How can we stop age discrimination in tech?

Anthony Delgado on May 30, 2018

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article here on dev.to called "You're never too old to learn to code" that talked about how I felt there is a bias in t... [Read Full]
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Do large corporations like Intel have the right to do massive layoffs to older employees in the name of innovation?

I think if a company would even consider this it's because they have created a brutal corporate culture and trained their own employees to act like button-pushing zombies.

I think this whole thing starts with cultural norms that assume a lot of stereotypes to be true. In all I think we lack the willingness to train people who are willing to buy in. Companies are loath to onboard junior developers for training purposes and they are loath to train existing employees to adopt new visions for the org.

 
 

1 we stop age discrimination the same way we stop gender, race, or other forms of discrimination. We have to start looking at individuals and their contributions and stop making generalizations. I think people "get" the issue, but don't apply it to all areas. The same person who would have pause making a statement like "Women are more..." or "Men are less..." (insert stereotype at the end) is fine saying "Older people are more set in their ways." Is that really true? Or is that just amplifying an existing stereotype?

Companies must look at meaningful values rather than irrelevant facts. For example, a company concerned about people working more hours probably has it wrong already. They are activity focused instead of productivity focused. As a development manager, I had teams with employees who would produce 4x the output of their peers working 1/2 the hours. I would much rather see someone work smart and increase productivity than burn out because they have to thrash long hours to get meaningful progress.

2 Companies have the right to hire, so they have the right to fire. It has to work both ways. However, what they don't have is the right to discriminate, so it would make more sense if they must have a layoff to do it based on empirical, quantifiable reasons rather than broad statements. It's one thing if the mandate was, "Let go of tenured staff" vs. "Let go of staff that is not hitting their targets."

 

There is only one way workers can gain bargaining power and it's unions. There is no other way to force companies to do the right thing. There are existing laws against age discrimination but there are always loopholes. Change only comes by consistent effort from an organized group. Right now programmers are not an organized group.

 

What do you think the likelihood of unionization in our industry would be? I've seen efforts but I'm skeptical this would ever come to be.

 

The IT industry IS unionized, it's just the crazy oddball US where no sensible things ever happen, where people are not respected, and corporations get to do everything they want. What the US needs is for every industry to be unionized, and it's just insane that this isn't happening.

However, the IT industry is unlikely to be anywhere near the ones leading that, as IT workers generally have among the best working conditions and compensations in the world.

 

There was a big push in the late 90's by CWA (Communication Workers of America) to try to organize some tech workers under the WashTech name but it seems to have fallen off quite a bit, and they don't seem to be listed on CWA's page anymore.

From a personal perspective, I have a few questions about trying this:

  1. Would software development even fit with a traditional U.S. style Trade Union, with the large number of independent contractors, agencies, and freelancers out there, and how many different ways there are to "do development"?
  2. From a U.S. perspective, we are part of an industry where off-shoring happens at large corporations even without having to deal with a collective bargaining agreement, will those same corporations think twice about moving to a place without a union if they now have to negotiate for labor?
  3. There's also a question of which union group out there really understands software development enough to be effective in representing software developers and the industry's needs?

I'm not sure any of them really do at this point in time. I suppose someone out there may find a way to organize, but I'm not sure it'll be anytime soon.

 

I feel like it's pretty low among the hn crowd, but there are a lot of developers working for big faceless corps and in the government that might be organizable. I don't feel like the average dev working at a bank or hospital thinks they are going to hit the jackpot with their options.

I'm not really sure what umbrella devs should organize under... Teamsters doesn't seem quite right. AFL/CIO? IWW?

 

I used to think this too but I'm less skeptical these days.

 

"the only way".... I think when people wake up and leave crap jobs that have terrible culture the company will get the message. You don't need a union to get a better job. Companies with bad culture deserve to sink, and losing talent drives that. Don't put up with it and quit. Unions won't fix it.

 

Can you imagine if programmers and IT were organized?

 

I don't know...

I met many people who just don't want to work with old devs anymore, because they have the "we always did it that way" attitude.

"I implemented polling services my whole life, they are tested and work! Why should I use Webhooks?"

"I send them their private keys, because they're using my servers so I decide which keys they gonna use!"

"Who would build a UI with JavaScript? Qt is much faster!"

Personally, I worked with really good older devs who had mad skills and much to teach about how to handle business etc. but I can understand that people have enough after working for years with someone who basically has tenure at a company and doesn't bother to do anything new anymore.

 

I agree. Older devs need to be willing to try new approaches. But I also see companies swap out for junior developers who are more of a blank slate and cheaper, but make the same mistakes as their older peers had to starting out, and this costs companies real money. Most healthy orgs have a good balance of tenure.

 

I want to be the raddest older dev when I get older. 😄

Mostly listening to the young kids even if I wish they didn't use JavaScript for everything; gently guide them away from shiny things without being too condescending; pay attention to them for cues that maybe this new thing is more than just shiny; tell stories about back before computer chips (with OS's written in JavaScript) were inserted into the brain.

I'm with you Ben, that's what i'm trying to do now.

I'll be 45 this year. I'm the sole 'IT Guy' for a company of 50+ people. The younger folks who have skills using computers come to me all the time for assistance for various things and i enjoy it.

I try to provide information not opinion and sounds examples of why, with a small dose of wit (so they don't get too bored with me).

I've worked with older IT Pro's who were set in their ways and watched them struggle. From this I learned the value of constant learning. Skills can be developed, You can learn any language you want - no one's stopping you.

The one thing you need in my opinion is passion. When you're passionate about something, it's meaningful, you get good at it, you're competitive / compelling. When you're passionate people notice the passion not your age...

 

Totally with you here.

This is just what I happend to hear in the industry :)

 

Agreed, it's very tempting or even natural for some (or even most) older people to expect respect and quiet obedience only because of being older, which comes effectively from general day-to-day life norm, but should and can not equally affect professional relations, and that, quite understandably though, could be a hard truth to take, for some, especially if younger guys outperform.

I myself turn 40 in a couple of months and started my professional web dev career only 2 years ago and of course almost all my coworkers are in their middle/late twenties, few in early thirties, but I definitely am the oldest one, even the founder and owner of the company is younger, but it's ok. A few things that do help me not to stand out:

  • I look younger, but it's the least significant thing, thought it certainly helps.

  • I never display in any way any expectations or intentions to be treated or looked upon at differently.

  • I feel that whatever respect or some special attitude I want should come naturally and well deserved, and therefore I must always be a bit better and do a bit more to avoid any auckward situations of being not only the oldest, but also least (or even just like anybody else) useful.

So, plan is to move as fast as I can to grow as fast as I can and get promoted as far as I can to naturally deserve respect and become valuable asset in terms of knowledge and experience.

Frankly, it seems that everything is working out in exactly that way, and I have already obtained a reputation of the one who can reliably solve the most complex tasks be it frontend or backend, and my opinion is always needed, but of course I have to work hard for that, but, luckily, I love my job and do hope to eventually become at least an architect or something like that.

 

Well, I'm sorry, in the end I haven't said much about the actual topic of the post, just boasted about myself, but the bottom line is that I can easily see how older people themselves can cause some attitudes that make managers make such decisions.

I started working as a dev with 21 and everyone was older than me. The devs around me were 27-50.

And while my boss valued me, I always felt like a boy.

It was until I was in the end of my 20s, with over 5 years of experience, when I worked with people at my age and felt like some "regular" developer in the crowd.

This was when I finally understood what I'm capable of and started to go my own way.

 

Something I've been pondering lately is this could be down to company's managing vs leading culture.

If someone, as manager or director, does not want to let other people have some control and responsibility, they might find it much easier to go with younger devs who are happy to put up with it?

 

Younger devs might be cheaper, possibly have fewer hangups around being worked into the ground or taking vacations or working late, etc.

Some of this definitely comes from a culture of "who can we work into the ground the longest before they do anything about it"?

 

This is absolutely the case at some companies. I still have hope that the industry will eventually shift more towards a focus on creative collaboration to produce better products and away from classical WWII management culture. I think this will help more companies treat programmers as individuals with valuable ideas and not just code monkeys.

First the negatives.

I really don't see many companies jump on this shift.

Firstly, it means culture shift needs to happen on every level of the company and that means people in charge need to change.

Secondly, some business-oriented people might be ok for keep doing X and not change, instead of potentially make 2X, but go through the stress and growing pains.

However, and here's where I'd like to give massive kudos to your videos, Jayme - there clearly is this movement where development, company culture and management around it is seen as long term collaborative creative process, empowering the creative people too in return of better product or service.

So, while we still might have negative side to our industry for foreseeable future, I hope we will see new breed of companies where they can start fresh with this crazy new ideology in mind.

 

1 Stop seeing Age as an indicator for quality.

A person might be 55 (what I would see as "older") and just started coding at 50. Age (as well as gender, ethnicity etc.) is no indicator for how good you are.

So..

2 Where I live, they don't. No company has the right to lay off people based on those indicators.

There will be tons of old devs in the coming decades. You betta' recognize 🙃

 

Yeah, some of the comments on this made me think "WTF - legally you cannot do that!" then I remembered its mostly US and their employment law is basically broken.

 

I think companies should discriminate in any way that they think benefits them. However, most initiatives that judge people by their characteristics instead of their performance will be counter-productive.

I've worked with older co-workers who ran circles around me, and ones who took hand-holding just to accomplish simple tasks.

Companies trying to "culture-correct" to be "younger" or any other non-performance attribute will always hurt themselves.

 

1 In short: Take your age out of your CV.

As this matter affects me personally I've decided to experiment a bit.

Your birthday is a part of your personal details and as such it should be treated accordingly, so why make it available in a public document like your CV?

Besides being a security liability (among your name and permanent residency, your birthday is one of three personal details needed by a criminal to commit forgery against you), birthdays are maybe the single most irrelevant piece of information related to your experience, field of expertise, studies and cover letter for any particular application.

So my experiment would be exactly that, after a long and unfruitful job search with DoB info in paper, I'd remove that piece of information off my CV and Cover Letters and see what happens.

The results? In person interview from my first application.

Said interview is set and I feel confident.

2 Yes its their right and they should practice it.

The real question should be: Do such practices pay of in the long run or not and do you personally like to be a part of such companies.

Relevant research has been made and papers have been published for a tl;dr I'll just mention this name: Simon Sinek

 

You can get the face-to-face interview with the right CV editing and successful phone interviews and code screens. But, as soon as a "cool" tech company hiring manager sees that gray hair and wrinkles in the face-to-face, they quickly throw out the typical HR approved phrases like "You aren't a good fit for our company culture".

I've seen this same treatment happen to non-white/non-Asian applicants as well as to women who were applying to coding or network administration positions.

 

That may be so but don't get me wrong, I'm nothing but naive, neither in a vain attempt to "grow roots" in an environment that needs something I simply don't have, neither to "trick" or "scam" my place in the workforce. I'm simply holding back on info that given the circumstances are just plain misleading and the "age" issue will be set straight right from the interview.

The positions that I'm applying for, are nothing less than perfect matches for my skill set and experience, the companies I'm applying for are the companies you'd typically consider "part of the solution" and not "part of the problem". I wouldn't apply otherwise.

So if a company decides not to have me regardless, just for a number witch I have no means of altering or influencing, that's their prerogative. All I have to do is make them listen, it wouldn't be much of a discussion otherwise.

Witch ever the case may be, I'll always have freelancing.

 

Your age can usually be inferred from your job history, which is commonly listed on your CV (or résumé if you're from that particular outlier), or from your LinkedIn profile if you have one.

I don't understand why anyone would list their age (or birthday? What?) on their CV, though. What possible use could it be except to say "I am over the age where I'm allowed to drive a car on my own"?

Madness!

 

I hope this stuff ends soon. I started out as a CS major in 1997 and stopped because I had a chance to pursue a music career. Though I spent alot of time on music I always kept software dev around when I needed to focus on something other than music. I hand coded the website for one of my bands a few years ago. I worked on a Django project for a friend to get some experience with it. I checked StackOverflow every now and then to see what was trending. But, now that I feel like I've accomplished the things I wanted to as a musician I want to shift to coding. I'll be 39 in a few days. Am I wasting my time?

 

One of the exact reason Unions were started. Along with 40 hour work weeks and no child labor. Where does it all stop? When the narrative finally made Unions "Bad" they can finally again, do what they want to their workforce without any backlash. You basically have to just accept it.

 

Greetings to the Dev's members

France is where I live, well, I came back after being away for a long time. My beautiful country is probably the worst in matter of age discrimination. Of course, I am not generalizing but I want to emphasize that once you reach a certain age your chances of finding a job are greatly reduced.

Not long ago there was an article in a newspaper about it and this article was not only about the age but also in an order:

Age
Obesity
Women

Age: you are going to cost money if your skills are displayed on your cv. A junior will cost less, therefore it is more advantageous for the employers.

Now, bear in mind that they value your diploma or any paper such as bacalaureat and the like over practical experience. Again, not all employers are subscribing to this. Nevertheless, it is the main requirement in France.

Some employers also prefer to have some trained junior that are paid by the state so it cost them nothing. In fact, no salary to pay.

Why is that?

When an employer pays a salary he does not pay one but two because of the charges.

For the obesity matter this I leave it to you boys and girls as it is a subject of controversy much like the women one.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baccalaur%C3...

 
  1. We can't. Young people (myself included) are entusiastic and spend more time on the job because they don't have families. At the same time, employers have to pay us less than the seniors.

Work more for less money = $$$, that's how the management sees it. Even if juniors are less efficient, they work longer hours anyway :D

  1. It's not in the name of innovation, it's just cutting costs. "Innovation" has become the next bullshit word, such as "synergy", "cloud" etc. :D
 

You're equating "senior" with "senior", age with role. You can be a senior developer (role) at age 25 and be in charge of a junior developer who is 50.

No company is going to pay the older employee more in that situation.

 

I genuinely hope it's something that reduces as the internet generation gets older (yes I know modern computing has been around since the 80s). Once the "startup bros" realise they are building an industry that shortens their own shelf life.

I've had the privilege to work with very smart people from all age groups. What is think is important to remember is; your past experience counts but not every technology or role will be relevent for your whole career.

 

Glad to say we have 50+ developer in our team. I still remember during the hiring process, I told my boss that I'm a bit worry he's a little bit too old. His first software development job was at the time I was born ! But my boss was quick to reply, we can't discriminate over age, gender, race etc, so he's a go or no go ?

 

My plan is to try to stay as current as possible and keep things moving forward. We've recently introduced Vue.js into our frontend apps and we are phasing in Laravel into our backend from a legacy server platform. You have to keep looking at what's new and whether it will work for you. At least that's my plan to not get binned.
On the flipside I have a family now and balancing work and family life is hard. Younger devs won't have that problem.

 

One of the worst practices I have seen is incentivizing older employees to retire early for fear of losing some key benefits. I saw it at a previous employer when they threatened to take away health insurance for anyone retiring after year X. The result was everyone who was retirement eligible (regardless if they were ready to retire) left the company in a mass exodus. Tremendous amounts of institutional knowledge walked out the door simultaneously. I saw it with my father when they threatened to take away pensions.

 

There are so many humans alive right now on the planet. And each one has at least 2 or 3 perspectives of a situation. Imagine the number of types of discrimination that you can churn out!!!

There's no such thing as Age Discrimination, from whatever I have seen. Organizations want Experience ,Maturity and Strength to get things done. If hiring and firing is done at scale, you can even run Analytical Queries on the data that will be generated.

And then you can conclude anything you want and conclude any kind of discrimination you want.

 

Nobody throws dollar bills in garbage !!

I am sorry for my harsh comment, but it is fact, all people who get fired are mostly the ones who are not useful to the company.

With old age, comes, old age problems, family issues, kids issues, health issues, and company cannot take care of everyone's problem. With all these around, it is difficult for old people to learn anything new !! world is changing and world is changing so fast, just in last decade, so many technologies became obsolete.

This being said, developers must focus on business over coding. Experience in business is more valuable then in coding because technology will fade away in couple of years. If you look at business, it remains same, technology is just means to communicate but business principles remain same.

I have seen developers ego like, "HTML is too lame, I cannot write HTML when I am experienced Java developer with Sun certification L1D2M5". This is what kills developer and this is what gets them fired.

This is applicable with all types of discrimination. I never see any discrimination, I just see it as lack of understanding.

 

As I get older (I'm mid-40s) I see one problem coming up again and again: the older devs have domain knowledge that's getting scarcer because the younger devs are using hip new technologies.

That sounds like a benefit, and a great reason to keep the older devs around, and even to pay them more because of supply and demand.

Except... except those devs get pigeonholed and don't get the opportunity in work to learn new technologies themselves. They never get put on those projects, because they're needed supporting legacy software. They get disillusioned.

 
 

When you stop being curious you become the victim of ageism.

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