Here’s How to Start Closing Silicon Valley’s Age Gap
Steven Levy

I’m a mid-fifties iOS app engineer. I’ve been turned down from opportunities because of the “culture fit” claim and because of my confirmed market value. I believe ageism exists in our industry.

Of the two issues, I think the salary requirement is the real problem for the startup community. It is hard to quantify ability. It is even harder to quantify wisdom and pragmatic good sense. Startup folks, who are frequently young and have no inherent wisdom about people, know that if they bet on low priced talent, they may have a chance to reload with new talent or spread their bets. Older talent is “proven” and costs more. I put the “proven” in quotes because our industry is very bad at rating talent. (We also use stupid terms like rock star and coding ninja. Most folks who use those terms have never met a coding ninja. Ninjas leave no one alive. ;-)

While we fogies can rail at the injustice of it all, it isn’t very productive and certainly doesn’t put food on the table. We need to acknowledge ageism, help eradicate ageism, and transcend ageism.

I work the problem by writing multiple calling card apps. This addresses the “proven” problem by having complex real world apps visible to the outside world. That way, when the interviewer starts to ask stupid questions answered in the first edition of Sedgewick’s “Algorithms”, I can gently redirect him to the important questions about app development skills — not how to implement algorithms but when to use which algorithm. (Then I turn the tables on him and ask if he can prove the CAP theorem, but I digress …)

You address “proven” by being proven. By being current. By understanding that self-marketing is necessary. By being lucky, when preparation meets opportunity. And, finally, by managing your career as if it is an important business activity — not a list of random jobs that came your way.

I battle ageism by showing up and speaking at industry events. You’re not old if you are the go-to guy on certain questions.

I battle ageism by leading my local community of engineers. By raising the level of discourse.

All of the above is necesary to battle ageism, in every field. If we can get HR to help battle ageism, great. But as HR is about buying talent low to sell the results of talent’s labor high, they have less incentive to fix ageism than they say. I hope HR is reading Mr. Levy’s suggestions.

The above said, getting industry participants engaged in a lifetime learning and self-development process is probably a faster path to defeating ageism than by trying to defeat ageism directly through process.