Education

Poll: Is youth or experience more valuable for working in IT?

One of the hottest debates in the TechRepublic forums lately has been the issue of whether youth is an essential asset for a career in IT today. See both sides of the story and vote in our poll.

We've had a firestorm in the forums on TechRepublic over the past week, ever since Jack Wallen cited "Youth" as one of the 10 things you gotta have to succeed in IT, and then Toni Bowers responded with her rebuttal, IT is best suited for the young? I don't think so. Now we'd like to officially put it to a vote with a poll.

First, I'd like to clarify something. We received a number of angry messages from readers in response to Jack's article, with many of you asking questions such as, "How could you publish such a thing?" and "Is this what TechRepublic is all about?"

The thing I'd like everyone to keep in mind is that TechRepublic is not a homogenized source of information with a single set of principles and ideals. First and foremost, TechRepublic is a community of technology professionals and on almost any topic you can find contrasting points of view among our writers and members. We like it that way, because that's the way it is in the real world. We believe that TechRepublic should always represent the diversity of viewpoints, and that the clash of differing opinions will help us ultimately get down to the truth. In order for that to work, we promote unity in diversity, which is all about respecting different opinions -- especially in the ones you don't agree with.

As for the youth versus experience question, for me this evokes a sports metaphor (as usual). I think of Michael Jordan when he first came into the NBA. The guy was pure energy and enthusiasm. He would make acrobatic layups, fly around blocking shots, and simply dunk right over people. He was amazing, but he was also out of control at times. Later, when he reached his mid-30s, he was arguably an even better player. He certainly won championships a lot more often. But, he no longer had 40 minutes of ferocious energy that he had in his 20s. Instead, he became much more efficient, no longer wasted as much effort, and used bursts of energy at strategically valuable times to outperform opponents. In his 30s, Jordan just flat-out outsmarted many of his opponents because he was a more diligent student of the game and had a lot of successes and failures to draw from in his experience as a basketball player.

Obviously, the careers of professional athletes are condensed into a much shorter period (10-20 years vs. 40+ years for average workers), so we should think of Jordan's 20s as the first half of the career (25-45 for an IT pro) and his 30s as the second half of the career (45-65 for an IT pro).

More specifically, in IT, younger workers are often sought after because they are cheaper, are willing to work longer hours, and are more malleable -- since they aren't already locked into a set of skills, procedures, and technologies. Meanwhile, older workers are often preferred because they know how to get things done, have usually been through multiple platform transitions, and can use their experience to efficiently complete projects without wasting as much effort or resources.

So, now it's time for your vote. Answer the question below, and then dive into the discussion.

Take the poll

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

120 comments
GBPTech
GBPTech

Lets be realistic here, I am a "Youth" im actually only 19 Yrs. old. But, I also have to add that age does not matter, no matter what. Experience is key and from what I see from my peers a LOT of young people try to get into computers but at the same time most of them are no good. I love my job and I know im very good at it.. then again i would consider myself an experienced youth. Well, More than others. Head tech at the shop I work at for three years. And ive been doing this since I was 12.. Now I am sure most of you on here are by far more experienced so when age is involved it should not be questioned. Only, Skill in what you say you can do. I have proved myself to my peers and employers, Everyone else should do the same.

completeitpro
completeitpro

You may need a bit of both - experience for some roles, youth for others. Generally younger = cheaper, but you can get what you pay for, as the saying goes! I'd probably prefer experience.

floram
floram

I never thought I would ever say this, but yes, I take experience over youth. And, BTW, youth is no guarantee of energy!

Techeads Anonymous
Techeads Anonymous

Whether you are driving a car, making love or IT admin. Experience is required.

wuboyblue
wuboyblue

I figure it's a mix, you need experienced chief's to run the place and cable monkey to crawl the ceilings.

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

and the younger and less experienced the better. Managers have been saying this for years. The ideal employee is young and totally inexperienced, so they can be brought in cheap and molded to exactly what the manager needs. That's the way that the managers were developed, and why IT jobs are now being outsourced to people who IT managers can never meet, mold, or actually manage. In a few years the well-managed experienced IT workers from those countries will be coming back to replace the totally incompetent managers who outsourced work to them - and hiring inexperienced American workers who can be trained to do the work that Indian and Chinese IT workers are too experienced to do any longer. The Chinese and Indian owners of those companies will find this very profitable.

Shankarl
Shankarl

I am sure about what I am expressing now. The one and only thing I look in a guy is how quick he can embrace change. IT "STRONGLY" belongs to the people who adopt quickly to change. AGE does not matter. I feel this is sort of work where lot of physical work is not required so even people in late 50s can work comfortably. Note: Those who can not adopt or learn new things will quickly be outdated.

'techy'
'techy'

I've been in IT for almost 5 years, not allot but enough. It was my second year of working at a educational facility when the old IT admin left, and I got put in his place, and they said 'make us move forward', and that's what I did. BUT, I spent more money than what I needed to and my virtualization strategy wasn't all that good. In the end they saw the 'end product' and really liked it. NOW, I was place in a similar situation at another company; cost effective, better virtualization techniques, faster implementation, new ideas. Both are good, but experience pays off all the time, but where's the experience without previous youthful vigor. I believe a mix of experience and youth are needed if available, I know the feeling of a 1 man shop, it makes things harder, no space for error.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

If you're bringing in new technology and software; you want primarily young people to be implementing it. They are generally more adept at adopting and picking up new stuff. However, you do need some old hands in the mix to ensure that you don't repeat the mistakes of yesterday. I've seen way too many times where the new kid on the block wants to implement a solution that we tried 20 to 30 years prior that failed miserably. It's a generational thing and experience is usually the ONLY solution as lessons learned were either not recorded, or were lost over the decades; or nobody was willing to read the records from that far back. Older workers are great for keeping things running smoothly, and for knowing what to fix when things go wrong. Experience pays in those instances. There are times that you need youth on the job when it requires flexibility and endurance. However, young folks have a tendency to overestimate their staying power. NOBODY remains sharp on the job after 10 to 12 hours of work; and if you've been up for more than 20 hours, your judgment's gotten so bad that you don't realize that it's bad.

ra.kish
ra.kish

Can always learn new tricks.

Brian Bevan
Brian Bevan

As a Retired Prof. Dean of an IT department in a UNiversity and also an international Consultant I say we need the combination of both young and OLD.Youth brings exhuberance and new and inovative ideas, Combine this with the experience and PATIENCE of us older IT people can only benefit all and I have seen the effect of this and IT WORKS

GwanUpNorth
GwanUpNorth

I've only been subscriber for about 9 years but, subscription cost for me intially had to be viewed as a personal educational investment. Not every young tech thinks like I did, back then.

nipchinkdog
nipchinkdog

youth have it all of the innovation in mind, we would be serving a new era of youth so we would be needing a newer point of view, it maybe a risk but it would be an innovation :)

WorkingDigital
WorkingDigital

This is a multi-faceted question, and both have their pros and cons. It usually boils down to cost and the needs of the company. Start-ups do much better with youth because of the lower cost of entry and rapid productivity requirements. Larger, more stable companies more often look for targeted experience and less turn-over. The question also depends on the job itself and how much it relies on talent vs. developed expertise. I might be willing to hire a young graphic designer with lots of raw talent, but I'd rather have tested experience with my network security engineer. Here are some generalizations that often, but don't always, apply (which is why this is a controversial question): Youth pros: less expensive, more energy and willingness to work overtime, more optimistic, more adaptable, more upside Youth cons: more training needed, less proven, less exposure to various situations, more of a flight risk, higher expectations Experience pros: generally more skilled, proven track record, shorter ramp-up time, brings outside perspectives, can be more loyal and settled, more exposure to diverse situations Experience cons: more expensive, more outside commitments, not as adaptable, may be less motivated

clogah
clogah

in my opinion, after being a youth in IT and still growing into an experience IT Pro, I'd have to agree that experience pays, in that it ensures efficient and effective use of resources in achieving IT and organizational goals especially proper tracking and applying of trends to reduce IT cost. Thanks.

ActiveAvatar
ActiveAvatar

If you could ONLY have one or the other then there is safety in wisdom... but there is danger in tired old minds unable to change, just as there is in brave young things who have energy but little focus and discretion. Fortunately those are extremes, not definitions of young or old. I have been through the bright young things phase when lots of projects went pear-shape because cheap young recruits reinvented what didn't work before, but that was still being taught in colleges and universities. Give me a team anyday Open minds and common sense People with vision are critical to a project's success, then people who can knuckle under and build it skillfully and elegantly.

Hangar18
Hangar18

I've saw many "experienced" people who are set in their ways and really can't adapt and have no idea how to troubleshoot without help. I've also saw tech graduate hires outshine the "experienced" people in a few short months because they know how to find the information and are quick learners. On the flip side, I've saw the exact opposite, so it depends.

r_chabie
r_chabie

i think we are painting with a broad brush! when there's a crisis, youth is less likely to solve it, and the old fart - whether he's lazy, has an attitude, stubborn or not - will have to step in and do the job. However, others notice a lazy, stubborn, full of attitude, unsubordinate, over-paid employee's way of getting by, and often it changes them into the same. that is bad for the team morale and productivity. Another problem with experience/old farts is that change is not big. They'd (i'd like to exclude myself from these!) rather do the tried and trusted, and fall behind over time. Good example of big IT companies of yesteryear vs now. (IBM & EDS vs Google & Apple) - which is better? Voted for experience anyway! After all, the job has to be done before the paycheck is delivered.

scpintl
scpintl

That is the question. Stop fooling yourselves. An HR director once said to me he can hire 2 to 3 young IT people for the price of an experienced person. That is what companies are looking to do. Save money! I agree the more efficiect worker will realize savings, but that is less obvious than paying someone half the salary! There should be a mixture of youth and experienced, but as long as IT is viewed as a young persons field (as stated the the comments that people admire the fact that the young grew up with computers) that will not happen! At least as much as it should. Other fields you build your career. There are not too many people who come out of school with Accounting degrees who's first job will be as a controller. The start out as staff accountants first, learning their craft, It should be the same with IT.

bobc47
bobc47

Years ago while working for an engineering department our company was sold and we got a new manger for the department. He turned everything upside down and put in place new procedures for designing systems, needless to say there was a lot of friction. He was about ten years younger than I was as were several of the engineers we had at that time. One day he got us all together to try and explain why he was doing this and he commented on the fact that although he threw more darts at me all he got for efforts was to find them coming back at him. The younger guys asked me how I did it and i told him I was able to separate the wheat from the chaff and thus ignored well over half of what he wanted, that freed me up to do what really had to be done and i was almost well ahead of him by the time he requested something. In the end experience, and a good analog background, got me a lot further then youth and energy. One thing he often told us was to work smarter, not harder.

tomtex
tomtex

Given the responsibility to take over the design and delivery of an integrated system for a major state institution, using the customer's choice of tooling and for which none of my young team or I had experience or prior knowledge, I organised intensive training and coached them all in the principles of cooperation. This was the first time that they had been empowered to work together constructively. Backed up by an efficient test team and good solid feedback, the developers quickly coalesced and produced. Six months later we delivered on time. The team split up and we went our separate ways. A year later, the Test Director won an award for the best recovered programme in a Global Recognition Award. He had the good grace to say that it was down to the Development Team who by and large were contractors and engaged elsewhere by then. I still remain in contact with all of the team and we all learned from the experience. As the "oldie" of the group, I not only had to demonstrate leadership but passion and energy, moderated by sound underpinning of proven methodology and process rigour. Better still than the success achieved was the friends I made for life. Mutual respect and recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each other.

bobdavis321
bobdavis321

At my first assignment I was under an older more experienced guy. He had me get his coffee and other 'stupid' things. I was really annoyed, after all I could fix anything. The problem was that he wanted to adjust my attitude first. Finally he outright said so. He was right too. Now I look back and wonder how I survived those early days. At my current job I am their third IT guy in just a few years, I think I got the job because I was older and easier going. The other two were young 'know it all's' who told everyone not to bother them and acted like they knew all the answers.

Draycus
Draycus

It's experience that has the most value "in most cases."

iamreinbow
iamreinbow

Persons with experience have great value in the IT department of any company/organization. They bring experience that the young people don't have. However, IT departments need younger people . How will the youth learn without leadership or apprenticeship with the experienced. They also bring new perspectives. IT departments need both to succeed and grow.

serena
serena

My nieces boyfriend is starting in IT he is 21! Have tried to help him out and get him round if i have a problem with one of my 4 pc's... Usually he messes something up and I know more than he does.. Another friend, my age ( mid 50's) been in IT for 20 something yrs knows so much more and in so much more detail... even helps me long distance!

techrepublic
techrepublic

IT is like brain surgery. Do you want the younger surgeon who's done 10, or the older surgeon whos doen hundreds?

harry.kron
harry.kron

Most of the comments spawned from Jack Wallen's article were almost unanimously in favor of experience. I'm not surprised that the poll reflects it. Youth vs. experience alone is never a valid debate, and in my opinion, you stooped to the lowest level of journalism here, creating a debate where there is none. Shame.

stillwell.john
stillwell.john

I dont think you can say is youth or experience better because in this industry it is possible to have both. I have been working on computers since I was 10 and doing it for work since I was 15. I will be 30 this year and I have people look at me like im crazy when I say I have 15 years of experience. I have also had interviews where they told me I was too young or accused me of lying. I still have the energy to be able to run cabling or lift heavy server into racks but I have the maturity to know when to use that energy. This has been a complicated issue for me as I have trouble getting a job that gives me the responsibility and pay I desire. My biggest problem is that no one believes that I am as good as I say and by the time I prove it they dont want to pay me more because they are already getting the work out of me. So I have a choice, either try to find a new job or hope that they will give me the raise I deserve at my current one. I feel that youth is exploited in IT as the older managers/directors/CIO's dont do any real work and the young guys are taken advantage of for their ambition to learn the new systems that most of the older guys haven't even seen yet. I cant tell you how many times I have had to correct my superiors and been reprimanded for it only to find out later that I was right. Did i get credit for that, was I given a raise or a bonus or even just thanked? No. I think the problem is what it has always been and that is that people in the upper positions get lazy and complacent and start to think only about money. When they see someone come in who can run circles around them they will steal every thought that person has until they run them out or that person confronts them and they can spin that to get the person fired. It may just come down to a personality difference between me and that management team, most likely the case, but it seems to me that jealously prevails more than logic. That cracks me up in an industry that is based on logic at its core. I have no problem admitting when someone does something better than me but most people have never learned to have that kind of humility. Just my opinion from my experiences and I can say it is all about the people around you and a good manager should be able to spot the real troublemakers and root them out not just listen to their "yes" men/women.

celltrix
celltrix

I go for experience coupled with knowledge. You can have many years of experience but lacking the right knowledge or exposure. I had a big laugh on Jack Wallen's article and was pretty sure it will invite a firestorm. Being young doesn't necessarily mean that you have the edge on the IT world no matter even if you have the latest certificates and knows how to navigate with the menus. In the real world, IT pros who can normally resolve issues in no time are those people who has years of experience and right exposure. Coping with pressure is something that youth can not cope up with or may not be even familiar with. It depends on the industry they are engaged in. I am working in an oil-and-gas industry, a global one. There is nothing like it when you have to work on a different time-zones to meet up with other colleagues to resolve issues. In my experience, younger ones tends to disapper without notice after 5:00. There are of course very few from the younger IT pros who are willing to meet up with the challenge... but again... VERY FEW.

mackzi9@bigpond.com.au
mackzi9@bigpond.com.au

While working with the government in IT related work, I had to train young IT persons, and generally I found them to be incompetent. Heaven knows how they were promoted to those positions. The young persons view of programming was nothing short of hacking. I recall one "young IT professional" loading a file to Excel to sort it rather than use a Sort maro within the script. Ha ha ha.

SStine
SStine

I am 44, follow the latest trends and still game online (xbox live). Years of experience have changed my role to more of a manager/supervisor/mentor, but inovation and change are core to the industry. I love it and frankly consider the question a state of mind. Yep, the wife calls me a "big kid" - not because I lack responsibility, but because I am forever playful. Yes, I have lost some of the energy of youth, but I am more efficient and focused at work...while being able to work and play with younger people without gaps in understanding or relation. Life's too short to not squease every drop out of it before I am done. That is an advantage I have that some of my equally aged compatriots do not. My youthfulness provides the "you know what would really be cool?" My experience provides the "how," the "So what" answer and "Why this is important." So I guess ultimately, time in the industry is crucial to acquiring focus and reaching the top rungs...but never losing your youthfulness will enable a great combination for success. Otherwise, stagnation prevails and unless one has extensive experience in a highly specialized area, one's risk increases in ones potential lack of inovation and adaptability to change.

ellendilmw
ellendilmw

If you had asked me this question 10-15 years ago, I would probably have chosen "youth". The reason for that choice would not have been to denigrate experienced workers but to recognise the fact that many of the "experienced" people in the industry in the 80s and early 90s had come into IT from other fields (most notably Accounting) or came from an era of fairly stultified work practices. My experience at that time was that "Senior" people were generally less willing to look at (much less introduce or adapt to) newer technologies more suited to the environment they were working within mainly - in my opinion - due to their fear of "change" and being "rendered obsolete". Those two fears have been consistent in most aspects of business virtually forever, and their impact on ICT (a field which more than most others is built, and thrives on rapid change and improvement) can generally be severe. This has now largely changed as most of the "Senior" people within the ICT industry are the ones that were just coming in at the time of greatest change (i.e. when people moved from Mainframes/Minis to PCs/Server and/or when The Internet and WANs became prevalent) and are comfortable with the rate of change about them as they have experienced it their entire career. The result of this evolution of the industry is that we now have a solid core of professionals with 15-25 years of the "right" experience that are able to properly mentor new people entering into the field without trying to chop them down from the fear of being rendered obsolete.

rquance
rquance

I have worked with many IT people and find that there is a point when age defeats your experience and youth needs to take over. Many older Techs do not keep up on modern developments so youth has to take over to save their butts. The question needs to be modified to include conditions due to age or inexperience.

cbci
cbci

I always saw this as youth is the beginning balance which you will hopefully spend on experience. Because the cost of experience fluctuates, for every unit of youth you spend, you get various amounts of experience. The balance between the two is knowledge. Spend your asset wisely and you end up with a good chunk of positive knowledge. And, knowledge, if utilized correctly, helps keep down the cost of more experience.

cbci
cbci

I always saw this as youth is the beginning balance which you will hopefully spend on experience. Because the cost of experience fluctuates, for every unit of youth you spend, you get various amounts of experience. The balance between the two is knowledge. Spend your asset wisely and you end up with a good chunk of positive knowledge. And, knowledge, if utilized correctly, helps keep down the cost of more experience.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Training, on the other hand, is required for proficiency in all three.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is the thinking behind asking the question in the first place. I like change, always have, it's why I went in to IT twenty plus years ago... The question isself is complete failure in basic logic. Youth = !Old; // correct InExperienced = !Experineced Therefore Youth = !Experienced ????? Old = Experienced ??????? Too many counter examples to those 'erm conclusions, to make them of any use whatsoever.

WorkingDigital
WorkingDigital

Now that I think of it... the two choices in the poll are apples and oranges to some extent. Youth and experience are parts of two separate metrics: younger/older and less experience/more experience. Obviously, a person can be older but have little or no experience. The pros and cons of each are a mixture of objective facts (salary, training costs, turn-over ratios, etc.) and subjective stereotypes (energy level, adaptability, loyalty, etc.). We'd all like to think that age is not used as decision criteria for hiring, but it happens all the time unfortunately.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Even if you end up going back to the way you did it before, at least a large number off assumptions have been re-checked. Did your boss like waht you were doing or did he get bent out of shape because you were doing what he needed, not what he wanted. A good way to tell a decent boss from a bad one that. One assumption, I've been forced to ditch through experience is that my bosses know what they are doing. :D

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and got better doesn't it? .... The assumption that longevity = experience is a real problem, not just in IT either.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

in speedware :( Ufortunately that was a 3GL for HP 3000, as opposed to deviancy involving lycra. :p

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

depend on the young lady in question, eh?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

puts can of light oil back on shelf... I'm thinking that the "did you come prepared" question from a young lady, having you gleefully produce a tin of wd40 would be an issue.... Or may be not :p

Techeads Anonymous
Techeads Anonymous

FYI, WD-40 is the best cure for what ails you. With mother-in-laws being the only excption. I know this is outside of the 'real' argument, I just wanted to offer tech support for your affictions.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

occurred in a hayloft. We both itched for days afterward. Seems there was poison ivy growing along the edges of one of the hay fields... :0

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

bias might have kicked in there. :D I've always considered my longevity in the industry a result of my competency (such as it is) , as opposed to the reason for it. Only someone who got those bass ackwards could think youth or experience was the correct question.