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Older IT pros feeling the squeeze from younger workers

Is the IT industry ageist? An article in Computerworld suggests just that, saying age bias has been the IT industry’s dirty little secret — or even the big, open secret. Many IT workers over age 50 say they have experienced some sort of ageism, be it stagnating salaries or fewer opportunities for advancement. Other signs: Older workers feel less likely to be included in training programs. They're also often the first ones to get laid off but the last ones to get hired.

There are plenty of misconceptions and stereotypes about older IT workers: Their skills are not as current as those of younger employees; they expect higher salaries than younger people; they become set in their ways and narrow-minded with age; or they’re less energetic than younger workers.

“While none of these generalizations is necessarily true for any particular candidate, each is a stereotypical assumption about older workers,” Computerworld’s Tam Harbert writes. “What's more, they are all logical and legal reasons for an employer to fire, or not hire, someone.”

Recent data indicates that unemployment rates for older IT workers spiked faster than they did for younger tech employees since the start of the recession three years ago. It’s an industry that doesn’t favor older workers, Jing Quan, an associate professor at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., told Computerworld.

But IT is not the only industry where older employees will be vulnerable if they’re not at the top of their game. As examples, Computerworld cites administrative assistants who don’t know the latest office software and journalists who lack multimedia skills as facing the same conundrum as IT workers.

So what can older IT workers do to stay relevant? To age gracefully in IT, Computerworld has a few suggestions.

  • Keep your skills up-to-date.
  • Consider moving into IT management, where your experience won’t be perceived as a strike against you.
  • Network and build relationships so you have contacts to reach out to in case you get laid off.
  • Learn to use social media to promote yourself and connect with potential new employers.
  • Dress like your colleagues to fit in.

Do you agree with the article? Is the IT world ageist? Is there more bias there than in other professions? Have you experienced such bias? If you’re over the age of 50, how do you stay relevant in the workforce?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 06, 2011 at 9:03 AM

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 Michael H Kentucky

I couldn't agree more. I am not 50 yet (only 45), but three years ago lost my job. I have over 25 years of IT experience. I have applied for 1,827 (real count per my records) positions and have only been interviewed by two of them. I have noticed that most of those hired have been younger than 25. It just doesn't seem fair to not even be 'eligible for an interview'.

Thu, Sep 8, 2011

Over the last 10 years you have seen many articles on how managers must learn to manage a multi-generational workforce and cater to the needs of Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, etc. Ever wonder why no article ever says that younger managers must learn how to work with older workers? That's because no one cares how older workers feel. For us, it's "shut up and color".

Wed, Sep 7, 2011 Ericka Virginia

I'm nearly 50, and just moved from IT Tech Support to IT Management. I didn't feel any pressure to make the move, in fact my managment in tech support was not happy to see me go. I was the lead, the most experienced with customer service, could solve the most complex problems, and trained the newcomers. I've been very happy with the move to management, and I don't feel that my age works against me ( I don't dye my hair, either!). I feel energetic in my new work, bring a fresh perspective, and get a lot done. I have always tended to dress a little younger --not to fit in, but because I like the way it looks on me! Maybe age is a frame of mind, or is perceived negatively when seasoned workers lose the ability to be creative thinkers or be supportive of the younger generation's innovative new ideas. I would encourage everyone - in any walk of life - to continue to challenge yourself, seek knowledge and improvement; stay positive!

Wed, Sep 7, 2011 Sumner Upstate NY

I agree with all the other posters. I have worked in IT 30+ years. Most IT staff from my generation started in shops where Computer time and printouts were expensive and the cost of each was tracked. We developed skills to desk check code, perform analysis and logic walkthroughs before the first line was coded. The younger generation
started when Computer costs are cheep. Without doing much analysis they jump in and produce a shell program and then run it as many times as needed to get it working and THEN document the design. Also today, what passes for consultants with 'special expertise' is a HS grad that took an IT course in the language in-demand. Companies and Public sector Agencies don't look closely at the flawed process and ROI because keeping the cost of the work force down is the priority.

Wed, Sep 7, 2011

Younger IT workers are quick to take advantage of an opportunity to "shine" and often don't "think through" a problem, not spending enough time to correct the problem. As quick as younger IT workers are, they are not as thorough as the older generation because they don't seem to feel it is necessary.

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