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letter on ageism

Ubiquity, Volume 2000 Issue April, April 1 - April 30, 2000 | BY John Gehl 

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Full citation in the ACM Digital Library



I concur with the "mature" worker's thoughts expressed in the article. I was laid off less than 10 months before my 55th birthday; my employer was well aware that I intended to take early retirement at age 55. I had prided myself on keeping up-to-date with my specialty for over 27 years in academia and private industry. I typically spent $3,000 to $6,000 (or more) out of my own pocket each year to attend short courses, conferences, buy periodicals and professional subscriptions, in addition to being actively involved in professional technical activities including the publishing and presentation of technical papers. During my industrial career I was recognized for some of my achievements by being elected one of the relatively few non-academic ACM Fellows. Yet despite my achievements, the last two years have been a professional nightmare despite extensive experience in academia and private industry. I cite a few examples here.

      1. I conducted a two-year nationwide academic job search with no success despite or because I was over age 50 and had been a senior faculty person in research-oriented universities even before entering private industry. An extensive review of job ads in the ACM Communications will show that an overwhelming majority are for entry-level assistant professors. My experience and age make me "unacceptable" for most advertised academic positions. I have worked as an adjunct faculty member at a few institutions but the pay is based on that for an entry level instructor or assistant professor despite my extensive previous academic and industrial experience. The attitude at many of the academic institutions I approached is that they want a low-priced, experienced person who can teach the entire computer science curriculum; this is in many cases a polite way to say we want a warm body to come in to "read" from a textbook but we don't want anyone with experience that would offer insight beyond what is in the textbook. With respect to pay, one small private college offered me $22,000 per year to teach 4 to 6 computer science courses per semester as well as serve as advisor for 400 students and define a new and revised academic curriculum! One institution suggested that I should essentially work for "free" since I was over 55 and "that would be a way to give back to society." I informed that person that I had been giving back to society long before age 55 by such activities as serving as an unpaid national lecturer for six professional societies over the past 26 years. I also reminded this individual that I would not be receiving any retirement benefits for at least another six years.

      2. I also conducted a nationwide search in industry with similar lack of results. I have tried to survive as a consultant and adjunct faculty member at several schools (junior colleges, colleges and universities). Many of my consulting experiences have included lots of expectations of free consulting time and late payments for work already satisfactorily completed. This has been a roller coaster experience, dissolving much of my savings that I had intended for my retirement days.

      3. As the writer of the article indicated, I too have experienced interviewers more interested "in the quality of my work as a free consultant." This included a university that expected me to work for over 40 hours a week but only would compensate me for 20 hours a week at graduate student rates.

      4. I recently was accepted as a government summer research fellow based upon my extensive industrial experience. I hope that superior performance in that position will lead to follow-up work. If my situation does not improve after the end of this summer, I will feel forced to seek out minimum wage positions. My initial experience in this area has already led to rejections from retail establishments as soon as they see M.A. and Ph.D. on the employment application.

      I would like to continue to work in CS or IT and I know I have lots to contribute to both academia and private industry but based on events during the past two years, I don't seem to be wanted or needed much anymore for my capabilities and experience.

-- Anonymous under-employed ACM Fellow


Consider It a Paid Sabbatical

Re: "As A Man Grows Older," Ubiquity April 4, 2000

      I read the article with considerable interest and thought: "How sad that it must be anonymous!" I was -- and remain -- older than the author when a strikingly similar thing happened to me. Not only was I unemployed, but there were at least 30,000 others out there within a 50-mile radius in competition with me! I, too, moved out of state to find a job after 11 months of searching. I, too, sold my home of more than 11 years, uprooted my family, and moved across the continent to take a much lower-paying job because that's what was offered, and it paid the mortgage.

      I came to see the job as a "Paid Sabbatical," -- and this made it bearable -- while allowing me to continue my search for a more suitable position, and one that would provide compensation in a more suitable range. It has taken more than 15 months, but I have now in hand an offer that allows my family more leisure, and the comforts of a secure future. Moreover, I have pending several other offers which promise to make our "Golden Years" live up to the popular appellation. I am this year 64, and from this experience, I've learned that our greatest enemy is despair. I survived that with the help and unstinting support of the most loving and supportive person I've ever known -- my wife.

-- Lawrence Smythe


Like Trading in the Family Car

Re: "As A Man Grows Older," Ubiquity April 4, 2000

      At 50 years of age I have experienced a good chunk of life and at times I feel compelled to self comment "Here we go again!" . . . because I too can see and feel the cyclical and developmental patterns surrounding us. Additionally, this compels me to reflect upon the feelings and frustrations I faced while witnessing a former employer's fixation to hire younger team members -- the hirings felt demeaning because they were conducted with the flair of replacing the family auto. So instead of waiting my turn, I struck out on my own with as much confidence as a 10-year-old walking through a graveyard on Halloween. Nonetheless, here I am several years later and living proof that there's life after "Corporate America" and all because I have something only experience can supply and that's the knowledge that the sun will rise again tomorrow no matter what employment I have or do not have. So to make this short I've selected some of the self talk affirmations that amused me when I needed it most.

      "Etorres Law": The other line moves faster. (A corollary to the "Grass is Greener Effect")

      "The Path of Progress": The longest distance between any two points is a shortcut. (The corollary of "Anything is Easy with Insufficient Information")

      "Brian's First Law": At some time in the life cycle of virtually every organization, it's ability to succeed in spite of itself runs out. (Corollaries of "Humpty Dumpty and The Emperor's New Clothes") Please pass this along to our writer in distress if you believe it'll bring a smile.

-- Name Withheld by Request

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