Honestly I’m glad this lawsuit is happening. I used to work at IBM and left a few years later. During that time, they killed the pension program, modified separation packages that significantly affected tenured employees, and we almost exclusively hired college grads. Our budget for experienced hires was so low that it made it impossible to get any takers. I witness very well qualified folks be let go for no reason. I’ve witnessed college grads getting paid much much more than senior employee.
There were jokes of calling certain employees “dinasaurs” since they were put on terrible jobs in hopes to make them quit, but they would stay strong doing something they hate to get their pension. I’m talking about full time support positions on software that has had no development in 10+ years.
I think a lot of this has to do with cost. Old people cost more money. Young people are gullible and willing to take a 60k entry level with no bonus. I think age discrimination is a result of shady budgets. They need a spanking by the government and I’m glad this person of such seniority cane forward. I 10000% believe the statement.
Those starting IBM straight out of school then sticking around for 10 years vs. people coming into IBM with 10 years of experience are two separate worlds.
For example: if you started IBM 10 years ago with an undergrad, you might have been offered $55k where I live.
Then over time, you might get 2 promotions and economical raises from software engineer -> staff software engineer -> advisory software engineer. You might work yourself up to $100k. However, they would motivate new grads with ivy league degrees with 100k offers. It made me physically ill at one point working in hiring and watching coworkers get turned down for minor requests for raises to amounts lower than what these fresh faces are getting before negotiations start.
If you want to hire someone with 10 years of outside experience, those people would command at least $150 - $175k, but IBM could get 3 college grades for the price of 2 experienced hires.
Thats what I mean about college grads getting paid more than more senior employees, while college grads are cheaper than experienced hires.
Those who worked at IBM for 20 years have less motivation to keep up with current trends and tend to focus on proprietary offerings they work on. As a result, college grads are better economical value since they come 'pretrained' with the new stuff. This is my theory why older people are first to go, especially in the short product cycles IBM tend to have.
A previous co-worker who still works at IBM has been there about 20 years and he pulls $140k... I have 6 years out of college so far and pull $150k + $15k bonus + 10% yearly RSUs at a listed public business down the road. Thats not an abnormal salary)
The company I work for executed a 10% reduction a few years ago and the most widely used criteria was to cut people was performance relative to pay grade. If you were grade 20 for example and had a standard performance review you were more likely to be cut than a grade 10 who had a similar review.
That is not something that makes sense to me. Shouldn't the higher pay be tied to higher performance expectations, so that right off the bat a medium performance review should be more in absolute terms at a high pay grade than a lower one? Are these companies paying older workers more for no reason? If so, there's the problem right there.
Exactly. An example, an older worker in my company can solve a complex, domain specific problem and have reasonable confidence it will work in months to come in a matter of days to weeks. A younger college grad would take weeks of on-boarding, weeks of mentorship, and then finally a couple weeks with some hand-holding and extra code reviews to boot, draining resources all around. After all of that, you STILL aren't guaranteed the problem will be solved for months to come.
And if your solution is to have the older developer work with the younger to solve it, congrats you are paying 1.5x salary to do the job slower.
That's not to say any of this bad you need to train new workers.
But the idea that older workers expect more pay, therefore younger workers are cheaper is absurd, and it is ageism 101. There is usually a reason older workers expect more pay and that is because they have become (ideally) good and experienced at their craft, and know the systems they are working on. They can ideally do the job of your 2-3 younger developers. Otherwise the company has given increases to the wrong people and needs to adjust their promotion criteria.
I don't see ageism being chosen as the tech industry's next social justice fight du jour. Oppression because our enslaving workers won't let us bring our dogs or cats to work is probably in the queue ahead of ageism, followed by the fight against plastic straws, so who knows when we will get around to tackling this issue.
It would be nice if total compensation was always tied strictly to merit, but that's not the real world for large companies.
My best guess is that the loyalty incentives start out as a way to retain the best employees, but the incentives are usually applied to everyone (managers generally really don't like to fire people or have to tell them they're not getting a raise). The best employees might not stay as long anyway due to better opportunities elsewhere / desire to move, while mediocre employees stay longer because they have fewer options. The numbers then play out over time and you end up with a pay/performance imbalance.
Let me give you an example. A company I consulted with for quite a while moved its headquarters several states away. Informally (and of course completely off the record), they were expecting to lose about 40% of their employees in the move and were hoping that the majority of those employees would be the older (pensioned) and/or lower performing ones. What actually happened was the reverse - the majority of people who moved were the lower performers because they were unable to find other good jobs in the area prior to the move. They ended up having a lot of performance issues at the new location and had to bring in a huge number of contractors to make up the skills shortfall.
Perhaps other people can provide more view points to corroborate or disprove this theory.
Please note that this does not mean every old employee is bad. I've worked with plenty of amazing people who are 60+, but I've also worked with plenty of 20+ year pensioned employees who could barely work a computer, let alone do their jobs effectively. My comments are here are just to provide context for how large companies often see getting rid of older employees as an easy way to cut costs.
I guess this boils down to a critique of constant yearly raises, if it's true that everyone's pay always creeps above their performance with time.
It's irrational to lay off either of those employees, and unrealistic that your low performers are all bringing more value to the company than you pay them for. More realistic is that the low performer on 200k is bringing 100k of value, and the low performer on 50k is bringing in 25k (or 0, or -25k...in either case it makes more sense to let the higher paid one go).
You might say, you've been irrational in hiring these guys at all, and certainly in paying them that much. But maybe they were making money last year and the marketplace changed - the irrational thing is that it's generally impossible to cut salaries and better to make 10% of your workforce redundant than to pay them all 10% less.
So IBM catches applicants who are making their most rational decisions based on limited information (irrational ones), and fires them when they become more rational. Government regulation attempts to compensate for that.
If anything I assume that due to the sheer amount of folks that were laid off (around 10,000), and the fact that layoffs affected every business unit, a truly effective way of executing the layoff was close to impossible.
It does not take 'insane competency' to get hired at high levels. That kind of competency is very hard to measure anyhow.
Risk management is an excellent area to look at this because it's nary impossible to know if the correct decision was made. You do a big layoff, and 'there were no lawsuits'. Was that a win? Or not?
I worked at a large corporation that had to pay a huge amount of money to an IP troll. After that, our CEO made everything to through our lawyers and we just became very risk averse. It was not a calculation, it was an emotion.
Also, it's incredibly difficult to 'calculate' any of these things.
I don't care how smart your MBA's are, there's just only so much specificity that you can have when trying to calculate 'the likelihood of getting sued'. It's basically guesswork.
A far, far more intelligent thing to do would be to structure the layoff in such a way that the company could not get sued, by making sure they're not apparently breaking any laws.
Operationally rigorous companies like MS, Amazon etc. probably have some decent hiring practices, even at higher levels, but the vast majority of companies do not.
It's the corporate version of being a kid and thinking your parents know everything and then growing up and realizing that if you're winging it, you're parents must have been winging it and if it's true for you, it's true for basically everyone.
The executive that made the relevant decision probably is no longer capable/inclined to do the detailed modeling necessary. It would be extremely foolish to trust his future to the discretion of a spreadsheet jockey two years out of bschool. I bet there was no such modeling exercise. Whatever weighing of discrimination damages that happened likely took place entirely on the backs of napkins.
Mandatory jail terms for discrimination?
I think these companies should be held to account, no question there. But putting people in prison if they discriminate against older people, or blacks, or women, or what have you, that's kind of a lot don't you think?
I mean, how many people would we be putting in prison if we started jailing people for discrimination? There is a LOT of discrimination out there.
We should be hitting these companies where they feel it most, in their pocketbooks. Take whatever you feel the damages might have been, and add a zero on the end. Or two zeroes, or three, until these companies get the message.
A relative advantage for one is necessarily a relative disadvantage for another.
> is actually bad for other group, for example, poorer untrained workers.
Those poorer untrained workers will also eventually become old. What then?
> A relative advantage for one is necessarily a relative disadvantage for another.
Could you explain that in terms of not allowing companies to discriminate based on race? Who is that a disadvantage to in any sense that could be framed as just or ethical?
A "VP of tech company" is likely to be wealthy and have a number of assets. They could liquidate or just pay out of pocket to maintain their assests while they are inside and still come back to wealthy life.
If you were already poor going into prison, living paycheck to paycheck, they have literally lost everything. Their life is destroyed.
If anything, prison sentences and fines should scale up based on one's position of power and income.
Depending on how much importance you assign to each of those the appropriate policy will vary.
If you care about deterrence but not retribution you really might not need as long an incarceration. Your average inside trader might be just as eager to avoid a month in jail as your average burglar is to avoid a year.
I'm not saying that's necessarily the case. But it's something to consider.
If anything, we already put too many people in prison.
A regular salary and defined responsibilities in specific areas ("I'm building X" where X is project-level not project+financial/taxes+management/employment+regulatory) has its definite attractions, but I'm very concerned about long-term sustainability. "Flow" only gets you so far, and if you have to worry about the viability of your employment vs the viability of the project, product or company it's an added set of stress.
Silver temples as a company owner negotiating a services contract seems like a very different thing than silver temples as a software developer looking for work.
As opposed to just hiding behind the corporate charter?
Corporate crime seems to have become a slap-on-the-wrist offense in the US.
Seriously on that last statement. Here  are the glass doors for IBM India. An "Applications Developer" at IBM India averages 404,000 rupees per year. That's $5,672 per year. "Software Engineers" hit $8,432 a year.
 - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/technology/ibm-india.html
 - https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/IBM-India-Salaries-EI_IE354...
They also bought Strongloop a while back, so the developers from aqui-hires have to go somewhere.
That would be somewhere else.
Strongloop is in SV, there's no shortage of opportunity for the devs who worked there.
Unless they got some serious golden handcuffs, in which case I'm sure some will stay for the 3-5 years these last.
I would think IBM has excellent golden handcuffs, not to speak of prestige and interesting problems. Like other big companies, it just depends on your distance from the C-levels and which team you get to be on -- do you get to do the interesting work or the boring work.
Those politicians to vote for doesn't come about magically. In the US there's no such options, just two right-wing parties, and that's reflected in their labour laws. The labour movement in large have provided those options in Europe and the trade unions are where the practical power is through the threat or use of strikes etc.
One's outlook and productivity changes with time and age, just like an athlete's fitness. I suppose the hard question is, if a productivity and alignment with organization attitude and culture index correlates indirectly with age, what is to be done?
We have 'protected characteristics' and we don't hire and fire people based on those characteristics, or proxies of those characteristics.
It might be less efficient for businesses, in some cases, but through the courts and our legislature, and within the bounds of our constitution we've decided it's a good trade-off for society.
Say a company has to fire 10% of it's work force and the people who are least fit for the culture and provide value happen to be over X years old. Should they fire n number of people under X too to balance it out? should they go halve-halve? don't fire and wait for bankruptcy?
However, there is data for age, so much that in many countries there is mandatory driving test with ever shorter intervals as you grow older. This isn't discrimination or a risk factor that jumps overnight once you pass certain age, it is simply decline of cognitive and physical capacity as we age.
I am not saying people should be fired because of their age, but if people who are subject to firing happen to be mostly aged, what is the solution?
You're just taking on faith that these employers are making completely rational judgements that just "accidentally" affect a disadvantaged group. First, that's shockingly naive: what they're really doing is preferentially terminating these people because they are paid more (i.e. punishing them for being part of the system that gave them those raises in the first place).
Second, it's directly refuted by the linked article! IBM didn't accidentally fire a bunch of older workers. They fired a bunch of old workers, knew what they had done, and tried to hide it.
I mean, it's not abstract: I'm in that demographic. And while my job seems stable right now, I'd like not to be fired because I'm 47, thank you very much.
Yet you're saying that the same thing is just fine if the business waits for a "lay-off" and then preferentially fires me for reasons having nothing to do with performance?
These kinds of policies subsidize relatively wealthy, disproportionately white workers at the expense of poorer and increasingly minority workers.
There is a very long history of exploiting labor in the U.S. This country was built on it (slavery, railroads, etc...). If this behavior is not curtailed, history tells us that it will be exploited more than it is engaged in innocently.
You cant make people do things they dont want to do. You can force them to pretend , or to not do them. But if there is a will, there is a way.
This is just a less fantastical example of that. And you can see how successful their attempt at hiding it was.
Given the international nature of HN, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bewildered comments in this thread come from people who grew up in that kind of culture.
The question is a bit of a red herring. By all means, get rid of unproductive and troublesome employees. But if you try to use age as a simplistic predictive proxy for productivity or attitude, I think evidence shows that you'll fire a lot of the wrong people, as well as court the wrath of labor attorneys.
I think you were thinking of inversely proportional.
Searching Wikipedia, inverse correlation is also valid but I've always heard it called indirect or negative.
I knew what you meant and you were on the right track.
> But if you try to use age a simplistic predictive proxy...
Well, that is obviously the wrong thing to do, but I am not sure how that relates to my question.
According to the former exec's claim, the workers laid off were over 40. The following is a list of 40 athletes over 40:
Which should lay to rest any sweeping assumption about the fitness of athletes that are older than some arbitrary cut-off point after which it's all "downhill from there".
And that's not before pointing out what a huge assumption it is that your ability to perform office work declines at the same rate as muscle fitness. Or that having say 10 years of experience in an industry is rather more valuable than having firm biceps.
My intention was not to suggest that cognitive skills decline the same rate as muscle fitness, though, physical fitness certainly does impact cognitive health.
Nor I suggested that 40 or any age as a cut off point, but age related cognitive decline is a fact, specially in relation to complex tasks, so it is given that as people get older there will be a higher change in their productivity.
The first is a neuroimaging study that is rather inconclusive and even poitns out that some cognitive abilities are thought to deteriorate with age, while others are thought to improve. The second is a discussion of various assumptions and results and asserts that the decline of cognitive abilities can be averted by engaging in certain activities. The last concludes that changes in cognitive abilities in the same individual over time do not necessarily reflect the results of aging ("maturation").
In other words, those studies do not support your assertion that "age related congitive decline is a fact". None of the studies discusses "productivity" (or "outlook" as per your earlier comment).
Business is not about twitch reflexes.
On what data do you make this statement? A quick cursory search shows its completely false and based on not much more than ignorance or prejudice.
Productivity: Maybe older workers can't / won't pull lots of all-nighters. The same is true of working mothers. But we plan ahead and get our work done.
The anti-discrimination laws aren't supposed to shackle companies to pointless costs and dead-weight people. They're intended to promote company culture that values people for what they bring to the table.
What is a company to do when external forces throw it into relentless decline? It takes a lot of guts to exit entire businesses or markets and refocus. Closing an office or shutting down an entire department isn't age discrimination. It's still nasty.
Look, western culture allows companies to have limited liability (to be corporations). The culture grants them patents for their inventions (hi IBM!). We trust them to take lots of risks to build their businesses, and give good rewards for success.
In return it's reasonable to expect compliance with laws.
Slower reaction in terms of milliseconds and for reflexes.
Not for thinking and programming -- which experience helps you improve, understand computer systems more holistically, know to recognize tons of patterns that emerge again and again, and deep thinking is what makes the difference.
So unless programmers in your company also have to juggle balls or avoid daggers, the "slower reaction" is irrelevant.
Because anything beyond pushing a button N times per hour is going to benefit from experience, and it gets more important with task complexity.
I would much rather have someone with 30 years of experience writing code I depend on than a 20-something who can type 10 times as fast.
I wonder how much of it is that bad younger developers are more likely to attrition themselves, but older ones stay. So you get these old guys who, after five to ten years, it's really obvious they've got to go.
Reaction time and reasoning skills are cognitive skills that declines with age, specially in relation to complex tasks.
The studies are worth reading or skimming thorough at least, more importantly, everyone should look into how they can manage aging tax on cognitive skills, you can't stop it, but you can slow it down, just like physical health.
Cognitive skills are not, but they're not declining in any significant rate to make any difference (some of the best programmers are old), and are balanced by experience.
Also, let's see what tune you will sing 10 or 20 years down in your career.
What the companies mostly want is to eliminate people who have personal lives, and don't care for constant death marches and bro-ing it away at the office.
More importantly, I am yet to get my hands on any research that shows there is conclusive correlation between age and wisdom or experience. I would be keen to read up some!
If you’re going to argue that experience and age may be uncorrwlated then I have to conclude that you’re not making a sincere argument.
Consider a more obvious example. It is possible, even easy, to find a pair of people such that the older person has spent less time living in France than the younger person. Despite this, time spent living in France is highly correlated with age.
Is 'reaction time' relevant? Is 'cognitive decline' relevant on an individual basis?
What are the other variables that prove relevant to performance you're ignoring? And what is performance?
The reason I ask if this is your opinion or intuition is because of your simplistic argument. It looks like you're trying to defend an opinion. So I ask.
If you agree that experience counts for something, how do you find the equilibrium between experience and cognitive decline? Do you purport to know this without evidence? How can you make these claims?
You’re assuming that rate of production and reaction time are the relevant factors under consideration.
1. Minorites are just as valuable as white workers
2. Relatively economically efficient companies tend to prosper compared to inefficient ones
Which theory/axiom do you disagree with?
It sounds like trying to force people with $bad ideas to become even more wealthy and powerful by legislating they make better business decisions. That seems like the opposite of what I'd want to do.
You laid out two axioms. You’re claiming, if I understand correctly, that those axioms imply that racism can’t persist in business.
Racism demonstrably does persist in business. There are tons of examples throughout time and space. How do you explain that?
Theories based on simple worker based racism fall apart because they should result in an equilibrium of segregation within industries... for example some all white firms and some all black firms. However, this is generally not the case. Further evidence against the worker based theory is seen if we examine wages of managers. Let's assume (perhaps acknowledge?) that there are more white managers for historical reasons and (assume) that whites have a preference for working with whites. It should follow that any manager willing to work with black subordinates should be able to demand a higher wage for this (in the mind of the white racists) "less desirable work." Or conversely, (racist) white subordinates should be able to demand a premium for working under a black manager. However, that's simply not the case.
I think this is also evidence against the Marxian models of divide and conquer which suggest that there are micro-economic efficiencies/benefits to racial discrimination. The argument here is that racial segregation reduces the market power of both whites and blacks, therefore reducing the wages of all workers. Even though whites are a larger group and therefore have greater market power to demand higher wages, it could still make sense to deny hiring a lower wage minority because the group of whites + minorities would have even greater market power to demand higher wages. While I think there might be some merit to this theory, I think the lack of aforementioned market segmentation -- all white firms and all black firms -- is strong evidence against this being our primary culprit.
We didn't discuss shareholders, but the anonymous shareholders who are not involved in day to day interactions at large enterprises surely have no incentive to discriminate. Their preference is going to be closer to the model of simple profit maximization. Racist workers certainly exist, but basic economic theory and observed realities contradict such a simplistic explanation, aggregation of individual racist workers should result in a different labor market than the one we see as explained above.
East Asians also confound the racism based theories of wage bias, since they're simultaneously a racial minority and outperform whites in virtually any economic measure you can think of including wages. Asians do not have exactly the same historical experience with racism in the US as blacks obviously, but there's plenty of racism against them and they do have a history that includes indentured servitude, the near slave-like conditions building the trans-continental railroads, etc. And yet again, they outperform whites in wages on average.
In short, I acknowledge racism exists, but I don't think it sufficiently explains the wage market. Instead, I think the best explanation is likely the network model of labor allocation. Simply put, a huge number of positions are filled from people's existing social networks and not random members of the labor market. To the extent that racial preferences impact social networks, it can be said that this is racism. But it's not racism in the sense that I think most people who talk about racist business practices/employers/etc are meaning. Also, I believe network effects have real economic benefit in the workplace. People who are more familiar with each other will have fewer communication barriers, etc. And that is why this behavior which results in the appearance of racial discrimination persists so broadly, because the network effects are economically valuable. Again, I'm not denying the existence of racial discrimination, only that racial discrimination is not a viable explanation for the wage market today.
Okay, your turn. What is "everything else?"
Maybe racial discrimination is not a viable explanation for the current wage market, but that’s pretty far from the claim that we don’t need to care about racism in business because racist businesses are bound to fail. There are too many examples where that just didn’t happen.
E.g if your customers assume only your male retail workers can help them with their electronics, you can make sure everybodies name badge says "Certified $PRODUCT expert".
The problem is when you have a situation like this, where the protected trait is likely the cause of issue (we all get slower and less intelligent as we age), or where you have government idiots say that you can't discriminate on traits that are correlated with a protected trait.
In the latter situation businesses will do so anyway, they will just do it secretly and try to cover it up.
Statistically, as the world currently is (even if it's due to cultural or economic reasons), it might also change with race and sex.
Should companies also hire less blacks/women/etc?
Under budget, exceeding targets, so when you say changes with time and age, do you mean gets better? Or what?
As a consulting company IBM makes more money when their customer's projects are running over budget whilst being under performance targets.
"my group" is always the best.
-- every group ever.
next, on hacker news: "why nobody makes children anymore"
Asking the question with different nouns instead of "age" so you can see what is wrong with it.