Out with the old, in with the new?

3 reasons why age bias is not just back-fence talk

Gabriela Motroc
age bias
Business image via Shutterstock

Software ageism is (still) a sensitive topic which resurfaces once in a while when a high-profile lawsuit hits the IT industry and then goes back into hiding. According to PayScale, successful companies in the technology industry have median employee age of 30 or younger. Meanwhile, Stack Overflow claims that the average developer is 29.6 years old and the median is 27.

Oscar Wilde once said

With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.

Age bias is not something we should take lightly; it is the elephant in many Silicon Valley rooms (but not only!) which refuses to leave. IBM’s first Technology Evangelist David Barnes said in his keynote at JAX 2016 that developers should be multi-lingual; still, it’s worth mentioning that the likes of Cobol will not help a developer’s cause. A developer who experiments with young, yet promising programming languages in his spare time is any employer’s dream as opposed to a person who spent decades to fortify their knowledge in one language that might soon become extinct.

Let’s discover the stages of age discrimination:

#1: The first to be fired and the last to be hired

Internet pioneer Brian Reid claimed Google fired him because he was too old to fit into the company “culture.” According to court papers, the man’s colleagues used to call him an “old fuzzy-duddy” and “old guy” (he was 52 when he was hired and 54 when he was fired) and his boss Urs Hoelzle, who was 38 at that time, dismissed his ideas as “too old to matter” and “obsolete.”

A few years later, software engineer Robert Heath filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the same tech giant; Heath, who was then 60 years old, claimed that he was rejected by Google even though he had “highly-pertinent qualifications and experience,” with a Google recruiter calling him a “great candidate.” According to the lawsuit, the media age of Google employees is 29 years old.

#2: Stagnant salary

Paycheck is another side of the story — older developers have higher salaries than youngsters, which is why some employers consider that choosing the latter to the detriment of the former is a good solution, business wise. Add the lack of patience which supposedly comes with age and you instantly become unfit for their “forward-thinking” teams.

Some developers claim that salary is like a window to age bias: the moment the salary stops growing, you know age discrimination has kicked in. 

#3: Fewer opportunities for advancement

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a Y Combinator Startup Stanford University event a few years ago:

“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30?”

Companies with tradition have older employees because either they’ve been with the company since the beginning or the employers prefer to focus on experience. Younger companies are the opposite and when an older software pro decides to impress young recruiters or CEOs with their deep knowledge, age bias comes into play. Even though their experience and knowledge are enough to get them hired, as time goes by they may have fewer opportunities for advancement.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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