Does ‘Old’ in Tech Mean 35? This Crying Techie on the Beach Thinks So.

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.

13 Responses to “Does ‘Old’ in Tech Mean 35? This Crying Techie on the Beach Thinks So.”

  1. wageSlave

    “Keeping your skills up-to-date, along with your network.” Me thinks you forgot the question mark. Keeping your skills up no longer produces the results it once did. Especially, for older tech workers.

    Older tech workers have been around a while. It is getting harder and harder to con them with propaganda. They know the cost of “keeping your skills up-to-date.” Most have children they don’t know. Wife’s that hate them and alimony checks to write. Reality sucks when it’s in your face 24/7.

    A thousand hours of continuing education per year at $50 dollars an hour is $50,000 dollars a year in labor and lost opportunity costs alone. Try and convince boomers to invest $50,000 A YEAR to stay on the bleeding edge when their life long earnings potential has crashed.

    Millennials are not blind either. They can see what is happening around them. The evidence of their understanding is built into their attitudes. And those attitudes are defining their generation. The instant gratification generation is that way for a reason. Millennials face with their own unavoidable shelf life are more and more looking to get more up front.

    That image on the beach for them is a couple retired at age 35 enjoying their accumulated wealth for the rest of their lives while traveling the world. If you want to convince a millennial to invest $50,000 a year to stay on the bleeding edge, then the award needs to start at a quarter of million a year. This is the long term cost of age discrimination vs. the short term gain on overpriced health care that is causing the discrimination. Americans pay three time more, get less, and don’t even rate in the top ten industrial countries for quality. And that is defining a generation.

    • 1000 hours of continuing education a year? So your trying to tell me you need to spend an additional 20 hours a week on top of your 40 hour work week to stay on the bleeding edge? Kids they don’t know? Wives that hate them? I don’t know anyone like this. Sounds to me like you have had a rough life.

      • wageSlave

        Cole, you don’t know anyone like that? I think you have to get out of the house more often. The quintessential programmer nerd lives in their mom’s basement, alone, age 35, and comes home after work and gets on the computer. Yells, mom where’s the meatloaf and then sits there until the wee hours programming away learning the tech of the day which will be obsolete tomorrow. A thousand hours is not farfetched.

        It is just an example to get you thinking and calculating the cost of the learning curve. Opportunity costs of competing choices is a basic economic staple. If you would prefer, make it 500 hours at $35. $17,500 a year every year with four years of college in front of that. Or 500 hours at $14 (soon to be minimum wage). Use $7,000 if you like. The point is that there are cost associated with keeping up with employer demands that the employer wants you to pay for. Most of the time it is sunk costs you will never recover.

        Most people find it useful to quantitate the economic costs of learning when making life decisions. Because of the learning curve, employment gaps, and continuing nature of learning ever changing new technology, I wouldn’t recommend a career in software development to anyone. The cost benefit analysis doesn’t support it. Because of the costs associated with the learning curve and NOW the lifelong earning cap of the US healthcare system in the new world order, STEM careers for the most part don’t warrant the investment.

        Doctors finish school (upfront cost) and have 20 hours of continuing education a year for three times the money say $200 per hour. A $4,000 investment in continuing education makes sense. Very few of the other STEM careers make sense any more. That is why there are shortages coming out of the schools.

        An adjunct teaching STEM, for example, faces under employment, the travel expenses of two part time jobs, and the educational costs of getting a MA. Every community college in California has close to 100 opening at any given time. That is because the cost reward is just not there for a part time position.

        I’m sorry the economic theory is causing cognitive dissidence for some. Unfortunately, sometimes getting past the cognitive dissidence is only the path to learning the realities and reality sucks for those of us in touch with it.

        • Whatshupp

          “The quintessential programmer nerd lives in their mom’s basement, alone, age 35, and comes home after work and gets on the computer. Yells, mom where’s the meatloaf and then sits there until the wee hours programming away learning the tech of the day which will be obsolete tomorrow. A thousand hours is not farfetched.”

          Dude…this does not square with any programmers I have worked with in my career. Nor would keeping up with newer stuff take that long or cost that much. What kind of programmer can’t find documentation of a new language online, or free blog posts with tutorials, or free youtube videos? Not to mention, exhaustively complete crash courses in various programming languages on sites like Udemy cost maybe $50 bucks at absolute tops. Sounds like the coders you knew were socially stunted and none-too-bright, no wonder they couldn’t keep up. It sounds like you have an axe to grind with STEM lol

          • wageslave

            There are essentially two types of programmers out there. The ones that learn by doing and the ones that leach off them. The programmers that can only google solutions are a dime a dozen and they are the second type. Without the first type you cannot have the second type and the market does not treat the first type appropriately. There are economic reasons for this that are disincentivizing the creation/support of the first type. It cost more in terms of opportunity costs to be the first type and short sighted incompetent managers prefer the second type. Why? Because the second type takes five years of someone else’s work, copies and pastes it, and pushes the project forward five years without paying the actual cost of creating the code or the database for that matter. The ne’er-do-well programmer becomes the hero in a sense. Until the next hero is needed. The trail blazers are the real heroes but are not adequately compensated for their extra effort and usually make about the same.

            Apparently you are not capable of seeing their effort. Have you ever heard of Dunning Kruger affect?

            I’ve found that Pareto’s rule holds pretty constant. Twenty percent of your work force does eighty percent of the work. That means that eighty percent of the work force is only doing twenty percent of the work. The second type of programmer usually falls into that eighty percent, but the first type is always there holding everything together usually for the same amount of money or less. I suppose it is possible that you have been working in mediocre shops and I’m guessing don’t appreciate the individuals in the shop with actual skills that keep it afloat. You sound like a straight shooter with management written all over you.

            Oh, and the quintessential programmer comment was a joke with just enough truth to be funny.

            If you are serious about the complete crash course for 50 bucks comment. Take the course, quantify the time you spent in terms of dollars, and then tell me it only cost 50 bucks. Than look at your pay check take the difference between old and new. Then calculate the cost reward ratio.

            Do you know why Community Colleges don’t offer more programming courses? It is because not enough people show up to make them feasible. The reason for that is that students cannot get a job after taking the course. Without two years of relevant work experience a student cannot find a job and without a job they cannot get two years of relevant work experience. Programming courses produce such limited utility that they are not viable.

  2. 1000 hours of continuing education a year? So your trying to tell me you need to spend an additional 20 hours a week on top of your 40 hour work week to stay on the bleeding edge? Kids they don’t know? Wives that hate them? I don’t know anyone like this. Sounds to me like you have had a rough life.

  3. “…meanwhile, apocryphal stories abound of tech pros being pushed out of their various firms once they hit 50 or older.”
    Apocryphal? Do you even know what that word means? Are all of those EEOC complaints and age discrimination lawsuits based on nothing? Way to shoot your article in the foot in the first few sentences.