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Letter on ageism
thoughts on the supposed IT worker shortage

Ubiquity, Volume 2000 Issue April, April 1 - April 30, 2000 | BY Paula Hawthorn 


Full citation in the ACM Digital Library

      Today I am at my consulting job at a .com company. As with all the companies where I consult (Silicon Valley start-ups) there is a desperate need for people, and we will hire anyone who has the requisite skills. Come here and look around, and you will see all ages, colors, genders. Yes, we have the extraordinarily expensive "immigrant" workers provided by consultants, usually at a rate as much as THREE times above the "regular" employees, and why do we pay that? Because we desperately need people. So my first impulse was to respond to the charge that there is no shortage of IT workers, and that the problem is ageism, with a "oh come on, you have to be kidding... ."
      However, there is something real happening... There is a definite bias toward the young -- actually, the only place where I have heard someone happily saying out loud "we will ONLY hire young people" was at a meeting with the faculty of a major university -- and I would claim that universities are well-known in their ageism. I believe that they will have to change, or die -- because the young people are going to start-ups, and it is the people who have their start-up experiences behind them who can afford to teach, and who may want the fuller life that teaching brings. Those universities who recognize that, and who value rather than discriminate against such people, will live. The others will die complaining that there are no teachers...
      Then there is the self-limitation. Most people I know (including me) have no more than two start-ups in them, because the pace is so frantic. I have attached a reference to the best book I know on this topic -- read this book if you have not, it is a true reflection of reality... Older people self-select out of that frantic pace, and the start-ups tend to be a bit... hesitant... to hire an older person, because we are afraid they will not work the necessary hours... The 70-hour weeks are real, the sacrifice of the family is real; the fact is, older people usually don't want to do this. And if in the interview there is any hint that the person being interviewed is a 9-to-5er, won't work weekends, etc then they will not be hired. So I think that yes, there is a problem with hiring older people -- not a simple problem, certainly don't know the fix, but a problem. Read this book!
      Death March: The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving 'Mission Impossible' Projects (Yourdon Computing Series) by Edward Yourdon; Prentice Hall; ISBN: 0130146595.
-- Paula Hawthorn


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