In information technology, gray matter counts more than gray hair

With enterprises scrambling for the right combinations of tech and business skills, age may be less of a factor in IT hiring prospects.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

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.)

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