Getting old is tough enough, but it’s especially hard when you don’t feel like you fit in with the rest of your industry. Developers and engineers are sensitive to this, as tech’s youth-driven culture and workforce make some feel obsolete. It’s not all about age, though.
In tech, prevailing wisdom tells us this won’t change any time soon. Dan Lyons, journalist and writer for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” paints a fairly grim picture; when asked if he thought ageism would change, Lyons said it boiled down to the almighty dollar:
If these guys came to believe that it was in their own self-interest to hire more older workers—if they thought they would make more money with older workers—they would. But I think they’ve just decided they can make more money with young kids. I wish I felt otherwise, but I don’t see any sign of it changing.
Lyons also suggested that younger hires are getting the short end of the stick, not the benefit of employment: “I think they’ve [employers] all decided that the optimal return is young kids: Burn them out, get rid of them, replace them.”
Combat Ageism by Being Your Best Self
The hiring process for developers and engineers is arduous, and that’s putting it mildly. Just getting noticed is hard enough, but the actual interview scheme is downright maddening.
In a recent blog post, developer Don Denocourt highlights his troubles in coming to terms with his age. His main takeaway is that you should never stop learning. Furthermore, he employs a handy trick of examining what he’s done in the past two years that’s tangible to a prospective employer. Rather than look back at his 20-plus years of experience, he monitors his most recent activity. It’s a fast-moving industry, after all.
Even if you’re already employed and/or managing your own suite of apps, there’s not a whole lot you may be able to discuss that’s relevant to your new position. It may be just as attractive to have a litany of small victories or new tricks up your sleeve, rather than discussing how you’ve been coping with your day-to-day tasks over the past decade. Stay dynamic.
Similarly, Denocourt encourages older tech workers to look the part. “I don’t think, as some career counselors recommend, that you should try to look younger with hair dye or plastic surgery,” he wrote. “What you should do is exude energy. To remain relevant in an industry that seems fixated on youth, it’s crucial to be spirited. And an overweight 50-something wheezing smoker does not suggest vitality.”
In his post, Denocourt is essentially advocating that an aging worker act no differently than his or her younger counterparts. On its surface, it sounds like a bit of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ advice, but it’s relevant. In putting your best foot forward, prospective employers may look at you as an experienced sage instead of a curmudgeon looking for a paycheck.
It’s Hard for Everyone
Want proof that tech ageism is real? Check out Old Geek Jobs. While its aim is to find older tech workers a job, only a select few companies actually post straight to the board (which is free) as a means of finding an experienced developer or engineer. Other postings are culled from other sources to round out what’s available.
Even when you do everything right, jobs are hard to come by–and it’s just as difficult when you’re on the other, more inexperienced end of the spectrum. Felix Fend applied to jobs for three months after completing a coding bootcamp, and only three percent of the résumés he sent turned into job offers.
While Fend also has some good advice for job seekers to land a position (talk to a real person, study for whiteboard interviews), he notes that the drawn-out process can sometimes lead to more lucrative offers. After 12 weeks on the hunt, he yielded eight offers, two of which had salaries north of $100,000.
During that period when you’re interviewing (and not working), Denocourt advocates for learning new skills. Additionally, working on a project in the open-source community is a good way to let employers see what you’re currently doing, and an especially handy way to demonstrate your skill-set is current.
Whether you’re 20 and fresh out of school or 60 and can recall a time before IDEs, time is ticking away. While ageism is definitely perceptible, it’s entirely possible that it’s just a sign that older workers haven’t kept up with trends.
You don’t need to use Snapchat to know how it works, and when it comes to developers and engineers, that’s what a prospective employer is really looking for: working knowledge and experience.