Age bias in IT? Or, something more complex

15 Sep

I read an intriguing article shared by a colleague of mine. Its well written with actual numbers and stories to back up the opinions.

I decided to write a response to this article. I am 27 years old with 5 years of full time experience and 7 more years of part time experience in IT. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have almost no experience interviewing for positions and job hunting.

For you to understand my response to this article, I have to describe my experience at my current employer. Our company values stability. Employees do not get laid off, or juggled around as the economy fluctuates. This allows IT staff to do their job, the same way they have done it for the last 30 years. Decision makers and managers get promoted from within the company. The IT department is slow and resistant to change as a whole but has gotten much better in recent years.

I find this article especially relevant because I work very closely with a large number of COBOL programmers, young, old and in-between. I used to work on an older desktop application in C and when it came time to phase that out I saw most of my co-workers getting sucked into “the dark side”. I made it very clear to my managers, well before they asked, that this was not my preferred career path. “the dark side” was an accurate nickname because our COBOL development environment was a black screen with white text.

Basically, my response to the article is that it isn’t an age bias but a personality bias. As myself, and all others age, we develop a stronger identity. Part of that identity is loosing the need to “try new things” because we know what we like, and we know what we don’t like. Trying something new is a risk and could be a huge waste of time. I have talked to quite a few blatantly obvious dinosaurs. And also some folks who may be half their age getting into the a routine that lacks innovation. You are only as old as you feel… or act for that matter. Physical age doesn’t have much to do with it.

When meeting someone for 5 minutes or less, stereotypes have to come into play. If someone falls into the buckets of “stuck in their ways”, “resistant to change” or a “know-it-all” they are not a good fit for an IT position. One might describe IT as full of unknowns and agile and if you are not those then you should pick a new career path. Being over 50 does not mean you adhere to any of these negative stereotypes but I assume that people, including open minded interviewers, might think that if you have one of these traits you have them all.

The key stat that the article references is that Math/Computer professionals have the highest difference in unemployment between 25-54 and 55+ age groups. I think all this states is that when the economy got bad, IT was the first budget to get cut. Within IT, more efficiency was needed and the 55+ $100,000+ COBOL programmer was the easy choice for most companies. They could be replaced with a framework and college graduates willing to work for 1/2 of that salary.

What would be more relevant is a stat that includes the age of all applicants compared to chosen applicants. I don’t know this number but I imagine that a BIAS might be able to be derived from it.

The end of the article grants some advice to those looking for a job. It says to be flexible which I believe I am. I am will to do a lot of things in IT. Not just SQL Server, .NET, networking and Windows which are my favorites but I would explore much more. Not wanting to be a COBOL programmer was me being honest and a visionary not inflexible.

The user group and community involvement is the 55+ person’s wild card. This kind of active involvement in the community can be very beneficial for someone many years out of college.

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


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