In information technology, gray matter counts more than gray hair

In information technology, gray matter counts more than gray hair

Summary: With enterprises scrambling for the right combinations of tech and business skills, age may be less of a factor in IT hiring prospects.

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CIO's Sharon Florentine brings some encouraging news for us over-25ers: if you keep up with tech trends, and develop your business savvy, you'll continue be a good candidate for new IT job opportunities -- regardless of age.

Can it be true? I've spoken with many 50-plus folks who feel they may be unwanted goods in the IT market -- too expensive (because they are higher in the salary echelons) and too steeped in legacy skills (though most of the world's systems still run legacy). Despite laws against age discrimination, these perceptions weigh heavily.

Rick Gillis, a career search expert and consultant, is quoted by Florentine as observing that all enterprises care about is whether you can bring much-needed expertise to the table -- regardless of the color of your hair: "It's about being able to demonstrate your accomplishments. Most IT firms want to know one of two things: Can you make them money or can you save them money? Then they'll want to hire you, regardless of your age."

Gillis states that some older IT professionals don't spend the time "studying, staying hip and up-to-date on new technology advances." Presumably, these days, skills being sought include scripting languages, DevOps, database skills, and API development/management.

Along with technical skills, another skillset that makes IT jobseekers attractive -- and perhaps help employers overlook age -- is business development skills. In the article, Mike Capone, CIO at ADP, says older IT workers are highly desirable because they have the experience and expertise that can help bring younger IT workers up to speed with business domain knowledge.

Across information-intensive jobs, extending one's worklife is increasingly becoming an option. A report issued by Deloitte observes that while many seasoned workers will keep working beyond the typical retirement age of 65 out of economic necessity, many also want to remain active in the economy. The lines between worklife and retirement are blurring, and the study reports that 48% percent of baby boomers (currently between the ages of 49 and 66) expect to keep working past age 65, and 13% believe they will work into their 70s.

A key driver that is creating opportunities for all ages, from 12 to 92, is the rise of the freelance and information economies. The online economy enables individuals to either work virtually or launch new business ventures, with employers, clients and customers -- oblivious to age. Plus, for previous generations, retirement meant release from manual, back-breaking work—today's information workers can keep right on going.

There is no such thing as lifetime employment, and most people not only change jobs multiple times over the course of their lifetimes, but also careers. The career you pursue in your 50s may not even closely resemble the career you planned for in your 20s. Those second and third careers are even likely to be more entrepreneurial in nature. In fact, research from the Kauffman Foundation that finds that the average age of the founders of technology companies in the United States is a surprisingly high -- 39 — with twice as many over age 50 as under age 25. Kauffman also found that in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34.

Cloud computing, a wide variety of open APIs, and open-source tools and platforms mean abundant resources for launching new ventures at little to no cost. New funding mechanisms, particularly crowdfunding, opens up funding for new business ideas from the network, without the encumbrances of bank loans or individual investors. Social networks open up the world across all professions, enabling professionals to gain contacts, advice and actual assistance with developing new ideas. In terms of training and continuing education, individuals of all ages can pursue online educational opportunities, including free instruction from the world's leading experts via massive open online courses.

(Thumbnail photo: Michael Krigsman.)

Topics: IT Employment, E-Commerce, Emerging Tech, Open Source, Education

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12 comments
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  • Lifetime Employment

    Joe, your point about there not being lifetime employment, even if you loved the job you were in, is so true. And may be one of the drivers behind the age bias toward older workers in entrepreneurship. That is, they do not want their job security to be at the whim of a boss or organization that is more interested in next quarter's profits than your professional career. The only way to avoid the chopping block is to carry the axe yourself.
    Thanks for the article.
    gilsteidle
  • Charm school

    Don't discount the value of personality coaching in getting hired either as staff or as a contractor. Some folks catering to this field help hone this with coaching in the use New Age dev-babble ("agile" etc.) without wincing.

    You can be an Einstein in your field but you won't get consideration unless you come off like one of the *droogs*.
    dilettante
  • Scripting languages?

    I think someone is a bit out of date here. Despite the decades of hype, scripting languages have never been big and have really fallen off a cliff recently. Database of course is cornerstone of business.
    Buster Friendly
    • The problem with that argument...

      And I agree with you that Databases of all flavors run businesses, but to interact with them and enable line of business applications, you have to put somebody's "scripting" language in there. Whether it's JavaScript for the Web, Python, C#, Java, et cetera, there will always be a play for them.
      DAMANgoldberg
  • Keeping up to date not hard, getting that acknowledged is the problem.

    The article makes the kind of point I hear all the time - Gillis states that some older IT professionals don't spend the time "studying, staying hip and up-to-date on new technology advances."

    This is irrelevant.

    People don't get hired based on what technologies they have mastered in their own time. They get hired based on the technologies they can point to being used in their work, generally with a couple of years' experience.

    The real problem in the profession is that HR professionals and recruiting agencies generally fail to recognise, or won't take the risk, that experienced developers can come up to speed on new technology fairly quickly. If somone has already been studying on their own time and produced some open source, blog posting or private products to demonstrate their ability, that should be enough to demonstrate their suitability. Sadly, that appears to not be the case.
    AndyDent
    • There is a way around that though.

      Start a business in your spare time or volunteer for free just to get the experience. I have done work for free to help out friends just so that I would get the experience in other technologies.
      jsargent
      • Re: Keeping up to date not hard, getting that acknowledged is the problem.

        Yeah, but can you put that on a resume' with a straight face?

        "I helped create an Access database on my friend's computer for her knitting business."

        That's not gonna fly. And unless you have weird friends, you aren't going to be setting up a ZFS NAS on a volunteer basis.

        (W)age discrimination is real and pervasive. About the only way this can be stopped is if the H-1B visa program is stopped, and current visa holders sent home.
        Fred Bosick
  • Who cares?

    High tech is bbbbbooooooorrrring!

    Its always the same cabal of freakish careerists looking to to "save themselves" by surrounding themselves with idiots, managers just want bots who blow smoke in their ears.

    This is how you "remain relevant" at corporations and this is why big corps never innovate, look at Microsoft and HP, how many "relevant" ideas come from there?

    I've worked with both companies and prior to its release, as recently as two years ago, top "engineers" at HP believed that Windows 8 would not be able to run WIN32 apps!

    Lets not forget that Microsoft management (Balmer) thought that open source was a "cancer" now a company that gives away an OS, (ie. google) is eating their lunch + an apple.

    Open source is an incredible source of innovation that will be the future as predicted by Marx.

    Look, high tech is infected with stupidity, why go to a job every day where you have to be around ret@rds.

    Life is too short to spend 8+ hours a day at an idiot corporation going to meetings to hear PMs spout corporate speak and lets not forget the boredom.

    I quit a long time ago and now I just smoke weed drink beer and play music, its all I ever really wanted to do.

    And retirement? F**k that. 80% of people end up with NOT ENOUGH to retire, I know, you think you will be different, but when you consider that the special interests don't give a flying f**k about you and yet they OWN EVERYTHING well good luck suckers!

    You will spend your whole life "creating wealth" and "opportunity" for the people who own you.

    Hahaha!
    SirHuxley
  • Can you make them money or can you save them money?

    That's a little crass, but definitely true. But you need to look at that question broadly. Can you fit into their corporate culture without training? Some examples: you have experience with their DB or OS or CM tools. Can you add something to the group? Some examples: bringing in rigorous CM to replace their ad hoc CM, creating installation scripts that actually work, enabling some pieces (even small ones) to be fielded on hosted virtual servers at $5 or $10/month.

    I would say the most important thing is being able to work with their folks no matter whether they are old like you or young whippersnappers. Increasing the productivity of the group in various ways is the best way to save the company money. Innovation will make money, but that's harder to demonstrate in an interview. Try to highlight that on your resume. In my estimation, innovation comes mainly from experience.
    purplesuit1
  • I hear age-ist comments all the time, even from people who are not

    spring chickens themselves.

    It is unfortunate, as I know some "getting up there" programmers who know jQuery and Angular.js just as well as any spring chicken, and yet have intimate knowledge of how the industry got here from punch cards.

    You'd think that would be invaluable, but these days a programmer has to be young enough to pass for a hipster, or no go.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Disagree

    Age discrimination is a very real thing in the IT field. In fact it does further than that, just being healthy looking and thin will get you ahead in many IT shops nowadays. If you look young and act young, your actual age may be ignored.

    But I agree with other points as well in that you have to not only stay up to date but also have a vision of the future of IT and be able to project that vision. More than just worrying about meeting the IT needs of today, IT directors and managers are worried about 3 to 5 years from now. Its that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" thing that sticks in the back of their minds.

    Personally I dropped 50 lbs, shave off the grey hair, and keep very current and very flexible.
    Rann Xeroxx