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Cutting ‘Old Heads’ at IBM (propublica.org)
443 points by mwexler on Mar 22, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 348 comments

The important bit:

How did IBM get around the legal requirement for the disclosures? With a move that even critics acknowledge is ingenious.

The company’s pre-2014 layoff documents required employees receiving severance to waive all bias claims based on “race, national origin, ancestry, color, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, age... disability, medical condition, or veteran status.” The new documents deleted “age” from the waiver list. In fact, they specifically said employees were not waiving their right when it came to age and could pursue age discrimination cases against the company.

But, the new documents added, employees had to waive the right to take their age cases to court. Instead, they had to pursue them through private arbitration. What’s more, they had to keep them confidential and pursue them alone. They couldn’t join with other workers to make a case.

Forced arbitration continues to be an awful thing that companies foist on employees to strip them of their rights.

What's especially clever here is that most people will sign to get the severance package (it's better than nothing), leaving the group who refuses to sign too small to mount an effective legal defense against age discrimination (the company can just outspend them in court). Meanwhile the company can just say "we offered people a choice, and they chose" and pretend like they did nothing wrong.

This is exactly the sort of thing unions are supposed to protect people from. If something like this happened in my country there would be a general strike and the country would be at a standstill.

> If something like this happened in my country there would be a general strike and the country would be at a standstill.

That sounds too good, and too progressive, to be true. Which country do you live in?

Belgium. We have a lot of strikes.

To clarify: by something like this I meant legislation that allows behavior like this to be legal. A single company acting badly would lead to a local strike, probably not a general strike (those are for forcing government policy changes).

It's well understood that the trend is toward stripping employee's of their rights in favor of large Corporations.

This, IMO, seems to have coincided with the Citizens United decision. Since that time Corporations have had many favorable outcomes from both parties.

Don’t be a cynic painting everyone with the same brush.

Specifically, President Obama signed an executive order making arbitration clauses in employment cases unenforceable: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudenc...

The next president then reversed this. There are extremely clear distinctions between the parties, and this issue is actually a perfect example.

> The next president then reversed this.

Just out of curiosity: This is very uncommon in modern democracies, isn't it?

In most European countries (and maybe also in the US?) each newly elected government shows enough respect for the previous government by not reversing laws established just 1-3 years ago. They usually either concentrate on different topics, or restrict themselves to refinements and corrections of existing laws.

And there's some good reason for that: You don't want a country's set of laws switching between two versions every 4-5 years without making any progress.

However, since that taboo has been broken by now, maybe the next US president would have the courage to do the same with everything the current president did?

These were executive orders, not legislation. It is quite common for new administrations to rescind or override executive orders of previous administrations. EOs usually direct an administration to enforce department rules a certain way and a new administration is within their right to interpret them another way. Enacting legislation that specifically spells out how certain rules are to be carried out is the best way to make them concrete. Nowadays it is very difficult to enact any legislation let alone remove it.

> These were executive orders, not legislation. It is quite common for new administrations to rescind or override executive orders of previous administrations.

OTOH, the US having both a weak party system and a separation of power system makes it so that, to return to the upthread question about modern democracies, it does a lot more through executive orders than many modern democracies, which often have a strong-parties parliamentary system or a weaker Presidency, so that the executive has either less ability or less motivation to issue executive orders for matters that might be directly addresses by legislation.

> it does a lot more through executive orders than many modern democracies

Obama did a lot more through executive orders than his predecessors, in large part due to Congress obstructing all policy much more than its predecessors. IIRC, at a certain point he turned to executive orders to implement policy the best he could.

Also, most other modern democracies use parliamentary systems, in which the executive always has the majority in the legislature. In those cases, executive orders are less needed because the legislature and executive are much more likely to agree.

this wasn't a law, though, it was an executive order, which is just a decision by the president on how to run the executive branch.

in this case, it only applied to companies that had contracts with the federal government for more than $1 million. basically, Obama ordered his departments to stop doing business with companies that had certain arbitration clauses. Trump removed this restriction.

i would expect a ton of Trump's executive orders to be overturned if the next president is a Democrat.

it's much harder and less likely to repeal an actual law passed by Congress.

The problem is that an executive order isn't exactly a 'law'. It's the president ordering the executive branch about what to do, so it has no inherent permanence.

I wouldn't expect most executive orders to stay the same here if the president changes parties. But that's a statement about what I expect, not about how things ought to be.

Non American here. What is Citizens United decision and why it is important?

Citizens United was a Supreme Court decision that said money was free speech. The result is that it is perfectly legal to “bribe” U.S. politicians now.

Not evenly remotely true. It means that citizens don't lose their free speech rights when they form groups.

It was about a group who made a "documentary" about hilary clinton and were banned from releasing it near the election.

Most people don't know the background of the Citizens United case. Since you do, then I'd wager that you also know the effects that it's had on campaign finance laws. The ruling overturned existing laws that limited campaign contributions from corporations while also overruling other cases that had previously limited free speech rights.

> It means that citizens don't lose their free speech rights when they form groups.

That's basically what the court's majority opinion stated. But the dissenting opinion also stated that the ruling provides more opportunities for corruption and for laws to be "bought and sold". So to say that GP's comments are "Not evenly remotely true" is disingenuous.

But the impact of the Citizens United decision has allowed dark money to flood into U.S. political system in the form of anonymous spending from "independent" political action groups.

Dark money can be used for purposes akin to bribery since the speech of the group has been interpreted as political influence. While the money doesn't go directly to the candidate, it is used for their benefit or detriment during elections.

It just so happens that outside political spending has risen dramatically since the SCOTUS Citizens United decision in 2009.[0]

[0] https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/index.php

> citizens don't lose their free speech rights when they form groups.

... even when those groups are legally obligated to act in service of a profit-driven corporate agenda. It's not really 'free' speech when you take the labor of your employees and use it to promote policy that directly conflicts with their interests.

It enabled corporations and other groups to utilize unlimited, unregulated, anonymous spending on elections. As a result, much of, maybe most election spending is by people unidentified to the American public, and of course that makes politicians beholden to them. At least the Russians are identified!

IBM's genius was to take Logan's Run, and make Carousel into the promotion policy!

That's why there should never, ever be any conditions on a severance package.

My spouse gave up an entire severance package because of the ludicrous terms outlined in the agreement. She could have been sued for any comments she made about her employer in perpetuity if she took her severance, which was neither generous nor fair. Our lawyer advised us to walk away and didn't charge us for his time to look at it either.

I'm happy the two of you were able to do that, but many, many people would not be able to turn down the severance, regardless of how terrible the terms are.

Couldn't she be sued even after declining severance ?

No, signing the draconian contract was a condition of receiving the severance, so (as explained by our attorney) by not signing she was not bound by that contract. It didn't amount to much money wise, not even a whole paycheck, and we were fortunate enough to be able to pass it up.

the natural state of things is anyone can sue anyone. So unless she got them to sign a contract to not sue, they can sue her.

Sure. They could sue but they cannot sue for a slam dunk "breach of contract" suit. They would actually have to prove damages which makes any case much more expensive for the company.

Yes of course, but not with a previously agreed cause of action.

Why should a company give one then?

Because treating people fairly is one of the requirements for many (not all) to sleep peacefully at night. And because it's the right thing to do, and keeps your Glassdoor ratings up.

But is the term actually valid signing a contract with an illegal term makes that term invalid.

I honestly think changes should be made to employment law that invalidate sections of an employee contract that contravene or reduce the employee protections written in law.

You shouldn't be able to sign a contract that waives your right to sue your employer if they discriminate against you.

Came here to say this. Non-descrimination rights should be inalienable.

Arbitration itself is not a problem. The selection of the arbiters is. From what I have seen, in Europe generally the panel is composed of two members chosen by the two parties and a third one by common agreement (any previous agreement being null and void) or, in case of disagreement, nominated by the president of the local tribunal.

> Arbitration itself is not a problem. The selection of the arbiters is.

That's true, if the goal is to settle a specific unique dispute between two parties.

The problem is that arbitration in the US isn't used as strategy to settle such disputes, it's used to keep disputes secret and divide-and-conquer wronged parties to make dispute settlement impractical for them. Basically, it serves to tip the scales further in favor of the largest, savviest players.

Some types of claims are not waivable by law. But I'm not sure discrimination should be one of them. Your proposal would have the effect of making it impossible to settle such claims in exchange for severance payments on termination of employment. This would only be helpful to employees who naively sign a separation agreement without understanding what they have given away. Perhaps a more nuanced approach could work, eg, the one taken by OWBPA to impose a mandatory post-signing period in which an older worker can revoke their signature. This is currently the law for "older workers" but I see no reason not to extend to all workers...

I'm not sure the settling of claims on termination is a particularly great mechanism as it stands. At least among friends, that seems to be a common clause when somebody gets laid off or let go. E.g., I know somebody who was laid off from a large tech company with no notice, and any severance was made conditional on signing away all rights.

In effect, the ability to sign away those rights generally, rather than in response to settling a specific incident of wrongdoing, gives employers terminating a employees an incentive to fuck them over so as to maximize leverage.

Perhaps better is something where anybody signing away the right to sue over discrimination has to do it under the supervision of the state's workplace anti-discrimination regulator? That would remove the information asymmetry that the employer has here.

> Perhaps better is something where anybody signing away the right to sue over discrimination has to do it under the supervision of the state's workplace anti-discrimination regulator? That would remove the information asymmetry that the employer has here.

Please, no. I can already predict the outcome: government bureaucracy slows down the whole process to a standstill, corruption/kickbacks become the norm. Meanwhile, employees still keep getting screwed over.

Depends on the location, I suppose. I generally hear good things about the California labor regulators, and I've never heard a peep about corruption there.

"Your proposal would have the effect of making it impossible to settle such claims in exchange for severance payments on termination of employment."

That's the point. That shouldn't be possible. I should not have to waive my rights to collect severance. That should just be given by default.

In places where you can't waive this, people still get remuneration from the court. Of course these places have more reasonable lawyering costs too (and/or are bankrolled by the union).

That is the case as I understand it - you cant sell your self into slavery

It wouldn't be so bad (for us) if a union could force the company to use their arbitrators. But honestly, it would be better for everyone all around if the labor laws were stronger and meaningfully enforceable--in an actual civil court.

We deserve better, people. Richie McJobsCreator isn't going to just give away money for better working conditions at his company to a bunch of whiny nerds and unfashionable geezers. That could have otherwise gone straight into the owners' pockets, to... er... create more jobs!

If we can't get the 22-year old naïfs to join up with the 40+ greyhairs, they're also going to work 18 years and then receive discriminatory firings and have trouble with rehiring only halfway to their retirement age. Did you want to have kids and help pay for their tuition? How will you feel when you get fired for being too old, just as your kids are taking their entrance exams?

Wake up. Consider unions, or figure out how to pressure your politicians. Definitely think twice about working for a company that has no older employees. If you wait until you get your pink slip, and I have already been unemployable due to excessive experience for a decade or more, I won't be much help to you. I'll also feel obligated to say "told you so" every time you drop spare change in my cup.

I'm glad the good people at Pro Publica thought this was such an important issue and made that enormous effort to pull together actual data. That is an example of reporters doing their jobs. Over the past couple years on HN, it has been a rough slog to get this issue acknowledged by a lot of people. I've seen comments that would raise this issue aggressively downvoted, or at least pushed back against, hard. I'm not sure what it is exactly--- perhaps we as Americans desperately need to believe in meritocracy-- it is almost spiritual how much we seem to need that as a community. In fact, we are so in love with the idea that job awards, promotions, and continued employment in tech are meritocratic, we will just ignore data to "clap harder" in an attempt to make it so. So, now here is the data, thank goodness. No one can really say it is anecdotal any longer. And logfromblammo is correct- we all need to come together on this one. The labor laws respond to collective action-- that is how we got many of them in the first place. If we really need meritocracy so badly (and I think we do need to find a way to reward skill more accurately, or people get demoralized and that leads to even bigger problems, as it is right now...) we need to push hard for 1. actually blind interview practices (there is so much proof that this works to include marginalized groups- take a look at the screened auditions in major orchestras) 2. removing the ability of companies to "legislate" away labor protections from their employment contracts. 3. figure out how to act as a collective force to protect fair labor laws. Since we are a community of people who deftly wield software, I don't see that collective action should be much of a problem here. Ideas like the collecting of data (Pro Publica) and The Pursuance Project (Barrett Brown's organizing and collective action tool) could provide an idea of the way forward. But logfromblammo is right: we all need to wake up! first.

I admit naievity, but I didn't think contract law could waive things this fundamental.

It feels like somebody drove contract law to a very strange place. Can we sign away rights to fundamental freedoms and become slaves?

> I admit naievity, but I didn't think contract law could waive things this fundamental.

In civilized countries, it can't: binding arbitration is unenforceable in Canada, Europe, Japan, etc. This is purely an American problem.

I'm not sure why this post is downvoted. Analemma's right. Civilized countries don't routinely redefine civil rights as the US does. Binding arbitration is no substitute for the lack of law enforcement. This is a simple violation of statute, not contract. No arbitration should be needed.

For example, Germany actually asserts a civil right requiring that every employee have access to at least 4 hours of daylight every day. In the US, no such law would be respected or enforced, given the latitude granted corporate misbehavior.

Even if an explicit amendment to that effect were asserted in our Constitution, still our courts would gladly entertain the redefinition of every part of that statute, from "employee" to "daylight" to "4 hours".

This widespread institutional tolerance of legalistic weaseling by haves to overwhelm civil rights of the have-nots is quite uncivilized, there's no better word for it.

In this case, IBM's malefactions toward elders is a perfect illustration of civil abuse. For this and the sundry other ways the company has victimized its staff and customers for decades, IBM richly deserves no less than a death sentence.

Would you mind sharing reference to Germany's rule about 4 hours of daylight? (even if it is German)

I'm very interested, but my google-fu is not good enough apparently.

There is no strict four-hour-rule but adequate access to daylight is indeed required.

Most rules are available at https://www.baua.de/DE/Angebote/Rechtstexte-und-Technische-R... and a good summary is at http://publikationen.dguv.de/dguv/pdf/10002/i-7007.pdf

It took a couple of minutes with Google and the phrase "binding arbitration in $X" for $X in {Canada, Japan, France} to determine that this is not accurate.

Are you sure you aren't mixing up binding arbitration with something else?

Edit: it sounded like you were talking about arbitration in a more general context than just employment contracts. If you are just talking about employment contracts than you are probably right (except possible for Canada, where there seems to be case law going both ways, so it seems to depend on the particulars of what is in dispute and how the contract is written).

I think GP meant forced binding arbitration, where you can permanently sign away your right to sue in advance of an actual dispute. I believe this is a fairly unique issue to the US. Or are you stating that you can do the same in e.g. Canada?

Id agree in the UK its common to settle out of court (well employment tribunal) and employers must pay for your selected lawyer to check the "compromise agreement"

Your employer cant say ah you must use my mate Saul the solicitor that did my last house purchase who I know from the golf club.

Uhm, are you sure? https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/labor_law...

"In France, as a general rule, arbitration concerning individual employment contracts is prohibited. This holds true even in cases where the parties have included an arbitration agreement and a valid choice of law clause designating that foreign law applies to the entirety of the employment contract. Such a strict interpretation is seen as a public policy measure intended to protect employees who are considered to be in a necessarily weaker bargaining position compared to their employers. By giving Labor Courts the unique competency to adjudicate such matters, France can effectively safeguard its workforce.

Similar interests motivate protective regulatory schemes in most European Union (EU) nations where, as we will discuss, the prevalence of arbitration in labor and employment disputes remains limited and political weariness towards the practice pervades. "

It wasn't clear if he was specifically referring to employment arbitration or binding arbitration in general.

Not sure why you were downvoted. As far as I know you are correct, at least for Europe, in the area of workers' rights.

What is a job if not exchanging "slavery" for money? The main problems with slavery are "non-consensual" and "non-terminable", both of which are not problems with contracts.

If an ex-employee wants to break a contract, they can do so. But they must return the severance payment.

There is a risk of Specific Performance, but that seems inapplicable here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_performance

> "What is a job if not exchanging "slavery" for money?"

that's a very perverse perspective, and is exactly the sentiment a multi-national corporation like IBM would want you to have.

a job is an opportunity for two parties on equal footing to make a favorable exchange: my labor for your cash. it's a classic example of a capitalistic win-win. it's an opportunity for me to ply my trade, to further develop my expertise so that my offerings are more attractive to others and i can make more money. it's an opportunity for you to further your business objectives, widen your offerings, and widen your reach.

slavery is ownership. it's callous and flippant to make such a correlation to work for hire.

> slavery is ownership.

Chattel slavery is ownership, but slavery extends beyond just chattel slavery.

i'd like to see legislation that holds companies accountable to anything they list in their recruiting/marketing pitches ( unlimited vacation, work/life balance, hip and cool, etc. )

That's my point. A voluntary job can't be slavery, by definition.

You've just terminated my employment, removing my ability to pay for food and shelter for myself and my family. There is no way you can tell me that any such agreement waiving rights for severance was not done under duress.

Actually being a slave might be preferable. Slaves had guaranteed room and board and medical care...

No they did not.

In some form or another access to the courts is supposed to be a right... and yet it isn't in many cases.

I can't get phone or internet access at my home through any of the providers without an arbitration agreement of some kind.

It stops being an optional legal agreement when you have no choice....

wow! I had no idea forced arbitration could trump labour laws. ...oh wait, US has none of that.

The irony being that it was one of the countries once upon a time known for actually having them (starting in 1886).

In 20 years we're all going to be laughing at how barbaric and abusive all these forced arbitration clauses were.

How enforceable is something like that?

FYI, your quote renders as a fixed-width font code block and does not word wrap on mobile. It makes the text very hard to read. For mobile user’s benefit, a different quotation method would be better.

I would love for HN to support some type of mark up that could actually render a quote block properly. ( @dan )

> But it doesn't have one AFAIK.

It's not markdown, and the only thing we have is a code block.

I've re-formatted for an even slimmer screen :D

You’re better off wrapping it in asterisks and prefixing it with a >:

> No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

HN really needs some basic features to improve quality of life (and comments). Like making links, quotes, bullet lists, and code.

In short, it needs markdown

I just go with the * around the text since it seems to work fine for mobile.

One problem that makes it much worse is that the css for the code block has a very small max-width, if you disable it, much easier to read.

> It's not markdown, and the only thing we have is a code block.

And shitty unescapable emphasis which fucks up as often as it succeeds.

The username is @dang

What I've sometimes done when I've needed a second level quote, or needed to both quote the parent comment and something else, is use a code block but word wrap it at some length hopefully not too wide for mobile.

Here is an example using blocks wrapped to 40. How is this on mobile?

>This is a top level quote

  second level quote something about the
  quick brown fox jumped over the lazy

    third level quote the fox was Scottish
    and wearing a kilt, and nothing else.

      fourth level quote when he jumped over
      the poodle she saw his junk and
      complined to HR

        fifth level the fox got in trouble for
        harassement, and the poodle got in
        trouble for cultural insensitivity to

          sixth level also the company got in
          trouble with OSHA for putting the
          poodle's workstation in a place where
          others had to jump over her to get in
          and out of the building

Sadly, this is what that looks like on a phone (iPhone, in this case):


I agree but this is how a quoted block is rendered on this site. Its fine for desktop but almost completely unusable on a mobile phone since you have to scroll horizontally to read each line.

> I agree but this is how a quoted block is rendered on this site.

No, it's how a code block is rendered on this site. Abusing that for quotes is not really a good idea. (It's not that great for code, either, but it's tolerable for very small snippets, and the ones it's not good for are probably better hosted elsewhere and linked than embedded in a comment anyway.)

The dislocation caused by IBM’s cuts has been especially great because until recently the company encouraged its employees to think of themselves as “IBMers” and many operated under the assumption that they had career-long employment.

I tell everyone -- don't drink the Kool-Aid. Never believe that a company has any loyalty and always keep an eye on the market. Even if you are paid well now and see that your job isn't gaining you marketable skills -- leave. At the end of the day, as a person in technology, your major resources are your technical skills.

I will leave a company in a heartbeat if I see that the company's technical direction isn't in line with what the market wants. I'm in my 40s and biggest fear is being unemployable -- not being unemployed.

I haven't had to do it yet, but hopefully, I would have the discipline to leave a job where I'm overpaid with respect to the market to take a job that pays a little less that keeps me competitive.

"At the end of the day, as a person in technology, your major resources are your technical skills."

The article from Pro Publica argues otherwise-- with data to back it up. The point is: "culture fit" and "optics" are the new "technical skills". What about all those mentioned in the article who were getting great performance reviews, had the skillz and the lay-off just came out of nowhere due to their age? and them some are re-hired back as contractors at a $20,000 pay cut. No, skills are not your major resources. Your major resource is the leverage you have, and it ain't your skills. But it could be your fellow workers. Unions will have to go global to provide any serious leverage, however. If all the teachers struck with the West Virginia teachers, we'd have well-paid teachers. It might start to become an actual profession again. Kids might start getting an education again. It would be great to see that kind of solidarity happen in tech. Maybe the sysadmins need to lead this charge. Now they have some actual leverage.

If they had "great performance reviews" and spent years working on IBM specific technologies, their skills may not be in high demand.

On the other hand, if they had skills relevant to the larger market, they wouldn't be dependent on their job for their livelihood but their skillset.

There are plenty of companies looking for developers. I know in my neck of the woods, there are plenty of job openings for the right skill set. It took me less than 10 days to find a job the last time I looked and I didn't hide that I graduated college in the mid 90s.

I don't understand. The Pro Publica study of around 1000 ex IBM employees versus your personal experience? Ok. Are you saying that there isn't an ageism problem? Ok. The fact is, technology companies have serious diversity problems. How much data will need to be presented for people to accept this and make an effort to work on it? Are you in a marginalized group besides the fact that you are an older worker? Can you imagine how truly difficult it would be if you were? I mean I'm happy that you aren't experiencing this problem yourself, but that doesn't mean that we just wave away what is actually happening. Just because lots of folks experience severe age discrimination doesn't take away from your or their accomplishments- it doesn't mean that you don't deserve the work and that if they were just generally "better" or more "skilled" that they would have lots of job offers.

I'm Black, in my mid 40s and have a disability. How much more of a "marginalized group" could I possibly be in?

But I also agressive about learning.

>I'm in my 40s and biggest fear is being unemployable -- not being unemployed.

A nice way of putting it.

I was surprised when I visited the Computer History Museum recently and discovered that IBM actually had its own rally song: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L9oh3gqOEKU

I was surprised to visit the Computer History Museum and see VAX computers I had to work with on my first job right out of college... in 2005, for a defence firm. 1MB of RAM was a square foot of circuit board. I had a lot of questions about my future.

Our plant still runs mission critical VAX VMS TDMS applications.

We junked our VAX 7000s about a decade ago and moved to the Charon emulator. Played with VAX VMS on Simh, but everyone was too scared to put any real data on it.

heck they had a whole song book full of them https://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/music/pdf/SB1.pd...

Oh my goodness, that’s some straight USSR-style indoctrination. Didn’t realize they had songs for individual executives!

you can love IBM but IBM can't love you

" IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years"

Combine this with the "new tech leaders"[1] affinity for hiring only young people and it's getting tough out there.

Fortunately, non-technical fortune 500 companies seem still open to us grey hairs in their IT orgs.

[1] Google, FB, Twitter, Uber, etc.

The company I'm at has been hiring these ex-big blue individuals in droves and it's been awesome. Tons of talent combined with some truly remarkable experience.

That's reassuring. For a few months I was seriously considering dying my hair, solely for job purposes. Not something I'd ever do for pure vanity. It borders on ridiculous. Turned out I didn't need to, but the fact I had to consider it...

I don't think it's that ridiculous. You buy a new suit to look professional, shave for a new date, why is dying your hair that crazy? We all do plenty of things for appearance purposes.

There's a big difference between wearing a suit and dying your gray hair. Dying your gray hair hides your age. Age is a protected class. It's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of age. It's not illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of what suit you wear.

Can we all agree that nobody should have to dye their hair to get a job? The fact that people on this site act like this is normal is very disturbing.

Sadly, at least in the U.S. it is normal for many professional women to feel like they need to dye their hair. It is part of the general U.S. cultural bias toward youth in women, which is pretty obvious in popular media but also makes itself felt in the workforce.

Grey hairs can start showing up as early as late 20s for some people. I work with a number of women over 35 and I'm having a hard time thinking of one with a single grey hair showing. For a few I'm friends with, I know that dyeing their hair feels like an important part of maintaining their professional appearance.

Even Ginni Rommetty, CEO of IBM, probably dyes her hair. She has blonde hair without a strand of grey showing, which would be pretty extraordinary for someone who is 60.

You're unfortunately correct. More people should be outraged at the expectations employers place on women to look "professional." It's enough that some employers mandate high heels and make up in their dress codes. Dying one's hair should be a personal choice, and no woman or man should feel required to do this for their employer. I hope this changes some day.

That's nothing compared to women who read the news, sports, etc. on TV, most of whom have to get breast implants. And yes, it is the older women with thicker torsos who have to do this to preserve their "feminine" appearance. Young women can often get by, just by being slim.

While good in principle, we are human beings after all. There are many dimensions on which we judge each other, many of which aren't fair and/or accurate indicator of our true skills or abilities. We've managed to legislate against some of the more egregious dimensions, like age, race, national origin etc. but there will always be other dimensions.

One of the important once is appearances, demeanor, posture etc. While those of us who know about these things take care not to place too much emphasis on these things, they're still used by most people, mostly subconsciously, in making hiring decisions.

I find your response a bit of a non-sequitor to user 9889095r3jh's point and question. I imagine 9889095r3jh, and others, understand why it's a difficult problem. But that wasn't the question. The question was, yes, there's a lot of reasons why a person might feel compelled to do these things, but can we agree that they should not have to? It's trying to establish value-norms as a basis of conversation.

Are you saying you agree that the world is this way but you don't think it should be?

I don't want to sound like a jerk, but to me that kind of statement doesn't even really have a meaning... We can all wish the world was different than it is, but what matters is how to live in the real one.

"It's trying to establish value-norms as a basis of conversation."

I guess my impression was that the true difficulty of the problem wasn't understood by the OP, which is why suggesting that we simply decide to change it won't work.

Its like saying: hey eating a lot is not good for you. Why don't you just decide not to eat so much? And the answer is: there are real biological/evolutionary/genetic reasons which make that decision non-trivial to make.

I do realize that ageism is not simple, or easy to fix. I'm currently helping my father, who is over 60, update his resume. He's extremely talented and knowledgeable in a field that currently lacks skilled workers. I'm helping him feature his experience as a selling point, and not as a disadvantage. I so realize ageism is widespread, and I understand if older workers feel like they have to take small steps to put employer's concerns to rest.

But when we're at the point when dying your hair is considered necessary to get a job, we should be upset. And I for one (as someone who went gray young) will not give in to this trend.

I'm torn on the question of dye - not so much for my hair (where a braid to the middle of my back is more likely a concern than silver temples) but for my beard which has by now turned mostly white.

I'm half wishing I'd grown it out and bleached the last few bits this past winter to start establishing as a part-time Santa. "No, it's white because I'm also a volunteer Santa during the season."

I see your point, but shaving, clothes, etc, aren't altering the natural appearance of my body. It feels similar to a woman feeling some need for breast augmentation. Silly and superficial, and lots of work to please others for no reason.

Breast augmentation has been proven in studies to result in higher income over the long run. So maybe superficial, but definitely not silly.

Not arguing that it might "work". Dying my hair might have raised my salary too. But both are still silly to me. Similar, tall people make more money statistically. Real? Yes. But still silly.

> Breast augmentation has been proven in studies to result in higher income over the long run. So maybe superficial, but definitely not silly.

Did this study check for the obvious possibility of women of higher income being more inclined to pay for a breast augmentation?

I'm sure any serious journal will require this before accepting such paper, but the amount of junk science being published in humanities journals forces me to ask.

I think the difference is that wearing a new suit and having a shaved face signals that one cares enough to make the effort to appear neat. Dying ones hear (with a natural color) however is a modification of one's appearance that one whishes to remain unnoticed.

Not that I think looking neat is super important (my own appearance is just one step above "hobo") but it feels acceptable to me that some jobs require it because it correlates with other personality traits which are important like self-discipline and not being a "precious snowflake" for example.

It correlates with traits like being a dependent conformist, which is generally good for employees you want to exploit.

if the dye job is noticeable then it just looks like the person is stuck in the past and will amplify the ageism. It should be easier for women to dye their hair well (so that it is not noticed as such) because a) women of all ages changes their hair color, b) they are willing to shell out the big bucks for a professional, and c) they are less likely to have graying facial hair :{>

I started my tech career at the age of 18 and my colleagues on their 30s and 40s. I rarely shave those days to create an appearance, I am mature enough to participate in serious tech discussions. Now I am nearing 40 and this story worry me. I may need to do the other way around to stay relevant.

The group I work with at my current gig just hired two older devs to work with us. One guy came from Lockheed Martin, the other spent most of his career in finance at various banks and investment companies. Both have ungodly amounts of experience with .Net, Java and Javascript.

Just being able to have them around has given our team an ocean of knowledge to draw from. I know I'm a better developer just from asking for help and bouncing stuff off of them. You can't put a price on stuff like this.

A lot of great engineers get laid off simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially in bigger orgs. When it comes time to cut down expenses, the more experienced (and hence higher compensated) engineers are usually prime targets to get axed. Its really stupid and short term thinking, but there is a reason why it happens.

OTOH looks like your org actually benefited tremendously from having those experienced engineers, so in a morbid way their being laid off turned out to be good for everyone involved.

That's exactly the value I was alluding to. Is paying these folks, say, 20% more than someone in their 30's really a boat anchor, or is it an asset?

That's not what's happening.

A decade ago, IBM had 130,00 staff in the USA and very few in India.

Today, IBM has 130,00 staff in India and it refuses to say how many are left in the USA.

It's not really a question of saving a bit of money (20%, say) on American employees. IBM is just shipping jobs to India at a terrific rate because the cost of employing Indians is, in comparison, very very low.


Realistically speaking, the answer to that question depends on the current makeup of your employees.

If most of your workforce is 50+, you probably don't need more highly experienced people and are probably overpaying for some of the more basic tasks some are doing. It's also not great for continuity if you're set to have large segments of your workforce retiring in a small window of time.

On the other hand, if your workforce skews young and inexperienced, bringing in some people with much more experience is probably going to be a valuable resource for them that'll help everyone perform better, and will help you avoid costly mistakes.

That's a good observation. Managers should be maintaining a reasonable balance.

genuinely curious how your organization managed to hire them

Same here, and our experience with them has thus far been great. Many times IBM doesn't know what they're giving up -- or they simply don't care.

Could it be that the leadership of IBM doesn't really know what's needed for the future?

Could it be that, being clueless, these high level managers are merely guessing and assuming that young workers are the only ones who can lead to profit growth?

Could it be that these high level managers fully expect these younger workers to lead and manage -- to do their jobs for them?

IBM is just getting rid of Americans with high salaries, health insurance and pensions and replacing them with much cheaper workers in India. It now has far more workers in India than it does in the USA.

Of course, IBM is also destroying the skills and experience that customers are paying them to provide, but it's happy to get a short-term gain and ignore the long-term pain. The people in charge will have stashed away their millions and left before most of the ordure hits the rotating device.

Bear in mind that IBM's turnover today is less than it was in 2000, and it's had five or six years of annual decline. As a company, it's failing badly, so perhaps it's unrealistic for it plan for a future that might not happen.

I'd argue in IBM's eyes it's short-term pain (increased training costs/doubling up on resources/lawsuits, communication/teething issues) with the view for long term gain (lower long term costs / liabilities). That's not to say I agree or disagree with the approach but it's definitely not an easy decision to make.

At face value, your company could make some noises about how awesome things are and win some friends.

YMMV in practice though.

Maybe it could be established that these employees are encouraged to make small bits of noise in certain ways.

(Translation: I'd like to hear more, even though I'm young myself FWIW)

What percentage of IBM employees were age 40 and over? It's not really age discrimination if these cuts are applying equally to everyone.

IBM is an embarrassing company. They are not culling based on age, they are culling based on severe lack of skills and dated values. IBM is saturated with tech people who threw in their technical chops 20 years ago to become a salesperson.

Everything they do, from their blockchain efforts to Watson, is so embarrassingly driven by oldschool sales/marketing people that they can't be taken seriously by technical decision makers at their customer companies. They no longer have the ability to lead their customers in technical decisions.

Well, they let go of a lot of people with actual skills and knowledge because they made too much money. People with the know-how (my Dad being one of them) saw the writing on the wall decades ago and hit the door even before being pushed out due to age.

They're absolutely embarrassing now. They've lost too many good people and everybody knows what IBM's about now. They can focus on hiring Millenials all they want, but which early-stage workers would really want to go to IBM? They know what it'll be like. Lots of outsourcing, bureaucracy and bad decisions. Not many would choose IBM over another offer.

Screwing over the workforce has consequences.

IBM also created a lot of voluntary RIF (reduction in force) programs in the 1990's. The goal was to get rid of managers and deadwood.

Of course, the technical people were always the first to jump at the opportunity to take cash and leave. Often, they walked back in to IBM the next Monday as a contractor.

IBM upper management eventually figured out that the managers weren't going to move--even an extra year at a manager salary dwarfed the program payout--and the deadwood wasn't going to move--they knew they had no other options-- and killed the programs.

> everybody knows what IBM's about now

I don't work for, nor have I applied to work for, IBM so maybe I'm more dense than my question illustrates... but what is IBM about these days as you mention? Please help me get rid of the rock over my head on this topic.

but what is IBM about these days as you mention?

Since they sold off their consumer hardware businesses, it's all about their Global Services consulting and a little bit of big iron (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainframe_computer).

Well, that's pretty much my point. There was a time when they dominated everything. Now they've sunk to such irrelevance that I don't know what to say, either. They don't have anything I care about.

They're about bad decisions. A cautionary tale to tell young CEOs about mistreating the workforce.

> They can focus on hiring Millenials all they want,

Millenials would be 40 in just couple of yrs.

Does anyone else think that the IBM commercial where they talk about tracking a tomato with a blockchain is laughable? Or is it just me?

One of the few companies [0] in the space that I find interesting is doing exactly that.

Tracking the authenticity or safety of physical products changing many hands is a perfect application of distributed, tamper-proof databases.

[0] https://www.provenance.org

But what good is tracking e.g. a tomato with a tamper proof database when the label on the tomato is easily tampered with?

Supply chain is an interesting case for blockchain. It doesn't eliminate the possibility of incorrect information being entered at some point in the chain. But there are probably still advantages to having transactions being immutable once they've been executed on a chain that's not under the control of any single party. Also smart contracts are potentially interesting.

But how do you stop someone from putting incorrect information, or outright lying in the first place?

That is the third time this week here I've seen the word "provenance."

I had never encountered it before. Why is everyone now using it constantly on this site?

I know that's a thing, but am here for years and never encountered it. When I don't know a word I look it up so can't say I've never seen it even if I don't remember its meaning.

It's just the bias at work. That word's been used around here plenty ;)


I first came upon 'provenance' in "Programming Pearls', Jon Bentley, 1986. The word has been traveling around hacker circles for some time.

It's complete crap. The saddest part is that they do have some amazing technical minds behind the scenes. They give their stage to sleazy marketing and salespeople who have no idea what they're talking about way too often.

Sounds an awful lot like Microsoft.

I think Microsoft has turned the corner.

Yes - Azure is genuinely good

I'll offer a counter point to this, we hired a senior SVP from IBM about 2 years ago (he spent his entire career at IBM). IBM also tried to sue him when he left. My company is a "born in the cloud" company so we have values and an attitude that I would consider in alignment with modern, inclusive, customer positive values, etc. He passed interviews and all the numbers showed he was a high performer etc.

We brought him on hoping he would use his experience to grow our cloud business into "the enterprise". What we found was we had hired a guy that scoffed at ideas like UX, frequently bullied his team and the extended team in calls. Would often go off on monologues and was extremely rigid in his top down approach to management. It was a complete culture shock to the team and customers. We understood that some of these things were part of the deal but what we didnt expect was a near zero openness to ideas.

He had classic double speak of stating his door was always open to differing opinions or ideas but a week later he would be telling the company on conference calls that if people didn't like it there was the door. He brought in his entire exec team from IBM and things continued to go down hill from there. Some of his own team would make fun of our sales leaders until one of them called these guys out and discovered they had little to no understanding of how cloud pricing and subscription worked. It was a big moment.

My experience of him and his team makes me wonder if IBM is doing the right thing, if that experience is common across IBM they are going to struggle to compete with firms like my own and even worse attract talent that has no interest in being bullied for decades before a promotion.

The article describes the rank-and-file employees being fired, not the middle-to-upper management behind the layoffs, a piece of which your company unfortunately hired.

Not saying it's different for engineers, but most of the examples in the article seem to be sales and marketing.

You are correct. I have amended my comment.

This doesn’t seem like a counterpoint, assuming he was an executive/decision-maker at IBM. i.e. if he was a “layoff-er” as opposed to a “layoff-ee.”

I worked at a different, large Fortune 500 company and this behavior was also common there in the upper ranks.

The sheer time wasted in political infighting makes me think anyone in a Fortune 500 with a SVP or VP title (or higher) basically doesn't produce anything for the company. They are administration and supposed to set strategic goals but are probably too out of touch to know where their company/division needs to go.

There is a long series of blog posts called the Gervais principle. Completely nails the behaviors and evolution of large organizations. Worth a read (again).


If you're old enough to remember IBM being a real tech (evil) empire, the striking thing is how much the swapping out of old career employees with young people and contractors has correlated with IBM floundering and the cool parts of the company being gradually replaced with services and... more services.

"""Services as a Service" as a Service" as a Service" (TM)

Could it be a case of correlation vs causation?

Age discrimination is bad. Firing employees because of their age, or maybe more cynically, because if their elevated salaries, is a shit thing to do.

But what about getting rid of the employees who hold the company back? The ones who drag their feet. The ones who are more concerned about protecting their political standing than accomplishing good work. The ones who try to avoid change, sometimes literally defended by "Well that's the way we've always done it."

That breed of employee tends to have been at the company for a long time. Often that means they're older in age, too. Making a clean sweep of folks like that could appear to be age discrimination while actually being due to performance.

These people don't have to be very old at all, actually. I've seen plenty of young people start acting like this at a company after working there only a year or two.

That being said, if it is an older person doing this, then it can be difficult to let them go without it appearing to be due to age discrimination.

But I've seen enough layoffs to know that for a lot of companies, it's all about saving money by getting rid of these people, not about their performance, at least every time I've seen it happen.

I've even been told directly in a layoff it was because I was one of the higher paid people in the company (it was a game studio, so I still wasn't being paid all that much). I guess I was old for someone in the game industry, since most people start fresh out of school and burn out of the industry in less than five years.

My manager got laid off as well, who was in his 60s, did excellent at his job, and had tons of amazing experience (I wish I worked on even just one of the cool games he was lead on), but it was definitely because he was one of the highest paid people there (if not the highest), not because of anything else.

> These people don't have to be very old at all, actually. I've seen plenty of young people start acting like this at a company after working there only a year or two.

I do remember a guy hired when we were in our twenties basically say something like "we're not paid to think/above pay grade," when trying to come up with solutions to problems. I was young enough to be surprised. :D

What I saw in common with the people who were laid off recently at my company was their shoehorned positions in the org chart.

As the money gets tighter, all these made up titles from some long dead project were huge red flags. Managers and directors with no one really reporting to them.

Added to that, most of them were paid 3x-4x of a newer hire and were mostly burnt out on trying to keep up with new technology.

That's why I support a more robust welfare state.

The reason that people are in positions like you describe is because of the dire consequences of losing employment. Being older doesn't mean that you don't know how to innovate or look for ways to improve the area you work in. People become super cautious because of the mortgage and college debt, car payments, on and on and on. Their "actual job" is to get money for those things.

If losing employment didn't mean complete loss of livelihood, the only people working at a place would be there because they actually wanted to be there. They would be interested in performance because it might be rewarded, not because failing would be punished.

I think that’s a good point. The chilling effects of ruin without a safety net make it hard for cteative individuals to develop their skills - and their economic potential.

I don't really understand why you would think that "avoiding change" is an offense to be fired for.

Your opinion seems to lack every bit of possible nuance: say i'm manager A trying to raise awareness about tech B in company. I have every right as employee C to be skeptical because if B is bad and pointless, I'll be punished for following A's decision. Of course A has every right to spread B even if bad, because it will make A seem awesome in the process.

My general point is: resistance to change is a spectrum and is often mixed with office politics and strong opinions on both sides. Trying to blame someone merely for wanting to keep the status quo is absurd.

who are more concerned about protecting their political standing than accomplishing good work.

Managers and bean counters you mean? They always seem to be spared the axe.

Bean counters are already outsourced to SSCs (shared service centers) around the globe. And everyone is a manager at IBM and big firms nowadays. (Except the real engineers at IBM Research, and a few good guys at BlueMix and other corps they bought over the years.)

Too many advisors, strategists, architects and analysts, too few people willing to do the actual work.

This is nothing new for them. My father started at IBM in 1968, and was forced into "voluntary" early retirement in 1993. He at least got to keep his pension, but if he hadn't gone voluntarily and opted to stick it out like some of his colleagues, he would have been let go in the following months and lost everything.

Back then people at least got some good severance and a pension. The current generation will be forced out with nothing if they haven't saved up a huge amount of money.

I'd echo this, the old IBM redundancies weren't necessarily bad for the recipients. My uncle got made redundant by IBM in the 90's having spent his whole career there from university.

He got a pretty good severance package and pension, which he's now been able to draw for 25+ years...

How would he have lost everything? The pension would stay no matter what.

> The pension would stay no matter what.

I have a doubt, because "business in America".

The way he explained it to me was if he took the early retirement he would receive the pension, if he had stayed and gotten laid off he would not have gotten the pension.

Among professional jobs, software is the only one where you go out of demand as you age. Doctors, lawyers, civil engineers, architects routinely peak in their 50s, but in tech if you haven't transitioned into management by 40, you're not valued anymore.

How did this even come to be?

Seems to coincide with when 28 year-olds with beards took over every tech company, haha. Cheaper no doubt, and that is more important to most companies, more than quality.

They first tried outsourcing to the other side of the world, but found too many timezones grinds productivity to a halt and so plan B, younger and cheaper became an explicit goal.

Not just a tech thing either, focus on appearance is bordering on the extreme nowadays. Watched the "Willy Wonka…" movie from the early 70's with my daughter last night and was struck that most of the newscasters were silver haired and in their 60s, reminding me of Jerry Dunphy. Several of the stars had messy hair that needed combing, not necessarily in character.

Many things were higher quality back when they let experienced folks work, and "allowed ugly people to make music," as it were.

Software developers aren't considered in the same league as doctors, lawyers, civil engineers, or architects. Software developers are viewed as construction workers by most people and businesses.

This is going to upset a lot of developers who expect the boom to last forever. A ton of people think they’re on the same side as senior management because they get paid better than average and have been able to get better working conditions; very few people in management share this view.

The brilliant thing was getting so many to buy into libertarian propaganda and actively fight against things like unionization or labor laws which would reduce the power imbalance.

I would assume the compensation for a software engineer with 20 years of experience vs one with 5 years considering the output each of them can do. I would assume the younger software engineer can do as much 'typical' programming work as the older one for less pay.

However, I feel the older software engineers shouldn't be writing as much as the younger guy but should be utilized for architecture purposes, handling requirements with clients or internal product people, and even mentoring while having some programming tasks. I think that is where they really earn their significant compensation and bring much more value to the company.

Outside of some of the mentioned reasons (20-somethings are cheaper, ageism, etc.), I think there's a lot of emphasis on staying up-to-date. In order to be "desirable" you need to consistently be learning about new technologies, languages, frameworks, etc. ON YOUR OWN TIME. As you get into age 30+, many people are married, have kids, have enough money to travel, etc. thus you probably aren't going to be as interested in reading programming blogs and watching tutorials.

We reinvent wheels more than any other profession.

I just participated in a "Voluntary Reduction In Force" at (company I can't mention for legal reasons). It was applied across all of R&D but only people with 15 years or more of service were allowed to apply. We're being paid a week of salary and healthcare for each year worked so it's not too bad. But even so it was abundantly clear who they were targeting.

One week of salary per year served is actually pretty bad. That money is gone quickly. In my company it used to be 4 weeks per year. Now it's two.

Wow 4 weeks? I didn't know there was companies like that out there, especially now.

Our company reduced it to 1 week per year (claimed it was the 'standard', and it would save them money so they could spend it on being so innovative elsewhere), then reduced 401k matching from them paying once per quarter to you have to be employed on December 31 of that year or they don't have to match for the entire year (crazy, I know), and then after they got those two things in place started axing tens of thousands of people's jobs, and saved tons of money in the process, I'm sure. These policy changes also lead to people voluntarily resigning and thus giving them lower layoff numbers too.

I'm probably not sticking around much longer myself, but I had a few too many life changes (like buying a house) that kept me from leaving earlier.

I am sure the top guys in your company took a significant amount of the savings as bonus.

It was ~4 weeks/year at Kodak. I think it still is.

Source: My dad was laid off from Kodak... Twice (Pre, and post-bankruptcy.)

We're being paid a week of salary and healthcare for each year worked so it's not too bad

A month per year worked is the very minimum of “reasonable”. You are being royally shafted.

Pay off your mortgage. When you get pushed out of the workforce because of age (and you will), having no rent and no mortgage puts the situation in a different perspective. It becomes more of a beginning than an end.

Paying a mortgage is simply moving numbers from one column to another, and usually into a less tax-favorable column with a worse risk-return profile. accumulating wealth is the way to thrive in unemployment.

So the solution is to just buy more money?

Reducing debt is equivalent to accumulating wealth. Your wealth increases as the debt goes down.

Reducing debt by spending your wealth cancels out the wealth increase from reducing debt.

The interest payments on debt are almost always going to be larger than a "safe" investment would provide in returns, because the lenders need to make money somehow.

Paid it off just now. Thanks for the advice!

No rent or mortgage, but continued payments for property tax, home insurance and general maintenance.

Yes to this.

People should always add up the total interest they're going to pay on a 30-year mortgage, some states require this to be prominently displayed on the loan. The amount is truly staggering.

Given that your average money-market is barely reaching 2%, the old saw of "it's better to save and service the mortgage" is complete BS and pro-bank propaganda. Mortgages are simply another wealth-transfer to the banks, including the mortgage-interest deduction: corporate welfare pure and simple. Read Liar's Poker if you want to really understand why that boondoggle is in place.

And never forget that easy mortgages, which have ludicrously enriched the banks, are the reason why real estate is so inhumanly overvalued now. The mortgage interest deduction was central to securitizing loans and we're all paying the price now.

Simple as that!

This is terrible advice even for the tiny fraction of people who can actually follow it.

Why? Being unemployed is a cash-flow problem. You've got no money coming in, yet you've got this $1400+ bill due each month. Having the deed to your house means you have a (mostly) free place to live, and your cash-flow problem becomes significantly smaller.

If you have the cash to pay off your mortgage, that savings will last longer if you save it and pay down the mortgage under the standard schedule than if you blow it all on the mortgage straight away. Your mortgage is a loan, after all--one that you've already pre-qualified for, which comes with tax advantages as well as a subsidy courtesy of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The tax advantages don't matter if you have no income!

Also, with main tax advantage I know of (interest deduction) you still pay more money if there is more interest.

i.e. if you have 20k of interest a year, the income tax deduction makes it seem like ~70% of that, depending on your tax bracket, or 14k. But if you're only paying 15k of interest per year, then it's 70% of 15k, or ~10k. 10k is less than 14k.

Can you elaborate on your reasoning?

1. Housing doesn't grow as fast as other asset classes.

2. You're concentrating all of your assets into a single object.

Instead of paying off your mortgage, you could put that money into other asset classes that grow faster, and you can distribute it to reduce your risk.

If you were laid off, you would have more money than if you had paid off your mortgage. Then if you wanted to get rid of your mortgage, you could and you would still have more money than if you had paid it off earlier. (Although even in that case, it's still generally better to leave the money invested, and just draw it down to pay the monthly payment.)

If you're really intent on exposing your savings to the real estate market, invest it in a REIT.. at least they can distribute your risk over a larger area and more buildings. And they'll invest it in markets that are growing faster than the average house.

Though the S&P 500 is beginning to finally decline now and interest rates are rising (even bitcoin is not rising all that fast now), so this advice may be getting outdated.

There are more asset classes than a primary residence, stocks, and bitcoin. As the parent comment stated, a REIT is typically a less risky investment than a single house, even if you want to invest in real estate.

Tax advantages, and the fact that you shouldn't put your entire net worth into a single illiquid asset.

What tax advantages? I'm going to get exactly zero benefit this year for all the mortgage interest I've paid; I'm probably going to take the newly increased standard deduction whereas last year I saved thousands by itemizing.

In my comment above, "tax advantages" is short for "tax advantages that may or may not apply depending on your individual financial situation, but should be carefully considered before making a huge financial decision like paying off a mortgage".

If you have any :) I'm happy to rent where I please.

Paying off your mortgage is one of the absolute worst investments you can possibly make in an environment where house prices are rising.

If they stay still or decline by all means, pay it down faster, but otherwise DO NOT pay off your mortgage early. Invest the extra cash in some cheap index fund instead.

How would the current price of your house influence the performance of a mortgage? Is there some threshold on the current house price above which mortgage interest stops being deductible?

Cheap index funds don’t usually have long term returns that are higher than mortgage interest rates + maintenance.

If anything, in current markets more property is a better investment, and you can take advantage or gearing.

And they probably saved millions in wages while they were at it.

Coming out of college as a mature student I saw so many of my younger classmates absolutely throwing themselves at the worst offers the local job pool presented.

I kept telling them just don't accept, wait for a better offer, look elsewhere. The problem is, at least in the market I'm in, there seems to be a practice of wage fixing. It's the same bad offer everywhere. I talked to a few recruiters at those companies, asked some pointed questions about compensation that more experienced employees tend to ask, and watched them just shut down. It was less about the "millennial advantage" and more about the benefits of naivety on their bottom line.

I get that having more work/life experience in general qualifies me for a slightly higher starting wage, but I held out and refused any offers from low ball employers and started $10k higher than most of my colleagues who graduated at the same time.

It's horrible that this older demographic is being discriminated against and forced out of their jobs, but this isn't only about age discrimination. The goal isn't to acquire "digitally native" employees (not entirely). The goal is to save money on wages and lower the wage expectations of an entire generation of people.

...unless I'm wrong and everyone who replaced someone who was forced out is doing great and all those boomers were just becoming stagnant dead weight and deserved what they got.

boomers? The baby boom generation was born between the mid-1940s and 1960s. They're all in their late 60s and 70s now and most have long retired. The age-out demography we are talking about now generally are their children currently in their early-40s to early 50s. The dial-up generation.

fair enough, don't know why I lump all the "olds" together like that. There has to be a better name for them than the dial-up generation. I grew up with dial-up and I'm not that old.

Gen X, while I'm not fond of it, is usually the term here. Grew up with Commodore 64, saw the birth of the web and built it up, now considered too expensive, etc.

This is exactly why I would never consider a full time job here. I was an intern and watched my entire team get laid off regardless of performance. Older workers were most definitely targeted.

I wonder if Amazon, Facebook and Google are using similar performance management tactics to drive the attrition of older workers?

“A slide from a similar presentation prepared last spring for the same leaders called for “re-profiling current talent” to “create room for new talent.” Presentations for 2015 and 2016 for the 50,000-employee software group also included plans for “aggressive performance management” and emphasized the need to “maintain steady attrition to offset hiring.””

If it's all about the money, companies should offer voluntary pay cuts. I know a few folks who'd take that over "voluntary" retirement any day.

It’s harder to hide the age bias if you cut pay.

This only matters if it isn't about the money...

I'm not sure this is just IBM lacking the vision to see their older employees for the value that they truly hold, rather, they're just following the path of least resistance. I see this same sort of scenario playing out in other companies across the globe too; why should any company be innovative enough to value and empower older workers when they can just exploit young, naive talent?

How do we prevent this exact same vicious cycle from playing out all over again in 25-30 years when Millennials are the grey-haired ones with an inability to "innovate" or "connect" with the younger generation? If anything, with the rapid pace of technology only accelerating over time, future generations will become irrelevant "old heads" on an even shorter timeline.

Either that or the cycle stops due to being unsustainable. So instead of gray heads it will be most paid workers. Usually most paid for a reason that's correlated with achievement or experience.

This speaks to me.


It's kind of ironic that it's the old heads at the top, like Ginni Rometty, that are the very ones responsible for the position IBM is in.

IBM has one main problem: They are a sick culture. One consequence is that they are a sick company. Their sickness causes them to do self-destructive things which makes them an even sicker company.

Here are some parts of the sick IBM culture:

(1) Marketing.

"You might think that IBM is a technology company or a computer company, but you would be wrong. IBM is a marketing company: They look for opportunities to sell. They might get into grocery stores tomorrow if they thought that there was money to be made there." -- IIRC from a manager of a large IBM branch office. Same guy, IIRC: "You might think that IBM research comes up with powerful new technology. IBM development turns this technology into good, new products. Then IBM marketing sells these products and makes money. That's exactly backwards: Instead, IBM marketing comes up with what new products can be sold at a profit. IBM development builds these products and gets them ready for the market. If development has trouble, they may go to IBM research for solutions. What IBM charges for the products has nothing to do with what IBM's costs are: Instead, IBM sells the products for what the customers are willing to pay."

Consequences: (A) IBM respects people who do well managing marketing efforts. (B) IBM does not much respect technical people or people not in management. (C) The decision makers in IBM are marketing people who are not very technical. So, these people are slow to see the market and marketing potential of new technology. (D) Long IBM's approach to what to sell was that their main customers, large banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, would grab their IBM marketing representatives and scream about problems they had. With enough screaming with clearly enough market potential, finally IBM would develop and sell a solution.

(2) IBM Management

In this way, part of the IBM culture was the primacy of the middle and upper managers. High stability was valued. Innovation was not. The higher managers had staffs to thoroughly study each decision. Then the manager had plenty of cover for the decisions they did make.

IIRC, an early remark of IBM CEO Lou Gerstner was that "IBM is the most arrogant, inwardly directed, process oriented company I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of companies.".

(3) Stuck with Mainframes

So, these attitudes caused IBM to miss out on essentially everything past 3270 terminals connected to CICS (customer information control system -- for building and running interactive applications, e.g., for order entry) on an IBM 370 family mainframe.

So, sure, can see this situation as a case of "The Innovator's Dilemma". I.e., IBM was slow to get into lines of business that would compete, under sell, undercut, beat IBM's mainframe, cash cow business.

(4) IBM Missed out

Long a standard attitude in IBM was that IBM needed only high margin businesses and should not try to compete in low margin businesses. So, with this thinking, IBM passed on the businesses of Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Google, Qualcomm, Apple, etc.

So, IBM missed out on the growth of TCP/IP, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, the Internet, Web browsers, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc.

With high irony, IBM long made the crucial, core chips used in the high end routers of Cisco and Juniper. Why? IBM had a microelectronics division, and they saw those chips as a business opportunity. But IBM did not pick up that ball and run with it to compete against Cisco or Juniper in high end routers. Due to J. Cocke and his 801 computer, IBM Research was early in RISC. There was some usage of RISC in some IBM mainframe I/O subsystems and in IBM's AIX workstation lines, but RISC became a big thing (e.g., the current Hennessy, Patterson Turing award that claims that now 99% of processors are RISC) but apparently not for IBM. IBM was ahead in magnetic recording with giant magneto resistance disk heads, but Western Digital, etc. were successful with disks but not IBM. IBM had high end research on architecture, algorithms, and software for high end disk clusters, but, IIRC, EMC made the big bucks there, not IBM. IBM Research was early into "wearable" computers, but Apple got rich with the iPhone, etc., not IBM. At one time, IBM actually ran all of the Internet, but they never saw the opportunity there until too late. IBM had an early Web browser but let others get big leverage in the browser wars. At one time, IBM had the TCP/IP stack in chip hardware, but they failed to make big bucks with that. At one time, maybe still, much of the backbone of the Internet needs an IBM-invented amplifier that amplifies the optical signals on the optical fibers without converting back to digital; that was great leverage over the backbone of the Internet, but IBM didn't take that opportunity. The chip manufacturers are only just now moving to extreme UV for their light sources, but parts of IBM saw the point back in the 1980s or so and built a cyclotron as an X-ray source for a microelectronics lithography light source. Today there are lots of chip companies -- Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, etc. -- and several high end chip foundries but apparently IBM is not a major player there. IBM was early into social computing, with Prodigy, etc., but AOL and later Facebook did well. Prodigy was also with Sears and for on-line selling, but Amazon made the big bucks there. IBM was early into really good work in virtual machines, e.g., the 360/67 of 1967 and its CP/67 virtual machine software. But VMware made the big bucks with virtual machines. IBM was a leader in relational database, with System R and DB/2 and the software on the System/38, etc., but Oracle, SQL Server, etc. are the database success stories now. IBM had object oriented software in firmware in 1970 or so, but apparently IBM never became a leader in object oriented computing. PCs? IBM was essentially the leader, but Microsoft and Intel made the big bucks from PCs, not IBM. Cloud computing? I've heard of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google but much less about IBM. Laser printers? Same song, next verse.

(5) Defeat from Jaws of Victory

It goes on this way: In plain terms, from 1980 to 1990, IBM was essentially the technology leader in essentially everything in computing, but the IBM top managers never saw how to make money with that technology. So, 1990 computer and Internet technology, the open door for likely the biggest step up in technology, economic productivity, and more in all of human history, and IBM was determined to ignore it.

It appears that generally IBM is a massive case of organizational behavior goal subordination: The middle and upper managers want to crush anything new; they are not successful in this effort outside IBM but quite successful inside IBM.

For many years, the IBM division managers would meet at the Armonk HQ, give their financial results, nicely ahead of projections, and project even better results for the next year. But near 1990, somehow the results were commonly less good than the projections. The consensus was that "God had ceased to smile on IBM".

(6) For Individuals

For a worker in the US economy, for a good job, income, and financial security, it is their responsibility to get that done. A very common approach is to start and run a successful business. An electrician who has a truck and an assistant and who stays busy can do better financially than 80% of the US IBM employees. Same for a guy who has several crews mowing grass and plowing snow; same for a guy doing well running several McDonald's, Burger Kings, or Wendy's. Same for a dentist. A K-12 school teacher or a nurse has a more stable career than nearly anyone in IBM.

(7) Firing People

IBM fires lots of people because IBM management doesn't know how to organize work for those people in ways that make money. IBM likes to fire older people so that they can blame the failures on the older people being "behind" in technology. Also the managers don't like the older, technical people as subordinates because the older people know too much and can challenge the manager. In particular, the managers don't like technical people and don't want any technical people who know more about technology than the managers. Since the managers with respect are marketing people with poor technical qualifications, those marketing managers like to fire to older experts in technology. It's dysfunctional organizational behavior goal subordination, arrogant, inwardly directed, process oriented, etc.

(8) Future of IBM

The solution? Sure, Darwin is on the case: Slowly IBM will shrink and disappear. Maybe near the end, Bill Gates will buy all of it and put what is left of it in a museum.

item 4 is particularly interesting. it sounds like IBM's greatest missed opportunities -- really huge ones -- were caused by failures in business/marketing/management, not engineering and technology.

Right: With high irony, top management believed that their special abilities were in marketing and not technology, but, except for marketing cash cow mainframes to big customers locked in due to their unique applications software, the marketing was awful while the technology was terrific. As I started with, IBM was a sick culture.

TL;DR: Innovator's Dillema + (even worse than) Ballmer-esque management culture.

I dislike anti-discrimination laws for anything other than manual labor anyway. I think they are probably fundamentally flawed.

IBM is an embarrassing company. They are not culling based on age, they are culling based on severe lack of skills and dated values. IBM is saturated with tech people who threw in their technical chops 20 years ago to become a salesperson.

Everything they do, from their blockchain efforts to Watson, is so embarrassingly driven by oldschool sales/marketing people that they can't be taken seriously by technical decision makers at their customer companies.

I dont know about this. Its clear that IBM's products aren't as good as Amazon/Google, is this because their workforce? I can see AWS & Google has much younger devs who are fluent in more modern systems.

I really have to retire before 50 because it doesn't look good.

IBM typically does things “first” (social media product efforts at IBM predated Facebook, for example), and IBM research has routinely produced innovations decades earlier than their adoption. WebSphere was a platform as a service in 2004.

My personal opinion (having worked there 10 years with a lot of extremely talented people) is that the scale and types of customers IBM sells to distorts the engineering incentives. They don’t (because they can’t) build the simple MVP and iterate on it. Instead they have to bolt on “enterprise magic” like security integration, support for three different databases (db2, sqlserver, Oracle) from day one, and generally gold plate it. In addition deep pocket customers have massive pull and can distort product schedules because 90% of the revenue is concentrated in a few massive deals. That means “do what’s right for the user” becomes “id like this icon in cornflower Blue”.

The price of massive success is perverse engineering incentives up and down the stack. It’s hard to appreciate from the outside, it’s just what end state enterprise story looks like when your deals are $20M and up.

>WebSphere was a platform as a service in 2004.

WebSphere is also a bloated piece of crap so maybe not the best example..

I work on Kubernetes today, and you could argue it’s on it’s way to being bloated too. Successful platforms grow until they are replaced by younger, hungrier, more purpose built platforms that solve problems the old platforms couldn’t. It’s just the way of the world :)

It's generally not a problem with the workers, but a problem with calcified management organizations who are risk averse, short sighted, and myopic in focus. Management protects their rice bowl, everything else be damned.

Which is especially ironic that older workers are targetted.

Bad management unfortunately doesn't lay itself off first, but last until forced by the board. Long after all the best employees have been lost.

> I really have to retire before 50 because it doesn't look good.

I'll make a killing as an old fashioned java developer at that age, probably.

COBOL developers did just fine, you may not get to work in the new hot tech but there is a huge market for aging entrenched technologies. You average Java developer is late 30's to 40's and it's not uncommon to see whole teams of 40 something developers in a java shop. There is life outside the valley.

I wonder if COBOL devs are doing fine.

My sister went to a shit college in India and was hired at one of the shit firms (I want to say Wipro, could've been Infosys). An entire batch of young, just graduated kids were trained on COBOL/batch processing for about 3 months. All of them were then placed to work with IBM, which in turn does that work offshore for US companies.

My sister left after the training, but she says a vast majority of her friends from the training still work at IBM doing COBOL. Each of that is probably 1/10th or so of an old COBOL dev's job gone.

I'll mention that COBOL devs are no longer doing just fine. I had an ex-coworker that had trouble finding well-paying COBOL jobs. A lot of it has been offshored or outsourced to low-paid consulting companies like Tata and the like.

I have anecdotal evidence of this as well. A local company that formerly employed thousands of cobol devs has had aggressive layoffs and offshoring over the past 10 years. Lots and lots of unemployed cobol devs here.

Sorry, I should've put https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16650380 as a reply here.

Can confirm, I'm in such a team now.

I worked with a 70 year old dev back in 2000 who was doing great as the company’s only skilled Java programmer.

> IBM's products aren't as good as Amazon/Google

You can't compare the first to the other two. Amazon and Google don't make business products. Sure, they sell "cloud services", but these aren't business products, these are IT services.

Amazon and Google sell phones that somebody else makes. They write software that somebody else retrofits. They sell advertising. They sell inexpensive consumer goods, like a voice-activated interface to their search engines, or a stick to stream video to your TV. Outside of cloud computing, they maintain almost exclusively consumer-oriented services and applications.

IBM makes mainframes that sit in someone's bank and last decades. They make tools that you buy and install and run your entire business with. They are the one-stop shop for a business that needs technology and can't or won't make it themselves from scratch.

It's like comparing apples to quinoa. It's like comparing IKEA to a building contractor.

> IBM makes mainframes that sit in someone's bank and last decades. They make tools that you buy and install and run your entire business with.

You're kinda right but the tech world is changing. My experience

1) First job had an expensive IBM powerpc based AIX box. We now have cheap x86 with free Linux. 2) 10 years ago my project had an expensive DB2 database. Current job has a lot of files and open source noSQL applications. (some Oracle is still around but we hate it) 3) My current job is first to use cloud hosts. No need for mainframes any more. 4) I used to have IBM HDD, but they no longer make anything like that

> Its clear that IBM's products aren't as good as Amazon/Google, is this because their workforce?

I'll note Google's New York office has a healthy smattering of ex-IBM Grayglers (Greyglers?).

From what I'd heard I thought it was more to do with their executive culture?

Contract work, entrepreneurship, specialization and management are all options as you get older.

> Its clear that IBM's products aren't as good as Amazon/Google

You may want to reformulate. Neither Amazon or Google are competitors to IBM because they don't target B2B. Besides, IBM has products in many market segments where these companies aren't.

Don't target B2B? What about AWS?

You are right, this is B2B. However, AWS is mostly used by large corps as IT offloading, which is not a business where IBM is a competitor.

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