What 'The Old Guy' Brings To IT Teams - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
News
12/6/2013
11:06 AM
100%
0%

What 'The Old Guy' Brings To IT Teams

IT pros report that hiring managers often favor young hires in the name of "culture" or "fit." But this may throw your team's balance off.

5 New LinkedIn Tools
5 New LinkedIn Tools
(click image for slideshow)

The latest SIM IT Trends Survey points to rising salaries, increasing investments in on-the-job training, and higher turnover IT roles. The latter is a particularly promising omen for jobseekers.

"All of those things tell me it's a good time to be in the IT job market," the study's lead researcher told InformationWeek.

Sure, as long as you're in your 20s or 30s.

Older IT pros on the job hunt might find their age is an unwelcome factor in employment decisions, even when market conditions are favorable. There's little hard data on age bias in the IT field, but professionals and recruiters say it's an industry reality.

It's also stupid.

Most ageism is subtle, often lurking in disguise as a "culture fit" issue. Sometimes, though, it's right out there in the open. A reader tipped us onto a story comment to a Denver-area online forum where, in 2012, an IT recruiter posted a call looking for two "young, up and coming mobile developers." I'll leave the names of the recruiter and company out of it; the point isn't to assign blame. Suffice it to say the recruiter works for a national IT staffing firm that was recently highlighted in Gartner's IT Workforce Practices report. When another forum poster suggested deleting the word "young" so as to not run afoul of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the recruiter responded in candid fashion.

[ Which IT fields need people? Read Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job No One Has. ]

"I apologized [sic] 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," the recruiter wrote. He didn't stop there: "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."

Another finding in the 2013 SIM report: 20% of IT leaders say a skills shortage keeps them up at night. What's wrong with this picture? How can one in five IT decision-makers bite their nails about a skills shortage while veteran IT pros -- especially those 50 and older -- contend with age bias?

To be fair, individuals have to hold up their end of the bargain. Keep your skills sharp. Don't be the office grouch. Stay in touch with your professional network, even if you're not looking for a job. Good advice for any age, but especially if you're a so-called "old guy," a term I use here for male and female IT pros. (Gender bias in IT? That's a whole other story.) Gary Huckabone, one of the 50-something IT pros I spoke with recently, even said "some ageism is warranted." But if you're not doing your job well, that's not age bias, it's poor performance.

What about the dedicated IT pros who do stay current, deliver value to their employers, and offer the wide-angle perspective that comes with experience?

Smart CIOs and other decision-makers embrace the veteran workforce; dumb ones misappropriate terms such as "culture" and "fit" to build an exclusively young staff. It does a disservice to culture and fit, both real things -- not everyone's cut out to be a triage nurse or a derivatives trader or an elementary school teacher. For that matter, not everyone's cut out for IT. But age should have nothing to do with it.

Let's set aside social and moral concerns and just consider the bottom line. Ageism is bad business. If IT is ultimately about solving problems and innovating, what good is a homogenous team? As InformationWeek reader and IT exec Adam Blackie noted in a comment: "Any organization that overtly ignores any section of the workforce, either because of gender, age, religion, disability, etc, will be a much weaker competitor in the long run."

Tom Hart, a former IT executive who is now CMO of the recruiting firm Eliassen, told me in a recent interview that age comes up regularly with clients, though usually in an indirect manner. Although the client ultimately signs the checks, Hart and his colleagues try to emphasize the benefits of balance in a team.

"We'll talk about having a balanced organization that allows you great flexibility in terms of the direction you may be taking a product or service offering," Hart said. "Having some seasoned folks on the team -- who have been there, they've done that, they're battle-weary, they know how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over, they know how to work with more difficult business counterparts -- it's good to have that balance in play. Just to have a bunch of young guns who are willing to work really hard and long hours may not be good enough for the ultimate success of the endeavor."       

And those employers griping about a skills shortage?

"They need to broaden their perspective in terms of what they're looking for," Hart said. "There's plenty of talent out there."

Interop Las Vegas, March 31 - April 4, 2014 brings together thousands of technology professionals to discover the most current and cutting-edge technology innovations and strategies to drive their organizations' success, including BYOD security, the latest cloud and virtualization technologies, SDN, the Internet of things, Apple in the enterprise, and more. Attend educational sessions in eight tracks, hear inspirational and industry-centric keynotes, and visit an Expo Floor that brings over 350 top vendors together. Register for Interop Las Vegas with Discount Code MPIWK for $200 off Total Access and Conference Passes.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 11:52:22 AM
Thanks for sticking up for old guys
The old guy brings the voice of experience, even when the young guy or gal doesn't want to hear it.

What else does the old guy bring to the table? What about the old broad (not to leave her out)?

 
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 1:29:01 PM
Re: Thanks for sticking up for old guys
I did not mean to leave the women out of this discussion. The reality is age pops up in hiring for both men and women. I heard a female CIO make an argument for diversity (including gender diversity) on her team once by describing the need for "texture" during group discussions and group decisions. I liked how she put that. Age adds texture and perspective, whether you are male or female.
Kristin Burnham
50%
50%
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 12:26:01 PM
Workforces need diversity
A mix is a necessary in the workforce: Younger ones bring a fresh sense of enthusiasm and ideas; older workers bring experience to execute, all of which are invaluable and keys to business success.
RobPreston
50%
50%
RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 3:30:33 PM
Re: Workforces need diversity
I agree with Kristin. Plus, work is much less fun when everyone's pretty much cut from the same cloth.
WKash
50%
50%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 6:20:55 PM
Re: Workforces need diversity
Diversity in age, backgrounds and experience almost always distinguishes healthy organizations from those that ar just plodding along. 
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 7:06:30 PM
Re: Only an IT issue?
If the employer cares about retaining employees, it won't try to make them work absurd hours, the sort only a young worker would put up with. Such companies are invariably more stable and more likely to thrive over time.
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

Slideshows
11 Things IT Professionals Wish They Knew Earlier in Their Careers
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/6/2021
News
Time to Shift Your Job Search Out of Neutral
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  3/31/2021
Commentary
Does Identity Hinder Hybrid-Cloud and Multi-Cloud Adoption?
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  4/1/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Successful Strategies for Digital Transformation
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Slideshows
Flash Poll