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Silicon Valley's Dirty Little Secret: Age Bias 375

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-off-my-lawn dept.
MightyMait writes "With my 40th birthday coming up, seeing this article makes me happy I have a good job (and a little wary of having to find another). From the article: '[T]he start-up ethos extols fresh ideas and young programmers willing to toil through the night. Chief executives in their 20s, led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are lionized, in part because of their youth. Many investors state bluntly that they prefer to see people under 40 in charge. Yet the youth worship undercuts another of Silicon Valley's cherished ideals: that anyone smart and driven can get ahead in what the industry likes to think of as an egalitarian culture. To many, it looks like simple age discrimination - and it's affecting people who wouldn't fit any normal definition of old. "I don't think in the outside world, outside tech, anyone in their 40s would think age discrimination was happening to them," says Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment attorney who has fielded age-discrimination inquiries from people in their early 40s. But they feel it in the Bay Area, he said, and it's "100 percent due to the new, young, tech startup mindset."'"
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Silicon Valley's Dirty Little Secret: Age Bias

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  • by DERoss (1919496) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:40PM (#42113143)

    Suing an employer for age discrimination is very difficult. Proving it in a court of law is almost impossible. Worse, a former head of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sat on some 20,000 age discrimination complaints until the statute of limitations expired. That person is now a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- Clarence Thomas.

    When seeking a job, however, there are things you can do on your own to reduce the likelihood of age discrimination. In your resume (electronic or hardcopy), omit any experience more than 10-12 years old. While listing schools attended and degrees earned, omit the years. Both men and women should use hair dye to "cover the gray", but men should not hide their baldness. (Young men are often bald by choice; but a comb-over, weave, or toupee too easily indicates an older man.)

  • by lucm (889690) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:55PM (#42113273)

    I left that place when I was 32 - after I sold my creations (plural) there to the highest bidders

    Reminds me of a scene from the book Microserfs (Douglas Coupland):

    Ethan: "I have brought four products to market myself. Four very successful products. (Unspoken sentiment hangs in the air like dying fart: "Yeah, but your companies all tanked within a year.")

  • by tsotha (720379) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:12AM (#42113401)

    Why should every business endeavor be a race to the bottom for everyone but the shareholders?

    They aren't. Shareholders (through their management employees) have an incentive to treat skilled employees reasonably well, since it can take a long time to replace and retrain them.

    As far as unskilled workers go... well, we've let in ten million Central and South American peasants to remove the tiny bit of bargaining power they had. Pretty much whenever the Democrats and Republicans act in collusion someone is getting screwed, and this is one of those times.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:22AM (#42113461)

    The tech world is different. Different because it's based not on hard labour, but on making clear and correct decisions. Be it programming, analysis, or project management, in this world the real effort isn't in the work; it's in deciding what work should be done.

    The actual work -- the long hours, the youth-oriented efforts discussed in the post -- is the blue-collar work. It's the low-wage, low-responsibilty, low-risk work of this industry. Of course it's best-suited to the young.

    It's not age discrimination to say that any 40 year-old in this industry should know how to make decisions without being told what to do. It's not age discrimination to say that any 40 year-old in this industry should be ready and willing to take responsibility for their own decisions. It's not age discrimination to say that any 40 year-old in this industry should want to be accountable for their work and take the financial risks associated with that work.

    What makes this industry different is that the lowly bottom-rung intern programmer has a direct path through project management into senior management right from the start. Unlike most other industry, there's no "management track". Everyone's in the management track. That intern should become a team programmer, then a senior programmer, then a team leader, then a senior team leader, then a team manager, then a senior manager, and then should be acquiring and selling to their own (or partially own) clients.

    So given a 40 year-old, with more than 5 years of experience in the industry, who isn't in a management role, it's not age discrimination to say that the person isn't interested in becoming anything more than they already are. And given a employee who isn't interested in moving up, it's not age discrimination to prefer an employee who does.

    This industry is all about those willing to spend an absurd amount of time focusing on a ridiculously specific task, and those willing to risk their finances on the success and viability of their own decisions. If you aren't willing to work through the night routinely, and you aren't willing to put your own money on the line, then there are plenty of other industries for you.

    Believe it or not, this industry is not about four decades of being told what to do. It's about 2 years of being told, 2 years of being taught, 2 years of being encouraged, and if you don't get it by then, 2 years of finding someone else. As an employer, I'm not interested in the 40 year-old that I need to supervise. I'm not interested in risking my money on the reliability of that 40 year-old. And I'm not interested in paying such an employee more than I would to someone I'm expecting to grow.

    So, as always, if you don't like the employment options available to you, start your own business and do it however you like.

    Start a business that only hires 40 year-olds. That's perfectly fine too. It can be the first question in your interview. It can be the only question in your interview. Make it work your way. Stop complaining when others do it their way. That's exactly the point. Either make decisions, or do what you're told. And sometimes, what you're told is that you simply aren't good enough. So when that time comes, stand up and prove otherwise with your own business. Some of us have.

  • Re:young versus old (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_Bionic_lemming (446569) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:30AM (#42113507)

    The age bias is because kids are young and stupid and will happily waste 40, 60, even 80 hours a week slaving away for peanuts on the Next Big Thing in computers.

    Yeah - about that. Yesterday I sat down to help a under thirty developer with a sql query he'd worked on for an entire day and couldn't get to work.

    Took me twenty minutes - but then again that's why I have a good job, and am over 40.

  • Re:Yeah, whatever. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KingMotley (944240) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:34AM (#42113539) Journal

    I kinda did the same thing, although I didn't get laid off. I got into a disagreement with the president of my then current company, and he asked me if I still wanted to work there. I stuttered for a second, and I said no. He was floored, since I had worked there for 15+ years, was the head of R&D and was fairly indispensable at the time (Noone is indispensable, but they were definitely hurting for a couple years after I left). I took some serious time off, and when I started actually looking for something to do, I found being a consultant changed a lot of things for me. No longer were people looking for the 20-somethings that would work 80-hours, they actually wanted someone who knew what they were doing, and would do it for them quickly (because all of a sudden now they have to pay by the hour). I can honestly say, I never want to go back. My clients are happy, and I'm happy. I'm no longer bitching about having to work 60-100 hour work weeks because my boss is unreasonable and I'm not getting paid for it. Now I actually DO get paid for it, and NO client of mine wants me to work over 40 hours a week because they don't want to pay me 150% of my normal rate. They are more than happy to delay whatever it was that they needed another week to save themselves a few bucks.

  • Re:40 is the new 60 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Drakonblayde (871676) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:37AM (#42113551)
    Don't be naive. It's pretty easy for management to manufacture a reason to terminate 'for cause', especially in an at will state. While it's certainly possible that the performance reviews were legit and the person was terminated because they weren't great at their job, don't automatically assume that just because some manager said their performance was below par, that's fact. I've had a few run ins with managers over the years who torpedoed my reviews for questionable reasons. The most memorable being the one who cited me for a lack of professionalism. Apparently, telling a manager they're wrong (privately, and very very conscientious of word choice, context, and tone) is unprofessional. This is why I refuse to work for little tin gods. The second I find out my direct manager is of that vein, I'm either seeking a transfer or another employer. My discretion and ability at choosing who to work for has gotten much better with iteration.
  • by Sarusa (104047) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:46AM (#42113601)

    Everybody at my place is over 30, mostly over 40, and we have several over 70. A lot of people come here after 'retirement' because they just go stir crazy sitting at home and not solving problems.

    We have a hardcore interview on real world problem solving skills and experience (not Google or MS gotcha brain teasers) and it's very easy to get a feel for how internally motivated someone is. We hire the good people even though they cost a lot more than the ones right out of college. But a good experienced guy can get twice the work done with half the effort/time, because we've already made all the mistakes - and then twice that at least if nobody else on the team is dragging them down. Another 2x if management isn't! It's a bargain if you look at it like that.

    Silicon Valley works on the model of 'hire newbies and burn through their endless energy for cheap while we spend the VC money on goodies' so what the story says isn't wrong. But I'd like to let experienced middle-aged people who really feel driven to engineer know that you can always get a good job at a decent small to mid-sized company - the job market there is huge. I get at least a couple job inquiries every month, and they know how old I am.

    It's the driven part that counts - I get a high off solving problems and making cool useful stuff, and so do the other people here. I've never thumbs downed a candidate who had decent skills and just couldn't stop talking about the cool things s/he'd done. But we can all smell a stagnant large company 'lifer' when s/he walks in the door. If you've got the drive, don't let yourself get trapped, even if 'it's a job!'

  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:53AM (#42113631)

    You're quite correct, I do make less that the "private sector". A lot less.

    People have this strange idea that most Federal workers are making "bank" and that just isn't so. I also work my ass of to support the mission of the agency I work for (the Air Force) for the benefit of all Americans. When you work for the government, you work for the People.

    About my vacation. I said 5 weeks, but I started out with less than that. All the same, the United States is one of the FEW civilized countries in the world where most worker bees get so little vacation time, an almost INHUMAN 2 weeks?

    Seriously, what can you do in 2 fucking weeks?

    Yes, I know that all the right-wing Tea Baggers thing government workers should be happy with $10 an hour and 2 weeks a year, but you know what? They're "Tea Baggers" which mean they are also morons.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:15AM (#42114025)

    I didn't say any of that. You're looking at intention and motivation, and probably a dozen other subjective and interpreted metrics. I don't care about any of those. I care about what actually happens. Yes out of 10 programmers only one will get it. And sure, it'll be management's "fault" most of the time. But it doesn't matter why. It only matters that.

    I'm not looking for any random manager. Nor for any random programmer. I'm looking for the programmer that fits the management. I choose to base the programmers on the management instead of the other way around because I pay the management more than I pay the programmers, and the management is more loyal to me than are the programmers.

    That's my choice. As a great comedian is known to say: they're my rules, I make them up.

    Again, and as always, if the programmer doesn't like my rules, they are certainly capable of leaving and making their own rules. That's EXACTLY what I did.

    I didn't like the way my employer divided projects. So I found a new employer. I didn't like the way that employer programmed their platform (no database). They wouldn't let me improve things. So I found a new employer. I didn't like the way that employer didn't let me know what was happening with the clients. So I started my own company and did things my own way.

    No surprise, I lost one not-so-great employee who didn't like my rigidity with procedures (I hate version control). I lost another perfectly decent employee who didn't like my lack of interest in major platform upgrades (ironically, I didn't see that one coming from my employee experience). And I lost a really good partner because he didn't like my focus on tedious efforts over challenging efforts.

    Again, if you want something done your way, you get to risk your own money on it. If you expect to get paid whether or not the client pays the invoice, then you just plain don't get to have the last word on anything. It's that simple. And when you work for someone whose entire life, family, car, house, pension, vacation, and retirement are all wrapped up in the success of the business, then you get to have no word on anything. You get to advise, you get to suggest, and you get to get over-ruled by someone willing to put everything on the line while you have nothing to lose.

    Again, risk it all, and you'll get to decide what happens -- whether you like it or not. But you don't get to say how someone else risks their money. You aren't risking yours. That makes you a dependent. That makes you a child. That makes you gutless -- and I mean that literally, not offensively. That's all fine. But that's the truth. If it's what you want, more power to you. Some people don't want that. Don't bother asking those people for money.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:59AM (#42114163)

    Whenever I hear these types of arguments I always think there must be some psychological term for this. That is, whenever someone has been deprived of some benefit, it is all too easy to get him to rally behind depriving others of the same.

    The term you're looking for is the Just-world hypothesis. Basically, it's the idea that good behaviors are rewarded and bad behaviors punished as a universal law of nature. So when someone is successful, it's not because of luck or chance, but because they deserved it. Likewise, if someone is suffering, they also deserve it. But it doesn't take modern psychology to figure this one out -- the greeks made a latin proverb out of it, which translated says "every misfortune is to be believed when directed against the unfortunate."

    This belief enables and extends into other things, such as a blame the victim mentality, and things that follow from the phrase "I was just following orders." Similar studies have been done on personal responsibility and it was found that the more people that could help, the lower the likelihood is of anyone helping -- that is, a person's sense of guilt is divided by the number of people present. Beyond a certain threshold, nobody does anything. That's why you hear stories about how someone was murdered in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of the street, and nobody helped the victim or even called 911.

    The asshat you were replying to simply has a larger than average dose of self-importance... a logical consequence of buying into the belief a bit, uhh, more than average. At least amongst the educated.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @03:23AM (#42114257)

    You're full of shit, and just looking to stroke your own ego. You aren't Mark Zuckerburg. You aren't Steve Jobs. Nothing wrong with that, most people aren't.

    Most people around here work for companies; they don't own them. That's practically tautological. At my company, the vast majority of engineers are over forty. Many, perhaps even most, are millionaires, but only just. That'll happen when you make six figures for most of your life and are competent at math. But the notion that everyone over 40 either has tens of millions or is a failure is total bunk. Just something you say to make yourself seem cool.

  • Re:40 is the new 60 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @04:52AM (#42114685) Journal
    Don't know anything about the GP, but I do agree that his posts on this thread don't sound like they came from a mature adult. Having said that I'm over 50 with 3 grand-kids, family life takes up a lot less time than when the kids were at home. Yes I am slower than I used to be, some of that may be due to dead or dying neurons, but I like to think it's because I have accumulated a long list of answers to the proverbial question; "What could possibly go wrong?"

    From the employers POV there are two main reasons to hire old farts like me.....
    1. More industry experience.
    2. More life experience.

    Speaking from my own experience, Once the kids leave home the financial pressures dissipate, even if you have no kids your mortgage is now what your rent was 20yrs ago. I was a middle manager for a few years in the 90's, herding cats is a thankless job and I don't want to go back. I would much rather get slightly less pay, spend my work time training my future boss and go home at 5pm. It's hard to explain that to young people who's only measure of success are the rungs on the corporate ladder and the digits on their paycheck. It's even harder to explain why some of my co-workers still turn up every morning even though they are in a financial position that would allow them to comfortably retire.

    As for Zuck and the other wizz-kids, they didn't get where they are by working for a boss, they got there by selling new ideas to a new generation. The keys to that kind of success are; the right place, and the right time.

    Disclaimer: Age != Maturity. I'm also fortunate enough to work as a developer for a Japanese multinational, they have an entirely different POV wrt to age and loyalty.
  • Re:40 is the new 60 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @08:41AM (#42115715)
    Plus about a million. I was a manager, and had been told to alter reviews to manage out people. I complained loudly that it wasn't true, but in the end they forced the hand. I got off the management train at that point, and I am happy to be where I am today.
  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @09:34AM (#42116099) Journal

    ...as a progressive, meritocratic business environment hasn't been squashed yet?

    Not only is it even more ageist than the rest of the IT industry in general, but it's also racist as all hell. [businessinsider.com]

    Apparently nobody notices if you cover it up with some hipster glasses and trendy office design, good thing this wasn't discovered earlier.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen

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