I recently received an email from a reader asking me for advice about handling age discrimination in the IT industry.
Being in IT for 23 years and counting and at the age of 57 my biggest challenge is staying relevant. I do believe there is a large degree of age discrimination in the IT field…
I am not at the age where discrimination directly impacts me (yet), so I don’t have a lot of first hand experience to go by. At least not as far as discrimination against me.
I agree that there is some age discrimination in IT. I was guilty of it myself as a younger professional. Eventually I learned that it wasn’t age that mattered, it was my perception of the work that person was doing. Some of the “older guys” were looking after ancient mainframe systems that were super critical to the business, but I didn’t think much of them. Whereas the “old guy” doing firewall and security work had my utmost respect because I thought that work was cool and exciting.
(Yes, when I was younger the IT industry was heavily dominated by men in technical roles.)
I think one of the keys to staying relevant as you get older is to not settle for what you already know, and keep learning and modernising your skills. I am reminder of an older guy I worked with a long time ago. He was very smart, and solved a lot of big problems. But he also stuck with his batch files and reg hacks for solutions, instead of modernising to PowerShell and group policy. In the long run that hurt his career a bit by creating a silo where only he understood his work. That isn’t specifically an age problem, but it could be perceived that way.
As you get older the best thing you can bring to the table is experience and big picture thinking. New tech is cool, but your experience can help guide solutions to cover the important things like backups/DR, alignment with business requirements and not just alignment with tech trends, and even just being the “grown up in the room” who helps bridge the divide between IT and the business. When people see you as someone who can help them get things done, age becomes less of a concern.
That said, since this isn’t an area where I’ve felt any real impact on my own career (yet), I want to throw it open to discussion.
If you’ve ever experienced age discrimination in your career, what did that look like? If you were able to overcome it, what strategies did you use? Leave a comment below if you have something to share.
Photo by Kristina Tamašauskaitė on Unsplash
Not quite age discrimination, but in a similar category, was the issue of being on call on holidays. The company had a tradition of the youngest people without kids taking the on call rotations for all holidays. After several years, where the age gap in workers was high, it got old always being the one with a pager for Christmas dinner and carrying a laptop. After several years, the culture finally changed.
Just because someone didn’t have kids, they still had family, and had a right to enjoy the holidays uninterrupted. The culture changed with a new CIO and equitable ways of choosing holidays coverage were made.
Paul Cunningham says
I have seen that too. Also the same assumption applied to any evening/weekend work such as projects. The expectation was that (usually younger) people without kids would take on that work, which overlooked the impact it would have on them in terms of rest/burnout/etc.
Nick Nanos says
Hi Paul, I am a result of this
At age 49 and with no Certs (was lucky, 20 years in I.T. ) Can’t find reasonable I.T. work. Doing low-level desktop refreshes compared to supporting VMware and 600 Windows servers and doing on call etc. Not sure if I should continue with I.T. or sell houses or something else. Millennials have taken over. Oh well.
Paul Cunningham says
Sorry to hear that. Crappy situation that one.