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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 hawks5999 (588198) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:25PM (#42113017)
    If you read Slashdot, you are too old.
    • by siddesu (698447) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:41PM (#42113149)
      If you read, you're too old. There's a cool app in your shiny smartphone can read twitter for you and twit what you speak to it.
      • by istartedi (132515)

        If you think you have to work to make money, you're too old. That's what HFT is for. Creating products and services? That's so 20th century.

    • by Genda (560240)

      Flash!!! In an amazing breakthrough Silicon Valley Biotech Leaders have engineered the Coding Embryo... it will program in the womb. Valley start-ups cheer at the creation of the new engineers and their walking talking life support systems.

    • If you want quality of life, you are too old.

  • Secret? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:27PM (#42113033)

    Seriously, people, this hasn't been a "secret" in at least 10 years.

  • If you don't like it, consider the alternative. The system craves fresh meat/blood. So what?

  • Totally True (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:30PM (#42113055)

    Olds like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have no hope of creating products that young, hip consumers want. Only some grandpa with a calcified brain would have put money in their shit. That's why Apple has a sprightly young turk heading up their marketing.

  • young versus old (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:31PM (#42113067)

    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. There's something to be said though for people with a few years under their belt. For one, they know what failure looks like. For two, they don't go with the shiny things because they're shiny -- they understand business needs and can design things that'll last and can be scaled up. The dot com bubble happened precisely because everybody thought the dumb fresh-out-of-college kids had all the answers and we threw money at them like girls throw wet panties at singers on stage.

    And we paid for it. Apparently though, we didn't learn anything from the experience. Like say, a modicum of business sense.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      ... like girls throw wet panties at singers on stage.

      I've need to go to the shows you go to.

    • 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.

      • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:40AM (#42114103)

        Used to be, you worked 50 hours a week and the company paid that off with security.

        Today, you are expected to work 60+ hours a week, get divorced, have health issues, even die on the job (had multiple deaths in the current project so far : cancer, heart attacks, some among young people who shouldn't be having these problems) - as bad as building a big steel bridge or skyscraper).

        Then at the end they lay you off and put infosys on support for the project.

        There is no "paying your dues" any more.

        ---

        Bonus points: If the replacements suck - the executive gets "fired" and gets 2 years severance- effectively 3 years pay for the last year's work.

        ---

        I made it to the "finish" line- I never have to work again. Now, I'll only develop things that I want to develop (like I started because I loved programming). I'll never work on a holiday, or over night, or unpaid overtime again. I compiled and installed my first android program this week.

        ---

        Main point, you young pups just need to be aware there is no loyalty, there is no payback. You'll be used like batteries and it's up to you to use the company right back. To leave in the middle of a project if they put you on a dead technology. Give them the loyalty they give you. If it makes financial sense do it. Otherwise walk away.

        Got a fabulous company/manager? That could change tomorrow. I've seen it three times in my short career. New management can destroy the pleasure in a company within 60 days and then finish off the company in under 6 months and walk away rich while leaving nothing behind for the employees.

        And when you find yourself working over 60 hours a week- that's WHEN you need to be looking most. It's always time to be looking unless there is a huge completion bonus (and just be aware the company will probably screw you out of 50-75% of the bonus).

        ---
        And for the record- they put a bunch of young hotshots on the last project I was involved with. It was (is) horrible. They missed requirements, they turned in specs which didn't meet the requirements, they wrote horribly inefficient code, they managed projects terribly. Some of them were walking around with black eyes from lack of sleep. And that exhaustion showed in everything they did and the enormously inexperienced snap decisions they made.

        Kids are great for new technology-- and for small things. Enterprise level stuff and good project management requires experience. Oh the greatest thing was their decision to use only "happy path" testing. No negative testing. Ah the rewards of that decision just keep paying dividends.

        Why don't executives like experienced hands? Because they say "no, it's not possible" instead of "yes, I'll kill myself to make it possible" even when it's clearly impossible.

        But 40 is something new. It used to be 45. What's next... 35?

        • by SirGarlon (845873)
          Maybe the reason old people don't work in Silicon Valley is because they have the wisdom to walk away from the table when the game is rigged.
    • by matthaak (707485)
      If employer believes candidate A will do more work for less pay than candidate B, then hiring candidate A is a perfectly legitimate hiring decision and is hardly age "discrimination" just because candidate A is younger. If employer believes candidate A will do LESS work and require MORE pay than candidate B, but STILL hires candidate A because he is younger and the employer does not like old people, THAT is age discrimination.
      • "If employer believes candidate A will do more work for less pay than candidate B, then hiring candidate A is a perfectly legitimate hiring decision"

        And that, boys and girls, is the problem with management: they misunderstand "more work" for "more productivity".

        Don't work harder, work smarter.

  • Yeah, whatever. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:35PM (#42113091)

    15 years ago, I worked for a well known integrated chip manufacturer in Redmond Washington. They make very expensive power conditioning components for aerospace. It was my "dream job".

    I started work there as a Database Admin at a salary of well into the 80's with a teaser to move into the 90's, I thought that after years of grunt IT work, I'd hit it. I was 35 at the time.

    Well, of course there is a "and then it happened.." I got laid off.

    Long story short, at 35, and the "peak" of my "career", I found that employers wanted 20 to 25 year olds because they would do the same job, except at 60 hours a week, and for less money.

    So I went back to my military connections, and got a Civil Service job. I make less, but guess what? I have DECENT HEALTH CARE, and - here's the kicker - I GET 5 FUCKING WEEKS OF VACATION A YEAR.

    The biggest benefit is that some 20-something puke is not going to take my job.

    • 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.

  • by Assmasher (456699) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:38PM (#42113109) Journal

    ...not give a rat's a** what your age is if you've got a good idea AND a good implementation (ideas are cheap - despite what you may think.)

    I perform technical due diligences for multiple investors and they do consider the makeup of teams but never has age been a factor in the decision making.

    • ideas are cheap - despite what you may think

      That's what they say, but what's the difference between an idea and a vision? Or between an idea and speaking from experience?

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:39PM (#42113137)
    Whoa now, some of those 40 year old techies actually have enough qualifications to fit the impossible requests on job requirements. If we hire them, we can't get more H1Bs and complain to congress there aren't enough skilled workers in the US despite a depressed economy where jobs are hard to come by.
  • 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.)

  • I call BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:41PM (#42113151)

    No good software engineer need be unemployed. There is just too much work.

    I started coding professionally in 1970 and I'm still coding. Not a single day of unemployment so far, and I don't expect one anytime soon. Just keep up your skills and maintain a network of current and former coworkers, just in case. And do good work so people want to keep you around.

    • all my imaginary mod points to you sir!
    • Re:I call BS (Score:4, Informative)

      by afgam28 (48611) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @03:11AM (#42114211)

      That may be true, but that's not what the article is talking about. The article is talking about investors not wanting to invest in older CEOs.

      This is interesting because although older software engineers are often the victims of age discrimination, it's usually the other way around for execs. The stereotype is that good software engineers are all young and good executives are all older (and therefore experienced). Rather than do away with this stereotype, the angel investors have simply reversed it - they seem to think that all good software executives must be younger (and therefore more dedicated and visionary).

  • If you're old, you need to be special. Like an actual expert.
    With age comes expectations.

  • by kriston (7886) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:49PM (#42113233) Homepage Journal

    And this is a secret how?
    I developed grey hair in my early twenties.
    Depending on whether I've dyed it back to its original color, the experience of age bias is universal, whether tech firm, fellow parents, or getting carded for liquor.

  • by dubbayu_d_40 (622643) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:58PM (#42113295)

    Most of the successful people I know got that way to because they took a risk they were largely unaware of. These people were either psychopathic or young, both stupid. For every one of them, I'm sure there are thousands who suffered the consequences.

    But as an investor, who would you go with? The crazy ones of course.

  • Old versus young. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:13AM (#42113411)

    The funny thing I've found throughout my is that companies run and inevitably staffed by younger people tend to be a mess. Everything is done inefficiently, emotions affect decisions and everyone is far too comfortable working excessively long hours. They're definitely a lot more in tune with the latest trends, but they're also a lot more likely to waste their time on unproductive nonsense.

    Companies run by an older group tend to be far more stable and productive. Ironically, you're also a lot more likely to be appreciated. The challenge, however, is not getting stuck somewhere that's stagnated.

    On the employee side, however, if you want job security in the long term you'd better be considering management or a very special niche for yourself.

  • by guises (2423402) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:14AM (#42113419)

    "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

    I love this, only a person who can't remember their youth would make such a ridiculous statement. Age discrimination is ever-present, but tech is one of the few areas where it works in reverse. Remember not being able to vote or drink or smoke or drive or choose where you wanted to live or go to school? Yeah... no age discrimination.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Uhh... are you saying that it's discriminatory to not allow children to vote and drive? I'm guessing you must be a kid, probably an older one, and pissed about your lack of rights.

      Sorry, but you aren't Athena. You don't spring out fully formed and ready to go. It takes a long time for the brain to fully develop, and teenagers just aren't done yet. Slowly easing them into responsibility is the right thing to do. That's not discrimination, unless you're gonna try to argue semantics and pretend that "disc

      • by i (8254)

        But 13 year old's can get adult prison sentences: get life without parole.
           

  • 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.

    • by poached (1123673)
      Urgh. A lot of assumptions you made about intern programmers moving up, etc. Is that the speech you give to someone who you just hired? Promising them management within 5 years? There are probably 10 programmers all being promised that management position, but only one will get it. The ones that don't make it you say they lack motivation and fire them. Of course, it's never the manager's fault, right?
      • 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 Dan667 (564390) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:28AM (#42113495)
    lets just cut to the chase and call it what it is. The inexperienced getting taken advantage of. For every facebook there are hundreds of failures and I doubt that a venture capital firm would be so eager to invest in these if they had no way to extract a profit from them. Older also means more savy.
  • 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!'

  • Overstated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by samantha (68231) * on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:52AM (#42113629) Homepage

    I have been in software for 32 years professionally. Whether there is age discrimination or not it is certainly not evenly distributed across all employers. It is not easy to find employees and co-workers who are adept at software. Even merely adequate software engineers can be elusive to find. So many companies realize that discrimination on any basis is not something they can afford. I am 58 now and still going strong. There is no way I experienced any age discrimination in my 40s. And there are several people at my current small company (80 people or so) who are older than I.

  • Employment is overrated.
    I quit my job at age 40, and went independent.
    I never made so much money in my life, working so few hours.
    If you have the skills, just start your own enterprise, and show those young whippersnappers how old school engineers kick ass.
    The time is perfect for it: developers can market their produce directly to consumers via app stores.

  • by AaronW (33736) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:49AM (#42113923) Homepage

    I see a lot of positions open for people with years of experience in various technologies and a 20 year old isn't going to have that. I'm in my 40s and am contacted almost weekly about open positions both at startups and established companies. Experience is everything, that, and networking among former colleagues. At my company we have a number of positions open. We don't care much about age, we care about experience and skill. A programmer who has been around the block a few times will tend to write better more maintainable code. We've been looking for another experienced toolchain engineer (GCC, etc.) for some time now, for example, but they're hard to come by.

  • by erp_consultant (2614861) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:49AM (#42113931)

    I'm over 40 and I honestly have not seen any age discrimination in IT. Maybe it's just the circles I travel in but often age is associated with experience and in many fields it's an asset not a liability. I have seen one or two older people get let go but honestly their skills were not up to what they should be - age had nothing to do with it. Sometimes people get some skills early in their career and make some headway and then just sort of settle in and stop learning. You can ride those skills for a while but eventually the industry moves on and, if you're not careful, you will get left behind. Sadly, by the time you figure it out it might be too late.

    Age becomes a crutch, an excuse. In IT, like in many other professions, it's crucial to keep your skills relevant and up to date. Maybe your employer will train you, maybe you have to do it yourself. Either way, you've got to find a way to stay on top of the new developments.

    After the first failed performance review that should have been a clear sign that it's time to step it up. If that's me I'm asking my manager what do I need to do to improve? Get a plan together and work towards it. Set some short term goals.

    If it really truly is age related discrimination then that's also a clear sign - to get your ass out of there. Go work for someone that appreciates your skills. Better yet, go into contracting. You'll make more money, you'll work on stuff you enjoy, and you'll be hired for what you know and your experience is seen as a positive thing.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @08:38AM (#42115699) Homepage Journal

    What secret? IT is and always been age biased. The perfect IT employee is a 24 year old with 15 years experience in a 2 year old technology.

  • by Hillgiant (916436) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @10:17AM (#42116485)

    These age discrimination stories are really getting old.

  • by technomom (444378) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:38PM (#42120191)
    As a 50+ year old still earning good money at an IT company, I can say that yes, there is age discrimination, but yes, you can and SHOULD be able to work around it. The biggest problem that I see with fellow 50+ year olds is that they still want to be doing the job they signed up for when they were 22. Sorry, but if you are making a lot more money than you were when you were 20, then you should be doing a lot more. I keep seeing 50 year olds with resumes that brag about coding in Java or PHP. I'm sorry, but at your age and with that many years of experience behind you, you should be doing a lot more than coding. You should be leading, setting direction, defining architecture, setting the ground rules for the younger generation to avoid the mistakes that 20 year olds make. If you want an IT job at 50+, you need to show that you can do MORE than the 20 year old, not as much as the 20 year old.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @07:37PM (#42124381) Homepage

    I'm seeing a lot of people complaining that they're not being given opportunities because they're "too old".

    That's very large pool of calm, collected, experienced professionals who've been through the trenches, and already know all the products, systems and software that currently run the world, and will probably *continue* running the world for at least a decade.

    So why not literally pool together and form a company?

    "At Silver & Steel, we specialize in providing you with experienced industry professionals that don't make youthful mistakes that can cost you millions in lost profits or corrupted databases. Our team of proven operators can walk into your legacy environment and take full command of any situation without breaking a sweat and bring your systems back up to full operational capacity in short order. We don't make theories, we give answers.

    When you can afford to spend money on chasing your dreams, go for youth and enthusiasm.

    But when your nightmares become reality, come to us."

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