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Breaking in at 35
Age bias "isn't everywhere," says a techie who launched his career relatively late.

Kevin 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 association.

Sokolick's 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 it.

Coming 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."

Sokolick 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).

"I jumped at it," Sokolick says, and he was hired at the 150-person firm, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

He 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 problems.

The keys to his late-blooming success, as Sokolick sees it:

• "I sought out the senior technical people and asked them to teach me. I didn't wait for them to offer."

• "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 there."

Sokolick 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."

– Patricia Edmonds



Age bias against techies:
Brutal or 'baloney'?
In an exclusive techies.com survey, over-45 technology professionals overwhelmingly complain of age bias – but few techies under 35 consider it a serious issue.

By Patricia Edmonds and Anna Braasch

Age 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."

Of 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 industry.

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 older.

Overall, 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.

There 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.

Whom does age bias affect?
If age discrimination does exist, exactly who's being discriminated against?

The 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.

How 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 ages 41 and 45.

Who says techies become 'older' between ages 41 and 45?
25% of people ages 18-24
29% of people ages 25-34
22% of people ages 35-44
33% of people ages 45-54
34% of people ages 55-64

source: techies.com, 2001

To 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.

"No 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.

When 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).

Is 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.

expert.techies.com

To ask a question about labor law, click here.

When 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.

Related articles

"Do 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.

"Techies 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.

"Older 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.

"Studies 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.


"The 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.

"You're 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.

 

Older 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.

Among other 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."

Youth, 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:

  • Among 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.
  • Among 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 factor.
  • Among 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 factor.
  • Among 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.
  • Among 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.

When 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."

A 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 techies.com.

– Patricia Edmonds, former editorial director of techies.com, is the online managing editor for National Public Radio.


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