having the experience if it's not valued.
cjohanssonv6t
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cjohanssonv6t,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 4:02:44 PM
Probably a simple reason
I have seen this with my college buddies who are in various of industries. It is not restricted to just IT. Newly minted professionals are cheaper, period. This is what I gather from my friends who are in the HR side of the business. However, many of these "old timers" come back as consultants because the freshly minted do not have the broad range of knowledge they need to get the job done. Overall, the company is actually spending more money. Engineers are a good example.

In my case, I'm mid-50's and I have a few newly minted IT staff and hired one old timer (~50). The young fellows have computing skills are great and current but they need me (as their director) to guide them through the various landmines of Federal etc. regs and policies, strategic planning and just basic soft skills. The old timer, understood the landscape and rarely needed me to point out a potential issue. He also picked up the skills he needed, just a quick as the younger fellows. The old fellow is less work to manage and more costly to the unit (salary, benefits etc.) but this is made up with insights he brought in from previous experience from his other places he worked at.

The question I usually mention for those that promote younger over that of older employees, if you were having surgery and had a choice of the new minted or older and experienced surgeon, who would you pick? Always the older and more expereince surgeon is picked. Experience goes a long way when a life is involved.
tcritchley07
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tcritchley07,
User Rank: Strategist
11/20/2013 | 3:52:20 PM
Ageism in IT Recruitment
I left Sun Microsystems some years ago aged a smidge short of 60 years old. I decided to try for another job, having got into IBM, Oracle and then Sun without a hitch. The problems then started. I was being interviewed for jobs by youngish people, the sort I used to have for my mid-morning snack with coffee and certainly wouldn't have had them on my 'team'. After a while, I decided to give up and write, using my 35 years experience in IT and a mass of useful material I had developed over the years. This is ongoing. The fact that some CIOs used to regularly ask my advice and opinion (because of my grey hair and gravitas) suggests I had something to offer. I had even more to offer after my years in IBM, Oracle and Sun but that didn't seem to count.

My summary: There is definitely ageism in IT recruitment, at least in the UK, flavoured with interviewers who couldn't tell an experienced and useful candidate from a grand piano - even if he/she was employed for a couple of years to help create a better IT shop. I suspect that the age of hari kiri in IT is 50.

 
Jschmidt27
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Jschmidt27,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 3:50:40 PM
Re: Similar Dynamic
a good programmer doesn't necessarily make a good manager. In fact the current young people obsession with email, texting may make then less than optimal communicator which is required to be  good manager.
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