How Can We Achieve Age Diversity in Silicon Valley?
Steven Levy

I realize it’s unfashionable, but different groups have different interests, mindsets, and skills — and consequently make different contributions.

The groups that do well at Silicon Valley are those that disproportionately excel in technology, are academically (especially mathematically) inclined, financially ambitious, cognitively malleable, and have lots and lots of energy.

I could easily prove these assertions with a thousand statistics, from GMAT scores, to GPAs, to the number of startups attempted, to the distribution of college majors, to the number of hours worked. Asian males fit that description very well, and consequently flourish in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley did not create the mindset of Asian males, any more than the NBA created a disproportionate number of American black kids aspiring to play competitive basketball, or elementary schools created a disproportionate number of women aspiring to work with children. They just reflect the reality that already exists.

Now let me address this argument about Age-ism. I’m sure you know the old saying: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Silicon Valley is the very DEFINITION of “new tricks” — the half-life of experience is incredibly short, and unlike other industries, more than 10 years of experience is a liability, not an asset.

As a result, you might as well have asked, “Why aren’t there more autistic psychologists?” or “How come the obese are under-represented in the pole vaulting community?” or “Why aren’t there more 6-foot jockeys in the Kentucky Derby?” In each case, the highlighted characteristic is an enormous liability in that industry.

The primary reason you’re complaining about Silicon Valley is NOT because it’s different. It’s because it’s powerful, and complaining about the powerful is always fashionable. (Do you see a lot of outrage about why so many nurses are women? Or so few women are coal miners? Of course not.)

Like it or not, it gets harder to embrace new paradigms as you get older. I’m 42 and I see it in myself — I naturally fall back upon what I already know. I fit patterns to my worldview, more than the other way around. As a result, I am less likely to create some earth-shattering new idea, even if I am better at refining existing ideas. (For what it’s worth, I’m also less prone to work crazy hours, have more outside-of-work responsibilities, and likely cost more.)

Finally, Silicon Valley is trying to find the people who will invent the Next Big Thing. Younger people are as-yet untested, and hope remains that they might be the next phenom. For older people, their record speaks for itself — which is why (as you mention in your article) only those with stellar track record are pursued.

This really isn’t Silicon Valley conspiring against older workers, for no good reason. It’s simply that younger workers have what Silicon Valley needs, much more so than older workers.