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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
09:06 AM

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.

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"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."

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2017 | 8:28:36 PM
Re: I've thrown in the towel for my career
i am with you. I have been working in the field since 1999 - mostly all contracting - and turned 50 this year. I have light years more experience and resources to draw on then the 20-30 somethings but I can not get a job. Everybody that I speak with are young. Young people just don't want older people around. I am finished too.
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2015 | 5:24:16 PM
Re: Ageism?


Is something this field suffers so dearly from. A friend of mine was denied a postion with Facebook because he wasn't of their age bracket. It's amazing how that worthless Idiot Mark creator of Facebook said younger people are smarter, but they tend to mess code up a lot easier then older stable employees.


I personally only hire people who have skills, age doesn't mean anything to me... To many I.T companies rely on young dumb programmers to fill up their seats, not saying all young programmers are dumb, but I mean many don't have a clue how to write stable code at all. And some just don't adapt to anything.... Skills should be the only factor in regards to who gets hired and who doesn't.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2013 | 6:18:17 PM
This is also why we have attack vectors
There have been 0, none, nit, swabo, bukes malware attacks on mainframe computers in 40 years. None, because code does not run with privileges and there are no pre-built scripts for script kiddies to use. Write a piece of code that does a buffer overflow on a zSystem running on VM and guess what happens? The process SOC1s and dies, never having gotten a chance to do anything. Put this up on some Windows machine and the attacker 0wns your boxes and can do just about anything they want. Or put up a mainframe, a $70,000 entry-level zSystem will do the equivalent work of about 1,000 blade servers. That mainframe will cost about $90 a month in electricity based on a machine eating about 1KW of electricity, whereas the 1,000 blade servers will probably cost $300,000 and eat $6,000 a month in electricity based on 100W each.

But you'll hardly ever see some kid out of school or young guy even consider a mainframe solution for running a high-volume, high-reliability computing solution because most of them have never even had exposure to a mainframe. And you can't recommend what you've never even heard of.

I can't even run 16-bit MS DOS or Windows applications on a 64-bit machine and running 32-bit ones requires an emulation layer; I've had a quad-core 64-bit Windows 7 machine for two years and only discovered this gem about 3 months ago. Yet you can run 40-year-old MVS binaries on a zSystem on zOS now, without any problems. Well, the PCs of today are fast enough you can run old MS DOS applications under the DOS Box emulator; it felt wierd running an old MSDOS PC game at full speed on a Power PC Macintosh which isn't even an 80x86 processor.

User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2013 | 9:49:59 AM
employers/potential employers are attempting to use gender and age to discriminate. even at the gov level they're discriminating against mature, experienced people. the gov adopted 'Sustainability' as a policy. this is rooted in the Club of Rome's Agenda 21 and Global 2000 initiatives. the ageism and gender discrimination also has been  happening as a commercial and cultural war tactic to attempt to make people feel worthless. this is really something that if people either dont persevere through this and/or rely on the Lord Jeshua, they will be or may be cannon fodder in this sick new lurch that has been happening to the US because the US is signatory to the G20 Agreements, which are roll ups or roll up to what gov leaders like bush (Skull/Bones ->Thule (Jesuit established or influenced occultic/mystic bavarian catholic organ from which SB came and thus still influences) and kohl (vatican influenced) agreed while it was only G7/G8. US signatory status according to what the germans asked to which bush agreed to give kohl or that was offered to kohl to incentivize germany's reunification, was US to constrain its economy to that of the 'managed' competition of the EU, which the Germans dominate and are using scorched earth to take over/control what joined the Germans' EU.

this is difficult material to find and confirm because it's hidden in their political double speak.


find Maurice Strong of the Club of Rome (which is influenced by the SJ, which have attempted to destroy the US for the Holy See). parce him and their contempt for the US. it will give you a better idea of what's inculcated into the 1% here and what then they'll have our policy makers put into law and/or regulation and have the NSA by way of PsiOPs attempt to control over society.

Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 9:31:10 PM
Re: Re. Comments on Too Old For IT
@turquhart201 -- you nailed it. Young employees can groan about how older ones just "don't get it" and older ones can groan on about how young ones have no respect. The  more important realization is that both bring important qualities to the table, and both should be respected for such.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2013 | 8:09:48 PM
The biggest problem is that managers hate when I ground them lying.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2013 | 3:58:58 PM
A couple of years ago, I interviewed (in person) at Google, and had two interviews. A week or so later I heard from HR, who told me that they weren't going to hire me, but she couldn't tell me why, because that would be illegal!
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 10:03:29 PM
I've thrown in the towel for my career
I am an early middle-aged, "obsolete", "unemployable" American programmer, and have thrown in the towel for my career.  I have tried to keep up with Microsoft's constant pace of change, but it didn't matter as I could not get work in any case.
User Rank: Strategist
11/27/2013 | 7:54:23 PM
Wisdom.. what a concept.
My history has it's foundation in the lost art of electronics. Hardware tech training applied to large system design as a core understanding of data flowing through the actual circuits. The depth is just not on the curriculum of mainstream IT degrees today. This cult of the new programmer gods truly saddens me, because I am not the only techie out here with a combination of deep knowledge and years of experience. While I agree the new tools and techniques are valuable, dismissing the real-world implementation wisdom, gained during trial-by-fire crisis events of the dot com era, is a major disservice to the industry as a whole.

The age & experience issue was different in the 90's; companies made cut-throat backroom deals to get someone with 10 years or more experience. Efficient code and heavily tuned servers were critical, since even enterprise-grade webservers were laughable by current standards. The rule of today is sloppiness, the gross memory leaks and bandwidth hogs reveal an epidemic lack of tuning and non-attention to detail. Ugly code is in production that would have been show stoppers just 15 years ago.

But I believe this too shall pass; when even the biggest virtual cloud leasing junkie admits throwing more hardware at a problem is not nearly a cost effective scenario as starting with a clean design. Money talks, wisdom can be patient knowing our consulting rates only go higher the deeper the hole they dig. All we have to do is stay current, the younger breed has the impossible task of trying to aquire our wisdom and experience in the increasingly smaller relative window of college. Maybe, using us as well compensated consulting sages on a project basis is the true solution. Who knows? Time will tell.
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2013 | 9:23:27 AM
Re: Ageism and Sexism

Maybe people, and the media are giving too much importance to what Mark Z. says? Let's not forget that FB satrted as a school project, he was not even working on a startup. He was just lucky. 

Also, maybe it's a good idea to remember that Mark Z. is not the sole representative of his generation. There are many others, founders and CEOs of their startups, who are smarter, and think differently. 

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