Despite the stereotypes, older tech workers offer a number of benefits to the companies that hire them, experts say.
It's no secret that Silicon Valley has an ageism problem: Despite performance increasing with age, in the tech industry, GenXers are hired 33% less than their workforce representation, and Baby Boomers are hired 60% less, according to a report from Visier. Meanwhile, millennials are hired 50% more in tech.
Negative stereotypes about older adults and technology—and wanting to keep salaries down—often leads companies to discount workers above a certain age. What age that is may surprise you: In tech, the term "older" often means over age 35, not 55, said Norm Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis who has studied hiring patterns in technology.
At 38 years old, the average age of tech workers tends to be lower than their non-tech counterparts, at 43 years old. At the tech giants, it skews younger: The median age of Facebook employees in 2014 was 29; at Amazon and Google, it was 30. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once famously said: "Young people are just smarter."
It's rare to see job postings for tech companies seeking candidates with 10-plus years of experience, said Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Keystone Associates. "It's very hard for the Baby Boomer job seeker in tech to really fit in, because companies are usually looking for less experience," Mattson said. "The challenge becomes them just getting by the screening interviews."
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Here are three reasons why hiring an older tech professional might be a good move for your company.
Companies must remember that older workers may command a higher salary, but they also bring higher level skills, said Tracy L. Mitzner, a senior research scientist in the Center for Assistive Tech and Environmental Access at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
For software engineers in particular, experience counts a lot, Matloff said. "The more experienced engineers are far better able to look down the road, and see the consequences of a candidate code design," he added. "Thus they produce code that is faster, less bug-prone, and more extendible."
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And in data science, recent graduates may know a number of techniques, but often lack the ability to use them effectively in the real world, Matloff said. "Practical intuition is crucial for effective predictive modeling," he added.
Older tech workers also typically have more experience in terms of management and business strategy, Mitzner said. Not only can they offer those skills to the company, they can also act as mentors to younger professionals and pass on their knowledge, she added.
"Most people who have been successful in their career would say that they had a great mentor," Mitzner said. "If you have a business that's all 20s to 30s, you could be really missing out on that."
Many older employees also appreciate the same flexibility that younger workers do, as they balance work and home life with aging parents and children reaching adulthood, said Sarah Gibson, a consultant with expertise on changing generations in the workforce. "Many are looking at opportunities to do either consulting or independent work, which can save the bottom line, because you're not hiring employee overhead," she said. "It can actually save on costs as opposed to assuming that an older employee is going to cost more."
2. Soft skills
In hiring, many companies forget to account for the fact that many tech workers must partner with non-technical business units, Mattson said. "Companies overlook the value that workers bring to the table with communicating, presentation skills, solving problems and being able to articulate how, and simple interpersonal writing skills," she added.
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3. New market opportunities
Baby Boomers are the largest portion of the population, and the majority of adults over age 65 report using the internet, according to the Pew Research Center. However, most software is designed by millennials, Mitzner said.
"The combination of a stereotype that older adults don't use technology, and the fact that younger people are doing the development, has implications," Mitzner said. Not only are older workers being overlooked, but products that could reach a large segment of the population are not designed to do so.
"We make a lot of assumptions based on our generational preferences about what people want from a customer perspective, and sometimes we're just off, because one generation may use technology differently from another," Gibson said.
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