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Ageism (scrunchup.com)
44 points by fogus on Nov 23, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

When I was 19 I thought I was the greatest programmer in the world and that everyone was ignoring my ability because of my age.

When I turned 21, left uni and got my first software dev job I realised how much I had to learn. I'm now in my late 20's and one of the most important things I have learnt in the last 10 years is that I still have a huge amount more to learn.

Your graph shows that 47% of under 18's think people are ageist against them. Of course they do. Young people are often unaware of the value that experience brings. I'm not saying all are - there are some great young developers. I know several who at 14/15 are several times better than I ever expect to be, and you clearly have talents and ability. (I try to keep in touch with them so that when they reach a point when they are looking for work I can interview them. I think there is huge value in young new talent)

What I would be really interested to read is a follow up to this article in 15 years when you have the experience of age and can write from both sides of the fence. Keep your notes from this article and compare it with how you feel when you are 35 looking back at cocky teenage coders who think they know everything.

Whether you think it's a deserved prejudice or not, doesn't mean it doesn't exist or it isn't problematic.

Sure, the vast majority of young people can't program. The vast majority of women can't either. Age AND sex are perfectly useful heuristics for determining whether any given person is a good programmer.

The problem with prejudice is it sucks for those people who are young or female who actually are good.

Personally, I look much younger than I am (usually 3-5 years, but as much as 8 in one case) and it means I'm rarely taken seriously. I can imagine it being frustrating actually being young, as well.

It isn't a useful heuristic at all. The vast majority of people can't program. If you take a random person from the population I'm going to assume that they cannot program.

If we are talking about 'from the population of programmers' I'd wager (a large sum) there are more men who claim they can program, but actually cannot, just given the fact that the field of programming is a male dominated industry.

Oh totally, I'm not advocating prejudice based on age or any other demographic factor.

I'm suggesting is that the author needs to somehow distinguish between prejudice because of age, and failures because of actually not being good.

My experience is that most people (of all ages) think they are better than they actually are. Some then go on to blame their failure to achieve a goal on some external factor (in this case ageism). I'm just suggesting that the graph showing that 47% of under 18's think they have been a subject of ageism is fairly irrelevant. Wait until those 18 year olds are 35, then ask them if they were subject to ageism at 18, I bet their story changes.

The vast majority of men can't programme either.

When I was 19 I thought I was the greatest programmer in the world and that everyone was ignoring my ability because of my age.

I am still 19. I already realize that I am not such a hotshot. I never felt discriminated against for my age.

I guess people have difference experience.

This is tricky because you're also making a false comparison. Specifically, you're comparing between "you" and "older you." I would agree that in almost every conceivable case that "older you" is more competent and resourceful than younger you. The problem is that the comparison isn't necessarily between "you" and "older you"; instead it could be between "younger you" and some other set of programmers. There are a decent amount of good, young programmers and a really large amount of bad programmers.

Also, generic "experience" is a false dichotomy. For example, if we were both given the problem "write a hardware accelerated virtual machine monitor kernel" I would probably run rings around you. Why? Because I have experience in that subdomain. If we were given a problem that focused more on your subdomain the situation would be reversed. Experience isn't black and white and there are some situations, like kernel development, where I'd probably be as good a choice as someone who never learned C but is a great Java developer.

In other words, strictly age is a false comparison and making such naive comparisons is practically guaranteed to land you with someone unsuited for a specific problem.

Ok, ignore the increase in my ability from then to now. When I was young I compared myself to every other programmer and thought I was in the top 5%.

Now I compare myself to every other programmer and think I'm average. I also look back and realise that when I was 18 I was probably in the bottom 5% of programmers worldwide.

I agree there is no such thing as generic experience, but within the same domain experience does make a difference. Everything else being equal, an 18yo kernel programmer will have less kernel programming experience than a 35yo kernel programmer. Now I'm not saying this automatically makes the 35yo the best choice or the better programmer, but it certainly does add some value.

This doesn't make sense though. Are you really suggesting that younger programmers believe they're in the ranks of the top programmers in their subdomain? I compare myself with programmers around the same age and experience level as me, not with domain experts. That seems like such a ludicrously obvious point to make.

>Young people are often unaware of the value that experience brings.

Demographic Dunning-Kruger effect.

saying "you're too young to have a valid opinion on this, come back when you're older" is a good example of ageist attitudes

its popularity here shows how endemic ageism is even on HN

of course designers and programmers in their teens have a lot to learn. so do designers and programmers in their 20s ... 30s ... 40s ... 50s ... that doesn't invalidate their opinions.

EDIT: and people downvoting this post is another example of ageist attitudes here :-)

I'm not saying the author is too young to have an opinion. I'm saying the 47% of under 18's in the graph can't all be superstars who are just subject to ageist attitudes. Some of them are just unaware of how much they have to learn

I'm saying that some (note: some not all) young people don't understand the value of experience (myself included in that when I was young), and that I would be interested in the viewpoint of a older person who at 18 had felt they were subject to ageism, and if after 10+ years of experience they still hold that viewpoint, or if it has changed with time - Interested from an experimental point of view, not because I don't value their opinion now.

(BTW, It's not me doing the down voting)

They're not saying they're all superstars. Like racism, ageism doesn't just apply to superstars.

"We will achieve equality not when a female Einstein is made an assistant professor, but when a female schlemiel ears as much as a male schlemiel." Same deal with 16-year-olds.

believe me, as somebody in my 40s hanging out here on HN, i totally agree that plenty of young people don't fully understand the value of experience :-) but at the same time i think that it's easy to focus too much on experience -- i learn just as much, maybe more, from much younger people than from people my age or older.

and it's not just superstars who are subject to ageist attitudes. sure, some of the 47% may be misinterpreting valid issues as ageism -- but the same's likely to be true at any of the other age brackets in the chart, so it seems to me it's still mighty powerful evidence that it's a particularly acute problem at younger ages.

agreed though that it would be interesting from an experimental point of view. my experience is that as people grow older, they realize that yes, there was some feedback they should have listened to -- but they also are able to see more clearly the different forms of discrimination they've suffered from in the past.

(i didn't mean to imply it was you doing the downvoting, sorry if it came off that way)

As some one who's old enough to have lots of experience with the over-40 version of ageism and get stirred up every time there's a tech crunch article about someone 18 or whatever getting funded largely _because_ they're 18, I actually have some sympathy. There are numerous legal and regulatory roadblocks to dealing with people under 18 (in contract law, you're essentially not a person) but some efforts could be made to overcome them.

While at digg, I routinely complained about the fact that live diggnations were always held at 21 and over venues (I've been to enough all-ages concerts to know that there are plenty of places that will serve alcohol but still let underage people in). Half the diggnation audience was under 18! I was routinely ignored, thus demonstrating ageism against 2 different age groups at once.

Grandpa: "I'm an old man, no one listens to me."

Lisa: "I'm a young girl, no one listens to me."

Homer: "I'm a white male aged 18 to 49, everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

Homer holds a can of "Nuts and Gum: Together At Last"

--Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy

Young people are capable of doing many things. But there are some traits that make young people unsuitable for some jobs - lack of stability, wandering interest, not having been exposed enough.

Just focus on the things that can best be done when you are young - like taking wild risks and trying many different things.

You'll be old soon enough.

The most frustrating part about the USA setting the drinking age to 21 is that they give 18-year-olds guns and airplanes and bombs and tell them to kill people in Iraq.

But if that kid wants to have a goodbye beer with his dad before he goes to war, he'll be thrown in jail (and maybe his dad, too?). WTF!? That's just bullshit. Killing people = okay at 18, drinking a beer = okay at 21. Crazy.

Is it really illegal to consume alcohol when you are 20 in the USA?

In Scotland (possibly the rest of the UK) it's only illegal for under 18s to purchase alcohol - and even then you can have wine/beer in a restaurant from 16.

When you realize what to look for, you realize Puritanism is alive and well in the US. "Hairshirt environmentalists", neoprohibitionists, the way we approach sex ed. Don't get me wrong, by no means is it dominant, it's just that like any other interest group, a small organized group of people against a lot of organized people with weak opinions can do wonders with getting favorable laws passed. I wouldn't be surprised a majority of people think 21 is a silly age limit, but only weakly (perhaps even cowed into saying otherwise in polls), whereas the ones trying to keep it in place believe they are the last bastion standing between society and every teenager in the US getting blotto and smashing their cars into walls at 140kph, and they vote and campaign accordingly.

Also, technically, it's a state-by-state thing but 21 is pretty popular.

America culturally is very diverse, and varies greatly from state to state. When a policy seems oddly uniform across all the states, it's likely due to a Supreme Court ruling or federal legislation.

In the case of minimum drinking ages, it's a need for federal highway money that's alive and well in the United States - in 1984, Ronald Reagan tied receiving the full portion of federal funds for infrastructure to having a minimum drinking age of 21. Prior to that, minimum drinking ages varied from 18 to 21 depending on the state - each state set its own social policy, which in my opinion is how it should be.

Digging deeper into the issue, you can see how certain states resisted raising their drinking age, despite funding implications - Wyoming took several years to raise their drinking age, and Louisiana had a loophole that made it illegal buy alcohol but not illegal to sell it until the mid-1990s.

On the PATH, a commuter train from New Jersey to New York, there are public service ads from Mothers Against Drunk Driving against lowering the drinking age, since deaths from drunk driving have dropped dramatically since 1984. Whenever I see one, I get the urge to scribble 'correlation is not causation' on it.

In the US, it's illegal for under-21s to purchase alcohol anywhere, but the consumption laws vary by state. According to Wikipedia, there are 14 states where consumption itself is illegal under 21; others either implicitly permit it or describe situations in which it is permitted.



Not only is it illegal, you'll see people with almost a split personality about it. A friend's mother offered me a drink three times once, so I finally accepted. Her entire family drinks heavily at family functions. When I was straightedge they were really, really confused.

And then she got livid when I... purchased some alcohol and left it around my house, and it got lost. Very very strange.

IANAL, but...

It isn't illegal for your dad to buy you beer if you are under 21.

It is illegal for him to buy your friends beer.

It isn't illegal to buy beer if you are under 21.

It is illegal to sell beer to someone under 21.

It is illegal to use a fake id.

It is illegal to buy beer for anyone under 21, even if you are under 21.

Public intoxication is also illegal in various states.

I agree with your outrage over the 'drinking age,' but you won't get thrown in jail for having a beer if you aren't 21.

In the United States, this varies depending on the state.

As of January 1, 2007, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban underage consumption outright, 19 states do not specifically ban underage consumption, and an additional 17 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage consumption laws.


Actually (at least in Virginia) I'm pretty sure it's legal to consume alcohol in your own home with your family. I'm not 100% certain on that.

This isn't true of Mississippi at least. There are no age restrictions on consumption of alcohol, just on purchases.

"But if that kid wants to have a goodbye beer with his dad before he goes to war, he'll be thrown in jail (and maybe his dad, too?)"

No he won't. Most states have maximum penalties set to fines in the magnitude of $500, some form of community service and/or driving licence suspension.

I know this is popular rhetoric for anti-war or anti-US people, but come on, either make a good argument or don't bother at all.

> I know this is popular rhetoric for anti-war or anti-US people, but come on, either make a good argument or don't bother at all.

Ouch, sorry. When I lived in the USA, that's what my school told me: drinking alcohol (as an adult, 18+) under the age of 21 will get land you in jail. I moved to Canada when I was 13, so I never encountered this personally. But do note that what I said, I was told by the USA Government education system, Georgia specifically. shrug Sorry if they lied to me.

My reaction was knee-jerk and colored by me hearing the argument repeatedly from people who fit the profile for the two categories I mentioned; I was too quick to put you in those categories without knowing anything further about you, so sorry for that - I should've been more factual and leave out the last sentence.

> But do note that what I said, I was told by the USA Government education system, Georgia specifically.

What makes you think that public school teachers anywhere know the law?

Did you believe everything that they told you?

There are reasons why the drinking age is set to where it is, if you did a little research at all you would know what they are. You might find it interesting that every nation in the world that has a drinking age has it set around the same age(20-21).

I taught myself C when I was 12 years old, does that mean I'm ready for a formal job with responsibilities at 16? Ageism is not about what magical skills you have at 16 or 18 (or 20 for that matter), it's about a teenager not having experience on neither a full blown (probably monetized) project, nor on life as an adult with responsibilities.

It's not that teenagers are being discriminated because people think they lack skills. They're being discriminated because 99% of teenager cant hold a job at a fast food joint and no one want's to have to deal with the risk of hiring children to do something "important".

Reality check, if you're 16~18 and want to get your foot trough the door, get an internship. Good employers or clients are not going to give you age discrimination if you actually have proof that you're mature enough and have had experience in the field.

I'm 18 and I don't necessarily agree with this. From what I can tell tech is more accepting of young people than almost any other industry.

Yes, I was a bit surprised to click through. Usually when we talk about ageism we're talking about how your career is over at 35.

I'm not sure that the tech industry is particularly ageist against the young. Yes, a 17-year-old web designer may find (s)he doesn't get much respect from the tech industry, but, well, a 17-year-old anything won't get much respect from any industry. In our culture 17 is still a kid, and expected to do things like deciding that it's too hard to work and go play video games instead. I don't agree (my opinions are complicated, I don't merely believe the opposite, but that's certainly not an adequate summary), but I'm in the firm minority.

98% of younger than 18 year olds overestimate their knowledge. I know this from experience from programming forums. I began programming when I was 12 and I massively overestimated my knowledge when I was 18 years old. (I know there are rare exceptions.)

Also depends on the topic. A talented 18 years old can be a very good web designer. Or can solve tricky math/algorithmization problems well. On the other hand a 18 year old (except probably the caliber of Terry Tao) cannot do things where huge amount of experience, learned knowledge and maturity is needed. I am just reading the book 'Programming in Scala'. It is just plain impossible that a 18 year old could design that programming language and could write that book that way. When you read that book you feel the huge amount of knowledge and experience (in everyday programming, in other programming languages, in language design, in compiler writing and in computer science theory) which was needed to create it.

I'm not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this post. I started working at Webs at 18 and from the get-go was right in the thick of things. Nobody ever really said anything about my age.

Fast forward to now, I'm a few months shy of 21 and have received a couple of different job offers. I'm working at Meetup now and the only age-related downside is I had to promise not to open the beer fridge until I turn 21.

Granted there are downsides. I went to An Event Apart SF 09 and got denied entry to the afterparty because it was in a bar. It's understandable but frustrating.

I guess in the end I just feel like the only way your age can be a hinderance to you is if you let it. Actions speak much louder than words, and if you just do what you need to do and let your work speak for you, you'll get along just fine.

I am from The Netherlands and I don't recognize any of these problems. I hacked together some website for a non-profit organization when I was 15, had my first paid IT job when I was 16 and I never felt excluded or discriminated against between fellow geeks. Maybe it's a cultural thing.

Difficult to empathize as the subtitle of srunchup.com excludes anyone not considered "young". Why not "A Web Magazine for Designers and Developers"? Or are their specific aspects of web development that only pertain to people under 25?

I was doing paid IT work when I was 14 (under the table until I was 16), and had a full time progamming job when I was 19 ( also going to school full time). Imagine this lads disappointment when he ends up 40+ in this industry.

Well, I can empathize with most cases of discrimination, but it sounds an awful lot like OP has targetted events in places with hard age limits, i.e., legal limits. It's going to be tough to attend events in the US while under 21.

I presume it's possible to organize events at less restricted venues. Now's the time to exercise political skills and persuade peers to go elsewhere.

I'm a Y-Gen'r and can't say enough about this. There are a lot of young minds out there that could make massive efforts in making business better but fail to reach it due to Ageism.

Which begs the question, will this change when my generation is older?

Sorry to be old and reactionary : ) but the young folk that make theses arguments, or are even aware of these arguments are something of outliers. Have this young lady go back to her highschool and find 100 folks that are capable of running a company. 50? 5? Maybe one or two, or maybe a couple in that entire metropolitan area are ready for significant investment.

Nothing wrong with outliers, my grandfather started a groundbreaking business before he was 21 and worked for his own investment funds from his early teens. An he was an outlier. An amazing guy, built his first warehouse with castoff boards, he certainly was not getting a bank loan.

Miss Debenham's issues will be moot and she will be fine will do fine far far in the future, 2012 or so.

Actually I applaud your response, no need to justify it...puts things in perspective.

To add a little spice to your argument, what do you have to say about the "CEO boys club" that is present in today's big business. In other words, the idea that only a select number of the population is worthy and/or qualified to run such empires. If you extrapolate this you'll also find many middle managers / VP / EVP roles that are filled with people who really shouldn't be there but are there because of years of experience. Yet, these are the people that can very justifiably make the critical decisions of the company aside from just the CEO. (take Jonathan Ive for example)

> Which begs the question, will this change when my generation is older?

No. :/

The hippies are going to change the world... don't trust anyone over 25! Rock and roll is going to change the world... etc. Each generation fails just like the last.

Boring things are changing the world. Look at the role of containers in global shipping.

Experience is no substitute for competence..

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