Aging in IT: How Will Your Career Play Out?

It’s a sad but unavoidable truth that all of us are getting older every year, and the older we get, the more we have to strategize how we want the rest of our careers to play out. In tough economic times, it isn’t easy.

Nearly two years into the recession, shrinking nest eggs and the fear of skyrocketing health care costs are forcing late-career IT professionals to trade dreams of early retirement for the reality of toiling extra years in the workforce. Instead of channeling their energies to around-the-world travel, starting a new business or devoting time to volunteer work, many IT veterans find themselves either actively in the job market or desperately safeguarding their current employment.

That’s the assessment of Computerworld’s Beth Stackpole, whose long and fascinating article about older IT experts is serious food for thought. Stackpole goes down the trenches with 50-and 60-somethings to see what’s going on, and some of it isn’t pretty.

Budget cuts and layoffs have forced IT departments to make do with less, leaving older IT workers vulnerable to being replaced by younger employees whose skills may be more up-to-date and who are often willing to accept less pay, work longer hours and take on less-desirable assignments.

Stackpole notes that even IT pros who can retire are putting it off to maintain their health insurance until Medicare kicks in: "The reality for IT workers of any age is that they are being asked to do more with less, take on roles outside their areas of expertise, forgo raises and deal with tighter deadlines. It might not be the grand finale that tech veterans envisioned for themselves, but it’s the reality of today’s market¿one that all IT professionals must adapt to."

Grand finale? Certainly not.

Don Willmott

Comments

2 Responses to “Aging in IT: How Will Your Career Play Out?”

February 20, 2010 at 3:48 am, Mike said:

This is insane. One blogger comments that Gen-Yers are a problem because they know only the latest stuff and need to learn CoBOL but don’t want to, or they don’t want to take on not-very-glamorous projects. A different blogger states the young are desireable because they know only the new stuff and are eager to take on projects that old duffers would find beneath their level of expertise. Both sides can’t be right.

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February 25, 2010 at 1:41 am, Dan said:

This article is dead on. As a job seeker with 20 plus years of experience I suspect that the interviewing managers I deal with have their own fears.

HR Managers worry about health care costs associated with hiring older workers. IE as average age of workforce goes up, so do their premiums. It would be nice if we could disconnect health care from employment in this country. Why should a company’s profitability suffer if one of its employees or family members has a costly illness? HR Managers also worry that you will not be satisfied with your new competitive salary and benefits which are a fraction of what you used to make.

Many of the tech managers are twenty years younger than me. They want people on their team who are competent, however every manager has experience with a smart team member who will not play well with the team or who will not respect the authority of the manager. When they see that an older worker has managed a team twice the size of his and who used to make three times what he is making, they would be foolish if they didn’t have some level of hesitation.

When they ask a technical question they may be unaware that the acronyms they are throwing around have been re-used many times over the years. Also, since their experience is limited to what their company provides they believe there is only one answer to their question. For example, the question “what does an IP phone connect to?” or “how does an IP phone switch make a voice connection to another IP phone?” This question has many answers and can change based on what vendor product or technology you are referring to. Answering the question could be easy if you only knew one system. It is difficult if you know many, because you have to shift so many mental gears and use the appropriate vocabulary for that vendor¿s solution.
Explaining why their question is ambiguous makes you look smug, while visualizing the desired response and formulating a verbal response can take enough time to make them think you are slow.

Many older IT workers like me would be happy to take a position with less responsibility and less pay; we have done our time in the political trenches of corporations and would be happy being part of a team and focusing on doing our jobs. Since we can bring a high level of skill to the team, the manager can get a lot for the money.

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