No Country for Old Developers
The truth behind ageism in the tech industry—and strategies for overcoming it.
When you leave school or university and start to look for a job you may worry that your lack of experience will impact your chances of landing a position. Because you are young, employers are looking to see if you have the right attitude and character to fit into their company. They can see you as a blank canvas that can be trained and molded to match their culture and ethos.
What happens if you are a 40-year-old career changer looking for a new opportunity?
Will employers give you the same chance?
In the tech industry, the chances are that they won’t unless you can prove you already have experience. Ageism exists and can mark you as a dinosaur ten years before other industries make you feel that way.
Are you pushing 30?
A recent survey by CWJobs suggests that tech workers can start to experience ageism as early as 29 compared to an average of 41 in other industries. In a field where most employees tend to be in the 20s, 30s and 40s, a person in their 50s can’t help but stand out.
Chances are that within the average company, this becomes a cultural issue that ultimately isolates older employees from making friends and really connecting with colleagues.
Indeed AARP reports that older workers can feel threatened and made miserable in the workplace. This includes verbal abuse, which isn’t taken as seriously and oftentimes written off as banter. Nonetheless, this harassment in the workplace can result in mental health and confidence issues, which can ultimately hamper an individual’s career progress. This is not helped when influencers such as the Facebook CEO makes ageism remarks.
According to Forbes, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying:
“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”
Many assume that ageism primarily exists at the recruitment stage. But what if you already have a job within a company?
The truth is: Training and promotion opportunities may not go your way if you’re older. They may be offered to younger staff who are looked upon as a better investment to the employer, while older staff are alienated. This is an example of “Unconscious Bias Training” according to Skills4, an award-winning provider of diversity and inclusion training.
As previously quoted, there is a prejudice that older people simply can’t learn as well as younger people especially with cutting edge technology in areas such as development and programming. In reality, this attitude holds little value and prevents all employees from growing and advancing together.
One issue that may hinder an older applicant from taking a job is salary. Even if you get offered a position you will likely be offered a lower wage if going for a junior job.
Job review and search company Glassdoor has a salary scale showing UK rates for a junior web developer. This can range from £18K to £31K and with an average of £23K. For career changers, this level may prove to be a problem in maintaining a certain standard of living.
This could be due to mortgage and other high-level expenses that a 20-year-old may not have encountered yet. For a 50-year-old it may prove a struggle to make a career change pay off and could take several years to climb the ladder to reach a livable wage.
But skills can beat ageism
If you are older and want to give yourself the best chance of avoiding ageism its important to make sure you stay relevant. It should be your responsibility to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques according to your specialism.
If you are a programmer or web developer that would include keeping up to date with the latest languages, frameworks, and best practices.
Tech job search company Dice says that the hiring process for developers and engineers is arduous so it is important to try and combat ageism by being your best self.
This allows you to grow with your industry and enables you to potentially feel safer in your job than younger staff who don’t keep up with training. Being able to do your job well has to be the thing that defines you at your place of work.
Working for yourself
The one true way that you can avoid ageism is to work for yourself. If you are a developer then this could work out well. As long as you are staying up to date with your skills and building a professional portfolio then there are many opportunities out there to succeed.
With the current Covid-19 crisis unfolding, many employees are now working remotely from home. Freelance working can shoehorn your way into working for these companies by handling their outsourcing.
If you show that you can do the job remotely and prove you are capable of working on your own, they won’t see what you look like on a day to day basis and unfairly judge you.
Remote permanent jobs work similarly. Remote.Co states that less face to face contact is a unique aspect of remote work and that in some cases, companies are now more willing to hire people based purely on your strength of work. This, however, seems more beneficial to new employees as opposed to employees that are already known by their boss and teammates from a previous time in the office.
It should be fair to say that if you are good enough then you are young enough. Time will tell.
Do you believe ageism exists in the tech industry?
Have you encountered ageism and if so how did you manage it?