Tech & Work

An IT life after fifty: Coping with the employment challenge

The aging worker is up against challenges that we don't consider. Not only are they competing in a market that they don't completely understand, they are often in a position that they never thought they would find themselves in.

The aging worker is up against challenges that we don't consider. Not only are they competing in a market that they don't completely understand, they are often in a position that they never thought they would find themselves in.

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I always find people fascinating. Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with an application architect who had some interesting things to share.

He looks at his experience from the perspective of "been there, done that." He started in the mainframe world, moved to minicomputers (can we all say Series/1?), and then distributed computing.

Today, he's a contractor, he is over 50, and he is, frankly, worried.

Our world today has become, in a word, limited. People like me and like my friend are increasingly feeling like our end of cycle has been called, and no one told us. We feel like dinosaurs. Are we?

I hear my friend tell me that he can make anything work, no matter what. He comes to the table with enthusiasm and with a hope that he has something to offer.

All he wants is to build a system that will work for today. Not too much, but not too little. He isn't a solution in search of a problem. He just tries to be a solution to an existing problem. He cares about meeting the business need, not just what is being asked for.

I listen to my peers here at TR and realize that we are all trying to do much the same. We are from a breed that cares about providing value for our pay. Perhaps we are outdated, but our goals are reasonable and our desire to provide business with the best that they can buy for the money is not a bad one.

He has fallen behind the times and hasn't got a clue how to get up to date or up to speed.

"I've been in a rut my employer encouraged. I was not encouraged to seek new knowledge. I was encouraged to play the 'status quo.' I was OK with doing what my employer demanded. At the same time, I saw myself retiring with that employer. I guess I was wrong."

"I'm an old guy rooted in old tech. I let myself fall into that. No one required me to know what was behind the door to tomorrow. I wish I had considered that."

A great many of us are challenged to play in a market we don't understand. In my friend's case, he honestly believed that by working hard for his employer, he would be employed forever. Thirty years later, he is forced to interview in a market that is alien to him. And he has little choice considering that the retirement that he has worked so long for is out of his reach at the moment.

This is a reality that many of us are facing. We were the whiz kids back in the day, and we have worked hard in our professional lives. For many of us, the reality of job hunting is something that other people did, but not us. We truly believed that our lives would be much like our father's — we would stay at the same job forever and would retire with that employer. It is only now as we are reaching our forties and fifties that we are seeing that this isn't going to be the case. We are being thrust into a job seekers' market that we simply don't have the skills to cope with.

So what do we do? For those willing, there are classes and information available on the Web about effective job hunting. Unfortunately, it is nearly all focused on the twenty-something fresh out of college and that doesn't really describe us. There really is little effective information out there that addresses that challenges of the forty-something worker. And the problem goes deeper than just addressing the older worker. There are emotional challenges that the older worker, newly displaced, has to face. There is not really a lot that addresses those points.

Tell us how you cope with the current state of the world and what points we miss when it comes to addressing the challenges of today's IT professional. The feedback in this discussion will help us at TR to speak to the things that you, our readers, find relevant.

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