Ageism in tech is a hotly debated issue. On one side, you have many older tech workers complaining that discrimination is rampant. On the other, companies insist that they hire based solely on merit—not an applicant’s age.
However much ageism plays a role in tech hiring, it’s clear that job candidates are worried about it: according to a new survey from Indeed, some 43 percent of tech workers were worried about losing their job due to their age. In addition, 18 percent said that the worry was constant, and 36 percent said that they hadn’t been taken seriously by colleagues because of their age.
“There is a serious disconnect here: a contradiction, even. The older workers get, the more concerned they are about their careers. And yet most of their colleagues at tech firms believe they still have much to contribute,” Indeed concluded.
Although workers over 40 are protected by federal civil rights laws, that’s never stopped the controversy. Last year, when Dice sat down with Dan Lyons, writer for the HBO show “Silicon Valley” and a former Newsweek editor, to discuss his book “Disrupted: My Midadventure in the Startup Bubble,” he blamed a tech culture that wants big profits as fast as possible.
“I think it starts with those guys—the investors, what they want and what they push for,” he said. “I think they’ve all decided that the optimal return is young kids: Burn them out, get rid of them, replace them.”
Of course, it doesn’t help the industry’s case when tech CEOs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg say things like, “Young people are just smarter.” But there are firms that prize the knowledge of older tech pros. For instance, Amazon Web Services has hired many of tech’s most notable figures, including James Gosling (co-inventor of Java; 62 years old), Tim Bray (co-inventor of XML; 61 years old), and Andi Gutmans (co-inventor of PHP; 41 years old).
“[Amazon] puts such a premium on independent groups working fast and making their own decisions it requires a particular skillset, which generally involves a great deal of field experience,” RedMonk helpfully pointed out in a recent blog posting about AWS. “A related trend is hiring seasoned marketing talent from the likes of IBM.”
So what can older tech pros do to compete in this environment? That’s a very complex question. Peter Greulich, a 30-year IBM veteran, told Dice in late 2016 that targeting open positions that demand management or leadership skills could give more experienced tech workers an advantage. “Use exciting words in your résumé and during interviews to show youthful enthusiasm,” he said. “Then highlight your maturity by talking about your ability to lead and guide younger professionals.”
Even if you’re not interested in a management role, highlighting your experience is key—as is keeping your skills up-to-date. Although it can prove aggravating to constantly learn new languages and platforms, it’s vital when trying to land jobs with employers on the cutting edge.