Despite legislation making it overtly illegal, ageism persists in the IT industry.
If you’re 40 or older, you’ve probably seen cases where younger developers were picked over older ones. It happened to me once while recruiting a programmer: After all the interviews, I’d narrowed the candidates down to a 28-year-old and a 60-year-old. Both were very good, and I thought the 60-year-old was better, but the senior manager tasked with the final selection picked the younger developer.
At times we’re told there’s a staffing crisis, that companies need to import more developers via H-1B, but the truth is that outsourcing and downsizing eliminated a subset of viable developers from the market. Those developers, in turn, had to figure out if they wanted to land another job, freelance, or leave the technology industry entirely.
With all that in mind, here are those reasons why you should consider hiring older developers.
In the U.S., the number of science and engineering graduates has barely risen in the past decade, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yet the need for developers has only risen over the past few years. In theory, that means a lot of older developers out there, ready for hire.
As developers age, they generally have less spare time due to family commitments. That doesn’t work for many startups, which expect “death marches” and 80-hour weeks in order to ship products. But older developers tend to be reliable and stable; facing less pressure to leapfrog up the career ladder, they often like to stay in the same job for an extended period of time.
The author Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that practicing anything for 10,000 hours (that’s 20 hours a week for ten years) is sufficient to master it. That might apply to Roger Womack, CEO of Sportdirector.co.uk, a one-person firm that produces the soccer simulator Football Director for many different platforms. For 30 years, he worked for a variety of game publishers; but in 2007, with decades of experience under his belt, he decided to publish his own game.
“The bar to entry is much lower with technologies like Unity,” he said. “I’d probably make more money now working for someone else than if I was going it alone.” But at 60, Womack has more than enough game-development experience to run a business by himself.
But older developers, having spent their careers learning new technologies, generally have a system for picking up whatever they need to know; a growing body of online tutorials helps with that. The biggest impediment, perhaps, is managing one’s time in order to actually learn how the software works.
Better at Office Politics
Any developer who has been around the proverbial block has probably seen his or her fair share of bad incidents in offices: favoritism, dead-end projects, poor leadership, technical debt, reshuffles, and, of course, the impact of layoffs. They’re adaptable, which is why bringing in a mature team member can anchor a team with a solid core.
I can think of few things as wasteful as discarding developers because of their age. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has recruited an older developer only to regret it. If you’re on the quest for talent, throw the widest possible net.