Thirty years ago, when tech was taking off and few colleges offered computer science degrees, I started my first job in IT. I was a liberal arts grad living in the Boston area. Tech was growing faster than universities could develop computer science departments, so many colleges in the area offered something like today’s boot camps to help open doors. I managed to get my foot in the door of an IT team by working as a legal secretary Monday through Friday and sitting in day-long computer sciences classes on Saturdays.
At the time, women in tech had some additional challenges, but the biggest was imposter syndrome — the feeling that while were succeeding at our jobs, somehow we were not “real” techies. Luckily, there were enough women mentors—and enough men and women working together to figure out ever-changing technologies—that our technological backgrounds didn’t matter as much as what we were able to learn on the job.
In our twenties, many of us were striving for our first management position. Some of us wanted to move to the next stage of our careers, and some of us were just really competitive. Some feared losing their entry-level jobs. Others feared that a management track meant drifting further away from tech. None of us feared getting old.
Now, in our fifties and sixties, we’re often older than the next person in the entire company by at least 14 years. For the most part, those who’ve survived decades in tech are our friends who became VPs. Most of the middle managers got laid off and switched careers.
I’ve been laid off only twice in my career. The first time I was too young and inconsequential, and the last I was too old and overpaid.
The rest of us are like the fifty-somethings we knew early in our careers— people no one really hangs out with, who sit alone, who come and go quietly each day, and who eventually disappear without a goodbye party. I’ve been laid off twice in my career: at the beginning and near the end. The first time I was too young and inconsequential, and the last I was too old and overpaid.
I left the first job with an air of optimism and a lot of fear that I’d chosen the wrong career. I left the last job fearful that my career had just ended. I teased my younger manager, saying that I was leaving the industry to bake muffins at Wegmans. To his credit, he felt awful.
Within two weeks, I was working for another old friend as a government contractor. As it turns out, this is where most of my age group is working now. For us, Amazon coming to our back door doesn’t mean the prospect of new jobs in Northern Virginia — it means hope that government employers will have even more room for older tech workers.