The Old Man And The C

Age leads to far-sightedness, something the short-sighted IT industry desperately needs

For a fifty-year-old, the IT industry is showing worrying signs of confusion. On the one hand, it is distrustful of its oldest friends — the people who grew up with it, worked with it for decades but are now seen as too old to be much good any more. On the other, it's showing short-term memory loss that would impress Cheech and Chong: new technologies are pushed into play and then forgotten with remarkable rapidity, leaving systems dangerously under-supported and difficult to maintain.

Nobody can claim that the IT job market overflows with skills and experience — so it is doubly criminal that recruiters and managers are so reluctant to keep on the more mature worker, let alone hire them in the first place. As for those workers worried by redundancy, outsourcing and the ever-growing pensions squeeze, it can be hard to know how to market oneself in a business where the new trumps the good at every turn.

It's an unfashionable suggestion, but companies must look to academia. There, long experience of venerable experts has led to a variety of strategies: professors emeritus, consultative committees, part-time posts. These people are the memory of the industry, and it is both healthy and important that they continue to contribute.

The workers themselves must organise, categorise their skills and make the most of their flexibility. They have much to offer of immediate importance: if a company is trying to force a client onto a new platform by withdrawing support for the old, then a consultancy offering thousands of years cumulative experience on that platform could be a tempting option.

And with experience comes efficiency: many outsourcing contracts have come a cropper because nobody in the overseas development team had the background or the robust attitude to spot or act on obvious mistakes and deficiencies in the input documents. Depth of background and robust attitude are rarely lacking in the elder geek — and early warnings are infinitely cheaper than late regrets.

Greysourcing, not outsourcing, should be the mantra. With imagination and adaptability on both sides, a long and profitable future awaits everyone.