When it comes to the tech industry, how old is “old”?
Those tech pros attending the “Modern Elder Academy,” located on a scenic beach in Mexico, certainly feel old. A one-week program, which costs $5,000, gives these folks the opportunity to talk through their fear of aging, how to handle those pesky Millennials, and other topics. There is also “restorative yoga.”
And according to The New York Times, many of these attendees are in their 30s and 40s.
Ageism in tech has always been an issue. At companies such as Facebook and SpaceX, the median employee age is under 30; meanwhile, apocryphal stories abound of tech pros being pushed out of their various firms once they hit 50 or older. Between 2008 and 2015, according to a 2017 report by Visier (PDF), tech employees filed some 226 complaints of age discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing—and given how people are often reluctant to report discrimination for fear of retaliation, that number is likely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Things are potentially even worse within the startup community, where a 2018 survey by First Round Capital found that 37 percent of startup founders believe that investors display some kind of age bias. Some 88.7 percent of those founders also thought that older people faced discrimination in the broader tech industry. That’s… not comforting.
But if ageism is a critical issue, attending some heartfelt discussion sessions beside a beach in Mexico likely isn’t going to help very much (aside from limbering you up during a yoga session). What will work? Keeping your skills up-to-date, along with your network.
In the Times article, the attendees of the Modern Elder Academy fear that technology has somehow passed them by (“I wish I was a digital native,” reads a sticker affixed to one attendee’s chest). No wonder they feel obsolete, and afraid to try something new. But trying new things is exactly what allows folks to power beyond obsolescence—there’s nothing that prevents someone from embracing a new technology stack, whether that’s HoloLens, Oculus, iOS, Android, or any other “buzzy” software or hardware dominating the office discussion at the moment.
In fact, older tech pros’ experience can sometimes make it easier to pick up these new technologies, especially if the technologies in question are largely based on something developed years or even decades ago.
Incorporating the young folks into your existing network is important, too. By framing yourself as a mentor and (buzzword alert!) “thought leader,” you can become a valuable resource as they grow and evolve. In turn, that puts you in a better position to assume leadership roles within the company; or if someone in your network branches out to found a startup, they might come to you about a manager or advisor role. (Coders never die, a recent article argued: They just become middle management.)
Nobody can stop aging. However, with enough effort, you can mitigate at least some of its effects. Just be aware that you may need to tweak your résumé as well. That might help your career more than a beach seminar, even if the latter gets you a pretty good tan.