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Age Is Just a Number for Old Tech Pros Willing to Keep Pace

Despite the persistent image of whiz kids writing code in nap pods, IT is not exclusively a game for the young. Savvy tech professionals can stay employed by making a few adjustments.

Young people at tech startupAlthough the average age of U.S. workers is 42.3, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the information technology industry is still predominantly for the young. According to a report published by leading compensation researcher PayScale, 7 of 18 tech companies employ people whose median age is 30 or younger. At Facebook and Epic Games, for example, the median age is 28 and 26, respectively.

 

What are the challenges faced by longtime IT workers?

 

This youth-fixated culture can leave many experienced techies feeling out of place. There is a view in the industry that older tech workers are not up on the latest tech, slower to adapt to new technologies, unable to work long hours and most reluctant to relocate.

 

Many companies also consider IT veterans too expensive. Even if they get an interview, seasoned tech professionals often aren’t likely to get a salary that matches what they’re used to making. Adding to the woes of older workers is the assumption among employers that young tech professionals are more innovative, passionate and energetic.

 

Do older workers have any notable advantages over younger peers?

 

Whatever the assumptions in favour of youth, older tech professionals do have certain strengths that their younger counterparts often lack.

 

Older workers tend to have a well-honed understanding of structure and workflow given their experience. This is why start-ups experiencing teething troubles regularly find the guidance and leadership of experienced workers helpful.

 

Unlike young techies, who are likely to spend a great deal of time looking at their laptop screens and smartphones, older professionals have years of experience interacting with people face-to-face, gradually becoming emotionally savvy and developing better interpersonal skills. Because such skills come with experience, younger tech pros are usually not as emotionally intelligent as older workers who also tend to have better communication skills.

 

Experienced techies are often better equipped to make independent decisions, a result of years of working on different projects and with diverse clients. The 55-and-older group also reported using more technologies and devices than others in the group. A survey by Dropbox and Ipsos Mori of roughly 4,000 tech workers found that people age 55 and older did not consider technology use at work as stressful as their younger peers.

 

Are there areas in IT where it’s particularly valuable to have a few grey hairs?  

 

Despite the preponderance of young developers, there are instances in the IT industry that demonstrate the value of older workers. Nick Kolakowski, writer for Dice.com, points to RedMonk’s observation that older techies, such as 62-year old James Gosling, co-inventor of Java, 41-year old Andi Gutmans, who co-invented PHP, and 61-year old Tim Bray, co-inventor of XML, were hired by Amazon Web Services. The company finds value in independent decision-making, which is usually honed by extensive field experience.

 

Kolakowski believes a more experienced tech professional might be able to understand the workings of a new technology better based on his hands-on experience with the older platform and his understanding of how that technology worked.

 

Experienced marketing pros are being hired by IBM and other tech majors. A prominent example is Chip Conley, founder of a boutique hotel company at 26, who joined Airbnb at age 52.

 

Are there areas in IT where older workers are notably less valuable?

 

The gaming industry brings to mind an image of a hyper-energetic young and hip developers, in-the-know about the latest in game technology and willing to work into the wee hours. Being current and enthusiastic are all-important, and this is one area in which older workers are generally not perceived to be the “right fit.” Of the tech companies surveyed by PayScale, Epic Games employees have the lowest median age, 26.

 

Culture, type of work and daily routine also plays a role. Companies that project a youthful culture prefer people who are willing to work oblivious of long hours and adverse health effects, so long as they can work on something enjoyable and stimulating.