Age discrimination has been a workplace problem for decades. I can remember my dad talking about it 30 years ago, and I read new accounts of it all the time today. In soundbites and headlines, many tout the age of 40 as being the magical threshold age at which this kicks in. The issue is so pervasive in our society, there’s even a TV show about a 40s woman who pretends to be in her 20s just to be able to get a job. It’s actually a pretty good show. Here’s the trailer:
And yet … at 41 years old, I cashed out of the corporate world. I’d done the entire career path, corporate ladder thing, from entry level editor all the way to a marketing and business development director — even had a few interviews for VP positions at respectable places. But, I’d had enough of that scene and wanted to do something on my own terms … at 41!
I turned to freelance work — first as a marketing and web site development company, and then later doing exclusively web dev work. And, I have to say, it’s been great! I’m 50 years old now, and it’s still great!
Since I began this work, exactly zero clients (actual clients or potential ones) ever said to me “You’re too old” or “We’re looking for someone younger.”
Granted, I have no studies or actual data to back up my hypothesis here, but I truly see tech as a profitable wonderland for those over 40 years old. Here are a few possibly explanations:
- Relatability: If you’re post-40, you’re likely closer to being the same age as the business owners and/or other professionals who are doing the hiring for the freelance work you’re after. So, you can relate to the clients very well. They think, “Wow, this person understands my way of thinking AND also understands tech.” (They may not focus on such a quality for in-house positions, though. So, freelancers have an advantage, in my opinion.)
- Anonymity: More often than not, there’s no face-to-face meeting during the client acquisition process. I honestly believe that about 75% of my own clients have zero idea of my age, nor do they seem to have any thoughts at all about it. Some have asked about my background before hiring me, and I guess my age is implied by my answers there. But none have scoffed (at least, not that I know of).
- Remoteness: When you’re working remotely, there’s no care at all about your physical appearance or traits. You can be any age, race, gender, orientation, weight, religion, health / disability status, marital status, financial status, etc. They may well discriminate for in-house positions, but none of that stuff matters when you’re working remotely.
- Financial Differences: When a 50-something person rolls into an in-person interview for a full-time position, chances are good that the 50-something is going to want a much higher salary than a 28-year-old vying for the same job. If the 50-year old wants $80k, and the 28-year-old wants $40k, and they’re both decent candidates … well, you know who’s getting the gig. The dynamic is different in the freelance world, though. There are basic rate ranges, based on experience. A beginner developer might be, oh, $40–60/hour, and a highly experienced one might be $90–150/hour. It’s more of a meritocracy, with less negotiation and less range than FT employment. Therefore, in some ways, age doesn’t come into play on this line item.
- Lower Risk: Freelancers are not employees. That makes things considerably lower-hassle for employers to deal with. And, it makes freelancers easier to fire if the employer isn’t satisfied. Thus, even if they do care about your age, they at least (probably) have some protection against being sued for age discrimination — especially if they really don’t know your age, anyway.
- Perspective: If a 50-something is interviewing for a FT, in-house job, there may be a perspective of “this person is washed up” or “if this person is any good, why doesn’t he/she have a job already?” or “is this dog too old to learn new tricks?” or “will this older person fit in, culturally, with my younger team?” None of that matters when you’re a freelancer. (If you can do the work, that is.)
Even if you’re retired now and looking to get into freelancing to make some extra cash, tech is a great opportunity. Sure, you need to build up some skills before marketing yourself, but that’s true of people of all ages. And, there are millions of resources to help you learn whatever it is you want to get into doing tech-wise. You just have to be willing to start from scratch, and (probably) to learn from people much younger than you. But, once you know this stuff, you can go to market and start making money.
Bottom line: If age discrimination is apparent in your career, don’t rule out tech as a way around the issue. I feel like there may be questions from 40-, 50- or 60-plus readers. If so, don’t hesitate to contact me! I can’t claim 100% that freelancing is the answer to your age discrimination issues, but I can at least share my experience and perspective.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!