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The Almighty Buck

Ageism in IT? 861

Posted by Cliff
from the revisiting-an-old-topic dept.
Embedded Geek writes "It's hardly a new topic, but BBC is running a story about ageism hitting Gen-X, especially in IT. As a 34 year old coder, I was horrified to hear a quote from a *hiring manager*: 'In the IT sector (and coding in particular) younger minds generally work faster -- I would rather employ a keen teenager who code programs computers quickly than an older person.' It didn't help that the person is 32 years old. My kneejerk reaction, the same one anyone else over 30 would have, is that the guy is a buffoon (I'll withhold my preferred, spectacularly vulgar, term). The problem is that I do not believe his idiocy is unique - I have definitely felt the vibe when interviewing. It's frustrating, since Gen-X is finally shedding the media hyped 'slacker' stereotype only to run headlong into this garbage. Have any other Slashdot readers seen this? What is the youngest you can be before some PHB declares you fit for the scrap-heap? Other than stocking up on hair dye and botox, what steps can I take to prepare for the future? Share your war stories here." Ask Slashdot handled this topic over two years ago. Of course, this behavior could be explained away as economic concerns, as the decision to hire younger (and typically cheaper) employees can directly affect the bottom line. However, one has to wonder if the decision to go with less experienced programmers also affects software quality, in the long run. What are your thoughts on this subject?
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Ageism in IT?

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  • by bluethundr (562578) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:18PM (#6192985) Homepage Journal
    I don't think that the ability to learn is determined at all by age. I believe that nearly anyone can learn how to code at nearly any age. But I would liken this ability to that of playing a piano.

    Sure, an older person can pick up the ability and wield a certain prowess and even artistry. But no one, to my knowledge, would argue the fact that a person who learns to play the piano in childhood has a certain "feel" for it that people who pick up this ability later in life can never attain. It's not that the older person can't play sonoriously with rhythm and emotion. But the younger player has a certain reach that will never be known to the older guy.

    Andy Hertzfeld (of the original Macintosh development team) claimed that he used to be able to track and house far more complex contructs of thought, and more of them, in his mind when he was in his early 20's than he ever could at the time he was giving the interview (I would guess he was somewhere in his mid forties at that time). He called this ability "the gift of the young".

    But in the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution [barnesandnoble.com] Steven Levy described how Ken Williams, the founder of Sierra Online [sierra.com] felt a missionary zeal in converting people to the belief that learning how to program a computer could change your life. Ken met Bob and Carolyn Box, who were an older married couple in their fifties. Bob was "...a former New Yorker, a former engineer, a former race car driver, a former jockey, and a former Guinness Book of WOrld Records champion in gold panning." When they both tried to get a job working for Sierra, Ken told them to "put up something on the screen using assembly language in thirty days". According to how the story is told, they both became very able assembly language programmers. Roberta Williams (Ken's wife) considered the Boxes "inspiring" and felt that learning how to program "rehabilitated their lives".

    Of course that was a long time ago, and thus far I have spoken only of the abiltity to learn and to become an able programmer. To get slightly more "on topic"; as to whether there is job market opportunities for older folk, there is no reason an employer should discriminate on the basis of age, though I'm sure that many do. But as for the pure concept of programming I myself only picked up some ability in C++ (on my own, not through any school) when I turned 30 as I realized I was getting older and it was basically "now or never". I still enjoy learning as much as I can about it, and consider it a wonderful intellectual exercise, though I have no concrete plans of doing it for a living. I've already got a stable professional life and see it as a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby.

    • by mdrplg (680070) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#6193098) Homepage
      While it may be true that people that learn the piano at a younger age are better that one who picks it up later in life, it is also true that a person who has been playing the piano all their life is better that a young person just starting out. I think the same holds true of software. In all the jobs I've worked at recently, the younger programmers are quick to take advantage of my experience, even if they are quite good themselves. I've been programming for 30 years and I've learned a thing or two in that period. Of course, old age and cunning will overcome youth and skill.
      • by plover (150551) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:59PM (#6193508) Homepage Journal
        Except the piano analogy is flawed.

        Pianos haven't progressed to 2,000 1mm-wide keys, or introduced three-dimensional keyboards, or decided to have little-endian keyboards with the low notes beneath your right hand fingers, or added green keys above the white keys, or added a Dvorak mechanism placing the most commonly played notes beneath your fingers.

        Composers haven't introduced new semi-tone notes, located between B and B-flat, or decided to portray their music to the pianist in XML format. They aren't asking pianists to play notes in 2400MHz tempo, or even to get those albums cranked out before they go home for the weekend.

        My point is that computer technology has changed dramatically from the time I started learning it (1973.) And I mean really, truly changed. Yes, there are certainly technological advances in pianos, keyboards, music and notation, and I don't mean to slight the skills of any pianist regardless of whether or not they have learned new technologies. But very few of those changes really alter how a pianist plays. The changes in programming have been fundamental. Everything I learned back in the '70s has been almost completely thrown out or changed (except for one thing -- the keyboard.) If I never learned more than what I knew back then, if I didn't keep up with new technologies and new development methodologies and instead kept writing assembler code filled with GOTOs, I'd be almost useless. It's more likely that I'd be mopping floors for a living.

        Younger minds may or may not absorb information quicker, but that's not really the point. If people don't keep learning in this business they quickly become irrelevant, regardless of age.

        • Computer technology in general ? 2000 notes with extra magic shifts and a dvorak bit sounds more like an emacs optimised keyboard
        • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:38PM (#6193969)
          All I can say is - after ten+ years of programming experience (and that's just industry, not counting the stuff I did in college and before) I'm still telling some people what hashtables are. And they were around before I learned to program.

          At the most basic level, programming is the same as it was thirty years ago. You can just do more with it, is all.

          How programs interact is not even all that different, just mechanisms moved into different worlds.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Pianos haven't progressed to 2,000 1mm-wide keys, or introduced three-dimensional keyboards, or decided to have little-endian keyboards with the low notes beneath your right hand fingers, or added green keys above the white keys, or added a Dvorak mechanism placing the most commonly played notes beneath your fingers.

          Yes, they have. If you want a job creating, say, music for TV commercials, movies, or games, or even be in a band that's going anywhere, you need to be able to run a synthesizer and be abl

        • by juancn (596002) on Friday June 13, 2003 @03:00PM (#6194200) Homepage
          I have to disagree... Has computer technology really changed?

          We're still working with Von Newman machines, with (roughly) the same architecture that Charles Babbage described around 1850.

          I've been programming since I was 8 years old (I'm 26 now, that's 18 years of experience), and I feel confident that I can program in any language, paradigm, or technology. And not because I know every technology out there, but because I finally grasped that programming has nothing to do with computers at all!

          Programming is not about knowledge of a particular technology or set of algorithms. It has more to do with a particular form of abstractions you build in your mind.

          Learning how to do that took me a long time (almost my whole life), and I still have lots to learn.

          What you must find in a programmer is that ability to create an abstract representation of a complex problem.

          A younger programmer might find it easier to write the code immediately, but probably he will produce twice the ammount of code necessary for the task, with at least twice as many bugs.

          An experienced programmer foresees problems that lie ahead, that might pass unnoticed to the novice.

          So, bottom-line, the secret of success lies in experience...

          • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday June 13, 2003 @04:19PM (#6195098) Journal
            Not only that, but I think a programmer improves with age.

            My coding skills are _vastly_ superior to what they were 10 years ago. Sure, 10 years ago, I could write 1000 lines of code in a week without working up a sweat, and now I write [0] just a fraction of that in a week. But the difference is that fraction of LOC does just as much, and it actually _works_ :-)

            [0] Actually, I'm in a BOFH/co-ordinator job rather than a coding job. I needed a break from programming for a living. Besides those jobs are being shipped abroad, so I've moved into work which requires physical on-site presence and so can't be moved to India.
          • That's wisdom (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Aceticon (140883) on Friday June 13, 2003 @05:36PM (#6195728)
            I suspect the best ITers grow to become wiser.
            Simple things like:
            • Thinking before you code - 'cause you know from past experience that it will not only be faster to implement the same functionality, it will also have less problems (uncovered bugs) in the future (guess who usually has to fix the bugs) and will be more easy to adapt when (not if) the requirements change.
            • Finding out that most problems end up being variants of stuff you've done or seen in the past - different names, different industries, different languages and still the same patterns appear behind problems (and solutions).
            • There is NO language, development methodology, OS or whatever that is right for all situations - there is no silver bullet, different things have different strenghts and different weaknesses.
            • No mater how much you know, you can always learn something new from someone.
            • ... (there's a lot more)
            Anyways, i've recently came to the conclusion (by once again being face with people that should know beter but don't) that most IT professionals seem to be stuck at being Knowledgeable (Answering the Hows) and never to grow to become Wise (Answering the Whys) - this has beem pretty disapointing to me, so forgive me my rant.

            By the way, wisdom comes from experience but age does not necessarily implies being wise.

    • by macdaddy357 (582412) <macdaddy357@hotmail.com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#6193101)
      Other than are you at least 18, employers shouldn't be allowed to ask my age. They can't ask about my sex, race, religion or ancestry except on an anonymous affirmitive action survey. Age should be no different.
      • Of course they can't ask but they can look at you. I look older than I am. But I think this is BS and anybody who wants to hire a "keen" teenager because they are "fast" is not someone I want to work with or for.
    • by RobPiano (471698) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#6193134)
      I'm a piano teacher, and a computer scientist.

      For the most part younger kids learn piano better simply because they put in the time and are willing try new things. My adult students often progress much faster than my younger students. Its only that most adults also have complex lifes already and can't put in the time a little kid can. My adult students that have trouble tend to do so because they are afraid of the piano. I must admit, however, that some young minds can simply make unbelivable progress for no single reason other than natural talent.

      I think the same thing transfers to Computer Science. For the most part if you have used computers for years you are not afraid to try things. Many adults are very afraid of computers. Kids simply explore and enjoy them.

      I think Gen X'ers get the rotten deal in all of this. The generation before them WAS worse at computers at an old age. This is no longer true since many Gen X'ers have had computers since Commodore 64 or earlier. It will take another generation before this is ammended.

      And for all of you programming divas just realize that programming isn't a "god given talent" and neither is piano. You simply put in the work, do what you love, and good things come from it. Don't think you are special for it, because no matter how good you are there will always be an 11 year old asian girl who is better than you'll ever be.

      -Rob
      • by CausticPuppy (82139) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:54PM (#6193458) Homepage
        ...because no matter how good you are there will always be an 11 year old asian girl who is better than you'll ever be.

        Well then she must be destroyed.

      • I tried to learn the piano, but I was getting errors with #include<mozart.h>.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:34PM (#6193214)
      I am a pianist. I would say that the only advantage that a younger person (read: child) has on an older person as far as pianism goes is that they have a head start.

      I personally find the young people (especially the child prodigies who play) to be technically astonishing but dead in terms of the more esoteric parts of a performance. It takes a certain amount of life experience to know how to play with real feeling and maturity.

      Being a programmer as well, I can state with absolute certainty that the same thing is true with programming. There is an artistry to programming that beginners lack. Heck, it took me 8 years to find it. And that artistry can allow you to write stabler, more efficient code.

      Trying to explain... When one starts out on the piano, one sees individual black blobs on the page. Those blobs eventually start to form notes, and you learn the notes. Just as when you program, you learn the syntax of the language. And with a little trial and error, you can write a program that barely works, just as you can play music that sounds halfways decent.

      But then the notes become chords - the chords become phrases, and the phrases become sections. And once you start to see the music in terms of phrases and sections, you need not worry about implementation details (what is this chord, how do I articulate that) and you are free to focus on the higher artistry of the music - what is this trying to get across, what do I want to invoke on the listener...

      And once that happens, you have a self-consistent piece of art. Every piece relates to the other, in an unbroken fashion, throughout the piece - from the first note to the final chord. I don't care if it's 20 minutes long - you can still make that happen.

      In terms of programming, this means that every module interacts well with all of the other modules, the code is clean and well-written, there are very few to no cases where errors are unhandled or a module will get unvalidated or unexpected input. The code is stable, and provably so.

      Finding a pianist who can play the notes is cheap. Just as finding a programmer who can write code is cheap. They are a dime a dozen, and frankly, I'm not sure I would hire one. Finding a pianist who is a musician, or finding a coder who is an artist - that is a rare and precious find indeed.

      Oh, and just so you know, I started playing when I was 16. By the time I was 17 I was a piano major in college and surpassing easily people who had been playing since early childhood.

      --Russell
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:43PM (#6193324)
      Younger minds work faster but older minds work smarter. I have both working for me and the young folks may be holding larger and more diverse constructs in their minds, but the older ones are holding well-tuned, more efficient constructs in theirs.

      Programmers with experience in applied programming (multi-user online systems as opposed to single-user applications) have learned lessons and developed tricks that young minds haven't. Both types have their advantages, but there's no reason to discriminate against the 30-year Cobol vet just because he's not going to pick up Java as quick as the 2-year web-slinger. He'll show you a thing or two about efficient data processing once he figures out how to apply his knowledge to the new syntax.

      They should be teamed together, if you really want to get anywhere -- the older players will want to retire eventually, and the young pups need to have a model and mentor to get their lessons in
    • by Black-Man (198831) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:58PM (#6193496)
      My son and I started taking drum lessons 8 months ago - together. There is no comparison. While he may be more technical and able to do the marching snare roll, etc. I rock all over him on a kit. We both put in the same amount of practice time.

      But I love the looks I get from the middle age women as I walk out of the lesson room. Which is probably the root of the problem. Most middle age folks don't think someone their age *should* be learning new skills and definitely not having fun!
    • by finkployd (12902) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:02PM (#6193539) Homepage
      To be honest, I think a lot of has to do with the myth that is hammered into kids that "learning is hard" Think about it, we start out in life knowing how to do NOTHING but learn.

      We learn to walk, talk, etc at a rapid rate. Then we hit school, and we are constantly told that learning is hard, and we must spend a lot of time on it. Learning becomes less of a natural thing and more of a painful, forced, and utterly boring thing.

      It gets even worse for adults, I know some adults (I'm 25, and I still consider myself a kid :) ) who constantly complain that they cannot learn new things. Whether it be a new computer program (or computers in general), a new way to do something at work, a new hobby, anything. Yet this is total bull. I remember struggling at school with algebra , trig, english, pretty much all subjects yet at the same time I was coming home and teaching myself x86 assembly language. One was fun and something I wanted to do, the rest was stuff that everyone told me was hard, took a lot of time, and was forced on me. Sometimes it is an issue of motivation, but I really think many people just believe that as they get older they cannot learn new things and do not even bother trying.

      The preception "learning is hard", and "you can't teach an old dog new trick" is probably having more of a negative effect on people than any real biological block to learning.

      Finkployd
    • Sure, an older person can pick up the ability and wield a certain prowess and even artistry. But no one, to my knowledge, would argue the fact that a person who learns to play the piano in childhood has a certain "feel" for it that people who pick up this ability later in life can never attain.

      Your analogy is incredibly off the mark. The question is not "does a child learn faster than an adult", but "is a person who learned as a child, and is still a child, better than a person who learned as a child, b
    • by delcielo (217760) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:32PM (#6193910) Journal
      With all due respect to Andy Hertzfeld, he probably didn't have nearly as much to think about when he was younger. By the mid-40's, the average programmer probably has a family (with birthdays, soccer games, tuitions, recitals, etc.), 1 or more mortgages, a stock portfolio of some sort that's only now getting the attention it really deserves, some insights on those political issues that were so unimportant before, some project management and perhaps budgeting, a health condition or two just starting to require some real attention, etc.

      What the average 40-something has to make up for all of that is some perspective on what makes the most efficient code and use of his/her time, a deliberate pace of work, 20 years of experience, less emotional drama, maturity, stability, etc.

      I'm a flight instructor, and it's easy to see where the illusion that young people learn better/faster comes from. Despite the popular notion of today's youth, they're not as cynical or as questioning/probing of your instruction as adults are. As an example, if I tell a 16 year-old kid that when you bank the airplane to the right, there is an initial yaw to the left because of a phenomenon we call "adverse yaw," he'll probably say "OK" and correct for it on the controls. If I state it so simply to a 40 year-old student, he'll ask why. So who has learned it better? The kid is immediately compensating for its effects, and is flying the airplane properly a bit sooner; but does he know why he's doing so? The adult understands the reasons behind the correction; but has delayed implementing the knowledge because of the time spent questioning.

      Over the course of learning any complex task, these moments add up to a perception that the adult isn't learning as fast or as well as the younger person. In fact, they are. You simply have to tailor your training and your expectations for the difference in approach.
  • Is this new? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by palutke (58340) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:20PM (#6193000)
    Or a new bunch of people becoming old enough to experience it. I'd feel worse about it if the people who are starting to experience age-based discrimination weren't the ones benefitting from it a few years ago.
  • Hogwash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by winkydink (650484) <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:20PM (#6193012) Homepage Journal
    Give me a seasoned vet who has the depth and breadth of experience to have learned all of those "only happens once every x years" type of lessons over some young, fast coder who has yet to learn these lessons.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#6193016)
    Its easier to sqeeze 80+ hrs out of someone with out kids, house and a wife.
    • Tell me about it, I put in 70+ hours a week at a company I helped to start. Since all I had to take care of was a small dog they let me take him to work, and they paid "Chinese overtime". Talk about getting screwed.

      BTW, Nazi mod to the above post, I find it very relevant and on topic. There are more than one "unofficial" things to look for when hiring.
    • by smagruder (207953) <stevem@webcommons.biz> on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:40PM (#6193985) Homepage

      Solution: Hire a smart gay programmer in his 30's/40's. Usually no children. Oftentimes single or in a relationship that's not as co-dependent as that in hetero relationships. Rejected by youthful gay social culture as being too "old" for anything.

      Result: An experienced programmer with lots of time on his hands (and other things you shouldn't ask about).

  • by Rorschach1 (174480) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#6193020) Homepage
    With all these old folks posting on Slashdot? Don't they know it's a site for young people? Sheesh, go hang out on cnn.com, grandpa.
  • Burn out. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BrynM (217883) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#6193028) Homepage Journal
    younger minds generally work faster
    And at that rate they burn out faster too. Just what we need. More middle aged, unhappy and depressed company in 10 years. What does the manager care? He'll just do the same thing when the kid's production level drops.
    • by aborchers (471342) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#6193144) Homepage Journal
      When those young, fast and inexperienced coders give them brittle, unmaintainable code that soon collapses under it's own weight, they will call in us old seasoned consultants to fix the problems at a premium price.

      A manager that can't distinguish quality of work from quantity has no business making hiring decisions in this industry.

      Disclaimer:

      What precedes is not meant to reflect generally on young programmers. There are both brilliant and useless coders at all ages.

      • You need both. Not because the young minds are better but because someone hasnt spent twenty years telling them a list of things are impossible.

        • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda AT etoyoc DOT com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:40PM (#6193984) Homepage Journal
          Case in point: I've had an absolutely brilliant guy volunteering at our museum for the last 3 years. He's 18 now, and has been doing a considerable amount of coding for our web-based projects.

          His energy is commendable, and his ability to prettify websites is beyond my skills. However, when he isn't here I have to maintain the software. And man is it ugly. There are certain techniques one picks up over the years. Things like using a variable to "stand in" for a decision or condition that you plan on using throughout the code. Subroutines to handle repetitive code. General style issues that make the software maintainable.

          For what it's worth, I'm happy to have him go out and forge new ground. Generally I have the software stable and maintainable by the time he comes around the next summer. But alas, he is moving on to college. Time to break in a new apprentice.

  • by wondafucka (621502) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6193039) Homepage Journal
    As a respectable web pornographer I would have to say that when we consider subjects for our titalating erotic material, or as the 31337 call it, pr0n, we do choose to go with the younger crowds. Anyone over the age of 30 is typically considered outdated and useless. Unless of course you are visiting one of our spectacular granny sites.
  • young vs old (Score:4, Insightful)

    by frieked (187664) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6193042) Homepage Journal
    I think basically what it comes down to is quality. With the recent declines in the dot com sector, employers have chosen to sacrifice quality programmers for cheaper/faster ones.
    Attaching age to that is an unfortunate sterotype that comes along with being in IT or almost any other profession for that matter.

    It's the way of business.
    Perhaps your luck will change when/if the economy bounces and employers have more to spend.
    • Re:young vs old (Score:3, Informative)

      by Marnhinn (310256)
      Sacrifice quality for cheaper and faster - in the dot com sector yes, but not everywhere.

      Certain jobs will always have ageism. Dot Coms - change and evolve too fast for many people to stay in date. Therefore a younger person may be able to do many things better than an old one. Experience has shown me that those are jobs that have a constant change (where ageism is) - for example, the web, TV shows (what shows beside soap operas and the simpsons have really long lives?) and what not.

      Jobs such as progra
    • You believe that employers are choosing the cheaper/faster over the quality.

      Reading up on the IT industry, most recently in the Economist [economist.com], I would have to say that that decision would kill the company.

      "Wow, he thought hard about that one," you say, but I am actually refering to the belief that the sector is becoming a commodity. The industry is maturing and users want quality more and more over new-fangled products that mess up all the time. As programs and hardware get faster and faster, they are over-r

    • Re:young vs old (Score:5, Informative)

      by mike77 (519751) <mraley77@nOspaM.yahoo.com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:59PM (#6193515)
      Attaching age to that is an unfortunate sterotype that comes along with being in IT or almost any other profession for that matter.

      Being an Engineer, not an IT person, I would have to say that the IT industry should take a look at other engineering disciplines. If you ever go into a shop where the older engineers are gone, and you have only young ones, run. As you get older, you learn more, and have more experience. What this buys you is that you'll see more of the faults in a particular design alot quicker than a newbie, and you'll probably have a solution quicker.

      The older guys are around for a reason. They know their shit. You take that away, and who do the new people learn from? Their own mistakes, that's who, and in the mean time you get bug filled, problematic code.

      but that's just my opinion, I could be wrong....

  • by Fished (574624) * <amphigory AT gmail DOT com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6193044)
    I think what may really be happening is that younger people can devote themselves to a subject with an intensity that older people simply don't have to spare. I know I have often wished, in my studies, that I could be eighteen again and essentially have two-thirds of my time to waste totally, instead of squeezing dribbles of time out here and there for my own projects. I certainly know I spent a lot more time studying new technology back then.
    • by swb (14022)
      I agree completely and it kind of scares me. I make the time to tinker with some stuff and keep a couple of FreeBSD boxes going, but that's about the outer limit as to what I can do, and I'm "only" married and a homeowner, and those are huge consumers of time (which sounds negative -- its not, except when its BS yardwork).

      How can I be expected to keep up with the changing technology landscape when my employer doesn't bother to make it part of our job situation and I don't have that much spare time. Kids?
  • by stud9920 (236753) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6193046)
    Cliff, himself probably around 30, cannot spell the word "hire" correctly, while most teenagers probably can.
  • by micromoog (206608) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:23PM (#6193054)
    When the job can be done by someone younger (read: cheaper), the hiring manager's decision is clearly to hire younger.

    As you get older, you need to make sure to hone your skillset so that younger, less experienced workers cannot do what you do; whether it's significant project management experience, teambuilding, extreme expertise in an area, or something else, you need to make sure you are uniquely valuable, and that your years of experience add to your value-for-the-money, not dilute it.

  • by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot@[ ]kelectric.com ['mon' in gap]> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:23PM (#6193060)
    Managers look at ages 18 - 25 as people they can abuse. They are inexperienced so they won't stand up for themselves, and usually aren't married so they can work them 60 hours a week for low pay.
    • Oh and I forgot to add, that, theres an endless supply of 18 - 25 year olds. So when your current crop gets fed up with your abuse, leaves, quits or gets married, you hire new ones.
    • Well for the younger croud most of them expect the abuse and will take it because they need to live. Then after a couple of years when they gain experence then they have a couple of ace cards up their sleeves. Then they will switch to a different job.
      The reason why this age group is abused is because they let them selves be abused. Espectally in a competive market. They will go I am willing to work 60 hours a week at $10 an hour to get the job. Then when someone sees this person about to be hired they wi
  • by nadadogg (652178) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:24PM (#6193069)
    Programming is a skill that depends on both quick thinking, and a base to stand on.
    Younger people tend to pick up new skills quicker, and improvise without much effort, whereas older programmers may not learn new things very quickly, but will have more of a mastery of their respective language.
    If I were a hiring manager, I would probably stick with experienced programmers if it were a mission-critical app, but someone younger if I were, say, trying to create a new game engine.
    • If I were a hiring manager, I would probably stick with experienced programmers if it were a mission-critical app, but someone younger if I were, say, trying to create a new game engine.

      Yeah, because all the experience those old grizzlies at ID have from working on game engine after game engine sure hasn't helped them, any.

  • Age is a number (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wb8wsf (106309) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:25PM (#6193078)
    I seriously doubt that people can't learn just as fast at an older age. I'm 46, and think I'm smarter now than when I first starting programming computers in '75. Age also tends to give one experience from which to draw on. The accumulation of previous experience comes in handy at the oddest times, I've observed.

    I have no doubt that there are mentally vacuuous hiring individuals who think that younger is better however, and that is a problem. If I encountered that, I think I might send the CEO of the company a paper letter explaining what I heard at my interview, and why I wasn't going to work there.
  • Yuck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DreadSpoon (653424) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:25PM (#6193081) Journal
    This is totally insane. I'd much rather have an older, _more experienced_ coder, who may be slower (tho I don't believe that to be true) than some fresh out of college coder.

    As someone _in_ college, looking at the vast majority of my classmates (actually, as vain as it sounds, _all_ my classmates) people coming out of college don't have any business going anywhere near critical code. You don't become a good coder by going to school, after all, you become a good coder by writing a metric shitload of code and thus getting real-world experience.

    I believe I'm so much better than my classmates because I've been doing this since I was 9, and have 11 years experience writing code. And no, I _don't_ spit out as much code as I did back when I was 10 or 11, and poured out code all day long to do whatever dumb little project I worked on then.

    But you know what? I code less now, because I use my experience to sit back and think about what I'm going to code, and end up not only writing higher quality code, but less code to get the same job done, as I did back when I was a dumb little kid!

    Bah, I'm just ranting now. Think I've made my point at least 3 times by now. ~,^
  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:25PM (#6193090) Homepage Journal
    It all comes down to moola. You can have a well experienced older coder, and one a young kid that can code well....

    First of all, the kid is probably half (or less) the cost of the older guy.

    Second, you can try to lure the kid into staying in the project for a long time, thereby helping maintainability.

    But on the other side of the fence, older coders don't want to be in management, so they'll always be your gruntwork force. If they wanted to be in management, they woulda tried a long time ago.

    Surprisingly, though, most techies have no interest in going into management...
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by case_igl (103589) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#6193093) Homepage
    There are two sides to every coin. I'm a manager of five developers and six support staff.

    In my experience, younger people tend to work like dogs until it stops being fun for them. They will pull all nighters all week when you're trying to launch a product, won't need to leave early for soccer and little league games, and won't get in trouble from their non-existant wife for leaving a few minutes late.

    On the other hand, older coders tend to work at a more steady pace, have fewer errors, and spend their time thinking about something before they start jamming out code. They also are more reliable at showing up on time, not burning through vacation and sick time the second it becomes available, and following through with their committments.

    It isn't really fair what that manager said, but I think they might have experienced some of what I just mentioned above. Although things like that generally aren't to be said "out loud" behind closed doors you'll hear many people talking about things they have observed managing people.

    What's the best solution? A balance of both, in my experience. You need an effective mix, an although young people can be great coders and older people can be off sick, those are the general trends I've seen in seven years being a manager.

    You have to remember that you are there to solve your employer's problems. If he's looking at someone to produce 1,000 lines of code per hour then you wouldn't be interested in the job anyway. You want to work somewhere focused on quality over quantity, and that is probably more biased to older more experienced developers in many cases than younger folks.

    Case
    • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by justins98 (316484)
      From reading through this discussion I'm surprised no one has said this yet: The answer is that a healthy organization needs BOTH young developers and experienced developers.

      The most obvious reason for this is the continuing life of an organization; if you have only older workers you are screwed when they all decide to retire, and if you hire only young developers you will watch in frustration as they make the mistakes that a more experienced developer could have forseen and avoided.

      The ideal ratio is a
  • by Telastyn (206146) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:27PM (#6193115)
    Being a fairly young IT worker, I see alot of the opposite. Older IT workers are given preference despite their experience and knowledge being similar or worse. *Especially* for any position that involves ANY sort of supervision or departmental representation.
  • by truthsearch (249536) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:28PM (#6193130) Homepage Journal
    When I was fresh out of college (a little while back) I ran into something related. My boss definitely preferred me for the fact I was youngest and he probably perceived my general energy as also being faster at programming. But I also ran into another problem. Here's an example:

    It's a late Friday afternoon and we've got plenty to do, but with plenty of time. The boss tells me he wants the work done for Monday morning instead of the extra week we were originally told we had. The older developers with families told him they weren't staying late Friday, they were going home. I told him the same, but he replies, "Why? You don't have anything better to do." Apparently since I was young and didn't have any family I had no reason not to work more. I was fuming and I didn't work late. He tried to pull that crap a few more times after that.

    So not only are younger minds quicker, but apparently they're also easier to manipulate and take advantage of.
  • by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1 AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#6193139) Journal

    Somebody who is young and inexperienced but dedicated may be able to crank out a lot of code quickly, but at least in my field, (embedded systems) there is no substitute for having seen and solved a wide variety of problems. You gain a much better feel for what is the best approach to solving a problem, and how long it will take.

    Would you really trust a 16 year old to code and deliver a critical app?

  • by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:31PM (#6193164) Journal
    Senior members are far more respected in the field of law, because it is understood that the older a lawyer gets, the more experience they have; concordantly, the more experience they have, the better a lawyer they are.

    What does a lawyer do? Pretty much the same thing as a programmer. A good, experienced lawyer will have a specialty area of law, but be able to learn about new legal arenas as the need arises; likewise, an experienced lawyer will know the ins-and-outs of a specific arena in the legal system, including exceptions and loopholes a younger, less experienced lawyer might miss.

    Same goes for programmers. An older programmer, generally speaking, will be more sensitive to over-using resources, will have a better grasp of programming methodologies, and will know about many more former bugs and programming mishaps than a fresh-out-of-college CS grad.
  • Age and Quality. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:31PM (#6193167)
    As I get older I find that I am less able to code at the same pase that I did 5 years ago. But the quality of my coding has improved and I am able to produce out far more optimised and stable code then I did when I was younger. Experience has its advantages. Comparing the real time of coding is more important. Before I would spend 40 hours coding and 80 hours debugging. Now I do 65 hours coding and 8 hours debugging. As my experience increases I learned to take the speed down while coding and carefully work out the problem and make sure it workes well. While I was younger I would Code to get it working then try to put in patches to fix any bugs (which sometimes required a rewrite). Depending on the job and its needs I would use different languages to get the job done. Usually when time to code is an issue I normally write Python. While speed of the appication is the issue I would go to C or C++. If you are ranking your programming skills on Lines per Day then go ahead and higher a young whipper snapper. But if you want a good solid application hire the skilled and matured programmer.
  • consulting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ih8apple (607271) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:31PM (#6193175)
    I've been in the consulting world since I was 22 (started working in IT when I turned 20). I'm now 27 and I find that age-ism is the worst form of discrimination, especially among consulting clients. Since I have a well-established beard, I usually pass for 35 and that seems to give my clients the impression that I'm better qualified than one of my peers, who is exactly at the same point in his career. All of my bosses during my consulting career have always told me never to tell my true age to the clients for fear of losing business. This is especially true since the dot-com bust when all of the "young dot-commers were shown to be the frauds they are." This deception sickens me, but I have truly seen a huge difference in terms of instant credibility and career progression when people think that I'm significantly older than I actually am. (I'm starting to get a few gray hairs, so most people now think I'm in my late 30's-early 40's. Also, I got married young and have 2 kids and this reinforces their beliefs.)

    I guess the whole point of my commentary on my situation is that people do discriminate based on age and you can either play along and help yourself out (and sell out in the process) or show your true self to the detriment of your career (and possibly of your consulting company's, if you're in my shoes.) That may not be politically correct, but it's the way of the world. Also, I think that it's not as bad to play along with the game to your benefit, as long as you yourself don't start judging people based on age, picking up the habits of those around you.
  • by gosand (234100) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:32PM (#6193178)
    Younger programmers may be a better fit for certain jobs, older for others. Younger guys probably don't have a lot of baggage from "previous jobs", like a lot of older people do. (I am one of them). But on the other hand, they may not have any experience to draw from either. It all depends what kind of place you are working for. Got a wife and kids? You probably don't want to work the extra hours. Do you have a set idea about how things should work, what processes should be followed, etc? That could work for you or against you.

    I think it is all relative, and in these times it could come down to the bottom line. Someone with 10 years experience is going to cost more than someone with 3. The risk may be worth it. We are just experiencing this now because over the last 10 years, there weren't too many "old" programmers out there, we were all relatively the same age. Now there is definitely an age gap.

  • by haggar (72771) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:32PM (#6193186) Homepage Journal
    Of course, this behavior could be explained away as economic concerns, as the decision to higher younger (and typically cheaper) employees can directly affect the bottom line.

    I am outraged that the widespread discrimination against short folks has taken another, worrying, twist: even in evaluating programming skills!
    • I know that the parent post was meant as a joke, but in reality there is discrimination against short people. Most especially against short men. I'm a 26 year-old male, and I'm only 4'10", or I believe approximately 147.4 cm, in height.

      Just like everything else in life though, there are advantages and disadvantages. A disadvantage is the local Zoo wouldn't let me buy tickets when I was 21. The lady behind the ticket counter said that my "mother" (pointing to my date), would have to buy the tickets, (ap
  • by Quixadhal (45024) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:37PM (#6193247) Homepage Journal
    My intuition tells me that people looking to hire programmers for mission-critical applications (database, infrastructure, medical, etc.) are going to be far more interested in older, more experienced programmers than game companies or in-house applications.

    A young programmer might be cheaper, might have more energy and drive, and might in fact produce more code -- but they may not produce the right code for the task. If your requirements are to bang out a rendering engine so you can get your game to market before BubbaSoft, then you want cheap programmers who are desperate/naieve enough to work 90 hours a week, and if they make a few mistakes so you can see through the corners, or your weapon can be slighly embedded in a wall texture... it can be fixed in a patch, noone will care.

    OTOH, if you're looking to upgrade the medical database that's been running on a VAX for 30 years, and you really need to move it to a linux/oracle system before your VMS tape gets eaten by mice... you might want someone who's been doing this for a while so the mistakes they make are less likely to cost you 5 years of records.

    I'm 34 myself, and I remember the stuff I wrote when I was 24. Yes, I churned out a bit more code, but boy was it ugly by comparison. What managers should remember is that programming is like writing, or composing... the more experience you have, the more elegant solutions you can find, and the more naturally you can express them. Young people don't worry about things like maintainability, or how some other fellow is going to figure out what they did. Some do, but most don't.

    Of course, that's my opinion, and being an Old Fart (TM), I might just be biased.... or maybe I just can't remember it right... :)
  • Why hire young? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by surfcow (169572) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:38PM (#6193262) Homepage
    Why hire young?

    Younger IT workers will often put in absurd unpaid overtime, where most older workers won't.

    Younger workers just out of college will often take a job at a low salary for the experience. Older workers won't.

    Younger workers are often have more exposure to cutting edge tech than older workers who cut their teeth on cobol, jcl and basic.

    Younger workers have lower expectations about benefits, perks, salary, etc than older workers who can remember the 'good old days' of 5 years ago.

    Older workers are more likely to have children, families, in short lives. Younger workers are more likely to drop everything and fix that server at 3:00 AM.

    Older workers have seen many managers pull many tricks, know how to spot them and how to deal with them. Younger workers are generally more pliable.

    =brian
  • Devils advocate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Traa (158207) * on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:41PM (#6193299) Homepage Journal
    Sorry to play devils advocate here, but I am a 35 year old sensior software engineer myself I get to manage a group of engineers that vary in their age significantly and I do see some differences.

    Some of the bad thing that older engineers are guilty of (and please do not flame, I know I am generalizing):
    • refusing to update their programming style and programming languages to match projects. No matter how good their assambly and C programming skills are, when I see them writing a GUI in a non-OO language, I take the project away.
    • You don't have to love Java/C++/C#, but refusing to look into it because 'you can do the same in C' is not an acceptable answer when we start a multi-site, multi-engineering project.
    • They have so "been there, done that" that they sometimes are not interested in "going there again". For example when asked to program yet another driver.
    • Experienced engineers are very demanding. Thats all very nice but sometimes simply gets in the way of the actual work that needs to be done. I partyally blame this on the spoiled period they all went through during the internet/economy boom.
    • They are expensive. Again, being spoiled with huge salaries in the last decade makes the experienced/older engineers demand for enourmous pay while only a hand full of them actually used the experience that they gained to justify their salary. So many around me are guilty of salary inflation based on years-of-service. This is ofcourse a mistake by our management system, but it is the engineers who will prevent it from beeing fixed.


    Now for the handfull that feel offended by what I just said (and can back that up):
    • Teach the younger engineers around you the basics of engineering that they didn't get tought in school.
    • Discuss modern programming paradigms with the older engineers. Tell them it is not a bad thing to have to learn new skills (and re-learn the old ones).
  • Shortsighted Fallout (Score:3, Interesting)

    by limekiller4 (451497) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:47PM (#6193377) Homepage
    I think coding is definitely a life-long learning experience. What you think about your year-1 code at year-2 is always "what trash." Always. Same for you at year three when looking at year two. Lather, rinse, repeat. And it's true because you're always refining your art.

    A good analogy, IMO, would be just about any other "art." Do you want a first-year apprentice repairing your shoes? Sure, I guess, if speed is your goal. If you want it done right, you might want his boss with 20 years under his belt.

    So why are they opting for the first-year apprentice? Well, who expects to be employed at a company ten or twenty years from now? Quality takes time to become obvious. Why should they shell out the extra money (time is money) for something that won't be obvious until after they've gone? They have a bottom line to meet and whether or not they're there in six months -- nevermind as many years -- is whether or not their numbers are lower than anyone elses. Investors are a fickle lot.

    This trend is nothing more than the fallout of a society that no longer has it's citizens displaying one, two, maybe three companies on their resume. It is short-sightedness and I'm afraid there isn't anything you can really do about it.
  • by codefool (189025) <ghester.codefool@org> on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:49PM (#6193393) Homepage Journal
    The canon on age discrimination in IT is here. [ucdavis.edu] If you are over 30 and working in IT, this paper is really worth your time to absorb.

    I was RIF'd in May 2001 just after the dot-bomb collapse, and was unable to even secure an interview. In the two years that followed, I netted only two interviews although I have over twenty years in programming. I know this had a lot to do with my age, since it was communicated to me through recruiters and other sources that longevity in the field directly translates into dollars. They see that hiring younger necessarilly means hiring cheaper.

    Read the paper - it's all in there.

  • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:49PM (#6193398) Homepage Journal

    I'm a programmer. Or a software engineer. Whatever. (I prefer hacker, but not all potential employers will appreciate what I mean by it [catb.org].)

    I understand one place where the ageism comes from.

    The specific example cited above is just stupid, but there is a reasonable reason to prefer younger techies.

    Remember Sturgen's Law [catb.org], 90% of everything crap. This includes techies. Sure, you may work at some company that only hires smart techies who care about their work. But many companies (especially larger companies) are stuck with what they can get. If you need 200 programmers to write insurance and banking application, chances are that many of them are going to suck. Some are actually bad. Some want to be good, but need time to get there. Some just don't care.

    As a result, you take steps to make the most use of these crappy techies. This is part of the reason that some companies have overly complex planning, design, and revision systems. Sure, it prevents a truly skilled and inspired person from being really efficient, but they can help keep those people not so blessed on track and getting work down (however slowly). (By way of an example, a friend complained that he was on a project to do some file conversions. It would take him one or two weeks to whip it up in Perl and carefully test it. Instead there were two dozen people working on it for six months. A waste of skilled, dedicated manpower, but in the absence of someone my friend, probably the only way to get it done at all.)

    Now, all that said, maybe the better solution is to fire all of the not-so-good techies and invest heavily in the skilled ones. After all, the skilled ones can often replace many less skilled ones. Ultimately this is a financial decision (which is the better payoff for investment), and I don't know the answer. Personally I would go with fewer and better techies, but I don't get to make that choice.

    So, some companies, especially large ones, take steps that optimize for the non-so-good techies, even if those steps harm good ones.

    Ageism is just such a case. The more general case is a refusal to hire someone who doesn't have either 5+ years of experience in the technology they'll be working with, or just graduated with education focusing on the technology. The reason, many of the not-so-good techies aren't too keen on learning new things. After all, many of them just want to do their job and coast on by. Even if trained they'll take a long, long time to get up to speed. However, if a not-so-good techie already has real experience or just graduated with that experience they start up time is (in theory) much lower. Ageism just takes the reasonable fact that many techies will not learn new tech and applies it in a very conservative way to hiring. Of course, this bones the good techies who learn quickly and like learning. It leads to silly cases where a company will spend a full year failing to hire someone with experience in FooTech instead of just hiring someone and allocating time for them to learn.

    Of course, all of this is just one of the reasons for ageism. There are others. I just wanted to offer up an explaination of one on the possible reasons.

    Another popular reason for ageism is that fresh college grads are used to working long hours and don't expect alot of money. In this economy they're even more desperate, I know several recent grads willing to take extremely low paid jobs to gain needed experience (Which working as a waiter or a receptionist doesn't give). Unfortunately this can lead to situations where people get burned out and knowledge leaves the industry. The lack of long term stability means fewer people are willing to enter the industry. Older employees expect to be treated like the professionals that they are, they want reasonable professional salaries and reasonable working hours (you can raise the hours, but the salary better match). I think it is often a reasonable investment, but companies are often only as smart as the dumbest link in their chain of command (thus, ageism might come from the top, or from a HR person).

  • by LLWhipist (524663) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:54PM (#6193455) Journal
    The shop I'm at now has a surprisingly older crowd of coders. They also have a distinct policy against hiring anyone without experience.

    I have no doubt (having seen it in interviews myself recently) that there is a trend towards hiring younger staff, fresher faces, cheaper assets/liabilities. But no all shops are like this.

    For the most part, I've found that places that were hit fairly hard in the past two years but are coming back, are more likely to hire experience and not just warm bodies. Your skills will come into it when they realize they don't have time to train the younger crowd.

    I'm 32 now and sitting somewhere in the middle between older and wiser, and younger and faster. I'm just hoping I don't have to wind up in the market looking for a job anytime soon.

    cheers
  • by WmFergusonIII (681290) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:55PM (#6193470)
    In IT terms I am an old fart. 46. But it seems like yesterday I was the kid who had to prove himself in a mainframe world full old men. I don't know where all the old men went, probably died of the cigarettes they chained smoked. I do remember a lot of old geeks, who although they lacked washboard abs (ageism is about sexual attraction not programming skill), they could code the hell out of anything in assembly language. Now I am old. I adapted to the Internet in 1993. I marvel what some kids do not know. Too many years on ritalin? And there's the bright ones. GenX got a raw deal, mostly because it hit recessions on both sides of college and the baby boomers before me want to deny them the same excesses in life we enjoyed. Hell we demanded beer at age 19! There is always someone who is a faster coder. There's always someone slower. Most of the times its about persistence against all odds and just getting the job done.
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Friday June 13, 2003 @01:58PM (#6193497)
    Didn't we just see a story [slashdot.org] about how hard it is for a kid to get into programming nowadays? Gen-X kids grew up in the eighties with simple computers that were ideally suited for learning programming. Turn the thing on, there's the BASIC prompt. Learning to program in your formative years helps you a lot. You learn how to think (even if you have to unlearn a few things that BASIC teaches you).

    My first computer was a ZX81 I built from a kit when I was 12. Which meant that my first language was BASIC and my second was Z80 assembler (since BASIC was so atrociously slow even for 1982). I would POKE the machine codes into memory, and that got so tedious I wrote a BASIC program to help me do it. It started with 10 REM AAAAAAA.... You would type the assembler instruction into a field, hit a key, and it would poke the correct values into memory starting at address 16514 (where the A's started). A bunch of my friends in school did similar stuff. The occasional kid might be into that sort of thing now, but there isn't much of an incentive to learn programming now because computers are much better now and so much good software has been written already.

    I bet the stream of really good programmers entering their 20s will continue for a while and then dwindle. If you spent your time as a kid playing with a GameBoy, your mind has already calcified a bit by the time you start programming.

  • True costs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by coyote-san (38515) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:03PM (#6193561)
    Any manager who focuses solely on the salary of his programming staff is an incompetent fool who should be fired immediately.

    Ask any experienced programmer where the biggest costs lies, and they'll tell you it's fixing (or worst, working around) the crap left from rushed or ill-informed decisions made earlier. This isn't just the cost of paying programmers to maintain the broken infrastructure, it's the lost opportunities as the people who know your code are prevented from working on new functionality, the delays in responding to changing demands, etc.

    We all know that the marketplace often doesn't give us enough time to do things right... but a lot of mistakes can be avoided if you just have somebody on the team who has already done something similiar at an earlier job. Or arguably more importantly, somebody who has seen the same brilliant idea fail because the nasty problems don't appear until you're committed to this approach.

    But I guess that's why we're told we have a "negative attitude." I've actually heard some people say that they'll never hire somebody who says something "can't be done." They make no distinction between professional knowledge (e.g., recognizing a problem as NP-complete with no known "good enough" approximations), professional experience (e.g., having worked at three other sites where the same approach was unsuccessfully attempted), or just a bad attitude.

    The other cost that's often overlooked is that specialization is dangerous. You don't want to hire one person to fill a half-dozen separate positions, but having people on your staff who can cover others can be a godsend when your regular sysadmins are all away (e.g., one on vacation, the other home sick), or the DBA is on vacation, etc.
  • by casmithva (3765) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:05PM (#6193579)
    This is one reason why, at least in my group, the developers do the interviewing. And, as of late, the lack of age has been a penalty, not a bonus.

    We work predominantly, but not entirely, in Internet services. It has to run, all the time, and when it crashes, it better log something meaningful, get off its lazy ass, and get back up and working yesterday. Young kids who have little to no professional programming and development experience don't know much at all, if anything, about fault tolerance and high availability. Nor do they usually fully grasp the importance of error checking and reporting, defensive practices like design-by-contract, CM, QA, etc. I want folks with battle scars. Occasionally you find a youngin' who's dealt with that already, and they work out great, but most haven't.

    Now that's not to say that I wouldn't hire a youngin'. I'd hire a recent college grad with at least some of the prerequisite skills and a good attitude to start off with maintenance work and small projects. For example, fix some bugs, do integration testing and explain why the bugs are bugs and what caused them. Sooner or later they can actually explain what happened and how to fix the problem, and then they're off.

    As for learning ability, I, frankly, haven't noticed a real difference in the ability to learn between the young and old when it comes to languages, specs, etc. If anything, I've seen older people pick stuff up faster.

  • by galen_rhodes (673880) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:25PM (#6193823) Homepage
    I think the idea that younger minds are better, faster, more flexable, etc., is simply a smoke screen. The issue I've run into is that I can't compete salary wise against younger kids. I need to make at least $4,000/month, but someone right out of college, with no wife and|or kids might be willing to work for $2,000/month.
  • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda AT etoyoc DOT com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:25PM (#6193828) Homepage Journal
    When I was young they wouldn't take me seriously because I was inexperienced. Now that I have experience, I get rejection letters like "bringing someone on board as Senior as yourself would be a mistake at this point in the project."

    They want 8 years of experience doing this, and certifications to do that, and for you to be 20 years old and willing to work for minimum wage. And they think they can get it because we are all out there and hungry.

  • idiocy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vladkrupin (44145) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:26PM (#6193837) Homepage
    The problem is that I do not believe his idiocy is unique

    Where did you get that idea from? It's not idiocy - it's a reality. I know that I won't be coding till I am in my 40s. Neither do I want to. I mean, it's true, people are different, and some people in their 40s are indistinguishable in many ways from people in their early 20s. But if you think about it, there are some abilities that are required that few 'older' people people possess. Among them

    - If you are older, married and have a family you are less excited about staying till unholy hour of the morning finishing a project that has an imminent deadline tomorrow...
    - If you are older, you are more set in your ways and would rather use the skills you already have rather than learn something totally new and off-the-wall. Yes, your skills may be very valuable, but you may lack the flexibility your employer is looking for. Let me re-phrase that. When faced with a new problem, I first try to see if I already know from prior experience how to solve it, and, if I do, use that experience, even though it may not be the most optimal solution. That's how we, human beings operate. That's why we have education, right? On the other hand, few areas change as quickly as software and your "solution based on experience", while still good, may not be the best one, and not the one your employer is looking for. In that sense, under some circumstances, your experience may be more of a drawback than a benefit.
    - While some older people become wiser, and take criticism better, many others do become grumpy old men, and find it hard to be taught and criticised by the kids in their teens that apparently know some things better.
    - When you get older you won't be willing to accept some of the jobs and tasks (especially the thankless ones like sysadmin) as readily as the younger people.
    - Last, but not least (especially in today's pitiful economy), when you are younger, you will settle for less pay, more hours, and your insurance will be cheaper. Isn't that why a lot of developer jobs are moving to Russia, Romania, India, et.al.?

    No idiocy - just face the reality! While discrimination based on age is illegal, it is true that you may not be able to perform certain tasks when you get older. Just like a 60-year old lady won't get a job at hooters, you won't be a coder in your 40s. So, start transitioning to a manager position in your 30s, while you still can - that's where you belong, and there is nothing wrong with that.
  • by Junks Jerzey (54586) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:27PM (#6193853)
    Lots of people learn to program in high school--or earlier. And after a quick learning curve of approximately three to four years, such a person will be a fairly competent programmer for certain types of tasks. He won't be a master; you wouldn't want that person architecting anything sizable. And he'll have monstrous gaps in his knowledge. But you know what? That kind of general grunt programming covers about 90% of the coding work out there. It doesn't take a masters degree to churn through data files with Perl, or to put together some forms and SQL queries with Visual Basic. It really doesn't If you give that kind of work to someone who is 20, is unattached, and maybe lives in a town where he doesn't know anyone outside of work, he'll churn through it faster than someone with a wife and kids. And the 20 year old will be cheaper.

    This isn't an insult to people over thirty. I am over thirty. It's more that most programming is pretty simple, and therefore it makes sense to have it done by cheap, almost slave labor.

    As programmer becomes a true master, which is something that takes a decade or more and a wide variety of professional experience, that person will be much less inclined to just write brute force solutions in Visual Basic. He'll start to think more, wonder why we're wasting our time using garbage like C++ or why most Visual Basic programs end up being the same and therefore should be replaced by something more succinct and automated. But that kind of thinking doesn't do much good. It takes more time to think about such things than to just write the damn code for the ugly way.
  • by gorbachev (512743) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:28PM (#6193873) Homepage
    From the user comments to the BBC article:

    "In the IT sector (and coding in particular) younger minds generally work faster."

    This is utter bullcrap.

    I'm in my early 30s and been doing tech lead (lead teams of 5 - 20 people) for about 2 years now. I've worked with a lot of programmers, young and old. I've supervised, peered and worked under older programmers.

    In my experience working faster has nothing whatsoever to do with age. It's everything to do with ability and experience though.

    My experience tells me that even if a (really) young person was seemingly working faster, they really aren't, because their lack of experience generally makes them work on the wrong things. They do double the work, work on the wrong things and make more mistakes. That certainly applied to me when I was younger.

    This is happening all over the place on the current team I'm managing. The youngest (most inexperienced) people are constantly the people I'm spending most of my time with. The older folks, not only know when to ask for help, but also produce less defects, so their work is much more efficient. They probably type slower though, if that's what "working faster" means...

    Sometimes, very rarely though, a youngster can overcome his lack of experience by being truly brilliantly talented. I've had the pleasure of working with a handful of such people. The results these sort of people produce, are nothing short of amazing. Gotta give credit where credit is due. The next time you usually see these people is when they get that corner office with outside view :)

    Proletariat of the world, unite to kill ignorance
  • Job security (Score:3, Informative)

    by blogboy (638908) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:34PM (#6193922)
    I'm 33 and I earn a living fixing and redoing the mad, coding of a prolific 20-something who learned how to code on the job. The young get in, get their money, get out, and leave the mess for us "older folk" to clean up. Young coders = job security for experienced coders.
  • by Badgerman (19207) on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:48PM (#6194081)
    It's changing. There was definitely some bias, but it's switching, and in a few cases, reversing.

    First, in the downturn, the older more experienced programmers come cheaper.

    Secondly, despite all the changes in technology, older people come with a valuable knowledge of history. I recently had to solve a problem with scripting that someone without my experience wouldn't even have an inkling of.

    Third, older people come with broader knowledge. That is making a lot of difference over time. I've noticed more experienced programmers also fulfilling analysist niches while they code, drawing on their knowledge.

    Fourth, older people come with more diverse knowledge. On my last job search, half the time my interviews started with questions on non-technical skills.

    Fifth, you can hire a code-only person. That's fine. You can also outsource them to another company or country. It's easier to outsource a year of experience than it is ten years experience.

    I don't see as much ageism, and my guess is it's going to decrease over time. I'm in my 30's and I work with many people my age or older.

    Just my 1/50 of a Euro at current exchange rates.
  • Beards (Score:4, Funny)

    by terrymr (316118) <terrymr@@@gmail...com> on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:55PM (#6194157)
    I think a better question is whether a programmers ability is affected by the length of his beard.
  • by prototype (242023) <bsimser@shaw.ca> on Friday June 13, 2003 @02:57PM (#6194172) Homepage
    I'm 37 and have been in IT for a dozen years or so, but programming for about 20. I'm in charge of providing standards, best practices and technical support and advice to 250+ developers.

    It's not how many rings there are when they cut you open, it's how well you can navigate the technologies. I don't just people on how many languages they know or even what technology they are proficient in. For programmers, it's what their problem solving skills and adaptivity level is when the pressure is on or something challenging is presented.

    Software skills cannot be measured by number of years. I know coders that are 17 years old that can dance circles around me while at the same time others in their age group that couldn't assemble their way out of a paper bag. The same for the old geeks like myself. There's good and bad everywhere, it's just a matter of being able to sift through the silicon jungle and do what you're best at.
  • by tmoertel (38456) on Friday June 13, 2003 @03:15PM (#6194354) Homepage Journal
    Is there ageism in IT? Probably. Nevertheless, there are legitimate reasons why younger programmers are often hired over older programmers.

    First, younger programmers have less experience in life. Lacking the well-earned caution of older professionals, they tend to be enthusiastic about their work, which they meet with alacrity. Managers often interpret this enthusiasm as "energy," "speed," and "higher productivity" -- all valuable traits worth seeking an an employee. Even though I know of no measurements or studies to support this interpretation, the perception is widespread, and it's not unreasonable for HR folks to act upon it.

    Second, as others have pointed out, younger programmers usually have fewer extracurricular responsibilities to compete with work. Managers see this as increased devotion to the company and the opportunity to get more work for the same money. Again, it's not unreasonable to give preference to people with fewer extracurricular distractions.

    Third, in the software industry, experience is rapidly devalued because the valuable mainstream technologies often make one another obsolete. (This is in contrast to, say, the legal profession, where decades-old experience is readily applicable.) While this fact doesn't directly benefit younger programmers, it does put more-experienced (and hence older) programmers at a disadvantage because they are perceived as wanting compensation for their vast, often irrelevant experience. In other words, managers often feel that more-experienced programmers want more pay than they are truly worth.

    All of these reasons give managers and HR folks good reason to hire programmers who just happen to be young.

    But, there's more to the story

    That said, I have been coding for about twenty years. There is no doubt in my mind that the me of today can write much better software than the me of ten years ago, and I can do it in less time. Likewise, when I consider all of the young, hotshot coders who I used to work with when I was a young, hotshot coder, I would rather hire them as they are today than as they were back then. Simply put, they are better coders today.

    Back then, we cranked out the code, and our employers loved us. But, being honest, much of that code was crap, and much of our "productivity" was wasted on false starts, gold plating, blind hackery, and all-night debugging sessions that could have been avoided by a more disciplined approach to creating software. The thing is, our managers couldn't tell the difference between fast, furious activity and true productivity. And neither could we.

    And that's the most dangerous threat to older, more-experienced software professionals: Lack of measurement. I'm convinced that experienced professionals who have invested in their abilities, made consistent effort to learn from their mistakes, and know how to communicate effectively are worth their weight in gold. In the long haul, they will outpace inexperienced hotshots almost every time.

    But without measuring actual performance, you'll never notice. You'll mistake long hours for productivity. You'll mistake unnecessary all-nighters for dedication. And you'll mistake older programmers for expensive versions of their younger counterparts.

    So, if you are an older, experienced software professional, stop talking about "ageism". It's a lost cause. Start talking about realisitc productivity measurements. If you want to be perceived as more valuable, you'll have to do it the hard way: You'll have to prove it.

  • by jabber01 (225154) on Friday June 13, 2003 @03:21PM (#6194415)
    There is some truth to the offending statement - but the statement itself is myopic.

    It is true that younger techies work faster. It's obvious that they should, really, for the same reason that 16 year olds get more traffic tickets than people twice their age.

    Us "old timers" have a decade+ of experience upon which to draw. It is true that to a degree the advancement of technology has mitigated the need for some of this experience. However, we are not automatons, and have abstracted the lessons we learned on old technology into general rules that apply in the modern context as well.

    (Oh God, I'm actually making a "back in my day" post. Shoot me now!)

    Anyway, kids do run fast around corners and such, because they've not fallen over very much, yet.

    Now lets go and ask the HR drones who think this way about the amount of rework that bright-eyes and enthusiastic go-get'ers create. Let's talk about solutions that are not maintainable, and about implementation strategies that don't scale, that do not tolerate creeping features with grace.

    There is a reason why jobs demand a degree, and there is a reason they demand "x years experience". Kids make great cannon fodder, in IT as well as in the military. They consider a death-march glorious, and have no wife or kids to rush home to.

    But would you let a green officer, even from West Point, command your army? Would you send them on the elite and covert missions? If you would, you'll soon be flying someone else's flag.

    Same with IT. If you choose the gung-ho, do-or-die punks to bring your mission critical product to market, you'll soon be sporting someone else's logo on your letterhead.

    Kids have their place in IT. They can code like hell, and there is much to be gained from their stamina and fearlessness. But they need to be given clearly defined and well-contained tasks.

    Hell, most of these kids can't write "Hello World" without the aid of their favorite IDE! Sure, they learn and grow and get wiser. But guess what?

    By the time they've learned, grown and won their wisdom - they've become US, the old timers, who work slower, because they know better.
  • The hidden truth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quark2universe (38132) on Friday June 13, 2003 @03:30PM (#6194544) Homepage
    ... in the hiring managers statements is this:

    - The salary demands of a younger employee is going to be proportionally less than the salary demands of a more experienced programmer. Therefore younger = lower cost

    - The younger programmer will not at first bristle at demands to work unusually long hours to get a job done. The more experienced person will question the need for working longer hours.

    For a quality product there is no substitute for experience. Companies now are not looking to produce a quality product, simply a cheaper one.
  • Younger minds... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Friday June 13, 2003 @04:28PM (#6195185)
    Younger minds are less likely to notice the incompetencies of management, and will tend to assume management must know what they are doing (after all, they got there somehow, didn't they, and of course they are paying the bills). "Seasoned" programmers aren't usually motivated by the same sort of "hype" used by some managers to motivate the inexperienced towards greater productivity. The actual effectiveness of the results a a long-term issue, and we all know that many in business are too myopic to make the connections in that regard.
  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Friday June 13, 2003 @05:24PM (#6195646) Homepage Journal

    Hi!

    One of the challenges of any media business is producing a constant stream of content. If, for instance, SlashDot only put up two or three stories a day, far fewer people would read the site--and they'd have far fewer page hits on which to place banner ads.

    BBC Online has exactly the same problem--they have to (in industry parlance) "feed the monster" to keep readers coming back. In interactive media, like SlashDot and BBC Online, they can't just post stories--they really need to post stories that will prompt readers to add comments. (That's why 'red meat' stories like Microsoft cheating on the antitrust deal get posted, and obituaries of Internet pioneers sometimes don't. The Microsoft stories generate all kinds of traffic.) The web site has a continuing need to come up with stories that will generate a lot of interest, generate user comments, and generate a lot of traffic.

    It's worth pointing out that in this case BBC Online has succeeded famously: their article landed on SlashDot, so they have hundreds of thousands of additional page views. Which means hundreds of thousands of (billable) ad banners.

    Think of it as editorial trolling
    In effect, the editors of BBC Online are trolling. Editors and producers keep lists of story subjects that can be dusted off and run any time--even if the subject has been covered before. They're called "evergreen stories" because (like the trees) they never change from one season to the next. I've worked at one of the major television networks in the U.S., and I've seen the whiteboard listing evergreen stories--including "new concerns about Internet security," "Internet dating--is it for you?" "Internet dating--these people found romance!" and a bunch of others. "Age bias among computer programmers" is just another evergreen story that can be run on a Friday afternoon (typically the slowest news period of the week).

    Is there any truth to this age bias notion?
    Read the article critically: the article, and the "study" on which it reports, are based on anecdotal evidence. (Even when the study throws statistics around, the stats are based on what people told the researchers.) There is anecdotal evidence that Martians landed in Roswell, New Mexico--which is a far cry from saying there's any real proof. While somebody looking to cry "the sky is falling!" can quote anecdotes of people who can't seem to find a job after taking a class, there are plenty of us old folks out here making a buck.

    A little anecdotal evidence...
    Case in point, me. I'm 44, mostly bald, with quite a bit of gray in what hair is left. I'm working on-site for a local client, with a team of 18 programmers whose average age (including the summer interns) is about 23.

    The anecdotes suggest that younger coders are more productive; they write more lines of code; and that they are willing to work longer hours. Nope, nope, and nope. The hands-down champion code writer is an embedded guy who manages during the day, and codes at home all night. The absolute go-to programmers on the team are all in their 40s. And when the project was in crunch time, those same 40-somethings (including me) were the ones staying late, putting in the time, grinding out the project.

    The kids? Hey--they have dates. They have plans for the weekend. They're generally (not always) gone at 5:30. They can spend all day asking questions before they write a line of code--and we have to carefully review their code before we release it into production. The old folks on the project are the acknowledged experts on the language--and we're using C#, which only appeared two years ago.

    I don't mean to dump on the young people (and several of them read SlashDot). Several of them are extremely talented. But the older developers are much more comfortable working with new tools and platforms, much more experienced (and relaxed) working in a high-pressure environment, and are much more capable of sucking it up and delivering when it's crunch time. We have been there, done that, and will do it yet again.

    And yes, Virginia, we get paid a lot more.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday June 13, 2003 @09:37PM (#6196968)
    The fact is that there are many candidates to choose from for any open position, and hiring managers are always looking for one way or another to eliminate an applicant based on any concievable characteristic regardless of the likelihood that characteristic affects the ability and commitment to getting the job done.

    How wrong the concept can be is easily shown by the record of a person I used to work for, John Fenn.

    Now John is a little up there in years. He's 84 or so years old. John's mind however is as active as anyone 1/4 his age. Plus he has great enthusiasm for his work, and a tremendously broad experience to draw from. John's current employer offered him a job when his last employer forced him out.

    Now John's new employer has found itself with a great deal of prestige, because John was awarded a share of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. For work he did while in his 70's.

    If you judge people's capabilities based on age, you are making a HUGE mistake. Those 20-somethings? They haven't proved that they are capable of anything but littering a source code repository with crap. Now that 40 year old coder? Do your think he would still be coding if he didn't enjoy it? Or wasn't succesful at it? Chances are that 40 ear old coder has turned down promotion to management a number of times - he enjoys coding to much to leave it.

    Remember - Albert Einstein turned down opportunities to be head of the IfAS, and the first President of Israel for the simple reason he liked what he was doing better.

    The fact is that one of these hiring managers would have turned down what Time now calls the 'Man of The Century' because he didn't make that jump to management.

    It's too bad (for them) because I am going to eat their lunch with my team of 40+ year old programmers.

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