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Question about ageism in industry?

  1. Sep 14, 2012 #1
    I am now becoming aware that with software engineering ageism is a pretty big factor, in that, being younger is an unfair advantage--all things equal.

    My general question is: how much is ageism a factor in IT vs. more traditional engineering?

    Does one generally maneuver into consulting after paying dues....
    I'm concerned that by the time I mature professionally I might be older. What is the age in IT (50's?).

    I know it's illegal, but, I know it is somewhat of a reality. some family (who are in IT) have mentioned it in the past. I don't want to ask them because they are in their 50's lol.
    Thanks to whoever can provide some insight.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2012 #2
    This must be company/location dependent because in most companies that I've worked in the company prefers older more experienced developers.

    Now I have seen that younger people are "more exploitable" in the sense that if you are 20 and someone offers you a chance to work long hours with no pay that you are more willing to take the job than a 50 year old.

    I don't think it is.

    I have seen a "cohort" effect rather than an age effect. I happen to be part of a generation that was programming computers since age 6, and so when I was 20, there was a perception that we were more skilled with computers than 40 year olds. However, it's a "cohort" effect rather than an "age" effect, since I've heard lots of complaints that 20 year-olds don't have the computer skills of 40-year old. It's not your age that matters so much that you were part of the generation that grew up typing in BASIC programs from 80 Micro magazine.

    It varies wildly. My first job was in oil and gas, and there most of the programmers were in their 50's and 60's. They got in with the oil boom of the 1970's, and in the early 1980's oil/gas stopped hiring.

    I've never seen it. This isn't to discount the experiences of your family, but it's something that I haven't run into in industry.
  4. Sep 15, 2012 #3
    Thank you for your response, I was starting to think the question was a dead end ha.

    It is comforting to hear your general response(s) i.e it not widely known or assumed from your perspective.
    I'm generally curious about actual hiring practices vs. policy and how they contrast.

    I guess it seems reasonable to find the sure bet....even though it tends to be unreachable
  5. Sep 16, 2012 #4
    My experience has been that actual hiring practices are pretty close to policy. Most large companies have large human resources and compliance departments and they take anti-discrimination laws, very, very seriously.

    One thing that you should be aware of is that employment discrimination laws on age in the United States only cover people over 40. In fact, at one company that I worked at, it was the young people that were annoyed at the policies that seemed to encourage promotion of people over 40.
  6. Sep 17, 2012 #5


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    It depends on the company and industry. I have worked in large multinational companies and small startups. Generally speaking, there is not a lot of overt age discrimination because of anti-discrimination laws. That being said, there are reasons for some companies to prefer younger employees. For instance small startups tend to have younger people, because they tend to be more willing to work crazy hours and also take risks. If you have a mortgage and need support a family, you will be more likely to prefer stable, established companies with reasonable work hours. By nature, startups are not stable or established.

    However, large companies will also sometimes prefer younger workers for reasons of cost. I worked at a large multinational that was several new complicated software packages for running their business. They hired experienced workers and consultants for the job but once the software was released, they gradually replaced the teams with younger workers just out of college to do the maintenance work and upgrade. They left a couple of older, experienced engineers to oversee the process and manage the new people. This way, they were able to replace experienced engineers with new hires at, in some cased, 50% of the salary cost.

    Consulting companies that involve a lot of travel will also tend to have younger people. Andersen Consulting, for instance, was notorious for hiring "kids" right out of school, paying them 60-70k and squeezing the life out of them with crazy travel and work schedules. People with families and experience usually don't put up with that.

    One common career path for software folks is that as they get older and gain more experience, they tend to move more into managerial roles.
  7. Sep 17, 2012 #6


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    When I was consulting for pulp and paper mills, those people didn't mind age. In fact, when I was paired up with another troubleshooter who was ~20 years my senior, we got a bit more respect and attention from the management of those mills. He was a colorful old coot, and he knew his business.
  8. Sep 17, 2012 #7
    If you are looking to hire a code monkey, you want someone young.

    If you are looking to hire a system architect, you want someone old.

    So if you are in your 50's looking to be a code monkey or in your 20's looking to be an architect, you are SOL either way.

    Most of the projects that I've been involved in had a few grey hairs leading the way and writing the difficult code, and a larger number of youngsters to do the grunt work.
  9. Sep 18, 2012 #8
    IMHO, after putting in some decades into the workforce:

    Ageism or Age Discrimination is utterly illegal in most jurisdictions. But it exists and is absolutely pervasive everywhere.

    Several factors contribute to the discussion & opinion:
    • Younger folks are trying to "climb the ladder", generally have less family obligations. And have more energy, typically. IMHO (yawn...I need a nap).
    • Older folks have kids giving them a hard time, significant family issues (divorce, deaths, sickness) that tend to make work less a priority than before.
    • Older folks have developed "journeyman" skills, as contrasted with "apprentice" skills.
    • If you are currently working, there is little that can be done to discriminate. This is one of the "Kryptonite Issues" that make the HR Weasels dive for cover. Sometimes one may get "laid off" due to "economic conditions" or other nonsense. And there's nothing that can be done about that. Companies can make your job harder & less pleasant, trying to force quitting. The HR Weasels are very skilled in a non-discriminatory image of "no-fault, no-blame" separation so that they aren't engaged in an age discrimination lawsuit. I've seen it done over and over.
    • If you are job seeking, then if the youngish hiring manager sees that you are mid- to late-career age, then the resume goes silently into the trash can. For a recent interview, I tried a new resume format with no dates on it. The hiring manager was a little shocked to discover I was middle-aged. Didn't matter, it wasn't a good fit anyway. But the episode confirmed my suspicions about human nature.
    • The older I get, I find that I am working for younger and younger "ladder climbers" who really don't have a clue. They are learning how to be managers and not necessarily learning how to be leaders. They also generally have not had the "freight train of life" run over them so they haven't learned how to be human yet.
    • There is a generational disconnect between younger & older folks.

    I wish my experiences were much different than this, but they aren't. So, getting older, I've been working on my part-time engineering consulting business to supplement my income, develop a network of contacts, and provide a secondary safety net for poor managerial behavior. And I've become very skilled at taking defensive notes about Boss-Employee interactions as a form of protection against weakly skilled managers. It has served me very well in the past: there's nothing like written documentation of poor discriminatory manager behavior, with times/dates/witnesses, to shut them up and force changes in their behavior.
  10. Sep 19, 2012 #9
    Ageism or Age Discrimination is utterly illegal in most jurisdictions. But it exists and is absolutely pervasive everywhere.

    Several factors contribute to the discussion & opinion:

    Older people have more sense. Most jobs that "discriminate" against older people in this way are jobs that frankly, I'm glad that young people do. If you are willing to work for free, then good for you.

    Which makes things very interesting if the HR people get laid off since they know where the bodies are buried. The other thing about lawsuits is that most discrimination lawsuits are handled very quietly. A group of fired employees hires a lawyer, the lawyer talks to the company. Things go to arbitration, and the employees get a cash settlement with the amount depending on a number of factors.

    It works both ways. I saw a situation with an older worker that was clearly underperforming, and HR was extremely closely involved in monitoring said worker, with all of the supervisors keeping very careful records with times/dates/witnesses to prove that we weren't discriminating, and that we gave that worker every possible chance to improve.
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