Breaking in at 35
bias "isn't everywhere," says a techie who launched
his career relatively late.
Sokolick took a typical entry-level IT job (help
desk) at an atypical age: 35. Yet Sokolick, now
41, says he hasn't really had "the age thing come
up" as he's progressed to his third IT job, coordinating
computer operations for a small California trade
conclusion: "Age bias is out there but
it's not everywhere." And he thinks his own job
history is a good example of how to work around
off a 12-year stint in the military at age 30,
Sokolick wanted to work in law enforcement, so
he got a degree in criminal justice. While he
waited for a law enforcement position to open
up, the former Navy electronics technician took
computer classes and "talked my way into a help
desk job where they kind of liked older people
who were a bit more stable."
found the help desk work "limited," so
taking his age into account he set his
sights on networking, "something where I could
get in quickly, learn enough to get some certifications,
and progress up through the chain." He was a network
administrator at a bank, earning a Novell administrator
certification, when he saw the ad in the paper:
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors
wanted someone experienced at customer service
(his help desk hitch) and network administration
(his bank stint).
jumped at it," Sokolick says, and he was hired
at the 150-person firm, based in Rancho Santa
had "almost no hardware experience," he says,
which might have worked against him but
Sokolick admitted it in the job interview and
stressed his eagerness to learn on the job, which
is exactly what he's done. He now does "basically
everything except programming" for PADI, from
working with servers to troubleshooting software
keys to his late-blooming success, as Sokolick
"I sought out the senior technical people and
asked them to teach me. I didn't wait for them
"I didn't leave at 5 when everybody else did.
I stayed and learned as much as I could, so they
didn't have to spend (workday) time training me."
He has convinced his employers to pay for continuing
training. Today, he says, "I'm one test away from
getting my MCSE and I don't plan on stopping
says he reads about other 40-somethings who feel
unwelcome in the tech workforce. But so far, he
says, "I haven't really experienced that."
bias against techies:
an exclusive techies.com survey, over-45 technology professionals
overwhelmingly complain of age bias but few techies
under 35 consider it a serious issue.
Patricia Edmonds and Anna Braasch
discrimination is a "significant problem" in the technology
industries, said more than two-thirds of tech professionals
over 45 in a new survey conducted by techies.com. Thirty-one
percent said they have witnessed or experienced
a workplace incident they classed as "age bias."
the technologists under age 35 who took the survey, however,
fewer than one-third said they have witnessed or experienced
age discrimination or consider it a serious problem in the
January 2001 survey quizzed 1,027 technology professionals
about their views on age bias. The group was divided among
techies at all age levels: 25-34 (28 percent of the respondents),
35-44 (27 percent), and 45-54 (27 percent). Another 11 percent
of respondents were age 18-24, while 8 percent were 55 and
40 percent of the entire survey group said they think age
discrimination is not a significant or widespread problem
in the tech professions, while another 40 percent disagreed.
were big differences of opinion not surprisingly
depending on the respondent's age. Techies under 35 were more
than twice as likely as their over-45 counterparts to dismiss
the age issue as insignificant.
does age bias affect?
If age discrimination does exist, exactly who's being discriminated
techies.com survey respondents had sharply different
views on that. Almost three-fourths of techies age 18-34,
and more than three-fifths of techies age 35-44, said that
discrimination by younger against older workers is equally
as likely as discrimination by older against younger workers,
"depending on circumstances." However, more than half of techies
age 45-64 think that, in the tech industry, older workers
are more likely to be discriminated against by younger ones.
old is old? According to all but the oldest techies who answered
the survey, a tech worker becomes "older" or "senior" (in
terms of age, not authority or experience level) in the early
to middle 40s. Only techies 65 and up were most likely to
classify a techie as "older" somewhere between age 46 and
55. Among all other techies ages 18 to 64 the
most common conception of the threshold for "older" was between
41 and 45.
says techies become 'older' between ages 41 and 45?
of people ages 18-24
of people ages 25-34
of people ages 35-44
of people ages 45-54
of people ages 55-64
form an opinion based on age, co-workers need an idea of what
that age is. When the techies.com survey asked, "Have
you ever felt uncomfortable letting a co-worker or manager
know your age?" most under-45 workers said they had not. But
fewer older workers 64 percent of those between 55
and 64, 65 percent of those between 45 and 54, and 50 percent
of those 65 and up said they have felt comfortable
letting co-workers or managers know their age.
preference" on employees' age
While Old Economy workplaces traditionally have had older
workers supervising younger ones, technology firms and New
Economy companies often have reversed that pecking order
and the survey found some ambivalence about the switch. When
asked whom they'd rather work for, the largest share of younger
workers (ages 18 through 34) chose "a supervisor/manager older
than myself." When asked the same question, the largest share
of workers age 35-64 said they had no preference about the
age of their supervisor/manager.
asked what age range of technology workers they'd rather have
working for them, "no preference" was the most common
choice among all techies, from those age 18 to 24 (36 percent
of whom chose "no preference") to those 65-plus (57 percent
of whom chose it).
age a reason for a wage gap?
Some recent studies suggest that older technology professionals
on average earn less than younger counterparts with equivalent
experience. In this survey, however, younger techies (18-24)
were six times as likely as those 45-54 to contend that older
workers almost always make more money than younger workers.
ask a question about labor law, click
asked why older tech professionals might make less than their
younger, similarly qualified counterparts, one generation
suggested dramatically different reasons for a wage gap. Younger
techies taking the survey most often blamed old-vs.-young
salary discrepancies on the current technology worker shortage,
coupled with younger workers' tendency to change jobs more
frequently than their elders.
techies suffer an age-wage gap?"
Studies show older IT professionals making less
than similarly qualified younger ones but
is age the real reason? In our new survey, techies.com
readers give reasons of their own.
of all ages say age bias stalls progress"
A January 2001 techies.com survey asks
whether promotions, pay, and plum assignments
are influenced by a worker's age. Here, techies
young and old share their experiences and opinions.
IT professionals assert age bias"
Some tech industry observers and workers say age
discrimination is rampant – and starts as early
as age 35. But such discrimination can be hard
to quantify, and even harder to prove.
on age discrimination inconclusive"
Tech workers 40 and older may or may not suffer
from bias in the workplace, say recent studies.
There's just not enough data
to prove it.
3 commandments for younger managers"
In the 21st-century workforce and especially
the tech field it's increasingly common
to find managers considerably younger than the
employees who report to them. Here's some advice
for younger bosses on how to keep the age gap
from becoming a booby trap.
older than the boss or soon will be"
As more and more younger bosses take the reins,
it's only a matter of time before you get one.
Here's your guide to handling it like a grown-up.
techies interpreted salary gaps very differently, however.
Those 55 and older most often cited the perception that management
is less likely to promote older workers. Second on the list:
the idea that older workers are trained in older, low-demand
technologies that pay less.
reasons for older workers' lower pay, techies mentioned
everything from "Older workers are sometimes resistant to
the necessary retraining," to "Management is blinded by the
B.S. of most younger workers."
age blamed for workplace setbacks
When asked for concrete examples of workplace treatment they
attributed to age discrimination, most survey respondents
did not cite any but those who did split sharply, again,
along generational lines:
techies 18-24, one in eight said they'd been denied an expected
raise or bonus in the past year and about 40 percent
believed their youth was either the primary reason for that
or a contributing factor. One in 10 techies age 18-24 also
said that in the past year they'd been told they were too
young to perform a work-related task or understand a concept.
techies 25-34, two in 10 said they'd been denied an expected
raise or bonus in the past year but only about 17
percent believed being younger than the boss/co-worker involved
was either the primary reason for that or a contributing
techies 35-44, about one in eight said they'd been denied
an expected raise or bonus in the past year, and the same
number said they had not been offered a job for which they
were well-qualified. Nearly a quarter of these techies believed
that being older than the boss/co-worker involved was either
the primary reason for their treatment or a contributing
techies 45-54, about one in five said they had not been
offered a job for which they were well-qualified
and fully half of those believed that being older than the
boss/co-worker involved was either the primary reason for
their treatment or a contributing factor.
techies 55-64, one in four said they had not been offered
a job for which they were well-qualified and nearly
60 percent of those believed that being older than the boss/co-worker
involved was either the primary reason for their treatment,
or a contributing factor.
survey respondents were asked to recount
their experiences with age bias in the tech workforce,
an under-25 help desk staffer described being "laid off before
anyone else because I was young enough to easily find another
job." An over-45 techie recalled a job counselor telling him,
"Go home and dye your hair."
systems administrator in the age range of 45-54 had an ominous
prediction. "I think this tech worker age issue could become
a much larger issue if a slowing economy results in less demand
for tech workers," he wrote. "I fear it could get ugly."
Anna Braasch is the former community relations developer for
Patricia Edmonds, former editorial director of techies.com,
is the online managing editor for National Public Radio.