Why older IT workers can’t get jobs

As I approach my fifth decade of life (that’s 50 for you kids under 20) have I become less and less marketable as a IT worker? Let’s see. First the evidence and than my own personal experience.

Evidence

There have been many many, let’s say countless statements by older IT workers that once they reached a certain age, job opportunities and the opportunities to progress dried up.

Just take a read of these articles:

SAP News – Ageism in the Tech Industries

Channel 4 – Is the IT industry guilty of ageism?

IT industry paying high price of ageism

Some workers have even gone so far as to have plastic surgery and lie on the CVs about their experience. They may take 15 years off their CV with false dates.

There is some pretty strong evidence that the IT sector discriminates strongly on age. So why is that the case and why is it allowed. Do the law-makers look the other way or is it the fault of us older guys that we have ended up where we are? Let see.

My Experience

I started working in 1993 for a medium-sized software company in Ottawa Canada. I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed and I loved UNIX and hated Windows. But I loved programming and turned out I was good at it. I became interested in computers and programming when I saw the VIC20 with tape drive and 3.5k of RAM.

During my career I worked for a few companies and moved up the experience ranks. I always had a passion for technology and thought to myself that remaining a programmer would be a good move. But when I looked at the company structures and the people who made it to the top, not one was a programmer who then jumped to senior management. All had, at some point, moved to the management side. It was at that point that I knew that at some point within the next five years I would have to get away from programming.

Unfortunately for me at about the moment that I should have become a manager or a team-leader, I was a contractor making good money and I had just moved to the UK. I kept up the work as a contractor and gave little thought to finding a management position or a permanent position for the next 10 years.

And that is where I made my mistake. Although I had kept my skills up to date (I program in .Net, jQuery, JSON, SQL Server) I was just a programmer with little difference than hiring a guy with 5 years experience all in .Net. So recruiters would look at my last three years and then see years of Access, than some C++, but no Agile, SCRUM – or whatever the latest fad is – and chuck my CV in the bin.

Presently I do some freelance work which involves cleaning up and improving software which was written and developed by a completely unskilled “programmer”. Interestingly this person has a Arts Degree. As well I work for another company doing the same. And this is pretty common occurrence, young company hires young programmers, they have no idea what the word “Architecture” means and just hack it together. When problems occur, seek experienced bloke to fix it. Well, that’s me.

Conclusions

Its far cheaper for companies to hire new talent and train them up. But this is where the UK industry falls over, because UK companies simply don’t train people. So the UK recruiters have to find the people who already have the skillset matching identically. So a guy like me who is asking for top dollar simply can’t get a foot in. Sure if I took £25k instead of £50k I’d have a chance.

This is the sentence the older IT workers end up with, your experience actually going against you. This is why it is important that you do no stress that you are experienced beyond a certain amount of years. Only put on your CV the experience pertaining to the advertised job, leave everything else off. And ask for a reasonable salary that matches that job.

There are number of tips on how to present yourself here.

Dunno whether any of those will work. But at present I have become a trouble shooter and that’s probably where I’ll end up.

My advice

My advice to the older workers is to lower your expectations if you are wanting to work as a programmer. The other option is be a freelancer or a contractor, but either way your salary expectations will need to be a lot less than your true worth.

To those approaching their 40th birthday, I’d argue that if your company offers training to move to a project management or management position, I would take it. Experience in management will get you a job anywhere at the salary that you are worth. If no, than do not even think about leaving your present job no matter how crap it gets. It’s a lot better than long-term unemployment.

To those starting out. Be aware that your programming career may only last 15 years. Then you MUST think about progressing away from programming as I have mentioned above. Don’t ever think that you will be a life-long programmer. My experience and those of many others have shown otherwise.

Happy programming!

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