Age Discrimination in Tech Job Hiring

That was the title of a discussion on the Cape Cod Technology Council’s LinkedIn page.  I find myself incapable of considering jobs in the context of “age discrimination in technology industries” as distinct from several other tightly linked issues, both personal and national.

What a hornets’ nest, hmmm?  My sister was just laid off from her position as purchasing director and community relations director for a NY based aerospace firm.  So were 37 other professionals over 45.  But then, half the company was over 45.  So you could make the “salary” argument that they could be replaced with younger, cheaper workers.  If it weren’t for the fact that the new, 35 year old CFO asked for a list of employees sorted by birthday a week before the layoff.  Still… not a simple call.

The folks who started and ran the minicomputer revolution (in Massachusetts and elsewhere) are baby boomers and now all in the space with a specter of age discrimination.  Some have probably stayed more technically current than others, and some have more of an ongoing desire (or need) to work than others, but none of them are likely to find new jobs in tech other than short term consulting jobs with no benefits.

This country has serious labor problems.  I don’t think it is age related so much as it is that we have shipped so many jobs overseas.  The federal government has established tax incentives to export full-time American jobs.  On the lower end we’ve exported our manufacturing jobs. On the upper end we’ve exported programming and support jobs.  (Don’t get me started on dealing with tech support in India…)  The whole economic mess and looming problems with Social Security could be solved by revising that tax advantage to bring jobs back to the US and by providing tax incentives to hiring those over, say, 50 or 55. That, coupled with universal healthcare, would put us on a par with the rest of the developed world which protects both the economic and physical health of their people.

Personally, my best tech hires were either very young and enthusiastic or older and more experienced (mostly out of the military).  My worst hires were in the lukewarm middle range. Not saying that is always the case, but there is a lot to be said for hiring people who are eager to do the work and possibly less concerned with milking every last nickel out of the company.  At DEC, Ken Olsen’s philosophy was that you should be paid “fairly” but not at the top of the industry pay scale for the job. In theory that meant that (1) you wanted the job and (2) you could move on when you had mastered the job and there was no place internally for you to move that appealed to you in terms of position or salary.  DEC actively encouraged people to move on and seek their highest level.  That’s not a bad thing, but it assumes there is someplace for you to go.

So here we are in 2009, almost 2010, the economy is a mess, millions of jobs have been lost, and there is no obvious place for many workers to go.  When Stanley tools buys Black & Decker (as was just announced), the manufacturing is presumably still being done offshore but the jobs lost are middle and upper management in the US. Those jobs aren’t coming back under any circumstances.  We need to launch the new new thing.  Big time.  That’s likely to involve massive projects in alternative energy, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, or other technologies.  So we need to stop listening to the religious backwaters playing effete games, the powerful oil interests, and all the other stupidity holding this country back from doing what we used to do best… reinvent the world.  We need top notch education and federal level encouragement to progress down that path. Or we will continue to wither, with our only exports ultimately coming down to what we can still produce in big agriculture.

So how was your garden this year?



7 responses to “Age Discrimination in Tech Job Hiring

  1. Last time I was in job market I managed to land a good job with a major Finnish company at age 50. It was not an easy ask, but I was able to sell my experience which really matched their requirements.

    Soon I was in a customer meeting with a female sales manager from company’s other division. When introducing ourselves, I mentioned that I am a new hire. So she asked (in front of the customer): “Why on earth did they hire such an old man?” I was somewhat puzzled because she was no spring chicken herself.

    Soon I found an explanation. The lady was what is nowadays called a “puma”, well ahead of the times. She saw me as a lost opportunity.

    regards from Finland,

  2. Hi,
    yes, you are right. “Puma” is the Latin name and also used in Finland for cougar:

    This is really sidetracking from your important topic of age discrimination, but I was referring to: “Cougar Relationships:
    Older women Younger men relationships.”

    • Harri, I learn something new every day and had no idea puma was the genus for cougar. I will have to work that into a conversation somehow! And I don’t know that age discrimination is any more important, and it is certainly less interesting, than relationships between older women and younger men! As Benjamen Franklin said: “They’re so grateful!” When I was at DEC I had a woman friend who was divorced with a young daughter and was dating a man 10 years her junior. The biggest issue I see is that the music of each generation is so darn different. Her boyfriend shared her daughter’s taste in music more than hers. And, frankly, that would freak me out. (I still need to be around people who appreciate the Beatles and Stones.)

  3. Dear Euonymous Redux,
    we belong to the same generation in many ways.

    Musically, I have been working my way from 1930’s jazz standards to 1970’s funk music. In performing in jazz clubs and blues jams I sense the generation gap closing occasionally, but only for a tiny moment.

    • Did you work for DEC by any chance? We may have crossed paths before.

      Musically, I love rock, folk and jazz. Hubby is Dutch and he is straight jazz in his musical tastes. Have you ever heard the New Black Eagle Jazz Band? The band leader and wailing trumpet player is Tony Pringle who was originally from the UK and was one of the software development managers at Prime Computer years ago. Communications software, I think, was his area. It always amuses me how mathematics, software, and music go together. Listening to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the background now. Very slick. I used to play piano and folk guitar. Now I play the radio 🙂 Jazz is interesting because it’s played by people who know a melody SOOOO well they can afford to have some sophisticated fun with it. Good jazz is the pinnacle of music, in my humble opinion.

  4. Hy!

    This is so true, but others just don’t understand it!


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