A version of this post has been published on medium.
I’m presently looking for full-time work, and part of my strategy has been to contact people I know or with whom I’m connected on LinkedIn who work at a company with an opening in which I might have an interest. I also sometimes reach out to others in key positions at the company. I always try to meet — in-person or remotely — with such people, usually informally and sometimes over coffee or a beer, to discuss the role, the company, and what they believe is most needed in the role (and why). I learn lots this way and sometimes seem to go through a pretty extensive interview process even before such a process has officially begun.
One of the times I arranged to meet with such a person recently, I entered the place of work, was taken back to the person with whom I was to meet and had not met before, and then watched as she sorta froze as soon as she saw me, the smile disappearing from her face. This happened with two of her co-workers as well, and it has happened on other — though not all — occasions of a similar nature.
I’ve talked about this with some of my older friends, and they confirmed what I feared might be going on, since they had experienced the same thing: ageism. I surprised these people I was meeting for the first time by being older than they had expected and probably hoped, and it negatively affected things moving forward.
Ageism in tech has been dubbed “an under-the-radar diversity issue” — “the industry’s biggest secret.” However, it wasn’t much of a secret when Mark Zuckerberg uttered these oft-quoted words in 2007: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” Today, “the average age of an employee at the top technology employers is around 29.”
“64% of workers between 45 and 74 say they experience age discrimination, and 58% believe it starts when a person is in their 50s.” So, shouldn’t people be doing something to stop this?
Some people have tried, such as via lawsuits. But the title alone of a recent Washington Post article suggests that most such efforts have been to little avail: “Baby boomers are taking on ageism — and losing.”
“At a time when conditions have vastly improved for women, gay people, disabled people and minorities in the workplace, prejudice against older workers remains among the most acceptable and pervasive ‘isms’.”
This is disgusting.
One of the jobs I applied for recently is pretty much equivalent to a job I held several years ago. I applied, because I loved that job and because my experience since being in that job has enabled me to perform in such a job even better. But I was told by the employer that the years that had passed since I held that job was a detriment.
Hmm… (and I can share a story of a similar nature involving another company).
Do not disregard the benefits of my experience, people! I’ve learned lots over the course of my life and career and have contributed substantively to the development of the field in which I work. And I continue such contributions and am higher performing and more capable than ever.
And, as suggested by this photo from this summer of a subset of the people in the room who were giving me a standing ovation at the end of our 10 weeks of intensely working together, I know how to work effectively with those young people Mark Zuckerberg said are the only people of importance in tech:
I am looking for work (spread the word!), and my best work lies ahead of me.
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Some additional excellent articles on ageism in tech include last month’s “You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch” in The New York Times and the older “The Brutal Ageism in Tech” in New Republic. Please share others you recommend via comment.