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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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The Taboo Topic of Ageism in Silicon Valley

Uploaded: Jun 25, 2014
A few years ago I searched for a technical expert for a case involving set top box circuitry and functionality and located someone here in the Valley. Meeting at his office he invited me along to the company lunch line. Looking around I observed that he was the only gray-haired guy there (besides me). How did he survive in tech so long?

There are longstanding concerns related to the increase in immigration visas, especially for H1B temporary tech workers. Is the popularity of imported labor due to a true lack of skilled domestic employees or do employers prefer H1B employees because they are less likely to be encumbered by families and community responsibilities?

Two recent excellent articles in major journals take up the ageism issue, which stirred me to think of the local impact on a declining middle class; and whether all the prognostications for Silicon Valley such as head count and housing consider this ignored demographic.

First an article in The New Republic "The Brutal Ageism of Tech" indirectly frames the problem as how the pressure on older tech workers is a boon to another sector – plastic surgeons. Apparently cosmetic surgeons have a new revenue stream - applying Botox to techies – men in particular. If anyone is interested Fridays are busy key day for patients since the weekend allows a physical respite.

"…In the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain. The consequences are downright depressing…."

"Still, ageism in Silicon Valley is usually more subtle: an extra burden of proof on the middle-aged to show they can hack it, on a scale very few workers of their vintage must deal with anywhere else. "People presume an older developer learned some trade skill five to ten years ago and has been coasting on it ever since," says a 40-plus developer whose department consists mostly of 20-year-olds.

In 1999, a consultant named Freada Klein began a five-year "quality of work" study of 22 start-ups, whose employees she anonymously surveyed on a regular basis. Though Klein found that few of the companies copped to overt discrimination, many confessed to having elaborate points-based systems for evaluating job candidates, in which they deducted points for being married, having kids, and living in the suburbs. The older candidates were quite literally being held to a higher standard."


The above lengthy article then studies the relation of entrepreneur age to receptiveness of VC's, using Silicon Valley ecosystem.


In the second article, "Tech Industry Job Ads: Older Workers Need Not Apply" the author addresses the role nuanced language in job advertising that can give cover to a corporation to avoid the legal quagmire of age discrimination.

"Young tech workers fill office parks and corporate cafeterias across Silicon Valley with few if any grey-haired colleagues in sight. It's a widely accepted reality within the technology industry that youth rules. But at least part of the extreme age imbalance can be traced back to advertisements for open positions that government regulators say may illegally discriminate against older applicants.
…
In fact, many factors explain the age imbalance in the technology industry. Younger workers command lower salaries and benefits. They are also less likely to have families and can therefore work longer hours. Some hiring managers also look for candidates who are a good "cultural fit," which can be code for young and hip.
"


We have a segment of population that is in a charitable word: ignored, but in reality is sandbagged. What is the impact for our area and Silicon Valley? This is probably an invitation for co-blogger Steve Levy to weigh-in. This week he writes about "Improving Job and Income Mobility for the Region's Low and Moderate Wage."

Any experiences in the crowd?



Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gen X, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Jun 25, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Though this is a topic well worth discussing, I would not agree that it's taboo. As a 40+, I hear a lot of talk about companies not wanting to hire old people, ie anyone over 35. Entrepreneurs over that age also have a tough time getting funding. Everyone is looking for the next new sensation, and middle-aged people lack that potential excitement.

The New York Times ran an article two days ago about the difficulties that women in their 40s and 50s encounter in the work force. The suggested solution: start your own business. (Of course, the business has to be small scale, preferably a service-oriented operation such as wedding planning or dog walking, since no investors will fund an oldster's startup.)

There's a major disconnect, especially in Silicon Valley, where people can expect to live well into their 80s and 90s but are deemed marginal or even undesirable by employers at half that age. Unless the 20-somethings all want to get jobs and support us, this isn't a stable situation.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Also almost 50, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 26, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Stuart, your linden page (Web Link) indicates you earned your BS in Computer Science from 1970 to 1977. Taking six to seven years to get an undergraduate degree, from University of Wisconsin, is not going to get you an interview at Google, no matter how young you are. If the problem is that you don't know how to use linkedin or even polish up your resume, don't expect recruiters to be calling you. When I look at your resume, it appears you have not worked anywhere for that long, and like to work for yourself as a consultant, yet another reason recruiters won't be calling.

Sorry, your blog post is lame. Nobody wants to hire old fuddy-dutties that want to sit around complaining about this or that, so stop. If you have a desire to do something useful, go do it, and then update your resume to reflect that passion and desire.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Post 50, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 26, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I am currently employed, but searching for new challenges. I have been fortunate enough to have many (great) interviews, literally walking away thinking "all that's left is the formal offer, and that impression comes from the result of the interview(s), only to then receive the automated and templated email message indicating they will be looking for someone whose skills are a "better fit".

Looking back on these experiences the common theme/trend is the age of the people doing the interviewing. Most are certainly half my age. Funny, they are always impressed with my experience, that is not boasting, but I truly think the one "skill" I am lacking and will never have again is youth.

This is not a taboo subject, but ageism is an un-spoken truth.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Econdataus, a resident of another community,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:07 am

According to the great majority of commentary I've seen, the "skills shortage" is heavily overstated if not an outright myth (see Web Link ). However, many H-1B workers I know do have families. I think that their attraction is their young age (see the third graph and table at Web Link ), their lower wage, and the fact that they are tied to the company.

Ageism truly is wasteful. Think about it, we are throwing away the last ten or twenty years of productive work of numerous skilled workers who cannot be realistically trained for any other high-skilled jobs. Proponents of a higher H-1B cap bemoan that we might send away a STEM graduate who is very likely to get a job in their home country. And yet they seem to think nothing of throwing their fellow citizens into unemployment in their latter years.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Econdataus, a resident of another community,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:21 am

For any older programmers who are out of work and/or oppose the expansion of the H-1B program, I've become convinced that the most help may come from organizations of like-minded programmers. You might want to check out the Programmers Guild at Web Link or their Facebook page at Web Link . Also, there is a good summary of the H-1B program of the H-1B visa at Web Link .


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gen X, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm

It's unfortunate that anyone is trying to derail this discussion with personal attacks on the blogger. I am surprised and disappointed that the Almanac allows it.

I see a lot of code words in job ads. Many want only a couple of years experience (when I was 20, it was the opposite!) and they'll use adjectives like "fresh" that make it really clear that they don't want anyone in the penumbra of middle age.

A few years ago, I had a boss in his late 20s. He was a good fit for his job in many ways, but totally myopic when it came to evaluating the potential of older people (older, in this particular setting, being anyone over the age of 28). I know, because I've observed it many times, that some people don't hit their professional stride until they're in their 30s. No matter how many examples I gave him, he refused to believe it. Maybe in the olden days, 30-year-olds still had upward mobility, he said, but no more. If you're not a success by 30, aint happening for you!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by don't shoot the messenger, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm

There are quite a few 40+ people living in Menlo Park that work at Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Cisco, Intuit, etc. We also have a lot of 40+ people working at startups.

If a 20+ person with an temporary visa can do your job for a fraction of your salary requirements, you have not managed your career properly. If none of the people you've worked with recently want to hire you, or even write up a referral on LinkedIn, you need to reevaluate your career goals.

When you were younger, employers put up with your behavior because you were inexpensive. Now that you are in the 40+ crowd, it may be too late to start acting like an adult. If you can't be bothered to mentor or manage younger coworkers, you may be a bad investment for your employer.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gen X, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Sure, let's blame the victims of ageism or pretend that it doesn't exist.

A lot of people in their 40s and 50s are willing to work at 20-something salaries. But in Silicon Valley, those extra years are considered such a handicap that employers aren't willing to bring in more seasoned people at any price. It's not just the cost, but the stereotype that middle-aged employees lack energy and creativity.

The big name companies and hot startups may hire a few token oldies to show how open-minded they are. Sheryl Sandberg hasn't aged out yet! But most 20-something hiring managers would rather employ their friends than people who are old enough to be their parents. And even the most glowing recommendations on LinkedIn aren't going to erase that bias.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Econdataus, a resident of another community,
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:44 pm

To Also almost 50: I suggest you change your handle to "Almost literate". Instead of "linden page", I think you mean "linkedin page" and instead of "fuddy-dutties", I think you mean "fuddy-duddies". You might try making use of a spell-checker. Also, I just looked at Stuart's web page and it says that he earned his degree from 1970 to 1975, not 1977 as you stated. If you have a link to a screenshot or archive that says otherwise, please post it. Most importantly though, I reread his post and he said nothing about his not being able to find a job nor that he interviewed at Google. He simple reported on two recent articles about ageism and pondered their significance. The most radical notion that he put forward was in the last paragraph and we said "We have a segment of population that is in a charitable word: ignored, but in reality is sandbagged." He followed that up with the question "What is the impact for our area and Silicon Valley?". Judging from your comment, I would suggest that it may be affecting the average literacy of our tech workers.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Econdataus, a resident of another community,
on Jun 28, 2014 at 12:12 am

To don't shoot the messenger: Do you have any hard numbers and sources for the number of 40+ people working at startups? In any case, I have looked at hard numbers and, according to the most recent Census numbers from 2012, nearly half of the software developers in Silicon Valley are non-citizens (see Web Link ). And, as you can see from the third graph and table at Web Link , over 80 percent of initial H-1B hires are under 35.

I remember several decades ago when we had some sort of social contract where companies would make some attempt to find a place for their long-term employees when conditions changed. They might let them take a lower position or take a lower salary. Now, most companies seem to say: "Can't find a job in your area of expertise and support your family? Not my problem!" I'm not talking about charity here, I'm talking about some sort of social contract and following the golden rule (the old version of it). Now, it's considered OK to scour the world for cheaper labor that will be beholden to you if it promises to put an extra dollar in your pocket.

I believe that we are already paying a price for this. When I started working, I felt that a company would reward me and keep me around if I worked with other employees so that they were more productive. Those days are long gone. I no longer document anything I do or comment my code any more than is required. The strange thing is, it is rarely required anymore! Most upper managers just care if the code seems to run. I also spend much of my time creating tools that make me more productive but I make no special effort to share them with anyone else. I definitely don't share them with our development center in India. From what I can tell, this is now the typical work environment in Silicon Valley.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Consultant , a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

Yep, too many H-1B workers here. Anyone over 50 YOA is not welcome in the tech world here. Interviewed at Google, Palentir, and CIsco....wanted me to work as a contractor. It's hard to work for companies that their CEO or top management are younger than you. Yet, difficult problems or tasks that their young ones can't handle, these big companies come to us "old group" for action. Oh yes, did I say it has cost them a lot of $$$$$$$, to contract with us consultants. It would have saved them a lot of money just to hire the old guys anyway....Also, a this is a big political question on immigration reform, too.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by oh really, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 30, 2014 at 10:01 am

"Sheryl Sandberg hasn't aged out yet!"

This comment says it all. She won't be complaining about finding her next job on this forum, she's a billionaire. In your next job interview, talk about how much you are like Ms. Sandberg.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gen X, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Jun 30, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Sheryl is 100% a beneficiary of our work culture's youth bias. If Larry Summers hadn't elevated her above the masses when she was a sweet young thing, where do you suppose she'd be today? We can't know for sure, but I can point to a lot of 40-something professionals with smarts and top-tier credentials who are fighting to hang on to their jobs.

Besides, those of us who lack time travel skills can't retroactively be anointed to the inner sanctum as college students. Telling us to mimic someone who got extremely lucky as a 20-year-old is hardly in anyone's best interests, employee or employer.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by ironic, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Akthough "oh really's" Sandberg suggestion seems to be a joke, it really hit a chord with Gen X. Sanberg spent years at Google under Eric Schmidt, who is almost 60. Another post complained about Cisco, where the CEO is 64.

If you are a Gen X programmer and you cannot yet retire, you were not one of the early employees of at any number of companies that created multimillionaires over the past two decades. Some people are lucky, that is true. If you think you are entitled to more because you are so smart, you can always start your own company or write a book.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gen X, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Jun 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

And your point, ironic? That it's okay to discriminate against anyone over the age of 40 who didn't happen to hit the job lottery at a young age?

I don't know anyone who wants to retire. Most people I know -- despite their Harvard/Stanford MBAs and extensive accomplishments -- don't feel particularly entitled. We just want what the 20-somethings have: a fair chance to get/keep our jobs. Discrimination against people over the age of 35 is rampant in Silicon Valley. And, all snark from its proponents aside, it is wrong and ultimately damaging to our society.

P.S. A lot of us have written books. Stu has! But without an Apple marketing machine to promote our books, we're not going to hit the NYTimes bestseller list.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Young oldtimer, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I have worked at startups and major local firms as a permanent hire and contractor including Oracle, Google, Yahoo and Facebook. The only time I have seen gray haired workers was at Oracle and not many. Google even had an infamous lawsuit where a Stanford professor was hired and fired after being termed the old guy. When I attend job fairs I see many older workers, and sometimes hear their stories. Both men and women in their forties and fifties seem to have trouble getting hired. I am in my forties, and headhunters often say what a great resume, but then after a personal interview, often get the other applicant was a better fit. Many of the workplaces feature tables, not cubicles and workers who are under 25 seem to like bonding with other hipsters who wear Vans, black spectacles and bus into work late from the SOMA pad in SF. You can try to color your hair, or develop a keen interest in craft beers, coffee, hip foodie topics and/or play on the Quidditch team or ride Mountain bikes, but you will still be as old as most of the workers parents, and not be a fit. I am not sure of the place for older workers in today's society.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Rakesh, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on Jul 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm

What is attractive about hiring those with less experience, or from abroad is they often don't know when they are being exploited, harrassed or have a sense of community only me first. Only after a few years of a team environment one realized the enormous divide between executive management's compensation vs. those actually doing the work. Age and experience trumps youth and vigor any day.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jul 1, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

"I am not sure of the place for older workers in today's society."

Well, this is really where I was going in the post: to what extent is this phenomenon considered by the planners for Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. For example, we shiver when accommodating housing requirements from ABAG - does this factor into any calculations imagineered by ABAG and Silicon Valley Leadership Group?

As a couple of commenters correctly recognize, the post is not about me, but about a growing group of our SV population, and the ironic by-product of our globally recognized innovation ecosystem.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by you can make it, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 15, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Proof you can make it after 40.

Web Link



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