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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.

Time and schedule are bigger age-related issues than skills, according to English. In terms of time, English said that younger IT pros are often willing to work long hours in salaried, exempt positions with no additional payoff.

"It is not uncommon for young IT employees to be working 80 hours a week and not lodging a single complaint," English said. "So when an employer is looking at one younger potential IT employee and one older potential employee, we have seen employers ignore the experience and go for the 'time' factor just because he can squeeze more out of the younger IT worker than the older IT worker."

On the schedule front, another problem of perception occurs: The typical IT pro is no stranger to the 2:00 a.m. wake-up call. It's an occupational hazard. "There are servers down, reboots needed, updates, bug fixes, and viruses which often need immediate attention," English noted. Some employers assume younger workers are a better fit for the 24/7 nature of many IT gigs, she added, and likewise expect that older employees with families and other responsibilities will be more likely to grumble about such duties.

"To be clear, I am not suggesting that older IT workers are not willing to do these kinds of tasks -- many are," English said. "But the perception from an employer's perspective is that the younger IT worker is going to do it and not think anything of it."

Huckabone said outdated skills are a valid concern, but one that causes generalization. "Some ageism is warranted -- there are lots of people that don't keep up their skills," Huckabone said. "However, that's not me -- and this is where my frustration stems from. I do keep up. Indeed, I like keeping up; I love what I do."

He now advertises, rather than hides, his age. Among other reasons: If a prospective employer sees his age as a problem, he wants to know sooner rather than later. "Let's not waste each other's time," he said. "If you don't want to talk to someone in his mid-50s, let's just nip it in the bud."

There's a more optimistic reason for doing so, too. Ageism is by no means an industry standard, and plenty of employers want the experience. Huckabone had multiple offers before accepting his current position.

"There's definitely a lot of people that want the old guy, appreciate the old guy," Huckabone said. "I'm just saying I've seen both sides of that coin."

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