Rampant Ageism Means You Should Have An Exit Plan Now, Like It or Not

Many professionals don’t consider retirement in their 30s or 40s, but studies show that’s around the time that ageism kicks in (at least in tech). Older tech pros can suffer the slings and arrows of ageism indirectly, too; there is data to show those over 50 suffer longer layoffs, and return to jobs with lower pay.

You can fight ageism, though. While we advocate for some résumé changes and a new perspective, you can also make sure you’re an invaluable piece of your company’s flow. “The retirement of Baby Boomers in an enterprise will have several different ripple effects on the enterprise,” said tech evangelist Terry Simpson of workflow automation firm Nintex. “Employees with a lot of experience tend to have great skills around the basics of blocking and tackling when it comes to running the business. When you have an employee who truly has a good grasp of the enterprise and understands the pulse of the organization, it is hard to fill that position when they are gone.”

You should also frame your age as experience. More directly, use your experience as a backstop to prevent snafus from the younger crowd. “Baby boomers tend to have a great focus on the core part of the business and the processes that are needed to meet the goal of the firm,” Simpson said. “Younger generations look to technology to solve process problems.”

Many times, those ‘new’ ideas on how things should work are non-starters – but the incoming crowd doesn’t know that, because they don’t have an older employee’s depth of knowledge about the legacy tools already in use. If you fall into the category of ‘older worker,’ not only are you an oracle of sorts, but you can help make the right processes work moving forward.

Positioning yourself as an “elder” is also a significant move, because at some point, you’ll have to move on. Making yourself integral provides you with some control over when you leave. Your company is likely going to eye your exit, so get in front of it!

“Give others the ability to take leadership positions while being coached and mentored by the [older tech pros],” advises Simpson. “This type of planning and collaboration can have significant impact once retirement ultimately comes.”

It’s sage advice to weave the next generation into your retirement flow. Not only do you get to mentor your successor(s), you have the opportunity to choose who will sit in your chair once you’re gone. Planning your exit means you get to shape your team, department, or company for years after your departure. (The company may also choose to keep you as a contractor for those times problems arise and they need some legacy awareness on what may be going wrong; make sure to talk to your managers about that.)

11 Responses to “Rampant Ageism Means You Should Have An Exit Plan Now, Like It or Not”

  1. Gregorius T

    So, help me understand. Hiring managers prefer a bunch of youngsters, who spend over half the day texting on their phones, over senior tech pros, who have years of experience under the belt, and git er done in quick order?

    It blows my mind that hiring managers, and startup founders, prefer these instagram, texting, youngsters, over experienced, mature tech pros. Then again, I’ve worked for a good number of managers who weren’t the sharpest knife in the block.

    Two mature, highly experienced tech pros, could probably build out a full-stack software platform, in half the time, and cost, and twice the quality, of 5+ texting youngsters. I should know. I’ve done it multiple times.

  2. Joe Celko

    As a 70+ year-old IT guy, I will defend the kids. Their advantage is more than just being cheap labor. They usually have more current skill sets. They just finished a training course on the last release of the product the company is using! They often have no experience and need supervision, so they can use those skills, however. My favorite story is the H-1B kid who, half way thru a project, ask if the US is on cash or accrual accounting.

  3. Scott Lee

    If due to age you are in HR’s crosshairs, consider becoming a contractor. Companies that do not want boomers for whatever reason (think average employee age effect on health insurance cost) will bring in a boomer contractor to get the experience advantages without the health insurance cost hit. Added benefit in tech is that those 70 hour weeks get compensated at overtime rate, and a lot of the BS around the “need” to work long hours goes away.

    • Sergio

      Even older contractors are having a hard time finding work. My dad is in his early 60’s, healthier than most 30 yr olds, amazing interviewee and a ton of experience in his field, but has already gotten passed up for several roles that was a perfect fit for him. On top of that there are H1B people willing to work for less.

  4. You do realize “Boomers” are in their 60s and 70s? 40 somethings like myself are Gen X. We spent our careers behind the Boomers, stagnant and unable to advance, laid off en masse by Boomers as we reached leadership readiness to protect Boomer positions. Now we are being shitcanned by Millennials to take our jobs and salaries away despite our having the tech knowledge and capabilities of Millennials in combination with the leadership and experience skills of Boomers. We should be in demand! Ageism in the work place is crippling an entire generation. The impacts to business is hitting companies square in their costly cojones as they re-invent the wheel daily now hurting bottom lines and stifling true innovation while the Boomers continue to line their pockets on their way out.

    • Boomer

      We boomers from the fifties got out of high school and it was the ressesion of the 70s we had to look for work in the newspaper they we under 2 columns one was men wanted and the other women wanted so women were under paid like today! The generation before us were the greatest generation and they all retired with pensions so it’s a ongoing generational saga.

  5. A solution for the older folks would be moving up the management or tech management ladder. I would think that the person in management with 30 years+ experience would be a benefit to the company. Here, in DC I see lots of older professionals and I don’t feel much of ageism. I think that the issue is with top tech companies or high flying startups.

  6. Janet Jenkins

    Gene: You must be in a lucky location because all the older pros I know got canned and wacked out of companies. They can’t consult because the recruiters won’t submit them (they’re too “old” or have been out-of-the-field for more than 3-6 months, says the recruiters). The new job ads call for “recent graduates”. Now they want you to be a 20-year-old with 30 years of experience! And you have to SHOW SAMPLES?!

    Please, get real, recruiters. I had non-disclosure agreements my whole life, you think I’m gonna wait for the Men in Black when my stuff shows up all over the country on some jerky recruiter’s computer? Get real people!

    Consulting is dead in most cities – maybe not D.C. – but then you can’t work for anyone in D.C
    without a bloody clearance. That eliminates 98% of the jobseekers in other places.

    Since the recession, there has been NO recovery, and companies learned to make do without all the benefits we provided. Now we’re just crap…..at least that’s what they’re telling us millions who keep looking to get back on the train. Everyone fell off the stat sheets, that’s what happened.

    • I have a similar experience like most on here. After the big 2009 Recession, I decided to completely change careers and started an alternative path to teach high school science, math, and engineering concepts while finishing prerequisite to attend dental school. I almost finished dental school before having burnout and took time off from that. However, I’m not sure it would be a good idea to go back into that field either. It seems like most fields are experiencing over saturation of qualified workers.
      More recently, I went back to my original profession that has been over shadowed by programmers adopting my professions name. I can’t even search for a relevant job anymore. I’m a licensed Architect, something that takes a lot of years of schooling (5 min.) and nowadays often requires a graduate degree in Architecture plus 3 years min. of working internship, in my day 9 licensing exams. Often times the majority of the people that begin working in this field drag out licensure for decades or never get it because of all the additional work after school. I did it in the shortest time possible and I’ve had some great experiences creating the environment people live their lives in. And I may have even influenced the look of many new buildings being built all over the major city I live in.
      But, oddly enough my old-brother’s profession, Computer Programming, has over shadowed my profession and has supplanted the meaning of what it is to be an Architect. This has been such a change to my profession because not only do I have to be responsible for my original duties to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public by providing a design that is built with sound products that keep people safe and health and will stand up to all kind of demands the user requires, but I also have to become more agile, re-evaluate how I can automate as much work as possible to have the time to focus on the parts of the profession that fulfill me. What I’ve learned from my experience (started working in 2004) is that whatever I do the absolute most important skill I have to keep me employable is being able to reevaluate, reconstruct, and innovate my way forward. The baby boomers will leave a hole and maybe a impending long-term contraction as their needs cease. Despite the frustration this transition is starting to create, I believe it’s a good time to look around at what are our biggest frustrations and see if there is an opportunity to innovate a solution to lessen or create new solutions to make you put you into higher demand or start your own business and run things the way you want. I know I’m going to do that. Too many practices that I worked for have ignored new ideas because they are stagnant and are good with that. I bet some of you have great new processes that would only make sense for an agile, new, small business.

  7. James Igoe

    One issue that I have with the ageist articles coming out of Dice is that they rely purely on speculation and anecdote. This is not to say that bias does not exist, but the fear that 30 is old is not the same as bias against 30-year olds.

    I just turned 59 today, and it took me several months to find my current employer – they were a top choice for me – and some hiring managers were openly biased. One manager said to me that she did not expect someone so senior, although she had already talked with me on the phone and had my resume in hand.

    No matter one’s age, one needs an exit plan. One always needs to be thinking about growth, moving forward, and the possibility of being pushed out. The problem is that at some point, smart highly-skilled people will be ignored for their age, although the reasoning is possibly based on inaccurate assumptions of value. With my current employer that is not much of a concern, my plan for aging was to revert to a consultant – this seems to be the common strategy – focusing on niche skill sets like VBA/Excel/Access/SQL. It is the kind of work that companies hire older temps for, and often pay quite well. Younger people do not learn things except maybe as part of a business role, and companies need a professional to take to the next level.