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IBM Is Being Sued for Age Discrimination After Firing Thousands (bloomberg.com)
480 points by Deinos 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 263 comments



It seems that every large company is guilty of this to some extent. I used to work at Intel and they had this exact problem when they tried to shrink the work force. The dynamic goes like this: Managers find it easier to use the performance management tool to make everyone happy rather than to follow the policies and procedures in place. So you end up with lots of quirks on an individual level -- someone wants more pay and less stock so you stick them on a low stock grant and high pay increase. Or the work in a given team simply isn't that difficult and so as your traditional journeyman gains more experience they get more expensive but not more useful- so they become at risk.

Then HR comes in to do the mass headcount cut, look at performance reviews and just cut all the people with low performance reviews. Because it's done on a mass scale of 1,000s of people they really can't do it on a case by case basis. The problem is that to safely fire staff you need to have treated them fairly and that's where it all comes out of the woodwork. You put all the data together and it turns out you've fired way more people over 50 because the organisation is a pyramid and older workers aren't value for money at the bottom of the pyramid and there's not many places at the top.

Obviously it's also true that if you can fire 10 older engineers on high salaries lots of managers will choose to do that simply because it means they don't need to fire 20 younger engineers. It's the easy option.

Not to mention the fact that if you've been at a company a long time you've most likely had your salary rise during the good years and stay flat in the bad years, either way when you get to a bad cycle again suddenly you look very expensive to the organisation.


Yeah I tend to think this is the more likely explanation, as opposed to the idea that there is some ageist conspiracy at work. In any case, as a 57 year-old working engineer it is somewhat against my nature to delegate responsibility for my being able to make a living to any company. I learned a long time ago to take responsibility for it myself by constantly staying engaged, challenging myself, and learning new things. If I'm let go by an organization for whatever reason I will have the skills needed to land a new position, and I'd much rather spend my time keeping them sharp and acquiring new ones than wondering why BigCorp (who I probably won't work for anyway) didn't keep me around for the rest of my working life. The only security is what you create for yourself, in my opinion.


> as opposed to the idea that there is some ageist conspiracy at work

Any sufficiently common bias has the same effect as a conspiracy. While it's very unlikely that IBM had an actual plan to eliminate older workers, because that would be illegal and stupid, there could well have been enough culture and cues leading to myriad "independent" actions with the same effect. Bias is something that must be actively countered.

> as a 57 year-old working engineer it is somewhat against my nature to delegate responsibility for my being able to make a living to any company

That's a very reasonable attitude, but irrelevant. Whether people have other options or not does not change the fact that discrimination is wrong.


I think the question is whether or not the discriminating factor was age. Mass firing requires establishing some sort of discriminating criteria (unless you just fire at random), and some of those criteria might be correlated with age. That doesn't imply bias or discrimination against age. If the most heavily weighted criteria established for firing is based on salary, and salary is correlated with age, then people in some age groups may well be more likely to be fired than others.


Right, some of the discriminating factors might just have correlated with age. If there are two workers with comparable skills for tasks at hand, it makes sense to fire the more expensive one. Or if there are too many workers with skills that aren't so relevant anymore, it makes sense to fire the more expensive ones.

It's worth noting that for at least some firms, there was traditionally age discrimination that favored high-seniority workers. We used to call it "loyalty". But there was also the reality that they knew important stuff, and played a role in training new workers. But with technology changing so fast, that's arguably less relevant.


Technology changes fast, but technology concepts do not. More experienced engineers can recognize when a new technology is repeating an old pattern, and (if they'll listen) keep their team from repeating old mistakes.


That's an excellent point.

But the problem may be that HR just processes nominal data, without considering nuances like that. So they end up firing experienced engineers, based on superficial (and perhaps outdated) data.

I'm not a software engineer, or familiar with relevant business practices. I get that physicians, for example, are certified for various specialties. But is there a formalized system like that for software engineers?

For some stuff, I know there is, based on ads I've seen. But what about particular programming languages, toolkits, etc?

Edit: coherence


Performance data never shows the complete picture. It should not be allowed to be used for definitive decisions, but it could be used to investigate.

(IMO the same is true for mass surveillance vs targeted surveillance.)


It appears to make sense. It doesn't necessarily make sense, because it assumes you're accurately able to gauge productivity.

This implies you have some reliable and realistic metrics for code quality, and/or that all workers in a team are functionally identical.

Neither are likely to be true in practice. This doesn't mean older = better, or older = worse, or older = identical. It means you need to assess the value of individuals in a team individually.

Otherwise you're just doing scorched earth HR, with predictable consequences.


I agree. I wasn't arguing for the validity of those approaches. Just that they could account for older workers being fired disproportionately, with no "intentional" age discrimination.

Which isn't to say that HR doesn't realize that their approach targets older workers. Just that they can say that it wasn't intentional.


Not sure why you're trying to argue. OP was just explaining how it can happen as an emergent behavior rather than requiring explicit intent to discriminate against older people and then shared his/her strategy to fight it.

Then you were kind enough to just echo the initial part and call his/her attitude irrelevant. Please read more carefully and don't be so hostile to people offering their perspectives, particularly when they are in the very class of victims under discussion.


> OP was just explaining how it can happen as an emergent behavior

Incorrect. OP had set up an excluded middle between a conspiracy and an emergent behavior unrelated to bias. I pointed out that it could still be bias even if it's not coordinated.

> Then you were kind enough to just echo the initial part and call his/her attitude irrelevant.

I was calling only that part irrelevant.

> they are in the very class of victims under discussion.

So am I, and that is also irrelevant. It simply doesn't matter whether you, I, or s/he are in that group. It doesn't matter whether any of us, or the IBM employees have alternative strategies. It only matters whether IBM discriminated against them.

> Please read more carefully and don't be so hostile

Advice best taken yourself. I wasn't hostile to anyone, only to an argument that had no place in this discussion. Please don't be so quick to take sides and attribute ill intent to anyone who presents facts that don't support your "perspective" on an objective question.


For what it's worth I did not read notacoward's post as abrasive or hostile. I understand the relevancy comment, but my goal in commenting was not to be morally opposed to ageism. I am, but being so is not a career strategy, which is more the direction I was going. My personal feeling is that if I have to care whether someone passed me over because of the dates on my resume I've already lost the game. Maybe there are people out there who will toss a resume despite it being replete with all the necessary skills and experience, simply because of the suspected age of the applicant. Honestly I think they're only harming themselves, and likely doing the applicant a favor. As for layoffs like the ones at IBM, I have no idea what motivated them. In my experience engineers who are doing relevant work on needed projects, who would have to be quickly replaced to keep things on track, don't get let go while there is a going business to pay them. IBM is facing some major challenges so the reasons for these reductions are probably not buried so deeply.


>OP had set up an excluded middle between a conspiracy and an emergent behavior unrelated to bias.

Nobody said it was unrelated to biases except for you. What was being suggested is that it's not a conspiracy (a.k.a an explicit agreement) against older employees. Nobody is suggesting systematic biases don't exist, which is the strawman you are attacking.

>So am I, and that is also irrelevant. It simply doesn't matter whether you, I, or s/he are in that group.

It's relevant (to me at least) in discussions where you have opportunities to hear anecdotes from the victims. We aren't lawyers deliberating a case.

> I wasn't hostile to anyone, only to an argument that had no place in this discussion.

FFS, it's not an argument anyone was making. I don't know why you're being defensive because OP was not defending ageism or claiming that an age bias didn't exist. It was just a suggestion that it was a product of the complex layoff strategies rather than some backroom hand shake of "let's get rid of the olds".

>who presents facts that don't support your "perspective" on an objective question.

You didn't present any facts and I don't have a perspective to support on this matter. I just pointed out that you're attacking people you appear to largely agree with because you're not understanding what they are saying.


This comment is ironic given your previous praise for Linus on acknowledging his rude behavior towards other developers.

The language you're using is pretty abrasive and it can come off as quite hostile even if you don't intend it. You also get defensive when someone interacts with your easy-to-misinterpret comments and you gaslight them by saying they shouldn't be quick to "take sides" about your ripe-for-polarization statement.

Maybe you could take a queue from Linus. As you said in your own comment in reference to Linus admitting he had an attitude: "Good for him. These are hard things to admit, and he's setting a great example."

If I'm so lucky, I look forward to a quippy response about how that situation is totally different.


I'm not sure what's abrasive about their comment.

If anything, it's a great example of direct-without-abusive, something I wish folk like Linus would adopt.


> You also get defensive ... you gaslight them ...

Very general, very untrue, and very off-topic. Please re-read the comment guidelines.

> Maybe you could take a queue from Linus.

Cue.


The OP's strategy to fight, while clearly a valid approach, has the twin problems of survivor bias, and absolving corporations of their actions.

[IANAL] "Emergent behavior" is a pretty weak defense, because now you have to prove that you had no idea that the bad thing would happen. Getting into a trap of "You're either evil or incompetent, and we're just deciding which." is a bad place to be.


That's a very reasonable attitude, but irrelevant. Whether people have other options or not does not change the fact that discrimination is wrong.

For the individual being affected, whether it’s “right” or “wrong” is an academic argument. Anyone in tech who got lazy and didn’t keep there skills current, hoping to retire and get a gold watch have themselves to blame.

I’m in my mid 40s and I’m a developer/consultant/architect depending on the month and I’m way to paranoid to let my skills become outdated to the point where I can’t keep a job.

One of my former managers is 60 and “self demoted” to a developer after his kids left home and can keep up with anyone when it comes to knowing the latest technology.


> For the individual being affected, whether it’s “right” or “wrong” is an academic argument.

Perhaps, but from a policy perspective that is far from the case. Wrongs needs to be addressed even if the victims recover.

> I’m in my mid 40s and I’m a developer/consultant/architect

Congratulations. I'm in my 50s and still going strong. But neither your age nor mine really has any bearing on this.


Yes it does. The people who are being “discriminated against” and can’t find a job are likely to not have kept their skills current. They are being “discriminated against” for the same reason anyone else would be - they don’t have the skills employers want. What “policy” needs to be put in place? How hard is it to keep a $35/month PluralSight subscription and watch the job boards to see what you need to be studying?


> The people who are being “discriminated against” and can’t find a job are likely to not have kept their skills current.

Why do you assume that 100% of the people affected by this action couldn't find other jobs? That's insane, but without that assumption your response is a total non sequitur. If you discriminate against me, even if I have no trouble finding yet another job making twice what you ever could, that's still discrimination. It's still forcing me into an involuntary action, disrupting my income stream (especially if options or RSUs are involved), abrogating agreements between us, and - most relevantly - breaking the law. I'd still have standing to sue, and I'd still win, for the same reasons that a thwarted robbery or assault is still a crime.


Are they being illegally discriminated against because of thier age or for valid reasons - they don’t have the skills the company needs going forward, their salary is higher than the company can get on the open market, etc.?


This exactly. Pay grade and composite sets of professional skills acquired are not protected classes. You can't prove it was age discrimination if you are paid higher and don't have skills that newer employees have (because both of those things also made you a target.)

That being said, I am probably younger than all y'all and I've been trained to remain in constant motion on the skills treadmill. I don't know if that's a good thing for either employers or employees. (I certainly feel under-utilized.)


Whether it is “good” or not isn’t relevant. It’s necessary.


With respect, this has to be demonstrated. Are the new skills better than the old skills?

(I am on the treadmill, so clearly I believe they are.)


It doesn’t matter if they are better. It just matters if they are more marketable.


More marketable to who, employers? Are they more marketable because people with those skills are younger and earlier in their careers, so can be paid less? That sounds potentially circular and I would need to hear more to come to agreement.

You're also not giving me much to go on here. I've had to infer 90% of what I think you meant. I think there's a solid argument that older skills are battle-hardened and therefore better for productivity and maintainability. I'm not going to try to make it though, because I'm on the treadmill focused on acquiring newer skills, and therefore would be arguing against my own self-interest. (Eg. why do we need to know capistrano if we have kubernetes?)

But maybe those older skills are not so much maintainable, if all the newer employees on the block are discouraged from acquiring those skills based on the treadmill. You see why I'm not so sure about this treadmill business? I already learned a bunch of skills that I'm afraid we won't use, because they are already asking for newer ones (serverless!) Maybe my employer would be better served by asking me to spend some time to learn Capistrano, if they're not going to let me use Kubernetes skills I went off and acquired on my own. (Let's make this real, I'm using a real example from my own life. I don't have to be convinced that Kubernetes is more valuable, but I do have yet to prove it in the context of my real job, where our deployments all still run on Capistrano not K8s.)

My situation is likely a bit unique and I don't think my employer engages in age discrimination in any way but we have to capitalize on these newer skills to give them value. An abstract sense of "having skills with high marketability" does not deliver any value to the employer (or employee) unless they are capitalized somehow.

In any case, we're arguing about nothing, because

> get a $35/month PluralSight subscription and watch the job boards to see what you need to be studying?

we don't have any numbers on how many of these canned IBM employees actually did this and got canned anyway. Its relevance as a factor is questionable, if the employees with advanced age are simply more well compensated like you said that has also made them a bigger target. They may have kept their skills current and been terminated anyway. This is a 100% speculative argument.


Two parts. I guess as a mid 40s developer I could share what you shouldn’t do and should do based on my experience. I’m also nowhere near Silicon Valley startup or FAANG culture. I have lived in a major metropolitan area for 20 years where there has always been a vibrant job market for developers.

I spent 9 years at a company in the 200x’s that stayed stuck in 2002 - C++, VB6, Perl hosted on IIS, classic ASP, etc. I didn’t know anything about modern development practices. Can you imagine what would have happened if I stayed another 10 years like another developer did? Last I heard they were transitioning to VB.Net and were still using Perl. So yeah, I know first hand what it looks like to let your skills stagnate and find yourself barely marketable.

When I finally left, I took a job as what for all intents and purposes was a junior .Net developer instead of a higher paying position as a C++ developer because I knew the market was moving away from C++ (at least the local market).

I spent the next decade watching the job boards, talking to recruiters and making sure my resume was matching the skills in demands and changing jobs about every two years as I learned all I could from one company and always for nice bump in salary.

I didn’t mean to jump on the “newest” technology just to keep up with industry trends. As much as I love Hashicorp’s Nomad and so used it since it worked with more than just Docker, I would never suggest anyone learn it if they already know kubernetes. That’s where the market is.

So yeah, it is about being able to find a job quickly and being more marketable to employers.

My own m.o. is to be a true “full stack developer/architect”. By full stack knowing a marketable technology on each layer -

- web

- server

- database (RDMS/NoSQL)

- cloud hosting and knowing netops/devops/ and development using their cloud native features.

- continuous integration/deployment best practices.

- and just general best practices.

You don’t have to jump on the new and shiny, the further you go down the stack, the more stable it. Sure things are always being added at each level but you don’t see the rapid changes like you do in JS land.

As far as learning things that pay less, I’m not a strong front end developer. Companies pay me because I can go very deep in the stack and can guide development and architecture from the back end. Web developers are a dime a dozen and pay seems to be stagnating for them. But I still want to learn the latest web frameworks to be more marketable in a pinch even though they are getting paid less than what I make now.

we don't have any numbers on how many of these canned IBM employees actually did this and got canned anyway. Its relevance as a factor is questionable

I wasn’t thinking about keeping thier skills up so they could keep their job at IBM, jobs are disposable and interchangeable if you stay marketable. Someone in technology with marketable skills can have a job before thier next mortgage payment is due if they are either in the right part of the country or are willing to move.


The people who are being “discriminated against” and can’t find a job are likely to not have kept their skills current.

Sounds like you are stereotyping them based on knowing nothing apart from their age.


If I get laid off and can go out and get another job quickly, yeah I might participate in some sort of class action suit because why not? But I wouldn’t personally waste energy to get a lawyer, and go through the whole process. Instead, I am going to focus on my future instead of dwelling on my past employer.


Why bother speculating about whether this is about age or skills when it’s inherently a case of judgement? There’s no way to come to a deductive conclusion. Why the confidence? Where is it coming from? Seems a lot like age bigotry to me.


Whether it’s age or lack of skills can’t be the primary concern for someone who needs to provide for their family. The only thing that matters is if they can get another job. I’m in my 40s and if I got let go tomorrow. I am going to be reflective enough to make sure that there wasn’t anything I could have done differently and learn from mistakes on my next job, but as soon as I get to my car, I’m going to send my continuously updated resume to my list of recruiters so I can get another job.

Timmah 10 months ago [flagged]

> Bias is something that must be actively countered

But that assumes bias actually exists in the first place. This argument is eerily similar to the religious argument of "just believe [that god is real]". No, prove it first, then I'll believe. And inb4 "they fired more old old people so that's bias". Correlation does not equal causation. Show me the causation.

> does not change the fact that discrimination is wrong

Moral platitudes are irrelevant to this discussion.


> that assumes bias actually exists in the first place.

Not really. It only assumes the possibility of bias. At the very least, one must look for it. There's a lot of subjectivity involved in deciding who to hire or fire, and unfortunately a lot of people in tech seem to think they're perfect rational machines immune to bias, so they never even look. Don't have to look far for examples.


It doesn't matter if a hurricane causes death or merely correlates with it, you have a responsibility to do the right thing. Failing to do so because you want an impractical distinction between causation and correlation is about as much an irrelevant moral platitude as any.

In any case, causation can look an awful lot like correlation when you've got many layers of indirection and noise to account for. So for practical purposes, they very well could be the same thing. You can shout "correlation is not causation" as loud as you like, but reality doesn't work on the basis of popular slogans.

And causation is pretty much completely irrelevant to law.


> And causation is pretty much completely irrelevant to law.

You lost me there.


> you have a responsibility to do the right thing

Exactly. Which is why I call out unsubstantiated claims (or "slogans", as you put it) whenever and wherever I see them. The most common places I've observed them happen to be with blanket leftist allegations of sexism/racism/ageism in the tech industry.


As a profession we work in the fastest changing industry in the history of work.

Typically once I make a contribution to the framework or the language alarm bells go off in my head and I learn the new shiny. It's the only way to survive.

It's also complete lunacy. Doctors, scientists, lawyers and engineers in other fields are life long learners, still going to conferences and publishing papers in their 70s. Software however prides itself on the young eating the old. They learn new languages and then holy war everyone else that theirs is the one truth.

And that's fine, but I know plenty of older developers who are astoundingly good and many who are garbage and the general difference is whether their company valued learning or whether it aimed to burn out their developers and replace them with younger developers. Supporting the second type of company is a strange masochism that is widely prevalent in the industry with the "Adapt or Die" mantra.


I agree with your positions above and nothing below is intended to counter that.

> Doctors, scientists, lawyers and engineers in other fields

Careful there - Doctors notoriously fail to adopt (as a group) newer lessons until they are replaced, and lawyers have a similar problems when new areas of law open up (often in tech) - those areas are just fewer because law tries to define everything in terms of existing procedures. And I'm sure science has plenty of ageism problems that are similar enough. Note that the continuing ed classes for doctors and lawyers do not prevent this.

> Software however prides itself on the young eating the old

Software has a cycle we've not learned to defeat, and I think that's the root cause. Specifically (ish): To solve a tech problem in a clear context is easy and quick, so you adopt that system. Adoption means more reliance, dependencies, complexities. Soon, a problem arrives that is not easy to solve with all the baggage you've collected...but solving it OUTSIDE of that baggage is easy. Cycle repeats.

At a large scale: Software is a bit unique in that we get to code our own tools. What I can do in an hour after 5 years on a problem is far more than I can do in an hour with nothing - that learning and those tools get encoded into a library/framework/language, which becomes the hot thing. But now it can't itself change without violating assumptions relied on by everything using it, which means the rate of adding learned knowledge to it slows, while the rate of adding to "competing" systems does not. Eventually they are just plain faster/easier/better, and they become the hot thing.

The reason this is significant is that we're still learning how to program. We're actually REALLY BAD AT IT - programs are to translate between humans and computers, and those two do not think alike. We're embedding complexity and then suffering because there is complexity.

We're learning, but that is an iterative process- eating itself, as you say. Once the field approaches the age of medicine or law, we'll be as good (or as bad) at managing change as they are, but until then we're can't really compare directly.

[Edit: their/there mixup]


>>Doctors notoriously fail to adopt (as a group) newer lessons until they are replaced, and lawyers have a similar problems when new areas of law open up (often in tech)

Even as individuals they need to adopt to newer lessons. If anything its harder in their case. Gaining a new skill or learning something new is way easier for an old programmer than for an old doctor to learn something new in their practice.

If you have chosen a knowledge based profession, you have to learn all life. Or its over.

These are like the fundamental rules of this game.


Importantly, though, intent isn't required to make a discrimination claim under the Civil Rights Act. If a policy is apparently neutral, but it has a disproportionally negative impact on a protected class, it is illegal:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disparate_impact

IBM's lawyers are surely aware of this. This is likely going to be painful for them and they did it anyway knowing the liability.


Not sure why you thought that was news to markbnj, or relevant to the point made.


They talked about an "ageist conspiracy". Above post is saying an ageist conspiracy isn't required.


This is a great attitude, but it doesn't change the fact that discrimination exists and hurts real people in a very real way.

No matter how skilled and engaged you are, there are plenty of places that will do their best to eliminate you from any hiring process before you even get to the onsite, and they will make absolutely sure you will not pass the onsite if you somehow get there despite their best efforts.

I'm thankfully not at that stage in my career yet, but I've seen hiring managers casually tossing excellent resumes just because the bachelor's graduation year implied the candidate was "too old".


I think this is the reason Intel's 10nm chip production is a disaster. They did their systematic lay-offs 2 years ago and got rid of all the key senior people and management replaced them with recent college graduates (since you know we're all easily replaceable "resources") and this is what happens. I'm pretty sure this is also part of the reason behind BK getting fired.


I disagree, the 2016 layoffs were organisational in nature. Basically they canned the Mobile CPUs, a big chunk of the GPUs and several other areas they decided they weren't performing. They didn't really touch the core chip design teams.


This is a SQL query.. in terms of a large organization, you should expect a large-scale performance review based firing to follow the demographics of the company. If your query has enriched for older people you have a problem. Also when you do fire people who have a longer tenure it begs the question as to why you didn't fire them earlier. I would find it very suspicious if you said they performed poorly this year vs last year and that is why they were fired as most big companies have processes to improve performance over a time period. The statistics will tell the story. IBM needs to made an example of.


One thing I'm worried about is if companies will be able to argue that the older workers weren't fired because of their age but because their pay relative to their work was higher than other employees doing similar work. That is is there ruling that would prevent them from just trimming the top earners in every job post which should be a fairly accurate proxy for experience/age in the industry?


In which case the same employees could turn around and point out that CEO pay, which is ostensibly tied to performance, is only getting higher despite any real provable impact on company performance for most of them. The problem for any company comes when it is driven more by the economics of the company than the mission of the company to product something good.


I agree with your sentiment but I'm not sure that'd actually affect their case and the company's argument that 'we didn't look at age at all just price per position and started at the top (for the positions we were looking to cut).'


large-scale performance review based firing

But that’s not a layoff. A layoff is when the job doesn’t need to be done anymore. It’s completely orthogonal to the performance of the person doing that job. And as you say, performance review based shafting is a very easy thing for a company to do, and many do do it under the guise of “stack rankings”


If you have a thousand people assembling doodads and the demand falls by 50% you eventually need to get rid of 50% of the doodad manufacturers. How do you choose who to fire?


Usually companies do that by closing an entire factory and/or shifting production offshore. The performance of any individual at a location that is closing is irrelevant to the decision makers.


Under Intel both happened, sites were shut with people relocated to the main hubs (Portland in the US, Poland in Europe, somewhere in India too) and anyone with 'bad' (less than the median grade) were laid off too.


>Also when you do fire people who have a longer tenure it begs the question as to why you didn't fire them earlier

I mean, presumably they were cheaper in the past.


Also as you get older your possibilities to get sick go up. So maybe that person had sick leave more often this year. Maybe other person had family issues this year and year ago it was great for them. Some people might have worse periods. But for HR you are just as good as your last 6 months...


If you fire the 20 younger engineers, you're also firing the people who will be the "10 older engineers" in a decade. You're killing the future.

But firing the 10 older engineers, you may be killing the present. Even with no bias, it's not easy to know what the right answer is.


You've made two good points. I would suggest the next step is to synthesize them. As with many things, moderation is important. A strategy that balances the two downsides is probably better.


Odds are that each group has a bit of dead wood so taking some from each group would be best - identifying that is the harder part for those several rungs higher


As if in today's job market, keeping any engineer provides any sort of guarantee that the engineer will stay with the company "for the future".

Most likely he'll stay until he gets a better offer (if he's a good performer) or gets laid off in a couple of years (if he's a poor performer).


you'd fire 5 older engineers, and 10 young ones.


Fire 5 old and 10 young? QED


I would buy that except that they do a massive amount of analysis to make sure they aren't cutting diversity.

They need to do the same sort of analysis to include age and make sure there isn't a bias towards older workers.


It seems odd that age wouldn't be a dimension of diversity, unless that was shorthand for a very specific type like ethnic.


> engineers on higher salaries

By that logic, men should also be disproportionately represented in the group that got fired.

I’d be curious to know.

And does that count as sex discrimination?


> does that count as sex discrimination?

In a practical legal sense, generally no. Discrimination against a class that many believe is already over-represented is almost never prosecuted. It can happen, in fields (e.g. nursing) or workplaces where men are the minority, but it's rare. Otherwise, the attitude is that no social good comes from prosecuting such cases. Not saying it's right or wrong, and undoubtedly such discrimination can create real victims, but that seems to be the prevailing view.


Good thing they've got Watson. "Hey Watson we need to lay off X,000 employees but need to control for age." "I'll get right on that, Rose."


"Sorry, Dave, you've been fired and the pod bay doors are locked. I hope you remembered your helmet. Oh, and that was a great sketch you did of Dr. Otherdeadguy."


"Obviously it's also true that if you can fire 10 black engineers on high salaries lots of managers will choose to do that simply because it means they don't need to fire 20 white engineers. It's the easy option."

That's how 22-35 year old you sounds.


Years ago I read an article with a headline something like "So you think you're indispensable?" - it argued that if you don't have written affirmation of your value, that value probably exists in places where those making firing decisions won't see it. Since then I've made a point of making sure I get the occasional kudo in writing, be that from my boss or a co-worker, and tack them into any periodic evaluations. When someone thanks me for some extra effort I can say "Happy to help, feel free to sing my praises to manager@example.com :) ".

It's annoying and shouldn't be necessary - but it's also fairly low effort (lower effort than concocting fake annual "goals" to be striving towards when our work changes more rapidly than that) and has given me comfort in more than one "tight budget" situation at various companies. Anything low-effort that keeps anxiety in check is worth it, and if it actually proves useful, then bonus. Also, my managers tend to LIKE getting this written feedback from others, because they can cut-and-paste it or refer to it in their evaluations, which makes THEIR lives easier (no one likes evaluations).

It's one of the few clickbait-ey headlines that actually delivered, and I recommend the same advice to anyone else.


I have been at my current job for a while, but I worked for a number of failed startups before that. The lesson I learned there is that sometimes it doesn't matter how good you are at what you do, or even how good everyone around you thinks you are. I had all sorts of written evaluations saying I was doing great work, but that doesn't matter when the entire business goes belly up.

The way I built security for myself was to maintain a network of people who know me and my work, and make sure that network is distributed across many companies. When I am in need of work, I reach out to them.

Anything you do to increase your survival odds at the company you are in is still putting all your eggs in one basket.


This is a good strategy, but businesses care about one thing: the bottom line.

There's no way to attach dollar values to good feedback. There's no good way to quantify technical leadership or experience. They'll fire a senior over a junior simply because they're cheaper. They'll make some vague promises about grooming the junior or providing "growth opportunities". But really, it's about the $$$.


>>if you don't have written affirmation of your value, that value probably exists in places where those making firing decisions won't see it.

>>When someone thanks me for some extra effort I can say "Happy to help, feel free to sing my praises to manager@example.com :) ".

Many times people making lay off decisions have no idea who you are, or what you have been doing. This is true in the case of mass lay offs. And they don't exactly run a search on the company's email database to see who received the accolades.

Its mostly political equations that come to play in these situations, not merit.


I think you misunderstood - I'm not getting entries in an "email database", I'm getting evaluations so whatever scoring metric they use, I'll be listed as above average. (And this doesn't necessarily contradict your cynicism regarding political equations - unless EVERY position is decided politically, a lot of positions will be evaluated by the metric that might have been determined to aid those that are being politically protected - so if I have the company "Ace awards" and evaluation scores that those people have, I too get to keep my job, particularly in workplaces where you can challenge a firing/demotion or are asked to provide support for getting a promotion/raise.

But safety is only part of the concept, it's more like "accuracy". More than once I've been "the only one that knows XXX system" (and yes, that's bad, but there are very few companies where that doesn't happen) - but that's a statement that people on the ground know and people above don't. This sort of approach reduces that disconnect.

Still though, nothing is 100%, this was just a low-effort option. If one wishes to assume that nothing matters except the schmooze, go for it - I prefer this option.


I like to remind myself of that quote attributed to Stalin, that the gulag is full of people who thought they were indispensible...


I believe that was Napoleon and the graveyard, but it’s still as pertinent


True hacker! Simple and elegant.


I actually find ageism to be one of the most overt forms of illegal discrimination. People talk about how they are looking for young devs in a way that would seem insane if they were talking about white devs or male.


Yes, I've been astonished by how freely ageist hiring is discussed (at least behind closed doors of hiring committees). I assume it's because it's not even really being considered discrimination in the minds of the people who're doing the talking. Getting that recognition might be the part of the battle.

It's also astonished me how at least some of the people trying to find the young devs who will work long hours are going to be in the discriminated group in a few years time! They don't seem to realise that by perpetuating the discrimination they're making themselves the future victims. It's a bizarre kind of cognitive dissonance.


You should read "Disrupted" by Dan Lyons, a middle aged tech reporter from Newsweek who went to work for a Boston company called HubSpot.

He has some pretty good insight and stories about this.


They are all going to be CTO's in the future, not future victims! I assume by saying hiring committee you work at Google. A whistleblower sued Google in March alleging overt age discrimination and illegal race quotas. They copied some damning information including screenshots of their quota tool. What kind of information do you know about it?


Agreed. In my last job hunt, I called out[0] some blatently overt ageism in an ad.

0 - https://twitter.com/jachee/status/867209621093703680


And still I see folks in this thread rationalizing the behavior of companies, explaining how there's no discrimination happening and how age-related patterns are due to some form of "merit".

It's no surprise so many people deny the less overt racism and sexism!


Ok, and what about discrimination against young people? I can assure that that discrimination against young people is significantly more prevalent. It is just wrapped up in pretty words about "experience" or "maturity".

Nobody seems to care about the 18 year who can produce a lot of good work, but isn't likely to be paid even a third of what an equally capable 40 year old makes. How is that fair?


It's hard to imagine you actually believe that maturity and experience are not related to job performance. Regardless, it might be helpful to think about experience as a hiring heuristic, like having a college degree: you certainly don't need it to be a good programmer, but having it is positively correlated with skill (in a way that is rationally causal, unlike, say, race). Recruiting, screening and hiring are massively expensive. Screening every inexperienced candidate who wants a senior position to find the rare gem would have an outsized cost.


“Experience” is a value producing parameter. Around here (Boston) people just starting out seem to make near what people with many more years experience. If you are somewhere that isn’t paying you, shop around and leave for a company that will pay/appreciate you like you deserve.

I never made decent money programming until I became an independent contractor. (For reference, I probably have been a developer longer than you’ve been alive.)


I can assure that most college grads can't code shit, the good ones will be making more than an average 40 years old in no time.


There is a lot that goes into 'producing good work' at a company, and a lot of those things can only be gained by experience. Of course, not all experience is equal, but experience is still important.


> Of course, not all experience is equal, but experience is still important.

Would you say the same thing if someone used similar dog whistles to talk about old people?

IE, "oh, being able to move quickly and think on your fit is important, and sometimes this can only be gained by being in good physical shape, and having good health, like a young person would have".

Either discrimination is OK or it isn't. One person's justifications aren't any different than another person's.


I mean, if you are going to be THAT loose in your definition of 'discrimination', then basically everything is discrimination. It would be discrimination to hire someone who is a better programmer, because you are unfairly advantaging people who have more skill.

So yes, you are allowed to discriminate on those sorts of things. If the attribute you are discriminating for is relevant to the job, it is ok to discriminate.

Take, for example, discrimination against the physically disabled - if a construction company requires that you are able to lift 50 pound bags of concrete, it wouldn't be guilt of unlawful discrimination because that is required for the job.

On the other hand, if you require someone be able to lift a 50 pound bag, but their job is to sit at a desk and program a computer... then you would be found guilty of unfair discrimination against the disabled.


I am not being loose in my definition of discrimination. Instead I am using the exact same definition of description that the people in the lawsuit are using.

IE age discrimination.

Either age discrimination is morally OK or it isn't.

I'd be fine with either the situation of age discrimination being disallowed or allowed, across the board, regardless of whether the discrimination is against young or old people.

Either way. I just want age discrimination against young and old people to be treated exactly the same.


Your example isn’t really discrimination if you’re looking for fire fighters. “Experience” is largely acquired by making mistakes. People don’t care how old you are, they care how many years of experience you’ve acquired. I guess you can call it discrimination but only if you think hiring people “who are good at their job” discriminates against people aren’t. Of course, this is a US centric view, it could be totally different where you live.


The post you're responding to specifically calls out "illegal discrimination" - for better or for worse, youth is not a protected class (in the US, at least). Age discrimination is only illegal against those 40+ years old.


I don't really care if it is legal or illegal. Appealing to authority is irrelevant to morality.


Age Discrimination in Employment Act say discrimination doesn't become a problem until age 40, therefore 40+ is a protected class. below 40 is not.


Lol you idiots downvoting. I learned this fact from a law professor/attorney. You don't like it so you are downvoting? Lol. Go look it up on wikipedia, but I think maybe if your are getting this emotional about a fact I learned in a law class, then wikipedia may be too advanced.


We've banned this account for violating the site guidelines and ignoring our requests to stop.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Appeal to authority.

Either age discrimination is morally OK or it isn't.

I don't care whether it is legal or not. If you are engaging in this discrimination you are exactly morally the same as any other person engaging in discrimination, whether that be based on age, sex or race.


It's not a question of morality. The act doesn't cover people under 40 because there was no finding of age discrimination. Just like there is no discrimination against white people or men ;). Don't like it, run for Congress or Supreme court.


Or instead of that, I could condemn people who engage in age discrimination in the same way that I would condemn racists, bigots, or sexists who engage in discrimination.

There are lots of places in the world where discrimination on race, gender, and sexual orientation is legal.

And people who engage in this kind of behavior, even when it is legal, are still horrible people, and should be treated as such, by society.

It is fully within my rights to judge horrible people, and to also treat horrible people as they deserve to be treated (ie, I will treat them poorly, as they deserve).

People are often under the mistaken impression that the only way to punish someone is through the law.

That's incorrect. There are many many perfectly legal ways to punish horrible people, and there are even methods of punishing horrible people that are illegal but you are unlikely to get caught for.


I would say 75-90% of hiring managers in the US are not even US citizens and couldn't give less of a shit about US laws. Execs are incredibly happy for people to break the law for them. If an expat gets in trouble, they just get sent home with a bag full of money. For jobs in India, "freshers" have to put their blood type and where their fathers were born on their resumes because discrimination is so bad.


> I would say 75-90% of hiring managers in the US are not even US citizens

Wut? This number seems wildly off to me.


I meant hiring managers in tech companies like IBM.


I still think your number is a gross exaggeration.


Possibly because, unlike race or gender, age-related biases are much more exagerrated between individuals.

I would guess young people are more eager to change/try new things whereas older people are more reluctant to change or stray from their "tried and true" methods.

The same cannot be said of a white person vs. a black person.


Re: guess young people are more eager to change/try new things whereas older people are more reluctant to change...

As I mentioned elsewhere, as I got older I am more skeptical/cynical of many fads/trends, and this "attitude" is often not valued by management. The thing is, I'm right more often than wrong and would bet my own money on such if I could. The fear of keeping up with the e-joneses has made our industry stupid. Fads/trends are poorly vetted for fit.

Warren Buffett has made similar observations about faddism in the financial industry, and he has the fat bucks to prove he's right.


I find this to be true even just entering my 30s. I've made a few slips here and there, but it appears that there's a shift from mastering a skill to having decent domain knowledge for a specific tech.

So, you're not hired on how to solve a problem now, you're hired on how much you know their desired solution. This isn't engineering, you're not helping desig action, you're implementing it.

One of the huge failures in this sense is that tech has assumed priority over user value. Like your users give a shit about microservices, React, Vue, etc. etc. when you're using more of your runway on the infrastructure and not on the solution they want.

Most of this stuff has little value to most businesses. So if you push back you don't get hired; you have to find the places mature enough to understand why you would push back at all.


There are a bunch of different things wrapped up in your post and I won’t address them all. One thing though is that we don’t separate a technician vs an engineering in computing. Think about a plumber vs a water systems engineer. Both are valuable and paid well but they have very different roles.

Lots of people can be trained to be implementers and do valuable work. But we also don’t have stable best practices so that makes it harder. The line between engineer and implementer is blurred because an implementer constantly has to evaluate which new things should really be best practices.


I wish domain knowledge was valued more in tech staff, but I've just found that's often not the case. I'm not entirely sure why, and my theories (okay, guesses) would take a while to explain.

Further, if people don't see the "latest" UI on their screen, they become afraid that the underlying technology is "behind" even if it technically satisfies a business goal. Books are judged by covers.


My point is that with a white person vs. a black person, you can assume that they are in all ways equal and interchangeable. A white person with 5 years of Java experience == a black person with 5 years of Java experience.

Young vs. old is different. A young person with 5 years of Java << an old person with 5 years of Java. Hence you must pay the old person 3x more because of all of their non-Java experience.


Re: Hence you must pay the old person 3x more because of all of their non-Java experience.

Not necessarily. I suspect what happened is IBM used to pay that way, but the industry practice has changed (for good or bad), but they fired based on current industry practice instead of their original practice, making it come out lopsided by age.


This is bullshit and reflects the bias built into your own views. This is a deeply rooted viewpoint of many like you, most likely based on your experiences with your narrow network of "older" people.


I disagree.

Anecdotally, my company is an ANSI C + ClearCase shop. Anytime discussion comes up about transitioning to safer languages like C++ or about using different VCS like Git or Mercurial it is shot down immediately by the senior developers who feel that those things are faddish.

Anecdotally, my parents always hated Windows and Microsoft Office upgrades because they would no longer be able to navigate the UIs. They became extremely resistant to upgrading anything that required them to relearn anything.

Heck, there's ancient adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - why does that saying exist if it doesn't contain a kernel of truth??

There may be some older developers who are the exception to this, but my argument is that generally the older you get, the more entrenched your opinions and patterns become.

That's not necessarily a bad thing since those opinions and patterns were forged through decades of experience and hence contain much wisdom, but at a certain point when you are still using ANSI C and ClearCase in 2018 because there's "no need to switch to faddish version control like Git when ClearCase works perfectly fine" you are no longer fairly evaluating the technologies available on the market.


You disagreed, then confirmed that, as the comment you replied to said, your view is 'based on your experiences with your narrow network of "older" people'.

In addition, switching the VCS your company uses is possibly not what your engineering organization should focus on. I don't know enough about your company to say if switching away from ANSI C is worthwhile.


And how do I know that your experiences based on your network of "older" people isn't equally narrow and biased?


You can be sure that it is. The difference is that they aren’t making arguments based on their age based biases.


As an older dev, I often weep when I see the Pull Requests from the young whippersnappers. They write code faster than I can fix the technical debt.


Don't discourage them from writing lots of code fast. That's a good way to learn. In your mind you need to stack rank the places where they should have done it differently, and just address the most important ones.


I coach the ones that want to learn. Most of 'em, however, will insist that their pigs fly. Only a decade or two of experience will help them.

Books on coding technique won't help much, because one needs experience to understand the point those books try to make.


What's older?


> Heck, there's ancient adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - why does that saying exist if it doesn't contain a kernel of truth??

Did you seriously just use a stereotype as evidence.


>> Heck, there's ancient adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - why does that saying exist if it doesn't contain a kernel of truth??

A lot of people will also cry "oh god!" or something similar when they find themselves in a difficult situation, but that doesn't mean they believe in god; some do, many don't and still use the phrase. What's more, it doesn't mean there is a god. It's just something that people say.


> This is bullshit

Please keep the discussion civil.


Calling bullshit on an argument that is not made from fact is not being uncivil. I'd argue that making an argument that is such bullshit is far more uncivil than saying the word "bullshit".


You have a point, but it's trumped by the cruder point that when people get into the habit of hurling nasty words at each other, it leads to stupid discussion. Not from everybody, of course, but from most; the systemic effect is what dominates. That's why we don't allow that name-calling on HN (though that comment was hardly a serious instance of it).


Or the fact that the older people at my job still barely know how to type or use the printer or heaven forbid, scan to email! Even though they've had decades to learn it?

Im not a young dev anymore, but I can see why the older crowd has the rap they do. It doesn't make ageism right, at all.. but I can understand how it has happened.

An entire generation of people like me who have heard our older loved ones say they need their "foxfire" fixed or whatever.

10 years ago this was more palatable. Now a days it is dissolving as more older people learn the technology and more older people want to learn the technology. I personally never want to stop learning. My colleague is well into his 50's and still takes college course in math and CS. It has challenged my own personal prejudices and pushes me to be better as well.


There are negative stereotypes about inexperienced (young) workers also. Stupidity happens at all levels, and I could tell stories for months.


Taking math and CS courses isn't going to help you with scan to email.


When you say "young people" and "older people", do you mean all young and older people, or the average young or older person?

If you mean the average, then you're saying something no different from any other prejudice. You can't judge an individual by the statistics of some group s/he belongs to.

If you mean all young/older people, you've been really lucky with the young people you know and really unlucky with the older ones.


Why is it bad to judge an individual by the statistics of the group they belong to? I assume that drunk drivers are dangerous because many are, even though I know that some people can safely drive drunk. I assume that tigers are dangerous even though I know some are very tame — I wouldn’t hop into a tiger cage hoping for the best.


Because most of the time there is greater variation within a group than there is between groups. If you use group statistics to judge individuals you will be wrong more often than if you don't.

But beyond that, we as a society have decided that in many cases the benefits of using group based heuristics aren't worth the damage done to individuals within groups who are judged negatively.

Imagine you toss out all resumes with non-white sounding names because white people are statistically more likely to have x, y, or z characteristic. Even if there is a correlation to some characteristic that you are looking for (more likely to have a college degree, statistically higher income etc...), the damage you do to the individuals in the groups you are tossing out far outweighs any benefit you receive.


I don't quite understand what you mean by all vs average, but I think he was saying that if you have 100 random old people and 100 random young people, there will be more people in the young group that know React, for example, than in the old group.


Take that same sentence and substitute "women" for "old people" and "men" for "young people". If you used such a statistic to say "Women tend not to get React" wouldn't that be obvious sexism?


It looks to me like, in general, the bigger a company gets, the more the "leadership" starts acting like they are running a hedge fund. The money becomes more important than the product. Then when the product is de-emphasized, the employees obviously lose their importance and then the "leadership" start treating them like cattle to be moved from grazing location to grazing location. I put "leadership" in quotes because they somehow tend to be managers, who never actually built anything, who are clueless about the nuances of the product.


IBM has been dead since the 90's. Back when Lou Gerstner supposedly "saved" IBM from death he actually didn't, back then Real IBM the thing we think of as IBM actually died, and instead Zombie IBM took it's place (zIBM). zIBM is run as you say, like a hedge fund. Making products is incidental to zIBM and it doesn't care what it makes as long as somebody will pay (so it doesn't care if it's products are good or even usable). zIBM also implemented this infamous stack ranking system, the executives are terrible, and there are so many layers between management and action on the ground that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing.

Management is so insulated from whats actually happening by all these layers nobody can effectively steer the organization, there are so many divisions and people that nobody can really track what is happening. The only thing that zIBM is actually really good at is managing its share price, and crafting it's artisinal financial statements so that nobody actually has any idea how bad it's doing. But we all know that zIBM revenue is declining for almost 10 years, so it's going to be a long slow crawl to zIBMs true final fiscal death.


I fired IBM from my life "for cause" a few years ago after 32 years at Research.

This comment is overall correct, though there were some isolated pockets of truly amazing/wonderful (some classified) things to enjoy working on since the mid-2010s.


I agree. Meanwhile, the IBM stock is up 1,320% since 1993. At one point it was nearly 2,000%.

That's the problem with playing the stock market: you've not only got to be right, you've got to be right at the exact right time or you'll get slaughtered.


IBM are really masters at managing their share price, with buybacks and strategic announcements (like Watson), ultimately they still only make mainframes and support legacy products mostly. Nobody really uses their second-rate cloud. So mainframes/services and dragging out government contracts are really where it's at for them.


>>Real IBM the thing we think of as IBM actually died, and instead Zombie IBM took it's place (zIBM).

That would be true for any company once their core set of products go out of trend without replacements.

Lets say tomorrow Google/Alphabet loses its search engine business, there is nothing much they can do but financially engineer the company in a way that is useful to share holders, which might include going into businesses many Google people now consider beneath their station.

IBM that way is an incredibly well run company.


>That would be true for any company once their core set of products go out of trend without replacements.

Why would any company allow it's products and services to age out of the market? How would any other company survive such a thing?

If Google "loses" in the search engine space, it loses everything. Everything Google is and does, is financed by ad revenue from search. Without search, Google becomes a pauper.

To take this in the IBM direction: Assume they (GOOG) lose at search, all the devs abandon ship or are layed off, Google could still get business because it could coast on the street-cred it built back when it was successful. So as long as it has mind-share and the google brand does not get destroyed it could still persist on well after death, draining down it's resources and selling off subdivisions (essentially cannibalizing itself, much as IBM has done). Google could aggressively manage it's stock price to hide it's status from the plebs and milk government contracts (that other organizations can't even bid on) and cannibalizing itself and drawing down it's savings for many years. This is the story of IBM. Once the boomer generation is no longer in charge of anything then IBM will fully die, because they don't make anything or do anything that the average person cares about, so they're mindshare dies with the boomer generation.


When companies get large enough, they need to show that they are outperforming the market at large for their shareholders. If the company is only making a 1% return on its product, why not take that money and put it in the stock market instead of employee salaries and asset acquisition? Even startups deal with this issue - why should a VC fund take an enormous risk on your company when they can put it in the stock market and earn middling return that's still much better than a complete loss?

The main difference is that as a startup, you the CEO know everybody in your startup, you know your sole customers, you know the product intimately. This allows you to focus on the product and "secret sauce" that differentiates your company as an investment from the rest of the market. But when you're a CEO of a large public company, you have too many employees to count, too many products to count, and too many customers to count. Financial instruments become a necessary abstraction to help deal with all that complexity.


Good. Much like all the other "isms" ageism is rarely overt but still exists and has real effects. Leave policies and on-call schedules are tuned to make life difficult for those who have to deal with their own or family members' medical conditions. Offices are designed to be disproportionately unpleasant for those who have undergone well known age-related changes in hearing and vision. IBM seems to have gone with the tried and true approach of laying people off based on proxies for age, just as others hire using proxies for race or social class, with "skills" as the shorthand. They'd better be prepared to explain exactly what criteria they used to decide which skills were valuable, how skill levels were evaluated, and how they concluded that layoffs and subsequent replacement hires were preferable to internal transfers (with or without retraining). It's a good thing that more companies are being held accountable for practicing this form of discrimination.


One thing that concerns me more than ageism is the tendency to retain management while refreshing engineers. Bad management will always fail no matter what the engineering skill is.


That tendency is built in to a system where individuals are also responsible for reporting on their own performance. Poor performing managers will of course find an explanation where someone else is to blame - it's a self-service bias that everyone has, managers are no exception. Managers have firing power and they are also accountable for project success, so it's best for them to throw a senior guy under the bus, since it's their best chance for a do-over on a failed project. If the bad manager can keep doing this long enough, eventually they get the job done.

I think I found myself in this dynamic a couple of times. Though I should point out that senior engineers have the same self-service bias of course, so you can't just take their word for it that a bad manager is to blame. I don't think it really helps to get consensus from the team either. Since once the manager has targeted a scapegoat, everyone knows it's risky for them to criticize their manager, and also one less senior guy on the team is good for their chances of promotion.


This. It freaking kills me that management always gets to stay and engineers get the axe. What makes it worse is these places always talk about loyalty like it means anything at all to engineers. Loyalty seems to only work one way.


> Loyalty seems to only work one way.

The asymmetry of relational power between employer and employee/job-seeker and job-creator has gotten so bad in the American work force it should probably be studied as a real economic indicator.


So, you support communism?

Yep, Ive heard that. I only wish it were sarcasm. Questioning anything about capitalism and how it fails people is the ultimate taboo. Sure, you are allowed to grouse about it as lower class, but 'that was brought upon yourself'... It always is, in a system like ours.


Yep, Ive heard that. I only wish it were sarcasm.

I've heard it too. My response is usually equally quippy:

So, you hate money or having more negotiating power? Which is it?

Sometimes the people I've deployed that at are smart enough to get the point quickly and a much more enjoyable debate can spring forth. But then there are the real wackos. The true believers who if you asked them today, would probably look you square in the eye and ask you if you were joking after you told them Joe McCarthy was dead.


And yet communism always results in something approximating slavery. At either extreme, I don't see the difference between crony capitalism and communism. You either have innovation and freedom or stagnation and centralization.


I've heard that too and I have to remind people that there's nothing in the US constitution against implementing some far left checks on capitalism to keep the worker/employer relationship fair and equal.

I hear so many stories from the 90's and early 00's about how wonderful the corporate environments I now work in were great places to work with great benefits, happy workers, constant raises and opportunities for bonuses, some people even got a guaranteed $1 yearly raise. Now some grandfathered people that have been here that long are making $50-60/hr for a job they now pay $25/hr for. That environment is long gone and it seems things are only getting worse on a daily basis unless you're a Software Engineer and I don't doubt the hammer will come down on them soon as well.


d it seems things are only getting worse on a daily basis unless you're a Software Engineer and I don't doubt the hammer will come down on them soon as well.

Why would you joke about something like that? (https://giphy.com/gifs/YVBC4HdSpB7z2)

I've actually been working towards making an exit from tech-actually part of that preparation is lowering my living expenses because it's going to come with a substantial drop in annual income to pursue the goals I'm pivoting towards.

Which, I'm actually fine with because I'm envisioning and plotting for a substantial QOL upgrade, or at least an upgrade to the mental stress doing what I've wanted to since the start.


Not always true. It just that the managers leave after their plan of firing 25% of staff doesn't pan out. It's just a question of how much damage can a bad manager do before he or she is forced out.


It freaking kills me that management always gets to stay and engineers get the axe.

Indeed. Companies don’t hire just for fun, but because they have a plan and they need Workers to execute that plan. When layoffs happen it is always the fault of the planners but always the Workers who take the fall.

It should be automatic, every layoff requires the C-suite to go too.


Hmm, there's plenty I don't like about my current workplace but whenever there are layoffs, they seem to disproportionately axe middle management, especially senior managers to the VP level. It got so bad that in 3 years I had 6 managers.


Where do you work, Mars?

I've never seen management axed ever. I dream of it though.


SV tech company which has pretty great work life balance but flatlined stock. PM me if you want more details.


Ooh, tricky.

Is it a case of corporate douchebaggery, hiring recent grads at half the salary of the veterans and then laying off the veterans? Or is it 'lay off the fogeys that can't let go of Fortran 77 long enough to learn Java or JS or C#' I've seen both circumstances in my career. Given that it's IBM, I am inclined towards the former.


Is that first example age discrimination? In that case it sounds like they're discriminating based on what salary the workers are willing to accept and not their age.


> Is that first example age discrimination?

That is a really good question. The short answer is that it's generally legal to consider salary demands in a hiring situation, but not in the context of firing or laying people off. On the other hand, it's super easy to muddy those waters. Change the performance requirements for the level that's full of older workers, and put them on improvement plans when they're found wanting. Phase out their current role, and oh look, there are no new roles requiring their skills so they'll have to take a demotion or quit. And many other tricks. Ultimately it all comes down to intent and effect, not the pretext the company uses.


> The short answer is that it's generally legal to consider salary demands in a hiring situation, but not in the context of firing or laying people off.

This is just plainly untrue. See Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins.


If you're going to claim a complex statement is untrue, it would be constructive to identify which part, and Hazen didn't have anything to do with the hiring case. It would also help to have the facts on your side. As it turns out, Hazen didn't even provide a clear answer for the firing/layoff case. On the one hand, they decided that interference with a pension did not automatically violate ADEA. On the other, they decided that it did violate ERISA and sent the case back to the appeals court to be decided in accordance with their decision that Hazen had in fact acted illegally and willfully. So, basically, you have misread or misrepresented the case.

[1] https://www.oyez.org/cases/1992/91-1600


Do you know what the ADEA and ERISA are?

ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) is the law that relates to age discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled that it is not de facto illegal to consider pensions, or other things that are correlated with age (such as salary), as long as the intent was not to discriminate based upon age.

ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) is a law that narrowly deals with pensions. It does not address age discrimination more generally.

Your statement that "[it's generally not legal] to consider salary demands ... in the context of firing or laying people off" is factually inaccurate.


Using salary/seniority as a filter for layoffs is fraught with peril, because of disparate impact and the high correlation with age. This is even more true when things like stock or options given as rewards for past performance are involved. You have yet to provide a shred of evidence to the contrary. Maybe you should try, instead of citing cases that prove the opposite of what you claim or going off on tangents to support a thinly veiled "do you know" ad hominem. Do you know about the concept of using proxies for a proscribed criterion, and how the courts have treated it?


The courts have ruled that employers don’t have to defend disparate impact based on a “business necessity,” the normal defense to a disparate impact case, which is a high bar to clear. See the Smith v. Jackson ruling, which clarified that in an age discrimination disparate case, the defendant must only show “reasonable factors other than age,” and NOT business necessity. RFOA is a much lower bar. Given a genuine lack of intent to discriminate based on age, any competent lawyer would be able to argue that salary is a RFOA.

You, meanwhile, have cited nothing.


You're still misrepresenting the state of the law. Yes, you absolutely can use factors other than age, but not deliberately as a proxy for age. Again, Hazen. Also Taggart v. Time (which uses "euphemism" instead of "proxy" but reaches the same conclusion). Intent does matter, though disparate impact alone carried the day in Smith v. City of Jackson.

If you're going to play a lawyer online, learn the law. Using phrases like "plainly untrue" for areas of the law that are complex and still rapidly evolving isn't very constructive. As I said earlier, it's possible to use salary etc. in good faith, but it's risky and anyone who does it had better be extra-prepared to document their processes in case of a challenge.


> As I said earlier, it's possible to use salary etc. in good faith, but it's risky

No you didn't, you said "The short answer is that it's generally [not] legal to consider salary demands [...] in the context of firing or laying people off."

> disparate impact alone carried the day in Smith v. City of Jackson.

Disparate impact absolutely did not "carry the day" in Smith v. Jackson, SCOTUS ruled against the plaintiffs. It ruled that disparate impact can be applied to ADEA, but with a much narrower interpretation than with Title VII. Specifically, they carved out very broad exemptions for "reasonable factors", which would in most cases include salary.

In fact, even in that very case "reasonable factors" included salary! SCOTUS ruled unanimously in favor of the employer--specifically ruling that seniority/pay grade IS a reasonable factor.

Try reading the analysis of the case (or even the actual opinion, or maybe even just learning to read) before being so patronizing.


You're misrepresenting again. Yes, the court found for the plaintiff on a technicality, but they upheld the principle that disparate impact could be sufficient to support a claim.

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2004/03-1160

> maybe even just learning to read) before being so patronizing

That's very hypocritical of you. I've given you multiple chances to engage in an honest way. You've declined every time. Past experience tells me that it's not worth my time to keep trying. Go peddle your pro-age-discrimination views elsewhere.


> the court found for the plaintiff on a technicality, but they upheld the principle that disparate impact could be sufficient to support a claim.

No, they didn't. The majority opinion did conclude that disparate impact is cognizable under ADEA, but it specifically addressed whether it would apply to the claim in that case and found that it wouldn't. There was a technicality (no relevant practice identified) but the court went further than that.

> Turning to the case before us, we initially note that petitioners have done little more than point out that the pay plan at issue is relatively less generous to older workers than to younger workers. They have not identified any specific test, requirement, or practice within the pay plan that has an adverse impact on older workers. As we held in Wards Cove, it is not enough to simply allege that there is a disparate impact on workers, or point to a generalized policy that leads to such an impact. Rather, the employee is “ ‘responsible for isolating and identifying the specific employment practices that are allegedly responsible for any observed statistical disparities.’ ” 490 U.S., at 656 (emphasis added) (quoting Watson, 487 U.S., at 994). Petitioners have failed to do so. Their failure to identify the specific practice being challenged is the sort of omission that could “result in employers being potentially liable for ‘the myriad of innocent causes that may lead to statistical imbalances … .’ ” 490 U.S., at 657. In this case not only did petitioners thus err by failing to identify the relevant practice, but it is also clear from the record that the City’s plan was based on reasonable factors other than age.

> [...]

> Thus, the disparate impact is attributable to the City’s decision to give raises based on seniority and position. Reliance on seniority and rank is unquestionably reasonable given the City’s goal of raising employees’ salaries to match those in surrounding communities. In sum, we hold that the City’s decision to grant a larger raise to lower echelon employees for the purpose of bringing salaries in line with that of surrounding police forces was a decision based on a “reasonable factor other than age” that responded to the City’s legitimate goal of retaining police officers. Cf. MacPherson v. University of Montevallo, 922 F.2d 766, 772 (CA11 1991).

> While there may have been other reasonable ways for the City to achieve its goals, the one selected was not unreasonable. Unlike the business necessity test, which asks whether there are other ways for the employer to achieve its goals that do not result in a disparate impact on a protected class, the reasonableness inquiry includes no such requirement.

> Accordingly, while we do not agree with the Court of Appeals’ holding that that the disparate-impact theory of recovery is never available under the ADEA, we affirm its judgment.

The opinion is very approachable, I genuinely encourage you to try reading it.[0] I don't know where you're getting your facts from but they're objectively inaccurate.

> That's very hypocritical of you.

You're right, I'm sorry for that.

[0] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1160.ZO.html


TL;DR: It is legal to consider salary demands in either situation, so long as such consideration is based on years of service or some similar metric rather than age, per se. At least in the context of the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).


No it's not illegal, in my not-a-labor-lawyer opinion. Just douchebaggery that should possibly be illegal. It's only undisputedly illegal if they refused to hire new devs based on age alone. Or if they used age as their metric for letting people go, but why would they do that, since they undoubtedly know what folks make. I do think though that this douchebaggery would have a disproportionate impact on older folks, just give years of experience = higher salary and all that.


Are you saying that it should be illegal/possibly illegal/DB to make layoff/firing decisions taking salary heavily into account?

To me, a layoff is about trimming expenses and retaining the maximum value/output per dollar of future total salary.

If that means that person A is (perceived to be) more valuable per dollar spent on salary than person B, person A should be more likely to be retained. Why should that be illegal (or even judged to be DB behavior)?

In theory, a company is paying a person to deliver value, not simply to have been stably at the company (or in their career or "be old"), right? (If context matters, I'm 47 and so "old" by some measures...)


If you’re just laying off people based on salary divided by value, the CEO would often be the first to go, purely because the numerator is orders of magnitude larger than everyone else. Some CEOs make 1000+ times what their median employee makes. Are they really 1000x more productive?


For a big enough company, potentially. A bad executive's impact is multiplied across everyone in their org and can quickly destroy a previously high performing group.

Think of it this way, the output of an exec (like all managers) is an organization that functions well. If a well functioning group gives an average 10% improvement in productivity to everyone (which, if you think about the delta between the best and worst teams/groups you've been a part of is on the low side) that's 1000x the contribution of an IC for a company of 10,000 people.


If the VCs have funded and believe in that particular CEO, maybe...

Is Elon Musk worth 1000x the value of a randomly selected Tesla employee to Tesla? I think probably so. (Compare the market cap impact of Elon's sudden departure or incapacitation to that of another randomly chosen employee as just one proxy.)


This also depends on your definition of value. Sure Elon is good for promotion and endlessly raising funds, but how do you compare that to actually engineering the product, producing it etc.


If Tesla (or any other company that's burning cash at a prodigious rate) doesn't keep raising money, there is no more company.


If Tesla (or any other company) doesn't keep producing products, there is no more company? I realise that raising capital is necessary but my point was that both aspects of the company are "valuable" and that it is hard to say yes person X is definitely 1000x more valuable although they are working in different departments.


No, I meant it should be illegal if age is being used as a proxy for salary. But otherwise yeah, it's short-sighted corporate douchebaggery to replace experienced folks with recent grads to save money. penny-wise and pound-foolish, myopic, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, whichever cliche you want to use.


> “Changes in our workforce are about skills, not age,” Ed Barbini, a spokesman for IBM said in an emailed statement.

I'm assuming this is just an excuse and it has more to do with the fact that their older workers have higher salaries. But would the defense "we fired older workers because they were paid more" hold up in court?

edit: I'll answer my own question. According to an article I found [1]:

> The United States Supreme Court has held that an employer does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, by acting on the basis of a factor, such as an employees’ pension status, seniority or salary, that is empirically correlated with age.

[1] https://aaronhall.com/does-being-fired-because-of-your-salar...


You left out an important word. The SC has held that an employer does not automatically violate the ADEA etc. As your own source continues:

"Age discrimination may exist, however, where an employer terminates an employee based on a factor such as experience or salary where the employer presupposes a correlation with age and uses that factor as a proxy for age."

That is in fact what ultimately happened with Hazen, by the way. The use of proxy criteria as a facade for discrimination has been addressed in many other discrimination/quota cases, and courts routinely see right through it. So the answer to your question is basically no, unless the employer can prove that they were more than normally oblivious to the disparate effect their choices would have. I don't think any of IBM's lawyers are likely to suggest such a defense.


Now I'm wondering if they would have to make all of the salaries part of the court record if they tried using that defense.


Though for just about every other protected class category it is the result (disproportionate effects) that matter.


It seems our jobs are a double-edged sword.

Unlike professionals like doctors, lawyers, and many accredited within their professions, we don't need degrees. I certainly don't have a stem degree, and many of my friends, some of whom make a third to half a million dollars in the Northeast of the US (not SV), don't have any college degrees at all.

We're able to learn and shift, going from developer to sysadmin, architect, manager or security professional and back again. Pre-sales anyone?

We can choose relaxed, helpful-to-society non-profit companies, mean, 24/7 work ethic startups with monthly death marches, low-salary beer keg outfits with bright colored furniture, boring investment banks or many other.

We have a sort of highly competitive meritocracy where I can go home and learn something I happen to know is hot in the market, and maybe climb the hierarchy (maybe).

On the other hand, I'm pushing 40.

That means events beyond my control are pushing me down the hierarchy, or at the very least making the ladder rungs more slippery.

Would you take it all back and pick a different profession, if my assessment is balanced?


IBM recently forced remote workers to move back to specific offices. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t move were let go. I expect that policy adversely impacted employees over 40 whose families were unable to relocate due to school, spouses jobs or caring for aging parents. My cynical view is that IBM likely knew that was the case and enacted the policy specifically to target those over 40. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some emails from executives so excited about their scheme that are still discoverable. Probably a good power point deck on the benefits too.

Would that have been illegal?


Yes, it would, and thank you for bringing that up. I'd forgotten that little bit of news, but now I'm pretty sure it will figure into this case.


I'm old (and indeed pale, male, and stale), but not sure whether I care about age discrimination or not. If a company thinks they can make more money by not hiring me, I don't really want to work there.

I _do_ wish there was some way to eliminate "dummy" interviews--interviewing older people but with no intention to hire, just to make the numbers look good. In my recent experience, this seems to be fairly common.


Yea the dummy interview phenomenon is infuriating. Seems like companies are not seriously hiring. Instead they are “fishing” for that mythical person who will take a tiny salary and sacrifice their life doing death marches. Just so happens that person is almost always young so we see bias.


> If a company thinks they can make more money by not hiring me, I don't really want to work there.

What if that same sentence weren't about age, but were about gender or race or sexual orientation? Genuinely curious... seems like it would be the same argument, but then some people feel age shouldn't be a protected class like the other ones are.


Speaking only for myself (again, white/male/old/straight), I'm okay with that, too. It does feel like there's a bias against my groups right now, but this mostly annoys me due to the dummy interview problem I mentioned.

(If this seems paranoid, take a look at the detailed stats Google released about their workforce and observe what's been happening to their tech white male category.)


How so? My being hired by a company is based on value proposition. It has to both be worth my time to work there and they have to be able to make as much money as they can off of me. How else should a company decide who to hire?


I first suspected this fake interview stuff a few years ago at Microsoft. Let's just say everyone in the hiring event was one demographic and I was another. I asked one interviewer if he was going to take a picture of the whiteboard and he muttered under his breath "it's not going to matter." It was a good solution but it became clear the interview was horseshit. They were wasting my time to fix their EEOC numbers.


My apologies that this is slightly off topic to the wider discussion about IBM's layoffs, but if hiring people based off of their skills is unacceptable as you say, how are people supposed to make hiring decisions?

EDIT: Somehow, the parent comment this was made as a reply to (notacoward's above-thread) has moved, and this comment has become top-level (and a non-sequitur). Is this a bug?


As an example of "skills" abuse, one can call engineers with 3 years typescript/react/redux/noSQL senior and 10 years frontend development across what existed over the last 10 years (possibly including typescript/react/redux) are too qualified for "JS" positions one is no longer filling.

The reality is that years of experience in the general area include a lot of transferable skills to actually deliver in a landscape of new versions and languages. That landscape won't suddenly stop changing to make whoever learned only what was hot in the last 3 years a stable senior engineer, but pretending it will is a great way to cut out any older engineers.


They could offer to retrain these people in new technology instead of just laying them off and hiring new people. I learn at least one or two new technologies with every job change I make, and I'm not even usually given formal training. With formal training policies I'm sure they could shift employees to other projects and then keep their domain knowledge, but because they're old and more expensive than the young'ns, we'll just claim they don't have the skills for the new jobs and lay them off instead, and save that money!

Domain knowledge and experience is criminally underrated nowadays. A company I've worked for is currently going through one fire after another constantly because the executives haven't valued domain knowledge and has forced or outsourced just about everyone who knows anything about the projects that they still have paying clients for and need to support to keep making revenue, and things are just barely not falling completely apart (looks like things are going to get worse here pretty soon though).

And this isn't even ageism, really, even the young devs that have only been there a couple of years are being forced out.


They could offer to retrain these people in new technology instead of just laying them off and hiring new people.

Yes they could but seeing that most companies don’t, why not just accept reality for what it is and study and keep yourself marketable? I’m in my mid 40s and I make it a point to stay qualified for the well paying developer/architect jobs that come in my email. When I see that the company I am working for isn’t going to keep me marketable, it’s time to leave.


> hiring people based off of their skills is unacceptable as you say, how are people supposed to make hiring decisions?

Hiring people based on skills is perfectly fine. Hiring people (or firing them, which is what this is about) and just saying it's about skills often is not. That's why I put "skills" in scare quotes. It's like when companies use "culture fit" to mean whichever races, genders, and fads the founders feel comfortable with. It's not that culture fit isn't a real thing, but much more often it's a shibboleth (or "dogwhistle" in current parlance). Similarly, "skills" is clearly the messaging IBM has chosen. Now it's up to them to prove that they were truly making efforts to optimize skills and not something else.


> Now it's up to them to prove that they were truly making efforts to optimize skills and not something else.

Disparate impact analysis will require them to prove something closer to that they actually we're optimizing skills, not just making efforts to, at least presuming that the unequal impact prong is proven.


[flagged]


Please try to stay on topic and not just post personal attacks. Do you have anything to say about the actual issue of age discrimination?


You're woefully confused about the meaning of "personal attack". Calling out unsubstantiated claims is anything but personal. Faith based arguments are irrelevant and unwelcome here. Stay factual with your accusations and you won't have this problem.


"There you go" with "your vivid imagination" is definitely and obviously a personal attack.

> Calling out unsubstantiated claims

Are you seriously not aware of how "culture fit" is used in the real world? Citations are generally not needed for common knowledge. Water is wet. 2+2=4. Asking for citations in such cases is just a harassing tactic. There's even a cartoon about it.

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/sea-lioning

You still have yet to address the actual topic. Stop stalking; start contributing.


I don't believe the parent is not saying that, they are saying these employers are using age as a metric but calling it 'skills'. In which case they better be able to explain what these supposed skills are.


I don't think the suggestion is to not hire based on skill but rather to ignore age as any kind of requirement for the position.


Does IBM have any good products that are worth paying for any more? It seems like a dead company still walking somehow.


They are basically a services company now. That's why they sold off printer division, storage division, laptop division, etc.. They just weren't making as much money as consulting.


No, they don't. The only reason they make money is that they have connections and in's at large organizations and access to lucrative government contracts. Many governments only deal with IBM scale organizations because for some reason they think that they can sue IBM if something goes wrong! (lololol) That idea is so ridiculous, IBM has some of the best lawyers around (and a literal army of them), there's NO WAY to sue IBM, it's not possible, and even doing so would be so costly and time consuming it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.


It’s not just the ability to sue. It’s partly just the labyrinthine government procurement process that favours larger suppliers who can deal with all the red tape.

There is also an element of cargo-culting in government procurement, where they think that if all the proper rituals are being observed they must lead to the right result.

It probably works well when procuring janitorial services, but with IT it just helps cement lock-in.


Yes this is very true, and most people procuring IT services in Gov't probably don't understand what they're asking for. They think a static web page costs a lot of money or is difficult to implement because they're technologically illiterate. Meanwhile IBM implements that static web page for them for a million taxpayer dollars.....


the still make money hand over fist with the midrange and mainframe offerings. I know it is vogue to dismiss both here but the simple matter is many businesses rely on such hardware and they are companies many don't suspect.

I know the refrain, they need to switch to X, Y, or Z. Well the issue always comes down to, they don't know everything their current A, B, and C, platforms do. Then you look at all the touch points and realize that to swap X for A you suddenly need to get D through G to re engineer their solution too


Yes you're right, but it feels like its just a matter of time. Lots of companies rely on old IBM platforms now, but every year there are fewer. It isn't sustainable.

Whether consulting will be the thing that gets them through the next few decades is the real question.


Would be interesting to see, for each of the layoff events, an age-histogram of those laid off vs. the company overall.


Maybe IBM Watson could help crunching that data?


Watson was fired as well; and is now suing for fleshism


IBM should be sued. It is blatantly obvious what IBM did and I hope they they get their asses handed to them.


It wouldn't be quite as bad for these folks if the hiring side of things also didn't discriminate on age.

There's a really good business profit-oriented reason to discriminate: older workers ask for more money, defend their interests better, and generally are less open to things like death marches, on-call and such.

I don't know what the solution is. I'm pumping my money into income-producing real estate assets as a hedge, while I sell myself as a consultant. But I can already smell the difficulties that lie ahead.

Some friends climbed the corporate ladder into senior management. That works, too, but it's a slog and you better enjoy it.


Do tech employers tend to hire in places that, by their nature, reduce the number of older workers? If it's too expensive to own a house or raise a family somewhere, that will tend to filter out the older candidates.


If seniority and experience do not add up for the majority then it makes software engineering a very dicey proposition.

A civil engineer who has built 10 bridges or a doctor with hundreds of operations behind them is much more valued than those entering the field.

Why would this not apply in software, surely someone who has built tons of products has valuable experience or is there some other factor at work that is devaluing experience?

This will also impact decisions to study more as that shortens potential career time, if this is the case then for those choosing streams in engineering maybe choosing another is a more rational decision.


In the 80s IBM had a team of expert bug smashers they put together. They got the best from different teams and by putting them together, they were magnitudes more efficient and allowed IBM to ship software faster without bugs. But as time went on, hardware was cheaper and bugs were allowed to be released with the expectation that patches will come later to fix it and kick the can down the road. Which is what we have now and why we have frame works like ITIL to manage the incidents to mitigate the issues with the customer and problems that will get bug fixes. There is too much money held up by not releasing and things may get fixed eventually. Released software doesn't have to be good. It mostly has to work. eventually things get fixed, or customers move on, or products get canned. Watson is getting canned because it doesn't provide the value everyone was promised and incremental updates can't kick the problems down the road any further.


> If seniority and experience do not add up for the majority then it makes software engineering a very dicey proposition.

Yes it is. Look out there now at the huge "shortage" of software developers. Meanwhile the 50+ yo IBM guys laid off here will struggle to ever find computer work again.


Because it's difficult to measure software engineering competence unless you were involved with a very high visibility project?

Most software engineers work on proprietary code that no one is allowed to examine. So you have no idea if the principal engineer you are about to hire is really good at his craft or not because you cannot examine his prior art, it being proprietary to his previous company.


If that is true, the best punishment you could do to IBM is to fire all their best talent and let other companies use those resources.


I think a lot of this stems from the way Software Development, as a practice, is evolving almost as quickly as Computer Science is (or at least there is a perception that it is evolving).

Bridges are built largely the same way as they were 100 years ago. Software built today looks different from software built 10 years ago. So when a hiring manager sees a software engineer with 25 years of experience, they can basically ignore the first 10-15 years as irrelevant.

Imagine someone who has spent the last 25 years learning everything there is to know about SQL Databases. They aren't going to do very well in a lot of environments today with NoSQL all over that have only been around en masse for ~10 years.

Maybe that hiring manager is wrong. Maybe he's not. The engineers with 5 years experience have the same keywords the hiring manager is looking for on their resume as the engineer with 25 years experience. Maybe they aren't really as adept, but since we seem to be unable to really get a good reliable measure on skill, the difference between those engineers looks very small on paper. The project is likely to turn out the same at the end of the day anyway.

So when you do the math at the end of the day, the more junior engineers look like a better deal (and they really might be).


> Imagine someone who has spent the last 25 years learning everything there is to know about SQL Databases. They aren't going to do very well in a lot of environments today with NoSQL

Baloney.


Calling ever more things discrimination or some form of ism is really starting to make the words lose and and all meaning. Does IBM like young workers because they're young, or do they like young workers because they disproportionately have traits, outside of youth, that IBM considers desirable. I think few would argue that it's the former, yet that's precisely what's necessary to suggest this action is the production of discrimination or 'ageism'.

Companies like young workers because not only is their real value substantially lower than experienced employees, but because they also tend to have a poor understanding of themselves even being worth that value. They also tend to have few obligations outside of work and may be more anxious to try to 'prove' themselves. Older workers tend to not only demand more money but also have a much better understanding of their worth, and their role. They're not going to be trying to prove anything to anybody, and they are also going to generally have obligations outside of work, such as family.

You can see this view and its effect play out very visible in other areas of IBM. For instance as of last year IBM became primarily an Indian company, in at least as much as they have more Indian engineers than American engineers. And given they not that long ago had practically 0 Indian engineers and nearing 100% American engineers, that means they were actively firing Americans to hire Indians. Racism? Obviously not. It's the exact same thing in play. This doesn't mean I in any way support what they're doing. But at the same time I also don't support using emotionally charged buzzwords to try to rally against it.


I'd love to hear a first-hand perspective of a current or past IBM employee.


There are first-hand perspectives in the ProPublica report that this lawsuit is apparently based on: https://features.propublica.org/ibm/ibm-age-discrimination-a...

It's good reading.


I second this, also if you're just skimming it, at least read the end.


ProPublica does great work, this is just another example.


I agree, their work is absolutely top notch.


I’ve been with IBM for about 3 years now and I’ve found the talent pool to be diluted. There’s talented engineers and not so talented engineers. I’ve met some people where I get the impression that they’ve settled and are just coasting to earn their paycheck. IBM isn’t doing a good job with keeping the top talent in terms of compensation, so the good people leave.

I don’t know how they’re determining people to fire. My opinion is that they’re pruning the moochers


Unfortunately that's what happens to a company that's been run the way IBM has for the last ~25 years. The top talent with career aspirations bailed long ago. That's not to say there aren't still competent and talented people there, just that the most ambitious (whether for money, cool projects, promotion track etc) are long gone. Unfortunately for IBM, those were the folks that should have been helping management identify the dead wood which has been piling up. The most talented people still around probably learned long ago to keep their head down and mouth shut so they've de-prioritized 'the company' and it's probably just put in their hours each week and forget about work when they clock out.


If they have a lot of moochers then they should fire the executives for bad decisions.


It wont be from direct experience at other large companies the sort of people you are talking about are clued up enough to tick the right boxes.

It will be disabled, BAME etc that will get targeted / put on pip's etc.


Hmm, tricky, as first-hand perspectives of a current IBM employee can be dangerous to one's career prospects :)

That being said, my dad was hired by IBM Canada at age ~55, as a developer, and he retired of his own free will at 70 3-4 years back. The clients respected his knowledge, experience, approach and output tremendously; and in turn IBM management recognized his value. His local management begged him to stay in any capacity - part time, consultant, anything - but he felt he could not easily keep up with daily demands anymore, and that time has come for him to hang the keyboard & mouse. During his tenure he received a promotion/band increase, and was frequently encouraged to go for a second promotion/band increase, but did not want to go to management track.

Note that he was in consulting services, which may have completely different culture than in-house development, with which I have limited exposure.

----

I myself am a current IBM employee; for my first decade, I was constantly the junior member of the team - if anything, we had a reverse issue where we weren't hiring new grads but instead prized experience and leadership skills. Eventually recognizing this gap, last few years we had a flurry of programs to bring in fresh blood. At 40, I'm still probably near the median and average age on many projects I've been part of. Occasionally I get a bit jealous at rapid career progress of some of the brighter new hires, who are taking advantage of paths, programs, and culture of promotion we didn't have when I was in their spot, but I recognize that if things are getting better, that is an overall good thing and just because I missed out / didn't have that opportunity, doesn't mean nobody else should - quite the opposite :).

I've been called an IBM lifer before, and the nickname is somewhat likely to stick. I'm not particularly worried about age, I see it as up to me to demonstrate my value, and have a lot of good role models and examples in technical and technical leadership roles around me who are senior in age to me to gain some confidence I'm not deluded.

That being said, this is a personal anecdote and not anecdata; milleage will differ in different parts and situation of IBM. It's a publicly traded technical company that's survived for a century, and it (we? they? whatever the appropriate pronoun is:) did not do so by being overly emotional. I've seen IBM cut commodity hardware (HDD, Thinkpads, then x-series), and I've seen IBM cut commodity business units and teams; so I'm actively trying not to be a commodity person that's in the crosshairs, I suppose - would be true in any company as I'm actively aware nobody has guarantees of job for life anymore. I've trained youngsters and off-shore replacement several times to take over my roles, and just had to keep swimming up to keep my head above the water :-)

- My 100 Turkish Lirae :->


Do PR people even think of the context in what they are replying to? "Skills change dramatically over time" OK somewhat crap reason to laid off a lot of people, "we invest heavily in retraining workers" wtf are workers getting retrained at? McDonalds? this is the exact opposite of what was just stated.


Interesting, with recent force reductions I have witnessed a document was circulated that showed position and age. no other identifying information was contained. Of course since the numbers were small it isn't hard to know who was what age.


As someone on the older side of things - I'd be curious. Given all the terrible discrimination around age we hear about, why doesn't a company just hire old 55+ year olds to do their coding.

This should be an undervalued labor pool given how discriminatory things sound. It would seem like a business opportunity?

If you've got folks willing to work equal or longer hours more efficiently with more experience and more current knowledge for equal pay as the 20 year old out of college - that seems like a no brainer?


Probably because for every fifty year old who boasts here about how they kept their tools sharp there are another ninety nine who let their skills atrophy and would struggle to code FizzBuzz in anything but Cobol.


I find it difficult to believe that IBM didn't see that one coming. I mean, what were they thinking? "They won't notice the pattern anyway!" IBM HR, probably. Were they really that careless? Or is it that somebody detected a wee disproportionality in numbers and thought "let's sue them!" There are no numbers nor details in that article beside 20,000 and "thousands" indicating how bad the discrimination really is.


Or more simply "We're laying off 10,000 people, that's saving us >$500m USD per annum so we can afford a law suit or two"


Plausible. But it also means bad publicity, and bad publicity is bad for business.


You can't fire for age, but what about # of working years left? If one person will work for your company for another 20 years, and another will only for 5, why can't you make the business decision to favor the one who will work for you for longer?


Because that's firing for age with a tiny figleaf.

Besides, you have no way of knowing how long people will work for you and younger employees are more mobile.


I half expected to see a story about how they were discriminating against people under 50.


Where on earth (in tech) are young people discriminated against? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Taken advantage of? Oh yes. Discriminated against??


thousands, yes but still clickbait. the class action is for 3 employees.

very very very much doubt this is going anywhere. my money is that this is a publicity stunt for the lawyer, who’s done other similar high profile cases.


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