How to Beat Age Discrimination

Feature Article | September 3, 2013 by Jennifer Lankheim

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Photo: Shutterstock

Growing older is fraught with bother for most everyone, but aging can be particularly problematic for people in IT careers. In the U.S., the median age of tech company employees is significantly younger than the average worker, differing by as much as 16 years.  A 35-year-old in high-tech is, at best, in reach of the ceiling. In gaming and social media companies, where the average employee is generally between 26 and 30, people in their mid-30s are ‘Officially Old’. By contrast, at 35 workers haven’t even reached mid-career in most other fields.

Tips and tricks

Aging gracefully in high tech isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. SAP.info spoke with recruiters, hiring managers, senior engineers, and start-up execs, and compiled the following advice for older workers determined to succeed in IT despite a growing age-bias.

Look and dress the part

Deal well with change and stay ‘young at mind’

Be smart about your development

This story is part of our special focus on human resource management. All the articles related to this topic can be found here.

Look and dress the part

Like it or not, appearance matters. Clothes are a powerful signaling mechanism. All people (even you) draw immediate conclusions about others based on how they dress. If you work at a company where almost everyone is in their 20s, or you are interviewing at one, tweak your ‘look’ so that you reasonably blend in with what ‘the kids’ are wearing.

  • Ditch the pleated slacks and coordinating sport-jacket (or equivalent sartorial anachronism) for something more contemporary, but still age appropriate. You want to blend in, not stand out for trying too hard. If you need help, go to a store that caters to your ‘target’ age group and ask a salesperson for advice.
  • Carry a backpack or messenger bag. NOT a briefcase.
  • Keep your tech current and cool: Replace your old phone with an Android device or an iPhone. Your basic old-school laptop should be replaced with something cooler and more powerful, or kept under wraps.

Forget about titles

The idea that your title reflects your value or level of success is antiquated. Younger workers don’t care much about having formal titles to distinguish themselves from peers, and many companies – especially start-ups – have a flat (or horizontal) organizational structure anyway. Never refuse a position because the title seems ‘beneath you.’ And whether you have a job or are looking for one, don’t date yourself by appearing concerned about titles.

Next page: Deal well with change and stay ‘young at mind’

Stay Young at Mind

Many successful older workers in tech say the secret is to be ‘young at mind,’ specifically having the ability to continuously re-invent yourself. If you deal well with change and enjoy learning new processes, you’re primed to survive.  Ironically, the consensus is that staying young at mind doesn’t have anything to do with age – some people thrive in the dynamic environments typical of high tech, while others don’t.  And the side you fall on is generally the same whether you’re 20 or 60.

Be Smart About Development

The best way to keep your career stable and lucrative is to move up and out of coding and into management, architecture, or design. But if you’re bent on staying in programming:

  • Realize the deck is stacked against you. You may be highly experienced and worth top dollar, but there’s only so much employers are willing and able to pay. Coders can expect to top-out at twice or thrice (if you’re very, very lucky) what an entry-level worker earns, so save as much as you can when you’re in your 30s and early 40s and be prepared for flat, or even diminished, earnings as you get older.
  • Stay current and expertly versed in everything on computing – trends, theory, technique, language – only rock-star developers can make a living writing code in their 50s.
  • Walk like an influencer, talk like an influencer, BE an influencer. Join Toastmasters and learn how to deliver a killer speech, and then seize every opportunity to talk formally or informally about the industry and share your (informed!) views.

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