We polled some of our friends on Google Buzz and asked whether ageism is something they've seen at work or that has effected their lives. And the responses were interesting - although some say they try to be as even-handed as possible, others said that age discrimination exists at both ends of the spectrum, especially when it comes to landing a job.Let us know your experiences and opinions in the comments.
What Experts Say
A 2001 article from CIO started a conversation about ageism in IT. The response was dramatic. "Within days of being asked 'Do CIOs Discriminate Against Older Workers?' about 200 readers had posted answers; a majority of them gave a resounding yes... workers age 55 and older make up only 6.8 percent of the IT workforce."
A couple years later, a 2003 study from the International Journal of Selection and Assessment explored how older and middle-aged programmers fared in the tech workforce. Results showed "that age was negatively associated with both annual salary and job benefits levels."
But in 2009, another study showed what could have been seen as a turning tide. "The study, 'The Coming Entrepreneurship Boom,' found that... the United States might be on the cusp of an entrepreneurship boom - not in spite of an aging population but because of it... The average age of U.S.-born technology founders when they started their companies was 39."
What People on the Ground Say
Perhaps the graying set are doing well as entrepreneurs, but what about when they apply to be programmers, information architects, web designers or other traditionally "young" jobs?
In a lively conversation on our Buzz account, Aaron Hayes told us that ageism is alive and well, saying, "I turned 40 this year, and even though I can write Python circles around some... [and] have run several of my own small businesses - somehow, because the metabolic process of my cells has been occurring for several solar rotations beyond a subset of unspoken rules, I can be dismissed by some as a viable candidate for a startup.
"And this apparently because people that have experience clearly can't have youthful enthusiasm, or passion."
Even though, as Ruggero Domenichini said in the same thread, older employees might have "less ego, nothing to prove, been through failure [and] lived more."
And person after person said that they had either hired older programmers and been totally pleased with their fit and performance or - in one case - not hired someone because of age and regretted it ever since.
What Do You Say?
We're interested to know what your experience has been, either as a younger startup exec faced with hiring decisions or as an older programmer working in IT.
On a personal level, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the older techies in my life - especially as I begin to earn a few gray hairs of my own. My old-as-dirt dad is a fabulous network engineer, and a lot of the best developers and entrepreneurs I know have lived long enough to have a mature, realistic and stable view of their abilities, the ecosystem and their colleagues.
And in an amendment of the famous "Never trust anyone over 30" quotation, I'd have to say I'd gladly take the word of a 50-year-old who knew his stuff over a 25-year-old entrepreneur starting his first company. And the hypothetical 25-year-old would do well to take his older colleague's advice seriously, as well.
As always, let us know what you think in the comments.