Image: GettyImages/Edwin Tan

After a year of hiring freezes and layoffs, companies have ramped up hiring in recent months and developers are in high demand. An active job post for a software developer has stirred up a conversation surrounding ageist hiring practices in the tech sector; specifically, and not-so-subtly, calling out Silicon Valley. Turns out, one company is looking for experienced developers regardless of age; yes, even the “old” ones.

“Older workers often get left behind, especially when it comes to fast-changing tech roles as very few organizations actively engage this talent demographic,” said Jamie Kohn, research director in the Gartner HR practice.

SEE: The best programming languages to learn–and the worst (TechRepublic Premium)

Calling all “old” developers: Experience desired

On Wednesday, Fast Company reported on the job post and the resulting community conversation on a news forum. Initially, the job post seems innocuous enough, but the kicker comes at the end, as the company notes the importance of experience and anti-ageist practices: “Unlike Silicon Valley, we do not discriminate based on age. Experience matters. We hire old people. (And young people, too.).”

The post has stirred up quite the conversation on the forum with plenty of fanfare to boot.

“I cannot stress how important the message RelevantDB is sending in this job post is in today’s world,” said Michael LaPlaca, senior talent acquisition partner at Envoy Global.

“I’ve worked with software engineering teams in almost every major market in the US, but even here in the Midwest, I personally know developers that feel like they’re the oldest person in the company, much less the oldest person on the developer team,” LaPlaca continued.

So, what motivated the company to make a point of highlighting Silicon Valley hiring practices with an impetus on experience regardless of age in the job post?

“I wrote the ad. Holy cow, I didn’t expect to be #1 on Hacker News. Will answer any questions. Here’s one you might ask: Why? I’m pushing 60 and I’ve attempted to interview for developer jobs over the last year. Got nowhere despite 40 years of experience. Getting really, really tired of this industry’s attitude toward people like me,” wrote ccleve on the forum.

Next, ccleve provides further clarity on the post and provides a personal testimonial related to the application and hiring process in the tech sector.

“Earlier this year I had a personal referral into Facebook for a developer position. They do hiring centrally,” ccleve posted. “A very young person in the HR department spoke to me, put me in the central database, and apparently shopped my experience around to a number of different groups. No takers. No one wanted to interview me, so the application died. Never did a tech assessment.”

“So now I’ve started a new group, and I expect this thing is going to generate a lot more money than any work at Facebook ever would. So Facebook did me a favor. Still, it rankles,” the post continued.

SEE: C++ programming language: How it became the foundation for everything, and what’s next (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

TechRepublic reached out to RelevantDB to understand why the company chose to mention hiring “old” developers in this job listing. Chris Cleveland CEO of RelevantDB said that “older developers are undervalued” and “often excluded for cultural reasons or for reasons of ‘fit.'”

“This presents a market opportunity for us. We care about a developer’s ability to write code. If we can pick up good coders that other firms reject, then we have a competitive advantage,” Cleveland said.

“We do not discriminate, and will hire people of any age who can do the work well. Silicon Valley does discriminate, blatantly and often openly. So much the better for us,” Cleveland said.

Ranklings and market advantages aside, how does the average age of a tech sector employee compare to other industries?

Citing Gartner research, Kohn, the HR analyst, explained that one-quarter of websites for the S&P 100 included “content specifically intended for later career professionals,” compared to 89% with “content for university students.”

“This sends a powerful signal that older workers are not valued equally,” Kohn continued.

Similarly, a 2017 Visier report determined that “the average tech worker is 38 years old, compared to 43 years old for non-tech workers” and there are similar trends on the managerial side. For example, the average tech industry manager was 42; five years younger than averages in non-technology industries, according to Visier.

“Ageism in the tech industry is no new phenomenon. Our research uncovered that although technology companies rated Gen X and Baby Boomers workers’ performance higher than their non-technology counterparts, tech organizations’ hiring decisions still favor Millennials,” said Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at Visier.

To help companies onboard top talent and reduce the risk of ageism in a company’s hiring practices, Rubenstein outlined a series of steps to keep in mind, this includes reviewing “workforce data to understand the ongoing state of age equity.”

Additionally, he said companies could incorporate “a version of the Rooney Rule for age,” specifically among teams or positions with less age diversity. For each open position, he suggested considering at least one older candidate or “candidates that will help create a more diverse team, in general.”

Developer hiring trends and retirees

Software developers have been in high demand in recent months. A portion of CompTIA’s latest Tech Jobs Report for August details hiring trends for tech positions across industries. Overall, software developers topped the list with 99,012 positions as of July, and this total increased by 3,451 from June to July.

Amid a tight labor market and speculated Great Resignation, employers are pulling out all of the stops to meet staffing needs. Interestingly, there may be a new pool of experienced talent for hiring managers to consider as remote work has piqued the interest of some retirees. A survey published in March found that nearly half of retirees (45%) had applied for remote jobs or gigs and 29.5% rated the prospect of remote work as very appealing.

SEE: Hiring kit: IoT developer (TechRepublic Premium)

“Companies should not overlook older workers as overqualified or out of touch. Older workers have a wealth of transferable skills,” Kohn said. “Not only do they know how to get things done, but they know how to work with other people. They’ve also shown they can pick up new skills and build on them throughout their career.”

Looking for a software developer job?

For those seeking employment, the RelevantDB job post says the company is “developing a new way to search data” and is seeking developers with “knowledge of Postgres internals and experience writing extensions or modifications to Postgres itself.”

The post says potential candidates “must have sample code in C that [the company] can look at,” noting that if all of a person’s sample code is proprietary, RelevantDB “may have you write some code” for them. The position will also “involve mentoring us and getting us up to speed on this very large and complex codebase.”

Remember, the company says it does not “discriminate based on age” and the post also discourages recruiters. Contact information is noted in the listing.

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