Too Old To Earn Big In IT? - InformationWeek
IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
09:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata

Too Old To Earn Big In IT?

If you're feeling like your IT career has passed its 'sell by' date, you're not alone, according to the results of our latest flash poll.

When we asked in a recent flash poll if you've witnessed age discrimination in IT, we never imagined that nearly 70% of you would respond with a resounding "Yes."

In the poll, "Has Your IT Career Passed Its 'Sell By' Date?," conducted between June 23 and July 1, 40.62% of the 901 respondents said they've seen age discrimination in IT. Another 29.19% said they've been victims of it. Only 30.19% of poll respondents said they haven't witnessed age discrimination in IT.

Before we delve into this topic, let's define age discrimination.

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age." (For more on age discrimination laws outside the US, click here.)

The US federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to people age 40 or older. Those younger than 40 aren't protected by federal age discrimination law, though state laws vary. The federal law "forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment." It's also illegal to harass someone age 40 or older because of his or her age, according to the EEOC, which clarifies:

Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Let's look at our flash poll responses again in light of those definitions of age discrimination: 263 of the respondents said that not only have they witnessed age discrimination IT, they have experienced it firsthand.

How is age discrimination manifesting itself in IT?

The 2014 InformationWeek Salary Survey, which received more than 11,000 responses from IT staffers and managers, shows that median base IT salaries peak at around age 46 before flattening out for staffers and declining 3.36% for managers.

Table 1: What is your annual base salary?

Age Range IT Staff % Change from Prior Age Range IT Management % Change from Prior Age Range
25 or younger $57,000 N/A $58,000 N/A
26-35 $73,000 +28.07% $92,000 +58.62%
36-45 $88,000 +20.55% $112,000 +21.74%
46-55 $93,000 +5.68% $119,000 +6.25%
Over 55 $94,000 +1.07% $115,000 (-3.36%)
Base: 5,945 IT staff and 5,717 IT managers. Source: InformationWeek 2014 US IT Salary Survey, February 2014.

We already know that plenty of you are dissatisfied with your salary. Can we view the above salary plateau as an indication of ageism in IT, and yet another reason to be unhappy with your compensation? Are the steep increases in compensation early in one's earning years a normal part of the career trajectory? Should we accept that these increases ought to get smaller as one grows older and climbs the career ladder, simply because it's financially impossible for an organization not to contain salaries to a certain level overall?

The flattening of salaries by age range maps to national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In first quarter 2014, the BLS reports, median weekly salaries for those age 25 to 34 was $727 ($37,804 a year), increasing 22.5% to $891 ($46,332 a year) for those age 35 to 44 before leveling off in the $800-to-$900-a-week range for those age 45 and older.

Is lack of job movement partly to blame for the flattening of salaries as one ages? IT staffers responding to the InformationWeek 2014 Salary Survey report a median of 18 years in the field, while IT managers report a median of 20 years. IT staffers report being in their current positions for a median of seven years; managers, a median of eight years. One third of staffers (66%) and nearly three quarters of managers (74%) say they've worked at only one or two companies in the past 10 years.

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Susan Nunziata leads the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community.Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for, a UBM ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 6:42:57 PM
Re: Wisdom comes with time
@SusanF: It's a fair question, I don't know much about corporate culture in Japan, although I do wonder given that country's difficult economic times if views on older workers may have changed there as well. Unfortunately, i'm woefully uninformed about it and would love to hear from others in the community on this point.
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 6:26:22 PM
Re: Raise
@mak63: Sorry to hear that you regret the decision. Looking back, what would you say was the obstacle that prevented you from approaching your director about a raise before moving elsewhere?
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 6:24:58 PM
Re: Tw o Comments
@Technocrati: Why is it, do you think, that age discrimination is taken less seriously by HR than other forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace?
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 1:36:05 PM
Re: There's always
I'm confused who @Rich is you are responding to?  Did they pull his comments or something?

One comment about your link of Y2K layoffs and age. That was a time of a huge shift in tech skills, probably the biggest I've seen in my career that started in 1985. Windows, internet and browser applications were changing the game from the green screen midrange/mainframe programming done before that. IT people who did not retool, and I saw many in my travels, were toast. Any older company who made transition to system based on the web technologies, or just Windows development, probably were laying off a lot of IT people older than 40. But not just because of age.

Right or wrong, it makes sense older people coming to new company for technical reasons are not likely to be seen as long term mgmt material. They are too close to retirement to be considered that way.

I'm 56 now. As good as I am in this field (technically), why would anyone want to mess with someone like me so close to being done? I don't see that as age discrimination, just a practical HR decision. Every new job involves learning the business and usually new environment. Makes sense to go thru that with someone who can stick around 20-30 years, not 10 until they retire.
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 7:29:33 AM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@Susan, getting botox before 30 is a bit shocking but I guess in entertainment and marketing I can see where looking like a teenager at 30 would be seen as a benefit.  Years ago I had a handful of friends who all did pharmaceutical sales. They were all incredibly concerned with their appearance, more so than any other group of sales people I've ever met.  For them looking good was the difference between getting in the door to sell and sitting in a waiting room for hours being stalled until they gave up.  Luckily IT isn't an image based industry but there is a feeling that younger workers are more adept to changing technology and are "hungrier".  I think a bit of experience to balance those big thinkers out is a great idea.  Sometimes you need the voice of been there done that to guide the younger workers down the right path and to keep them focused on the goal.
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 2:37:43 AM
Wisdom comes with time

 "Do other cultures have more repsect for their elder employees?" 

I immediately thought of Japan. Regretfully, I can't contribute with too much about the culture in Japan in this respect. But I believe it's widely known that they respect the wisdom that comes with age very much.
They even value old objects more, even if they are broken, instead of quickly discard them and replace them with a new one.
For this, I would believe that they probably respect their elder employees more. Maybe someone who has done business with Japanese companies know.

User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 2:17:07 AM
Re: Too Old To Earn BIg In IT
Wow, what a lively conversation - and it's a good thing too, because this is an important topic. Many of the stories and information you guys have shared has confirmed something my gut had already guessed - discrimination laws in the US are woefully inadequate, and the truth is it's a systemic problem that needs to be reworked from the ground up (but probably won't). That story about IBM (and even the followup Susan posted) makes me sick to my stomach. It shows just how broken the system - you can get away with breaking the law, as long as you publicly acknowledge it (!!?!?!), except when you don't, and then it's still okay.

To be honest, the whole idea of the ADEA (based on the wording on the this web page) seems a little misguided to begin with. I totally get the idea of it only applying in one direction, but it seems a little contrary to the goal. Doesn't putting people over 40 in a group by themselves already invite different treatment and problems? And the suggestion that someone who's 50 is not protected as long as he's being discriminated against for someone who's 60 seems like a terrible idea - companies can get away with anything as long as they have loopholes to work with. Not to mention, as we see from DDURBIN1's comments, there are apparently more than just the ones listed here.
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 11:13:44 PM
Re: Age discrimination DOES exist
I think that there are still some mainframe and older technology skills that some organizations still need - but sure, the promotion thing is a bit confounding. I guess that's just part of some organzational culture - some comapnies don't feel the need to promote. It's really hard to explain just why that might be. 
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 10:59:29 PM
Have a conversation with your manager before you make a change. Employees sometimes don't see the value in their own work and think the only way to get an increase in pay is to look elsewhere

 A few years back, I was responsible of the IT operations of a non-profit. I thought I wasn't getting a good pay and I looked elsewhere. Worse mistake I've ever made.

Having a talk with director for a raise, it'd have been the right course of action.
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 10:58:28 PM
Re: Know the Law

The cases that make it to court have to do with the firing process...


Interesting Susan that this issue goes to court at that time, but also understandable because when it happens before employment it is much more difficult to prove and the offended still needs to find work. 

Once again, violating companies saved by the reality of need.

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