Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
News
11/20/2013
09:06 AM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

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.

It is illegal for employers to base hiring and firing decisions on a person's age. Explicit discrimination can be tricky to prove, however, and age can have subtler effects on someone's career -- perhaps even more so if they work in IT.

Ageism in IT isn't a new story, but it typically doesn't travel beyond the confines of Silicon Valley and its youthful startup culture. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, told the audience at a 2007 Y Combinator Startup School event: "I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter." Zuckerberg's now a wizened 28-year-old, which also happens to be the average age of Facebook employees, according to a recent study. The average age of Google's workforce is 29.

The IT profession, though, extends well beyond the Silicon Valley and the technology industry at large. So does ageism.

Gary Huckabone, who lives in the Detroit area, has been programming since the 80s, when he toiled with the likes of Digital Equipment Corp's VAX/VMS. Later, he moved into UNIX and Oracle database work. Today, Huckabone's focused on .NET desktop applications and ASP.NET Web apps. He currently works for an agency that contracts with one of the Big Three automakers.

[The cybersecurity industry is growing fast. Here's how to land a job, even if you don't have direct experience: Looking For A Security Job? You Don't Need To Be Bo Derek.]

"I am an old guy," Huckabone, 56, said in an interview. The IT veteran isn't a complainer, nor has he ever been part of any actual age discrimination claims. He doesn't lack confidence, either -- "I'm good at what I do," Huckabone said -- but he has become increasingly aware of how employers may perceive his age.

Prior to his current gig, Huckabone worked for a Detroit firm that had hired him because of his experience, not in spite of it. "The other six developers were basically fresh out of college," Huckabone said. "They hired me as someone who had some gray hair and had been around the block a few times."

Huckabone discovered, though, that the firm expected 60-hour workweeks to be business as usual for the development team. Unlike startups offering equity stakes or established companies with attractive incentive plans, there was no upside to the long hours. "I've worked plenty of 50- and 60-hour weeks, but there's got to be some kind of reward," Huckabone said. "You can't just keep doing that and get nothing in return." Unlike his younger coworkers, Huckabone voiced his concerns; according to him, things came to a head when he asked for an afternoon off and was told no. He was later fired from the position.

Back on the job market, Huckabone was upbeat -- he saw a thriving software sector and plenty of opportunities. But he found it took longer than expected to land his next gig. "I probably did twice as many interviews -- this is a guess, of course -- than I would have done if I was 32 instead of 56, " Huckabone said. "You never know [if age is a factor], because obviously no one's going to tell you and a lot of it is probably subconscious. I think a lot of people are just uncomfortable talking to a guy who has confidence. I'm not out there all nervous and begging for job. It's a 'this is what I do, I'm good at it, take it or leave it' kind of attitude."

It wasn't the first time Huckabone wondered whether his age was an employment factor. In 2010, he'd been contacted about a potential position with Google. At the time, Huckabone trimmed his resume for brevity. "I had lopped off probably my first 10 years, just to keep the resume a little quicker read. I wasn't trying to hide my age. [I was] just trying to keep it to more recent experience. Nobody really cares about my VAX VMS stuff back in 1988, quite frankly," he said.

After a phone interview and two subsequent online meetings with Google that included coding tests, Huckabone was flown to Mountain View for a full day of in-person interviews. It didn't lead to a job offer. There could be any number of reasons why, but Huckabone noted it was the first time anyone at Google had been able to see him in the flesh. "I don't know if you've ever been to their campus, but it's basically a sea of 30-year-olds," Huckabone said.

"I don't think they did anything conscious. I just think it was a subconscious 'we don't like older people, we want to be surrounded by younger people' [mindset]," Huckabone said. "I do believe it's just a subconscious thing that pervades their culture."

Previous
1 of 3
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 7   >   >>
MariposaW534
100%
0%
MariposaW534,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 7:35:40 AM
Ageism and Sexism
Ageism AND sexism are prevalent in IT. I recently experienced both and as a result changed careers. Lower salaries coupled with longer hours just wasn't for me...and I had to return to school just to catch up. But Zuckerburg is SO wrong..maturity trumps youth every time. They'll learn their lesson and burnout at 35. I'm the happiest I've ever been in a long time...less stress and more control of my time. Glad to know it's finally being acknowledged!!!
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
11/22/2013 | 10:32:42 PM
Re: TOO OLD??? ARE YOU KIDDING????
I'm with you, turquhart.  While I've found that young people are frequently more open to innovation, Those 45+ generally know their stuff more -- and are more passionate about what they do.
ThomasL787
50%
50%
ThomasL787,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/22/2013 | 2:41:23 PM
Ageism in IT
"Younger people are smarter"  Really?  You wouldn't be able to prove that statement by the quality of students I see entering our University.  They think they are smart, but when you really begin to drill down through the layers of their knowledge, it's just a shell.  There are no fundamentals, no in-depth background and definitely no breadth to their knowledge base.  For instance, they can play their cell phone like a piano, but they have no idea of how it actually works.  I wouldn't hire about 90% of them because it would take years before they had accumulated enough knowledge and wisdom to be useful in any sort of challenging technical environment.
builder7
50%
50%
builder7,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/22/2013 | 1:48:20 AM
Re: poor Mark
He is almost over the hill, so he is over compensating.  What he thinks of as smart is actually the way that they act so much like little kids that he thinks they are smart.  That and that they take him serious!
twins.fan
100%
0%
twins.fan,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 5:48:19 PM
Older US workers are perfectly qualified to be STEM workers.
Look at the other technology professions.  How many Nobel prizes have been granted to young workers in the technology Noble prizes, like chemistry, physics and medicine where older workers are not routinely forced out of their jobs?
mak63
100%
0%
mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/21/2013 | 5:16:35 PM
Re: Outdating of skills
@Joe Stanganelli

Ultimately, it's about the fundamental understanding.

How true. I believe, with that fundamental understanding and the will to learn, there's no limit how far an IT person can go, irrelevant of age.

 
mak63
50%
50%
mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/21/2013 | 5:02:35 PM
Re: Are You Too Old For IT?
The video below made my day. Thank you for posting.

Anyhow, this article feels close to home. I'm a 50 years old IT guy. Now a days, my new home page is Craigslist/Computer_Gigs.

I guess you can count me in doing "micro-jobbing" or "job-chunking"
anon2394440233
50%
50%
anon2394440233,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 4:33:22 PM
Re: read this meetup jobpost thread
from the meetup post:

Thank you for your reply - I apologized for the way I phrased the posting but it's the truth. This company wants a young, passionate team to grow with the company. If I present anyone more than 6-7 years out of college, they will not schedule an interview. 


There are tons of federal acts trying to make everyone equal but at the end of the day companies know exactly what they want and will say "their personality doesn't fit the culture" or "their experience isn't a match" when in reality the individual is too old. 
anon2394440233
50%
50%
anon2394440233,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 4:31:18 PM
read this meetup jobpost thread
which will tell you everything you need to know about 'culture' and ageism in IT. This was Denver

http://www.meetup.com/DenverIPhone/messages/boards/thread/25461812
sfreeves
50%
50%
sfreeves,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 2:08:19 PM
Age is Only A Number
If age is holding companies back from excelling at what they do best because of a learning curve, why are majority of companies ran by older people?  I've always been taught that 'everyone brings their own worth to the table, but not one person brings all the worth'.  I value the 'experienced' people in the IT field, that's who I look to for guidance and let's just say none of them are in there 20s or even there 30s. 
<<   <   Page 2 / 7   >   >>
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - July 22, 2014
Sophisticated attacks demand real-time risk management and continuous monitoring. Here's how federal agencies are meeting that challenge.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.