The Older Worker and IT: Everyone around you seem to be getting younger?

David Strain

September 12, 2016

5 Min Read
The Older Worker and IT:  Everyone around you seem to be getting younger?

First off, I confess to enjoying the occasional cigar – so I’d like to know where this kid works:  How did this place happen to institute a Smoking Policy in 2016!??  (Kudos).  On the other hand – maybe he’s an older worker who just looks great for his age!

The median age of the U.S. worker is 42 years, according to a recent study to which I referred.  In Silicon Valley the median age is 31, overall.  At Facebook it’s 29.  LinkedIn it’s 30… you can do your own research but it’s clear that the tech/IT field seems to put a premium on “youth.”

In my travels as a VP of Business Development, I’m frequently the oldest person in the room.  It doesn’t bother me:  In a recent meeting with an organization that ultimately turned from prospect-to-client, I was the oldest person in the room.  I delivered our company’s background:  In part, I mentioned that our president and myself had a business relationship that went back 15 years; and that I was well-aware that neither of us “look old enough to support that narrative”… the eight people on the opposite side of the conference table burst into hearty laughter.  My boss, our president (who is considerably younger than I), had a look of pure delight as he laughed and surveyed their reaction – he didn’t know I was going to say what I did, so his laughter too was hearty, and genuine.

We landed the new client and considerable ongoing business. 

In my opinion and as reflected by my direct involvement:  Personality, qualification, and experience trump age considerations every time.  If you can deliver, you’ll be secure in your employability and retainability.

I had a hard-core tech background once-upon-a-time, but as one climbs into the upper realms of management, one – well – manages.  You manage other people who have those harder tech skills, generally.  These days, I write proposals, evaluate requests-for proposals, prospect for new business, turn prospects into clients, and generate content - web and otherwise - that profiles our services and products so as to generate and support sales of them.

Doing those things takes some pretty well-rounded, and deep, experience I dare say.  But I must remain current, and even forward-edge, regarding all things related to various organizations and IT’s support to those organizations – whether they be private sector, non-profit, or government orgs.  (All of these are in our present stable of clients, and all of these are in our sights for new clients/business).

I don’t wait around for formal training to be offered, nor do I lobby for that.  I self-train.  Easy enough with the wealth of content on the ‘net:  Everything from rather formal online courses are available, to opinions in various tech forums and blogs on up-and-coming solutions/practices, and these can sustain anyone quite nicely.

There are some things older workers can do beyond the practicalities (and necessities) of remaining current within their particular specialty/specialties.  I know that some folks are getting cosmetic surgery.  I don’t know if that’s necessary, but I’m vain enough to consider it for a variety of reasons someday, I suppose.  But you can dress a little more informally these days, it seems.  Business casual is fine if that’s the general rule – pitch the suit if you can.  Are people around you wearing jeans?  The boss/owner?    

Be social at work.  Even in my youthful IT Director days (whereby my age was not a potential liability) the first thing I did upon entry to whatever office suite I was working, I headed to the kitchen for coffee and a chat with whomever was in there.  I also stopped by various offices and cubicles on my way to my office.  Alas, I was popular – I know not everyone can be popular, but give it a shot.  (I’m being a little humorous here – but only a little).

Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate with your boss regarding your appraisal.  Here, I’m not talking about negotiating for a higher rating, or a more glowing report – although you can certainly do that if you feel you haven’t been rated fairly.  But what I’m speaking of is the negotiation of a layer to an already favorable rating (our article’s addressal is to people who are qualified and held in good esteem, but are concerned about their age in the workplace).  Negotiate with your boss to include lines such as:

-John’s qualifications and contributions are bolstered by his unusual ability to stay current and forward-edge through self-study and self-training, resulting in _______. *

-Sally has brought new depth to user-qualified engagement to our new technologies by virtue of specialized User Groups, each targeting specific organizational populations, resulting in _______.

-Amir has been able to tighten project timelines considerably with his suggestion and institution of PMP-certification for Developers, resulting in _______.

-Maya suggested and brought a new business practice to IT; it’s dispensation to our clients has increased revenue x%, and its expansion in the coming business quarters is already approved.

* Use your imagination to make solid exposure of who you are, what you are actually doing, and what it means to the organization in an empirical (measurable) sense.

No organization can afford to jettison a highly functioning and forward-edge employee – regardless of age (or anything else).  Be that employee.  Brand yourself:  Your brand is:

-Imaginative thinking
-Quality deliverables
-Delivery of forward progressions that work

  • To co-workers

  • To clients

  • To prospects

  • To organizational health

And… to every “younger worker” out there:  You’re a day older than yesterday; you’re a week older than last week; you’re a year older than last year…  you’ll be an “older worker” soon enough.  Give that a thought when assessing your older workers – and be sure to value that which has value.

And now:  I’m well-aware that I don’t look old enough to be dispensing this advice.    ;^)


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