Despite legislation making it overtly illegal, ageism persists in the technology industry. The fear is particularly acute because of fears that automation and A.I. will erode the overall number of human workers, driving intense competition between younger and older.
Rise of the machines aside, if you’re 40 or older, you’ve probably seen cases where younger developers were picked over older ones. It happened to me once while recruiting a programmer: After all the interviews, I’d narrowed the candidates down to a 28-year-old and a 60-year-old. Both were very good, and I thought the 60-year-old was better, but the senior manager tasked with the final selection picked the younger developer.
At times we’re told there’s a staffing crisis due to a 19-year low in tech unemployment, that companies need to import more developers via H-1B, but the truth is that outsourcing and downsizing eliminated a subset of viable developers from the market. Those developers, in turn, had to figure out if they wanted to land another job, freelance, or leave the technology industry entirely.
With all that in mind, here are those reasons why you should consider hiring older developers.
The need for developers has only risen over the past few years; just look at how much some new computer-science graduates are earning. But new graduates simply do not fit in every job, especially those that demand a high level of skill and experience. In theory, that means a lot of older developers out there, ready for hire; however, some may need some re-training in order to re-enter the tech workforce in an effective way.
As developers age, they generally have less spare time due to family commitments. That doesn’t work for many startups, which expect “death marches” and 80-hour weeks in order to ship products; the gaming industry, for example, continues to suffer mightily from so-called “crunch time” issues. But older developers tend to be reliable and stable; facing less pressure to leapfrog up the career ladder, they often like to stay in the same job for an extended period of time.
The author Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that practicing anything for 10,000 hours (that’s 20 hours a week for ten years) is sufficient to master it. That might apply to Roger Womack, CEO of Sportdirector.co.uk, a one-person firm that produces the soccer simulator Football Director for many different platforms. For 30 years, he worked for a variety of game publishers; but in 2007, with decades of experience under his belt, he decided to publish his own game.
“The bar to entry is much lower with technologies like Unity,” he said. “I’d probably make more money now working for someone else than if I was going it alone.” But at 60, Womack has more than enough game-development experience to run a business by himself.
But older developers, having spent their careers learning new technologies, generally have a system for picking up whatever they need to know; a growing body of online tutorials helps with that. The biggest impediment, perhaps, is managing one’s time in order to actually learn how the software works.
Better at Office Politics
Any developer who has been around the proverbial block has probably seen his or her fair share of bad incidents in offices: favoritism, dead-end projects, poor leadership, technical debt, reshuffles, and, of course, the impact of layoffs. They’re adaptable, which is why bringing in a mature team member can anchor a team with a solid core.
Conclusion: Older Workers Not Done
I can think of few things as wasteful as discarding developers because of their age. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has recruited an older developer only to regret it. If you’re on the quest for talent, throw the widest possible net.