Is engineering now a young man's game?

Depressing news for older engineers out of Silicon Valley: Engineering is a young person's game.

Recruiters at Silicon Valley companies lament that in the U.S. there is a shortage of qualified engineers. But unemployment figures show a different picture. So what's the deal? According to a piece by Vivek Wadhwa for TechCrunch, the truth of the situation is that tech companies prefer to hire young, inexperienced engineers rather than shell out the money for a seasoned veteran.

The thinking is that you can get a new programmer for about a third of the salary of an experienced programmer. Even if takes a few weeks for the new programmer to get trained, the company still saves money. Though they wouldn't publicly admit it, some companies prefer to get someone who is more eager with a "clean slate" that they can train as they want than hire someone with years of acquired knowledge.

Wadhwa's article talks about a new book called Chips and Change by University of California, Berkeley Professors Clair Brown and Greg Linden. The authors of the book cite Bureau of Labor Statistics and census data for the semiconductor industry and found that:

  • Salaries increased dramatically for engineers during their 30s but the increases slowed after the age of 40.
  • Over age 40, salaries started dropping, dependent on the level of education.
  • After 50, the mean salary of engineers was lower-by 17% for those with bachelors degrees, and by 14% for those with masters degrees and PhDs-than the salary of those younger than 50.

Wadhwa's advice for older workers is to move into management and/or keep their skills current.