Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Stressful lives of older tech workers (businessinsider.com)
173 points by rmason on Sept 27, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 152 comments



Silicon Valley likes young people because they tend to accept worse employment contracts and accept the idea of longer hours. Folks with family responsibility immediately put counter-pressure on this.

I'm 38. And I feel enormous pressure to be smarter than everyone around me to be relevant. People expect you to be incredible both at management and engineering as you get older. I'm very lucky my career path has given me opportunity here, because but for a few chance encounters I'd be much, much worse at both and that'd be awful. I'm quite worried about what people will expect of me when I'm 45. I'm working hard to add data science to my resume because I think that "mathy" roles have less discrimination against them than pure engineering roles, and I want to stay ahead of it.

I do a lot of stuff that is tactical as well. For example, today I'm wearing a uniqlo-nintendo collaboration t-shirt with Pikachu on it. I'm doing so on the day I'm giving an interview. Because I know, tactically, this shirt is silly and irreverent and paints a picture of someone younger at heart.

And maybe that is naturally me (pika pika, ban lylat!) but I'd be lying if I didn't continue to do it tactically to appear more relevant and "with it".

What's interesting to me is that outside of the SV startup world, every computer scientist and great engineer I respect is a person over 40. Especially in academia, where women and men of astounding intelligence are doing work that in 10 years will probably reshape the industry (put forth, naturally, by breathlessly enthusiastic 21 year old "devrel" folks mis-attributing the work of 2 generations of academia to the brilliance of the senior technical staff at that company).

So yeah, it sucks. It's real. And there is a reason in the older white male-ish segment you find more awareness of other types (gender, racial) discrimination in the industry: people over 40 directly experience age discrimination and it's not at all theoretical even to white men in that cohort. If it can happen to older white dudes, it surely can happen to anyone else.


Counterpoint: I'm 48. I work in the Valley. I do wear suits and dresses because that's what I like. (Some days, you can catch me in jeans and t-shirts. It's rare). I don't pick up hobbies I don't care about just because "everybody does it". (Looking at you, bicycling!). I'm not even male.

I still (just verified :) ace my interviews. I'm well respected at my job. I've got a decent income and a decent set of responsibilities.

Maybe I'm an exception. But, alternative thought, maybe the "youth obsession" is also partially created because everybody thinks it exists.

Yes, I'm wondering what happens when I get post 50 as well. But mostly I'm thinking that because everybody tells me it will be bad, not because I've seen actual evidence. I've got wonderful colleagues who are 50+, and nobody would dream of firing them. I've got industry contacts who are 50+. So, I guess I'll find out in about two years.


> I'm not even male.

I sure do wish I could convince people of this, but getting "they" from folks has been impossible.

> But, alternative thought, maybe the "youth obsession" is also partially created because everybody thinks it exists.

If that's the case than it's much worse than simple bias.


>> I'm not even male.

> I sure do wish I could convince people of this, but getting "they" from folks has been impossible.

It could be that pronouns have no bearing on one's sex class.


If that's the case then why refuse any such designation? We certainly put up with more eccentric affectations than this is our community, like the idea of 10x programmers, the relevance of object oriented programming, free $4 bottle water, ping pong during work hours, or the idea that everyone needs a $3200 laptop.

No, it's precisely because it has bearing that people oppose it.


It seems eccentric but harmless to ask that people use non-gendered pronouns, but when other people respect that, it is almost certainly not because they now believe that you are somehow not male.


I haven't asked them to approve of my lifestyle, just not actively erase it or demand I pander to their desire to ignore it.

If you don't care how I feel, I'm willing to extend symmetrical courtesy. However, basic affordances accepting other people's differences seem like an excellent comprimise, and has worked quite well historically.

But here you are, acting like it's an undue burden and I should be ashamed. Why is that?


I don't think you understand what I am saying.

Convincing people to use gender-neutral pronouns for you and convincing them that you are not male are two entirely different things. That is all.

I would venture to guess that you have convinced zero people that you are not male, but I made no statement about how pronoun preferences are an undue burden or how you should be ashamed; you made that up yourself.


> Convincing people to use gender-neutral pronouns for you and convincing them that you are not male are two entirely different things. That is all.

And I'm telling you that it definitely does.

> I would venture to guess that you have convinced zero people that you are not male

This is untrue. But it depends on the venue. And in many cases succeeding at this changes how people treat me.

> but I made no statement about how pronoun preferences are an undue burden or how you should be ashamed; you made that up yourself.

No. You're just here to represent the "I will never accept what you're saying" squad.


> You're just here to represent the "I will never accept what you're saying" squad.

The question of whether you are a male or not is not dependent on whether I or anyone else accepts what you are saying. It is a material condition.

If we want to change words so that "male" is what you are talking about and e.g. "AMAB" is what I am talking about, so be it. The second is not dependent on what anyone believes or "assigns."


I'm so relieved there now we're going to bring judeo-christian pseudoscience in this conversation. Finally we're back on familiar territory.


Human reproductive function and capacity is not dependent on cultures or beliefs; hope this helps clear things up for you.

Ever produced small motile gametes? Then you're a male! Congrats!


A classic example of the judeo-christian appeal to misunderstood high school science: you just said if you ever are infertile you're not "male".

That's almost certainly not what you meant, which is: "My worldview is that no one is allowed to opt out of my gender foreverwar because of how much I benefit from the status quo."

Fertility and reproduction have very little to do with 'gender' except where people attempting societal manipulation try and force it to. From a scientific perspective the correlations are minimal and difficult to measure.


> you just said if you ever are infertile you're not "male".

For a computer person, your logic sure is weak.

"If you've ever produced small, motile gametes, then you're male."

"If you've never produced small, motile gametes, then you're not male."

P → Q does not entail ¬P → ¬Q. Literally 100-level propositional logic, here.

> Fertility and reproduction have very little to do with 'gender' except where people attempting societal manipulation try and force it to. From a scientific perspective the correlations are minimal and difficult to measure.

Who's talking about gender, here? I'm not.

I'm talking about sex; specifically, the material basis for reproductive roles and the exploitation of female (sorry, AFAB) reproductive function for the advantage of male (sorry, AMAB) people.


You edited your post, so I edited mine.

But nice try.

In any case, if you're talking about this ill-defined and frequently unverified concept of "sex" then I'm uninterested in talking with you further. You're don't have any interesting insight into the subject. You can barely keep it together explaining logical implication.

Please find someone more interested in this level of discourse. I'm bored with it.


>Silicon Valley likes young people

People get the wrong impression that it's a SV thing. It's not just SV. Lots of employers (who are themselves age 40+) like to hire 20-somethings.

As one example, there was a reddit thread with a woman in Tennessee trying to start a hot sauce business. In one of her replies, she wrote: "I wanted my company to be young and hip, so I hired young and hip -- okay, ‘hip’ might be subjective, but we’re definitely young."[1]

It was fascinating to watch an honest moment of communication because she later deleted that reply. However, others had already quickly replied to it which left her original comment for prosperity.[1]

In another example, the aides that sit directly adjacent to the President's oval office are traditionally staffed by 20-somethings.[2] There's nothing in the job description that says the gatekeeping work can't be done by senior-citizens but every WH Chief of Staff always wants the high energy of a recent college grad stationed there.

It's not just programming. Whether it's packaging up food sauce in Tennessee or filtering visitors into the President's office in Washington DC, employers want the vibe of a young crew.

[1] original text still in a reply: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/4hiipf/update_hi_redd...

[2] Bush aides: https://youtu.be/lNhpsPvMYAE?t=5m37s

Obama aides: https://youtu.be/p-U0-0anzV0?t=28s

Clinton aides: https://youtu.be/uzZ-gfvXN-c?t=25m17s


You're looking for "posterity," not "prosperity."


You forgot the military...


Jobs in tech seldom involve carrying around half one's body weight in equipment, and the ability to recover from serious injury is less likely to be important.


Right, serious injury would probably lose you the job entirely.


And Hollywood...


Hollywood loves them, esp. if you come from money. To get a foot in the door anywhere, there's unpaid internships that you might work anywhere from 3-6 months, then maybe roll onto the next. I've met people that interned for 1-2 years before getting a Production Assistant job (pays about $12/hr starting, IIRC) in which you step up from taking out the trash but are still working 12-hr days. Once you pass that hurdle though, you can keep moving on up to better pay and positions but the expectation is to pay your dues (for free).

Young, recent grads are great for that I guess because of how unencumbered most are but, when you look at the debate on diversity in Hollywood, it's not about what's in front of the camera but about the opportunities behind the scenes, which your background might limit when you're starting out.


Your experience may vary, but as a relatively younger person, I've had a ton of respect for older, wiser programmers, but only when they do show said wisdom. These are people who are technically very sound, are very precise when they speak, can explain clearly the consequences of different engineering design decisions. They are also adept at staying mostly out of office politics and bringing the focus on engineering, mostly because they are very low drama people themselves, and are genuinely interested in good engineering rather than their engineering.

I hope that when I age, I do become somewhat of a similar person. But I know that there is a ton I have to learn.

On the other hand, I've also seen older people who seem worse than the dumbest college graduates. These are the uncurious people, who never delved deeper, never tried doing more than required, to learn more than necessary, and went from satisfying requirements of one role from the next without developing the wisdom that comes from having made a ton of mistakes, the knowledge that comes from asking curious questions. These people are safe only because of their seniority, and are among the first to be laid off during harsher times.


> These people are safe only because of their seniority, and are among the first to be laid off during harsher times.

These two phrases don't agree. ;-)


Maybe I was not very clear. They continue to be employed because of their seniority when the company is doing well. But when shit hits the fan and you have to make difficult decisions about who are absolutely necessary to the working of the company, that's when they are laid off.


>These are the uncurious people, who never delved deeper, never tried doing more than required...

So in other words, some old people are good, some are bad. Just like young people. This is not known?


Ok, but who you value and who gets fired/laid off may not match up.


I'm 'only' in my early thirties and I'm worried enough about the things you mention that I'm trying to change my trajectory as a programmer slightly away from 'web stuff' and towards, well, I'm not entirely sure, but at the very least back-end and data-sciencey things.

The boundless optimism I had about there 'always being work' is not there anymore. Now I'm probably too cautious of a person, in general, and perhaps this is more just me getting older rather than anything real. Still.


Over 45 here and have been life long tech. I'm not 100% sure what the job market is like as I'm just getting back in, but I can say it's life long learning.

I've created the products for a number of startups all by myself and I'm hoping that with the tight market there's enough room for me.

If that doesn't work out, I've run my own company for a number of years and that's another option.

If you keep grinding, when you get 45+ you'll have deep knowledge. I've know a LOT of fakers over the years, they don't last. Know your stuff.

I can and have created the product from idea to merger, you've got to learn everything you can, everything.

It's not fun, but it'll make sure that you have value.

There's something that transcends discrimination, and that's valuable skills.


> Especially in academia, where women and men of astounding intelligence are doing work that in 10 years will probably reshape the industry (put forth, naturally, by breathlessly enthusiastic 21 year old "devrel" folks mis-attributing the work of 2 generations of academia to the brilliance of the senior technical staff at that company).

I may be misunderstanding your sentence structure, so please forgive me, however, the vast majority of research in nearly every corner of science/academia is no longer done by anyone over 35. The large majority of professors have transitioned to grant writing and nearly none of them 'touch the bench' anymore. As such, the near entirety of science today is done by 20-somethings, from experimental set-up through completion, validation, writing and publishing. Professors provide guidance (stress) and funding, not really anything more.


Without the profs' guidance most grad students would take too long converge on an interesting topic and still have time to see it through in a standard length grad school stay.


I disagree entirely.


> ...employment contracts....

What employment contract?


I would assume "s/employment contracts/employment agreements/" is closer to what was meant.


They are contracts though, we just agree to miserable terms.


They aren’t contracts in at-will employment states


The at-will clause in your employment contract is one of MANY terms with rather far-reaching legal implications.

But for example you almost certainly have a moonlighting clause with specific rules. You have invention disclosure and ownership with rules. These represent binding contracts between you and your employer, often with rules around conflict resolution that are also legally binding.


Most jobs require the employee to sign a contract. It's just not a contract that gives them any assurance of keeping their job.


I took that not to mean literal contracts, but rather a "contract of expectations"—we pay you X, in return you do Y (where in this case Y is "work longer hours" and such).


If you work full time you sign an agreement which contains contractual obligations. The fact that employment is 'at-will' doesn't really change this fact or characterization.



I am curious about who are some of the academics that you are referring to that may reshape he industry, care to share ?


Silicon Valley has to be at least 65% cult.


Let's not lump all "tech workers" together. I worked at Google in my mid 40s, and I think the median age in my work group was 40s, and in my division was 30s. But we'd see lots of younger folks when we'd go to lunch the next building over. It is the same in my group at Netflix. In my late 40s, I'm close to the median age. In the cafeteria, we're some of the oldest.

I guess the best advice for staying relevant is to find a niche that still has some future where you're an expert in your field. And get lucky, very lucky. There are a bunch of us in our late 40s / early 50s that were heavy BSD/Linux kernel contributors who are still relevant, even though we code in C like its 1995. I think this is similar to some folks from an older generation who wrote the COBOL that a lot of enterprises still run on.

BTW: Isn't the cutoff for greygler was 50? I seem to remember being too young to join when I was in my mid 40s.


It seems like core technology groups have always higher median age. I remember working in small aerospace company and all the programmers were 40+ with leader in his 60s and I was single person in my 20s. Same working in another instrumentation company (average age in around 50, with lead dev approaching 70).

Maybe working on web stuff is still too culture dependent or even just young space to have enough of old people as changing industries is always hard when you are well in your career.


A relative of mine worked with a guy who was seduced from retirement by a company desperate for his particular skill set. One of those guys who does something I don't even have the context to understand.

Skill set is key. What you don't want to be is the old guy with the same skill set as people who are expecting to make half what you expect to make.


Well said. That's exactly what I was trying to say, but much more clearly stated.


Core technology is usually built on older technology (C, C++) to avoid platform risk. The flashy product stuff is built on the latest bits for execution speed. The best C++ architects/leads are in their 60s and the best React Native architects/leads are in their 20s or 30s.


I'm 49 and find that ageism is alive and well. I've been a *nix admin since the late 90s, and my last couple of interviews it was obvious they were shocked I wasn't in management. I will never be in management. To be honest, I don't like working with people. I prefer and have always preferred being in the data center basement or in the data center proper.

My age, coupled with with the fact that I prefer machines over people doesn't endear me to this newer generation of techs. I have been asked at my last several jobs why I don't use Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media.

I'm a greybeard and I like it that way. I'll gladly ride out the terminal windows job and light programming until they show me the door. Meetings and budgets are for others...


> I have been asked at my last several jobs why I don't use Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media.

You are isolating yourself as well though. One study I read is that biases appear in full force after two stereotypes are validated.

Maybe make a linkedin, since that has nothing to do with your age, just so you have an answer that doesn't alienate you, and people might ignore your age for longer.


I’m 50 and I have also been asked why I don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn.

Then I tell people that I did use them years ago, until I learned about the problem where I was the product being sold, and that anyone who still uses those services is just voluntarily making themselves one of the herd of cattle to be bought, sold, culled, or whatever.

That usually shuts them up.


I have been in hiring meetings where lack of social media presence in a candidate was a disqualifier for the HR types.


I guess the best advice for staying relevant is to find a niche that still has some future where you're an expert in your field.

Angular 1 and 2?


Everywhere is different, but generally front-ends/clients are less scary to rip up, replace, and completely re-write.

If you're going for the unsackable by dint of arcane knowledge in the long lost technology from another age you want to be right in the guts of things. Something close to the core where everyone is worried that one mistake will cause problems that'll ripple out in all directions.

Just like those kernel hackers mentioned above, or the people writing business operation code in Cobol on a main-frame.


I caution for you to be careful not to look at this through rose colored, king of the hill glasses. Mid 40s, so I would assume your salary to be well over six figures? Maybe approaching the 3/4 of a million mark? That's a very easy place to sit and say things look great. By corporate standards at some point you'll max out your usefulness due to old age, health issues, and it will make sense to replace you with someone who is younger, costs less, works longer hours, and fits more with the culture. I genuinely hope this never happens, as it would be both unethical, and illegal, but that's the Silicon Valley of today.


My friend, a salary of 180k is in the top 20% of salaries in the bay area for engineering positions. Exceptional principal engineers may hit 250-300k/yr but there are very few such positions to compete for.

With stock grants? Maybe that's taxable. But uh, wow. It's not "well beyond 6 figures."


Who is making 3/4 million? ((polishing resume))


re greygler cutoff, the group membership is pretty much signing yourself up for a mailing list IIRC. I had signed up when I worked there because one of the things they were advocating for (improving the vision insurance plan) was relevant to me.

As an aside, my optometrist told me that the company with the best vision coverage that she was aware of was not any of the big four, but Oracle.


Oracle does have fantastic health benefits, at least according to the gf who is in sales.


Just one data point...

I'm 52, and I work at Facebook. According to the chart in the OP, that's the youngest of the big companies, with a median age of only 28, and that's totally consistent with what I see when I'm at the main Facebook campus. "Campus" indeed. I feel like a parent, visiting my kids' school. Good preparation for when that actually happens, I guess.

Is my situation stressful? Well, sure, but not because of my age. It's stressful because there's a lot to do, and I'm trying to do it while there's all sorts of weirdness coming at me from all directions all the time. It's stressful because I get to be on call every fourth week, and sometimes that can be intense. That kind of thing sucked in my twenties, too. It's a little worse now that I have a family, but on the other hand I've had a lot of time to develop an arsenal of coping strategies.

Just because I don't see any additional stress doesn't mean others don't. In particular, I can see how older women face obstacles I don't. Nonetheless, I think a lot of the angst is because of unrealistic expectations. Salary growth is exponential. For you to be worth that salary, your impact has to be exponential too. If you're my age and still a pure individual contributor, you're going to have a hard time justifying that salary unless you're the very best of the best in the whole world at something pretty specialized and valuable. It's not at all unreasonable for employers to expect that people at this level will be multiplying their personal impact by advancing the state of the art, creating powerful new tools, teaching others, etc. If you got this far without learning how to do those things, you really missed your best opportunity. The people "behind" you are still on an upward curve, so you'd better be on one too. I think a lot of stress comes from people realizing deep down that they're not, and - even worse - that they have nobody to blame but themselves.


The problem at these companies for older workers is not getting an offer at a high salary, it is getting an offer at all.


Could those be related? If somebody's used to making X, they really might not be very happy making less than 75% of X. I've seen plenty of people who thought they would be, then within six months they'd gone to join a friend or start their own company. That can really sting when it's someone you'd hoped to have in a key role leading a team or technology, maybe turning around a bad situation, and you had gone through a longer hiring cycle to match. It's not like losing a "just grab the next one" kid fresh out of college. It can be fatal for a startup.

I'm sure a lot of hiring managers who have been burned that way a couple of times get pretty wary of taking people at their word about willingness to take a pay cut. I'm sure many overcompensate and lose out on some great hires, but I'm not sure I can really blame them. "Once bitten twice shy" is a pretty natural human kind of thing.


The people in question might be perfectly happy making less money but doing the kind of work they like. I know I am.

I also know that most of us never even get the interview, because the assumption on the other side of the table is that we wouldn’t be happy, or any of various other problems.


Any advice for handling on-call? I'm a new grad and while I've been on the rotation for multiple cycles now, I still feel quite stressed and on edge when it's my turn every 4-5 weeks. It even "ruins" weekends where I feel like I can't do a lot outside, and if I do leave my home I feel obligated to carry my work laptop everywhere and be near wifi/internet in the case that I get paged, which honestly isn't even that often for my team's responsibilities.


Trust me, it's worse when you do get paged a lot. I was on call last week, away from my family, in a different time zone, shackled to my $#@! laptop 24/7 like you say. I'm not going to put varnish on this turd. It bites. You should be doing everything you can to make it better, such as fixing alerts that fire too often or developing tools that make it easier to diagnose and fix problems quickly even when you're half asleep (or the next person is half trained).

That said, here's my one SUPER IMPORTANT piece of advice: trust your team. Trust the people on other teams when you're working on a problem. They all know the pain just like you do. They're all trying to get through it just like you are. Ask for help early and often. Even if you are imposing on someone else, trust that they won't hate you forever and you'll get a chance to pay it back.

Even for an introvert like me, those are calming thoughts. Even if some it's not really true, believing it while you're in the moment will help remove one huge source of stress and let you focus on the problem at hand. You can always come back later and evaluate whether the teamwork was as good as it should be. Usually it does turn out to be.

P.S. Also, a little humor goes a long way.


Work out, not just running, but weight lifting. (I am serious).

Working out regularly, and changing your hormonal profile overtime it really helps the body withstand stressful situations much better.

Source: I used to be stressed out about things like this as well, and it completely disappeared after a year of serious weight lifting.


I'll second this recommendation. Also, develop healthy eating habits. Here are a few suggestions...

- Eat more fruits and vegetables and less candy. - Eat more beans and less red meat. - Drink more water and less soda or so-called sports drinks. - Snack on more nuts and popcorn and less chips.

It has been my experience that healthy eating habits + exercise can have a positive impact on the way a person feels and how they react to stress.


I'm not on call anymore but when I was I hated it like nothing else...especially the time I was on call for two weeks during christmas and new years. I don't know if you could use this but I started taking note of when there were calls and noticed there were days where it would be rare for a call. Those days I would relax a little, knowing that at least by statistics it would be rare to get paged.


Keep track of all the hours you're working, when you're working them. On average where I work has 10 hours of on call usage on the weekends. To cope we send out an email chain Friday to have people note any upgrades or planned activities which could cause a call. Better to know what may happen and when. It also helps that two people are on call on weekends. One 6am to 6pm and the other from the international team covers nights.


This is a really insightful observation. I'm in complete agreement about the realization people have about not being on the upward curve and the stress that comes from only having themselves to blame. Well said.


> It's stressful because there's a lot to do, and I'm trying to do it while there's all sorts of weirdness coming at me from all directions all the time.

The fact that you're saying this may be a sign that you're too old for this shit. Kids love weirdness coming at them from all directions, because it's new and cool and they don't know any better.


Silicon Valley favors those in their 20's because they know they can get away with grinding them into a pulp, for lower pay. Once people age, and wisen up, no one wants to put in a billion hours a week.


You've also described the foundation of the modern video game industry.


Is there a silicon valley success story that doesn't involve the team working long hours, especially in the early days?


In the silicon valley success stories the managers and founders walk away with hundreds of times more than the young engineers they hired.


Yeah but the employees put in their 5 years and walk away with a cool half a million.

Having given up just... well about half a million working at a big tech company, but they got to change the world or something.


BigCo != early startup. Generally far fewer all nighters, different risk/reward.


Yes. Tons.

I daresay even the majority. But this is not the narrative anyone wants to paint, because it implies "laziness" or "luck" and those are counter-cultural concepts.


I'd like to write a bitingly sarcastic sci-fi satire, where the ruins of humanity are discovered by aliens some thousands of years into the future, and the reason they figure for our demise is "trying to keep up with the narrative".


there's probably a difference between being a founder and being employee #3000 at megaVCstartupcorpify putting in 60 hour weeks


Some difference, yes.

But in the mid-90s, I worked at AOL, and I was there during a period of very high growth. I did my 72-hour workdays where I spent two nights in a row working straight through in the office. I did the on-call schedule. I did the 100+ hour workweeks.

I did the calculations once, and with all the stock options I started with, plus the additional ones I got later, after all the splits, I could have gotten as much as 16 million bucks, if I had sold them all at peak.

At the time AOL, was a pretty damn big employer. And it had become a toxic enough environment that I could no longer continue to stay there. So, I ended up leaving almost all of that money on the table when I left.

I’ve worked long hard hours in various employers since, but never again quite the levels we saw at AOL. And I’ve never gotten anywhere remotely close to those kinds of options/money again. But I’m okay with that, because I’ve had some amazing experiences in my life, worked with some fantastic people, and gone to some wonderful places.

But it is possible to work at a place that is both monstrously big and also at high compensation levels, even down in the trenches. Sure, you won’t make billions that way, but you could actually make millions.


Probably not, everything takes a lot of work. It's just glamorized for the few unicorns that get talked about. But for every one of those, there are thousands that fail miserably, by no lack of hard work.


I'm forty-eight, and it did take me much longer to find my most recent job than I anticipated -- on the order of four months. I really didn't have much luck until I started applying for early mode startups through AngelList. I can't rule out ageism as a contributing factor, but I'm much more inclined to think that ageism is an unintended side-effect. It looks to me like the biggest problem is that employers automatically exclude anyone who is not an exact fit to their requirements. And I think a big part of the problem there is that the first filter is now composed primarily of people who are professional hiring people (sourcers, recruiters, etc.) rather than professional software engineers.


    > ...the first filter...
Yeah, sending resumes to a web portal is basically a shot in the dark because of that "first filter". If you can find a way around that you get more hits.

Like the article says, older folks fare better if they exercise their professional networks. Actually, that works good for young people too.


I would also add that hiring people seem to think you are always supposed to hire people away from other jobs. And they think they are supposed to contact you, and if you contact them instead, they don't quite know what to do about it.

OK, maybe that last claim is a little exaggerated, but it seems like that's not how the hiring pipeline is supposed to work, and as a consequence, the process doesn't run as smoothly.


I don't see anything in the article about older workers working themselves to death. It seems to be mostly about older workers getting laid off.

As a dev in his 50s, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, age discrimination is real and I've definitely seen and experienced it. On the other hand, virtually everybody has some kind of trait that is going to be discriminated against by somebody, and the software development market right now is so overwhelmingly friendly to good programmers that the few spots of discrimination are really just minor irritations.

But if you aren't constantly upgrading your skills, I'm sure the landscape is bleak. And that's not nearly as true of

PS. The above is about programmers. Managers probably get much more direct age discrimination, and they can't fall back on a well-defined skill set to contest it.


I guess it was referring to the guy who had two heart attacks.


Funny but the dude with the grey hair is Peter Norvig and the guy in the bottom left corner looks like Alex Martelli. Both are legends not just older tech workers...


general philosophy seems to be if you are 50, and you haven't made your millions, you can't hack it. clearly the exception would be if you are legendary programmers/computers scientists who were too busy being brilliant to chase the money (though I suspect they are still more wealthy then your typical 50 year old corporate middle manager).


I've written about this sentiment before and think it's spot on. SV is foremost about projecting an image. An older tech worker who still needs to pull down a paycheck utterly shatters the mythos that a few youthful years of brilliance and hundred hour weeks will allow the best and brightest to ride off into the sunset in their Ferraris at age 27.

The perception is that if you haven't made millions by the time you reach what would in any other industry be considered mid-career then you just can't be very good. Startups and VC-funded crapshoots don't want reminders of their imminent mortality hanging around. They want to show off and be surrounded by freshers in order to further the belief that we are all special, we are changing the world, and we will all get rich before our braces come off.


> utterly shatters the mythos

Very insightful. That mythos is absolutely fundamental to how Silicon Valley works, and how the few make millions from the efforts of many. Anything that threatens it is worth a few missed opportunities, and maybe even a bit of legal risk, so long as the spice continues to flow.


One of the best comments in the thread, too bad hidden down here.


One thing I've seen is that its difficult get raises after a while. 30 years experience isn't much more valuable than 10. Its one thing that is annoying, law, accountancy, medicine even engineering longer experience is worth something. You can go to management (like those careers) but that's like a different profession.


Yea, when I hear the 20 year olds here talk about how it's usual to get 5%, 10%, even 25% raises year after year, I just grin, sit back, and say "Come back in 20 years and talk about your raises."


I think the software industry is like consulting, in that there is an up and out culture as you age in the industry. The expectation is that you grow more skilled by some order of magnitude as you grow older. I think the fact that pay rises exponentially with relatively low years of experience supports that idea. This presents a problem for engineers who have 10-15 years of experience but have been working on the same sort of problems in a tech stack they are comfortable in. New employers will expect them to be expert level but they simply don't have the depth of knowledge that the industry associates with their experience level. So they are unhirable and "aged out".


Most "new tech" is passing fads, or ideas that will find a small niche but won't go mainstream. It's hard to be enthusiastic about Yet Another Fad. Younglings don't know the difference and jump in face-first blindfolded. After seeing the wheel reinvented the 37th time, it will take some fancy acting to act happy for #38.

You have to approach an IT career like an athlete: save up while you are young because your days are likely numbered. You can still make a fairly decent living by consulting for co's with older platforms that still need supporting, but you have to travel or move often: an IT gypsy.


I'm 47. I use larger fonts than I used to.

While I have increasingly important-sounding titles, I still occupy close to a 100% developer role.

I'm pretty much instinctively drawn to the "new hotness" -- although it's tempered by having spent 25 years in the valley. When I learn a technology, I focus on learning something deeply.

I haven't had a problem finding suitable jobs, although interviews are two-way streets. I put out that I've got responsibilities to my children, and that putting in consistent 60-hour weeks isn't something I'm up for. If it's an issue, I'll go talk to the next company.


Sometimes I feel like Mad Men's character Don Draper as he approached the end of the 60s. The show Mad Men primarily focuses on the careers of people of the Silent Generation - a generation squashed between two more sizable and therefore influential generations. Through Mad Men, we witness Draper experiencing the radical changes in culture toward the end of the 1960s, and his culture shock is obvious. Luckily, Draper had built his career and wealth before being ultimately succumbing to the new generation who took over. It's important to note that there never was a silent generation U.S. president.

Gen X is in a worse position - placed between baby boomers and millennials. The Baby Boomers usurped the culture of the Greatest Generation, not the Silent Generarion. Likewise, GenX culture has been passed over by Millennials. In this way, business skills that I focused on developing for 20 years have suddenly become unimportant and often considered old and archaic.


This article is from 2015. Too old to be relevant.

Kidding, of course. I wasn't panicked about my age until I read this thing...


Hehe, I like your joke. :-)


Continues to amaze me that this never comes up in diversity or discrimination talks. When you do that yearly harassment training they touch on it for about 10 seconds, but that's it.


So.. could this problem solve itself over time? I always felt ageism was due to the fact that the field was young and was growing so fast that it kept the age of the workers lower on average but that will change. That chart of companies shows correlation between company age and average employee age, they will all slowly go up overtime.


The reasons are complex.

Younger people really are faster and have more "energy". On a certain level this is just basic biophysics.

Particularly the kind of "energy" most immediately associated with the modern dev grind (i.e. to work long hours, and pick up toolkit X at the drop of a hat, etc). And you know, to just "believe" (in your company's mission; in whatever your stack is made out of this particular microsecond; in "Agile", or whatever).

None of which I'm knocking. A lot of times I feel I could still use that kind of energy.

But there are other kind of "energy" - e.g. the energy to resist learning too much about toolkit X (very likely to be obsoleted within 3 years). Or to get to wrapped up the latest architecture "debate". Or for that matter, in your company's "mission" (before it's at least halfway baked). Or, when people in your company start bragging about how many hours they "work", how no one really takes vacations and all... the energy to speak the intuitive and well-documented truth about where that strategy inevitably leads.

Both kinds of energy are needed. They aren't opposites; they're parts of a larger (necessary) whole.

The mistake lies in thinking that only one kind of energy is valid and sufficient to get your "mission" off the ground.


> Particularly the kind of "energy" most immediately associated with the modern dev grind (i.e. to work long hours, and pick up toolkit X at the drop of a hat, etc). And you know, to just "believe" (in your company's mission; in whatever your stack is made out of this particular microsecond; in "Agile", or whatever).

I'm continuously fascinated by this sentiment (though I have lived it in a startup before). Aren't we as software engineers _supposed_ to make our jobs easier? Successively automate more and more? What makes "modern dev" more labor intensive than not "modern dev"?


I have to say I don't follow the "automation" aspect of what you're saying.

What makes "modern dev" more labor intensive than not "modern dev"?

Well it is, objectively, way broader and deeper than before the web explosion. Even aside from the web aspects - barely anyone did heavy database work back then. And if you had a reasonably firm grasp of one OO language - guess what, you were practically a "rock star" (well before the current usage of the term). You knew something about the differences between the Unix shells, and maybe something about inodes and fsck? Great, here's a "devops" (er, sysadmin) job for you.

Nowadays there's just (conservatively stated) at least an order of magnitude of basic "stuff", much of it conceptually independent from the rest, and a lot of it quickly obsolescing (almost as soon as it "matures") - that one has to have a reasonably firm grasp of, just to move the needle from A to B. Or at least not come off as "fossilized or "enterprisey", when talking to "hot" companies, these days (I've actually had the latter said to me, as a description of me, over the phone - after an interview).

So yes, objectively speaking - it's way more intense.


I have no idea what you're taking issue with here. The second-half of the parent comment just seems to be saying, "Younger developers are less jaded and cynical, and a lot of managers prefer that".


"Younger developers are less jaded and cynical, and a lot of managers prefer that".

Yes pretty much, but with a more positive spin - i.e. what one really needs is a healthy mix of jadedness and "believing".


By the time this problem solved itself, you and I will probably be at, near, or past retirement age.


> He also survived because he's been constantly updating his tech skills

I feel lucky that the stuff I pursued independently in my 20s (but wasn't paid to work on) has started to become more professionally relevant in my 30s.

My natural inclination is to double down on those things (e.g. ML, Actor Systems, FPGAs) and allow myself to be excited about finally working on what I find interesting, but I worry that I might be missing out on up and coming ideas while even those skills gradually become commoditized or outdated.

For now I think it's enough to keep an eye on Arxiv and look for challenging problems think about...


So what is up and coming compared to ML?


The graphic at http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/564607152491f942008... is scary. But wouldn't be for this case the average better than the median?


So on the one hand this is terrifying. On the other hand, how many of those companies existed 10 years ago? Our industry is exploding in size currently. If your industry is doubling every X years, then after 2X years it is impossible that the people who were working in the industry 2X years ago will be in the majority. The new people have to come from somewhere, and they almost always come fresh out of college. So the average number should be way far down. You're taking the average width of a triangle.

What I'd be more interested in, is percentage of people at each age still employed in the industry, that haven't left.

So, for example, if there were 1 million developers in software in the USA in 2000. What percentage of those developers were still developers in 2010? 2017?

What percentage left the industry?


Okay so the article offers the problem but not a real solution. I'd say the government just needs to start going after these companies for discriminating against older employees. Any alternative solutions?


i'm not sure if regulation is needed at this point. I'm not a fan of government interference. Unionization is one option. somehow enforcing certification is another to level the playing field (aside from certifications already being a racket).

CS degrees are virtually worthless by the time you graduate... experience matters, but less and less with each passing technological rotation. Experience matters more so in management or general leadership. Maybe look to start moving in that direction?


I work at Telecom company in central Virginia. I am 38 and one of the youngest employees in my group. None of the engineers in the 50s/60s are like the people in this article. There is huge resistance to changing anything. Web architecture from the 90s, C++11 is too cutting edge. Change is bad, stasis is good.


Yes. Telecoms is a different beast.

I worked in Telecom in SF during the .com and it was like being in Texas vs. my friends in .com startups.

I didn't like it then, but I appreciate many more aspects of it now. Deliberate planning. Longer term sales cycles and business planning etc..


What happens to all those "older developers" when they reach the ripe old age of 50? (or 40) Surely, not everyone makes enough money to retire at 50. There can't be enough management positions for everyone either. So, where?


Almost everyone with a professional job makes enough money to retire at fifty - the question is whether their expenses are low enough to do so. Save 35% of your salary and you can retire in 25 years. Save half your salary and you can retire in 17 years.


Even though I'm still climbing the roller coaster at 31, I still felt the urge to move into engineering management because: (A) it appears the salaries aren't capped the same way as being an IC and (B) a bit more future-proof than staying the IC route. Does that feel like an inevitability for folks? And even then, I still feel like outside of the Big 4, salaries can get capped pretty quickly - a 10% raise every 2 years leaves you with little room to grow after 35 at most companies.


Props to Business Insider for writing this piece. I like to call them the "TMZ of Business News" - but once in a while they do very good reporting/pieces like this.


The average age of Googlers is 30. Notice only one of these Googlers has gray hair

Ha, that's Peter Norvig in the picture. Not your "average" Googler.


About me: Old bald white sedentary apathetic and cynical American male, long term harassed, health going bad, out of work long term programmer, homeless, In debt with maxed out credit and other non dischargeable accounts, out of money. Gave away all my possessions to a local family. Next up: eternity, nothingness or something else. Scared but ready to go.


It sounds like you need to talk. If you'd like to, I'm at mk@<my username>.com


I just need to finish the job dude. We're animals. We all die sooner or later. I'm not able to sustain myself any longer and I don't have any purpose.


I'm 46. I spend a lot of time working on side projects and courses, and thinking about the future of my industry (video games). Every 5 years or so I've made a major shift in my area of expertise (from graphics and performance, AI and gameplay, to servers and databases) and from structured C, OO C++ to functional Scala and Clojure.

As soon as my job becomes routine to me or something you can buy from a 3rd party I know it's time to do something else.

So far I've gone 23 years and never had a hard time finding a job. I have worked in some environments with lots of young people and my age was an issue but I quickly moved on.

I work with a guy ten years my senior who is the same as me, constantly updating his skills, and has no problem finding work.


The workers that discriminate older people forget that one day they're also going to have 50 or 60?


Yup.

That fact simply does not enter their consciousness at that time.

It only hits them when they’re on the other side of the table, and then it’s too late.

At least, that’s been my experience.


The article implicitly conflates salary with age. In the case of hiring or layoff, this is often the focus, not the person. I'd like to see this discussed, even if age and the inevitable salary increase over career are inseparable.


This article is a rehash of X articles which themselves are constantly being rehashed.

I bet Zuckerberg wishes that quote would die. It was one moment of his life in which he gave that quote and now he's anchored to it for eternity.

Yesterday I was listening to an old interview of Musk in which he was talking about the demographic bomb which much of the world faces. Does the Japan workforce also suffer from ageism?

Tech is a big field. I can't see programmers widely falling behind in skills and looking for employers to get them caught up. It seems the responsibility for this is on the worker.


The reality though is it may be the employer who has caused the employee to fall behind/out of relevance. Quick example: while working on a federal contract I had a co-worker who was in charge of the contract's Altiris infrastructure. That was all he was allowed to charge time for on that contract and it was the only contract he was on. To learn something new he either 1) had to carve it out of his personal time, 2) commit federal timesheet fraud or 3) take a pay cut. Meanwhile others of us were being sent off to learn new products like vSphere. Speculation was that our management was deliberately monopolizing his time on this one thing because it was getting hard to find people to do Altiris and they didn't want to pay for teaching him something more relevant and have him use it to get a new job elsewhere.

Eventually, he did find another job and moved on, and I got a steady stream of recruiters who saw Altiris on my resume because it had been a big part of my duties at that and my previous employer. Nope, I already know where that trapdoor goes, thanks but no thanks.

Now if your employer does offer continuing-ed/tech-training and you don't take full advantage of it, that's on you, although even that can be hard since some employers offer it only if it's job-relevant -- e.g. only the Windows tech staff can take Microsoft training, only the Linux staff can take Red Hat courses, only the networking staff can take Cisco courses, etc.


An interesting aspect to me is the people in the article just internalizing this and saying "well, I screwed up by doing the same thing for two years." Huh?


There's a part of me (I'm 57) that wants to wear a wire while pitching to a SV VC and catch one of these sumbitches on tape.


Being in my 20s, I really do worry about my employability in 20 years. Of course, I plan to maintain my intellectual curiosity throughout my career (exploring new technologies, etc), but even if you are top notch, age discrimination is out there. I have really enjoyed working with and learning from people more senior -- there is wisdom and value in that.


This might sound super gross (ok, it's super-gross) but I have a pet theory that your odds of being hired have a lot to do with your "fuckability" - regardless of your gender. That is to say, I think men who hire will also prefer to hire other men who look good, even though they're likely totally uninterested in them sexually.


Most people call it "attractive" and it is 100% a factor in hiring.


The caption failed to mention that the grey haired gentleman is Peter Norvig. Google him.


This article insinuates that older tech workers expect to survive without constantly maintaining and updating their skillset -- something I consider non-negotiable being in my 30's.

Is this really the case?


Updating your skillset is great, but the trick is, how do you define "update"? It's incredibly easy to pick the wrong technology. You're trying to predict the distant future, and if you're not (i.e. you're only chasing trends), you're always in direct competition with the cheapest labor on the market.

For example, I can guarantee that any 20-something "specializing" in Javascript anything right now is going to be in a world of hurt in a decade. Even if you spend the bulk of your off-hours staying "updated" on the latest in JS development, you're highly likely to be wrong. So what do you do? Do you leave it behind? When? What do you do instead?

Having a deep background in something can help, but that takes time, which carries an inherent risk: if you spend N years specializing in X, you're in extreme danger of being the person who gets laid off because X isn't in demand anymore.


Maintaining a skill set isn't a guarantee if you're in something mainstream like web dev, where lumber-sexuals have taken over. You'll be expected to be a manager instead, and if you don't have management experience virtually unemployable at those places.


> Notice only one of these Googlers has gray hair.

I count at least two other dude's with gray hair, and way more receding hair lines.


Good find. Guess the article is wrong about work being stressful for tech workers over 50.


Just mindlessly lying in the caption to a photo doesn't engender a ton of confidence that the rest of the article is going to be intellectually honest.


Saying "only one" when it's actually only two out of forty or more is hardly "mindlessly lying". At best it's < 5% error that doesn't change the big picture the article and the caption tries to make.

Doubly so since they actually are correct on who has really gray hair (Norvig) as opposed to the graying/gray-ish hair the other person has.


Ironically all of you are making judgements based on appearance.


What else in the article wasn't intellectually honest?


the problem being that everyone in this picture is 27.


The industrial revolution began with the textile industry. Before the revolution, we knew who made our underwear. Now we don't care.

Programming is going the same way. Today, most of it is just manual labor. The changing profile of the work force reflects that.

Creativity and experience will still be needed, but the workforce providing them will be a minority. (Just like fashion designers are a minority in the textile industry today.)


This is terrifying as a middle-aged adult contemplating a career change out of academics into tech.


The job market for good software engineers has generally been very tight for employers for the better part of the 20 years I've been in the industry (and I say that having worked for a dot-com through the '00 bubble and for Goldman Sachs through the financial crisis).

Salaries seem to be at an all time high. Lots of jobs and not enough good engineers.

Nothing to be terrified about.


You have a Ph.D.; I think you have a bit more options than some 20-year old that spent too much time doing the same thing for 20 years.


I wonder how much of this is just money?

Do you really need a team full of 40-50 year old people making big money, or is a couple of them plus a bunch of junior people good enough? It saves you money, the expensive people train the young ones to do the job well and make sure nothing gets screwed up badly.

Seems like the nature of the job somewhat dictates that competition will increase drastically as you move up in experience.


The "big money" I want is about 50% more than what I hear they're offering to new grads. I've seen new grads take an entire day to do something that I can do in about 20 minutes.




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: