Late Developer: Ageism in IT

Information Technology is a notoriously age-obsessed industry. Everything is about what’s next, and staying ahead of the competition. Tech has an ageism problem: discuss. Certainly, Mark Zuckerberg has a big one. He told a Stanford audience “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” Are they, though? And is being ‘smarter’ what IT needs, or is it something else?

Skills vs ageism

CWJobs surveyed 2000 tech workers and their research shows ageism begins early in this industry. Some 29-year-olds felt their age discrimination counted against them, and other workers, aged 38, were considered ‘over the hill’ by colleagues. More than a third (35%) of tech workers say they are considered ‘too old’ for their job, with (32%) in fear of losing their job altogether.

But there needs to be a balance. The best teams – sport is a great example – mix the energy and vitality of youth with the experience and wisdom of the older heads. 

In this Workplace Insight blog, Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme Manager for the Centre for Ageing Better points out that age discrimination isn’t just illegal, thanks to the Equality Act 2010, but strategically short-sighted (no pun intended)

‘‘These new figures show the shocking prevalence of ageism in the tech industry, where both workers and employers are being damaged by these outdated attitudes.

“People in their 50s and 60s are making up an increasing proportion of the workforce, with many fewer younger candidates, so employers will lose out if they don’t … make the most of the skills and talents of the over-50s and take a zero-tolerance approach to the kinds of everyday ageism these figures highlight.’’

The fightback starts here

This TechRepublic piece is pretty clear that while the industry needs fresh faces to deliver IT innovation, actually, there’s plenty of room for the gnarled old dev, too. That need was made plain when the Covid crisis massively increased unemployment claims and overloaded the old COBOL systems running New Jersey’s local government processes. 

Suddenly, the expertise of the programmers and developers needed to fix the programs wasn’t there. Even IBM, whose mainframes support many of these programs joined the call for older talent 

Indeed, COBOL is a great case in point. While not the sexiest programming language, there are still an estimated 220 billion lines in the core systems of big business, handling up to $3 trillion in daily commerce for most of the Fortune 100. So, who mends these systems when fresh faced graduates are baffled by 60-year-old code? Maybe a 75-year-old developer and his old buddies? 

Purple Crane: Age and Experience 

As an equal opportunities employer, we are firmly committed to giving experience a role alongside fresh ideas. Experience goes a long way in this industry and we like our dev teams to offer our customers the ‘best of both’ for their briefs. We all learn something every day, from each job and most importantly, each other – and this mix of creativity and experience underpins every application and software product we deliver. 

That didn’t age well…

The quote, “never trust anyone over 30” is attributed to 1960s radical Jerry Rubin. Reflecting on his words as a 50 year old, he mentioned to a New York Times reporter “Now I say don’t trust anyone under 50”. 

Sometimes experience is as valuable a commodity as youth. Someone should tell Mark Zuckerberg.  

Share the Post: