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Anecdotal: I'm a part-time CTO (long story) of a startup. I'm 30 myself. We hired 6 engineers in total up until now: three interns in their twenties, who're very smart and motivated but also inexperienced; two programmers with a few years of professional experience who can get to real decent (well written, unit tested, etc) code on the first go; and 1 guy of over 40.

When hiring, I was very skeptical of the guy over 40. His CV showed that he had spent most of his time building boring information systems for government agencies. This did not feel cool and startuppy at all. Also, he's gray-haired and he looks a bit dorky. We really liked him in person though, and he seemed to know what he was talking about, so we hired him anyway.

Only a few weeks later, I was already certain that he was the best hire we made up until now. Hypothetically, when forced, I would fire any two other team members to be able to keep him on the team (and he's on only half weeks). He's experienced, very much down to business, he cuts through the crap and through technical fads, and currently ensures that we're building the most lean and simple backend that I've ever seen. In a programming language that he's never seen before, and with a database engine that he's never used before.

For me, the general takeaway was that the wisdom to "not only hire copies of yourself" is very true indeed. More specifically, "older" guys (for tech industry standards) often have a lot more fundamental skills to bring to the table than perfect command of this year's technologie du jour.

Hire older people!

As an older person, I commend you for looking past your comfort zone. Your anecdote certainly doesn't mean that all old people are better developers, but I tell people that I've already made most of my mistakes 10-15 years ago on other peoples' projects. Gets a bit of a chuckle, but it's reality - we all make mistakes when learning.

I just did a prototype demo for someone - took about 6 hours - and it was more fully functional than something they'd had a team of people working on for weeks. It's rare that there's that much of a difference, and to be fair there were weeks of communication and discovery going on that I didn't have to deal with. But the other team was also using an older PHP framework which they were painfully not comfortable with (I later found out mandated for bad reasons). Judging by their code, they wouldn't have been comfortable in any framework, but that's another story.

This is far less about how great I am, and more about understanding common problem domains, knowing your tools, knowing when it's OK to cut corners and when not to, and how best to communicate with people. Some of that comes with passion and dedication, but some of it only really comes over time, and the more the better, usually combined with the passion and/or dedication for maximum results.

>Hire older people!

This is a great anecdote, though I don't fully understand why it surprises people.

Most people in their early 20s are still "kids", both socially and work-experience-wise. Give me a hungry 30+ any day.

> why it surprises people

It surprises young people. 30+ isn't all that old.

I know. I tell friends who are depressed about being 29 that life begins at 30. From my wizened perspective of mid-50s, I even find people in mid-30s to be somewhat green.

Of course, everything I've done in my life has been late. Graduated college and grad school late, married late, had a kid late. So I'm about 10-15 years behind my age peers and experience-wise have more in common with people in mid-late 30s.

When it comes to having ideas... I feel as though I'm bubbling with ideas these days. Maybe it's just too anecdotal to mean anything, but it seems to me that everyone blossoms in their own good time. There's no such thing as over the hill, until you decide that you're over the hill.

31 year old here. I already have ~13 years of experience, and I feel like I still have my best work ahead of me.

48 here, I hope I never reach the point where I do not think the same.

I worked with 72 years old man who outcoded me and my colleagues (I was 36 at the time).

I am 39 and I would love to work with someone like that. I would learn a thing or two and it would give me hope :-)

35 years old and 18 years experience. Same boat. :)

You kids, get off my lawn! I think the youngest coder at my tiny company is almost 50.

But are you based in SF [1]? I think that this article is more specific to the west coast tech scene in the United States.

[1] Your profile indicates that you might be based out of Europe.

Indeed, I'm Dutch and based in the Netherlands. So is the startup in question.

The problem highlighted by the article is relatively SF-specific indeed, but you see the same vibe in Dutch startups (less so in older tech businesses here, but there it's just that 50 is considered old instead of 40 - the difference isn't that big).

I don't see how that makes the anecdote less strong though. Why wouldn't there be similarly competent 40+ year old people in SF? I feel that startups that are open to hiring older people in a climate like the one described in this article have a competitive advantage on the job market. It makes me anecdote only more applicable to SF, not less.

Even 30 is low. You know that in all other industries, a person in their 30s is still early in their career, right? You don't start getting the respect of being a season pro until you're in your 40s at least.

Personally I've had great respect for the 50+ yr old programmers that've worked on modern teams with me. They've always been great augmentations, and I prefer to hire more experienced people where possible, especially if that experience predates the web.

Ditto. Had the exact same experience. Half my team were a lot older (50s and 2 x 40s) than me and the other half younger. We ran leaner and meaner then the other engineering teams in the company. Also learnt a lot from them myself and age never even creeped up as a barrier. Matter of fact I can't even recall thinking differently of them apart from how awesome & reliable they were.


Bah, nonsense. Re-read my post. I wasn't skeptical because of his age, it was because he looked like a dull guy with a dull CV at first glance. I introduced him as "the guy over 40" in the first paragraph, which makes sense given the subject at hand. And it is why you can take a line of my post out of context and make me seem like an asshole for writing "When hiring, I was very skeptical of the guy over 40".

Are we so far now that we have to think about formulating our HN comments so that someone can't take parts out of context? Lovely.

From someone's who over 40, I'm glad he was candid. It's good to hear people's perspectives, they shouldn't be afraid to share their thoughts. Maybe by him sharing his story, other people will see that he was skeptical (like they may be), and saw a benefit in the end. His silence benefits no one. Please don't censor people.

The categorical term was necessary to the anecdote. Using a categorical term does not imply discrimination.

In fact none of the sentences you list are real evidence of discrimination, especially in the context of a discussion where it's necessary to separate candidates or hires into categories based on age/sex/religion/etc.

I was skeptical of the guy from China... because we was unable to answer any of the technical questions we asked him during the interview.

You'll note that the parent did not specifically say his skepticism was due to age. Instead he listed standard employment history features that are more common among older programmers.

What you're missing is a time stamp. Discrimination follows a pattern. i) It's acceptable, ii) It's actively questioned and discussed and meets denial and resistance iii) it's broadly accepted as a problem and addressed (but who knows when it's fully resolved if ever)

Discrimination against tech workers over 40 is a very newly discovered issue. So it's unfair to say he's on par with racial or other more thoroughly discussed areas of discrimination.


Sigh Tech workers. And yes, there's always been some age discrimination. But the explosion of consumer and mobile apps in the last 5 - 10 years (vs B2B apps prior) has really created this issue at scale.

Just to add to your point, having a fairly large culture of start up founders in their 20's nowadays adds to the problem (1). People gather around them people they can relate to - it's sub-conscious. A 20-something and a 40-something have few overlapping cultural references in entertainment, night life, flavor of the day programming languages/frameworks/build systems/etc., and problem domain. I see a number of social media sites/apps whose purpose I don't understand. I'm on FB and have Yelp'ed a few times but resist even Twitter because I'm on information overload all the time raising a child. Interviewing at a social media start up would become uncomfortable quickly as I pretend to understand what "itch they're trying to scratch".

If more founders were in their 40's, would reverse discrimination happen? "So, you lack systems analysis and operations skills and you've only used one flavor of *nix...(phone reminder goes off)...Quite sorry, I have to end this interview early to pick up my daughter from daycare, she's vomiting. Oh, you'll go early to SXSW...is that a new airline?"

Is it illegal for a start up to discriminate against me if I have the technical acumen? Sure. But the hiring person doesn't have to consciously discriminate. It can happen just by placing greater emphasis on the lack of experience in a particular framework when the real reason is that the hiring person just didn't relate to me as a 46 yo in any way.

1. I'm not implying that it's a problem having a large number of 20-something start up founders. People with time and energy to solve cool problems is only a social benefit.

(EDIT: Changed asterisk to 1.)

s/older/experienced/. Grey hair does not engender wisdom.

There's a strong correlation that shouldn't be hard to figure out. You're right that it's not necessarily equivalent, but I don't think anyone posited that gray hair automatically equals masterful programming ability.

It's important to be explicit about this. If you're contradicting negative generalizations and stereotypes about age, then you shouldn't counter with another generalization.

What about grey comments?

The more I think about it, ageism is mostly about reducing perceived costs: Older people have families, more experience (in general), demand higher salaries, and are less likely to put in crazy hours. They can still totally be worth it.

I'd be interested in knowing if the older workers who avoid crazy hours are the same ones who avoided crazy hours when they were younger.

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