I recently got triggered by the post of a woman — in her early twenties — on LinkedIn who had held a good presentation on marketing but got the Age Card played on her.
Some businesspeople talked to her afterward about how they see the value of what she’d been talking about, but that they can’t estimate if she would be capable of pulling it off since, well, she was so young.
In essence, they were estimating someone’s professional value and weighted it by using the age variable.
Since like, forever, people have been estimating who is standing in front of them based on first impressions and the sparse moments since you first met.
People look at your clothing, how well you take care of yourself, how confident you appear, and someone’s age to determine if they can and will listen to you or even think of trusting what you’ve got to say.
Although I do not subject to these variables — they can sure be valid or used to find out what kind of person you’re dealing with — I DO think that in Tech, age is becoming a less indicative variable.
Born back in 1981, I’m thirty-eight years old as I’m writing this.
Too many times I’ve heard that people -often older people- say to young, talented people that they’re “too young”. That they “should wait a couple of years so their age works along” and more like that.
At the beginning of my career, I had a nice job in a very cool company. I loved going there — even if it meant commuting there long and being away from home from 6 am to 8 pm.
The thing was that I loved my job, but I didn’t get the appreciation I felt I deserved for all my efforts.
They kept playing the age card on me.
I had above-average knowledge of the company’s systems chain, did things outside of my job description and learned a lot that was valuable for many development projects throughout my career.
After about 5 years I wanted to get promoted from that junior title to the medior title, but my manager kept saying I was “too green” still (read: too young) 🙈.
I tried for a year making the actions required to get my promotion actionable, but no dice.
So I started to follow my dream and learned to become an iOS developer in my spare time. Within the following year, I had launched my first app and blogged about it.
I got a message via LinkedIn on a mobile development vacancy and started my journey as a full-time mobile developer.
It used to be true that for most non-physical jobs, you had to study. And that used to be possible only by getting tutored or going to school.
But gaining knowledge about topics — especially technical ones — got so much easier since that world is going so fast, and people are using other means than a study to teach others what’s hot today (and tomorrow).
In today’s tech scene, knowledge isn’t the biggest differentiator anymore.
Since the rise of the Internet, resources to learn anything have become easier to find, of better quality, and often cheap or even free.
If you can read and you know your way around Google, chances are you will find tutorials, blogs, courses, and likeminded people that can help you to learn what you want.
Add to that the increased amount of frameworks, tools, and online services that help you to implement your products and/or services.
So, assuming someone can or cannot create or do something technical solely based on their age will do people more harm than good.
As twelve-year-old kids can just as easily create as someone who’s in their forties (or beyond).
To say that age doesn’t matter at all would be folly. As there are aspects of a great mindset that need time and a lot of try-and-error to evolve:
Confidence: It is by doing something repeatedly, and succeeding multiple times, that people tend to gain confidence in their abilities and recognize their skills. To be confident (but not overconfident) helps someone to provide more value as they focus on the problem instead of their own (dis)abilities
*Softskills: **Mastering things like presentation skills, nonverbal impressions, a professional attitude, work ethic, teamwork tend to improve over time. You focus on different things in life as you get older and the context of your *life phase impacts your soft skills.
Know-how: When you have personal experience with different settings and scenarios, your know-how will grow. ie: if you’ve worked in agile teams, large companies, and startups, your knowhow on how those types of organizations and teams work. This helps you to get going quickly or make better decisions that work in a specific context. It is unlikely that you’ve worked in all of these scenarios when you’re just eighteen years old.
Age doesn’t define how much knowledge or experience you can have, but it is an experience multiplier.
The above list doesn’t imply that a teenager can’t have a great sense of responsibility or a professional attitude. But people are biassed to think so. On average, more people tend to be worried about their image and partying earlier in life than being professional.
Age itself might also work against someone’s potential. If someone has been working a long time using a defined set of tools and/or gained a lot of know-how and experience in a focussed area, it might become harder and harder to let go of that.
Chances are that you’ve heard one or two older people say: “I’m not going to learn that stuff anymore, as it is becoming irrelevant for me”.
In general, youngsters tend to pick up new trends and ways of reaching their goals faster. Partly because of the context of their life phase, meaning: not having a lot of obligations like a mortgage, kids, etc.
Taking risks tends to feel easier and more natural when you’re just starting whereas in general, there’s more take into consideration.
Of course, exceptions confirm the rule, but the same as with young people having less experience, there is a truth in there.
So, while taking all of this into consideration, let’s talk about how you can counter someone playing the Age Card at you.
I wish there was a simple way to stop people from using the age card and start to fairly assess people on what they bring to the table, but that would be a lie.
The truth is that the solution to the Age Card lies in accepting the fact that there will always be people that think age is a solid indicator of professional value.
Even more so, you need to understand that it is their issue *and *the profound lack of assessing people properly of those playing the age card that limits the interaction between you and them.
It’s not your or your age that is causing the situation, It’s about others defining their opinion of you on the wrong aspects.
Thinking of it like really that helps to see things in perspective.
It isn’t fun to be put in that corner of “too young” but when you know you have the experience and knowledge to do your job just fine, it’s a loss of energy and time trying continuously to persuade people of your worth.
If the Age Card is being played on you, you have two options that will help you to get moving on:
Discuss the possibilities of showing your capabilities and/or track record by pointing (or reaching out) to references of people that know your value or your portfolio
Move on, and find people that are capable of seeing your value and look past your age and work together
In case you choose the first option and want to share references with someone, it’s best to make sure you prepare by asking a former client, colleague or partner if they can vouch for you. This way, you can invest a fixed amount of time to get people ready to back you, and you can refer to them whenever the Age Card is being used.
If you decide to move on and find people to work with that DO value you on your accomplishments, you’ll have to spend more time on creating value for both parties.
With both options, it is good to write down your expertise and the aspects that you shine at.
Make sure you can explain what **the value is, that you can provide **so people can focus on your value instead of other aspects like your age.
Keep it short (one or two sentences) and make sure you know it by heart. It shows just as strong as confidence if you can tell people how you can create value for them without hesitation.
I didn’t mention this before, but the same goes around for people assessing older people as being old-timers, non-flexible or slow learners.
I’ve met my share of older people that could make up for what they called their slower learning curve regarding technical skills with experience.
The younger me was stressing out because customers were demanding things or because the organization was going to change their way of working, they kept their heads cool and kept providing value to the company steady and trustworthy.
Also, teaching others and helping others to assess problems the correct way were things that years of experience turned into valuable aspects of those people.
So, if you’re the youngster here, try to do the same and evaluate older people on their value and asses them on their capabilities just as they would need to do with you.
I hope by now, you understand that judging people in the tech community by their age lets both parties fall short:
the person that’s being judged might miss out on showing their potential
whereas the party that makes the age factor too big of a deal might miss a great way to work with someone who’s a star in her/his field (with many years ahead of them)
Let’s talk about what people bring to the table, and give people (young and old) a chance to talk about their capabilities and the value that they can provide.
You might be surprised about the level of dedication and eagerness that fuels some people, no matter their age.
“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.”
Whatever you do,
Code Hard, Ship Harder 🔥