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Why Prevalant Age Discrimination in IT is (partly) a Myth

Published on: 2014-07-20

I keep reading articles online about age discrimination in IT. This surprises me, because I've worked at several companies and have been involved in dozens of interviews, but I've never seen anything that was clearly and obviously age discrimination. I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, since even if you ignore Mark Zuckerberg's comments about hiring older workers, clearly there is a large number of individuals with a lot of experience that are having trouble getting hired. But from what I see, this isn't primarily due to age discrimination. Instead, employers have defined their hiring processes in such a way that happens to favor younger workers. That's not deliberate age discrimination, it's just stupidity.

What do I mean by this? Essentially, employers primarily look for candidates with specific skills, and experienced workers want to be hired based on their superior knowledge. To see the difference between these two concepts, here is a comparison:

Is typically gained through training or reading a bookIs typically gained through experience
Is easily demonstrated through tests and certificationsIs tough to validate through the typical job interview process
Will almost certainly become obsolete with timeWill almost certainly not become obsolete with time
Can easily be tested during an interview screening processIs tougher to test during an interview screening process
Helps an employee solve a specific, well-defined problemHelps an employee anticipate and prevent unspecific or unforeseeable problems
Only somewhat transferable to other technologies/languages/situationsVery transferable to other technologies/languages/situations

In other words, most employers look for particular technologies on a candidate's resume, not wanting to train a new employee in a particular technology or technique. Most experienced (but unemployed) candidates know that they can pick up any particular technology fairly easily, but don't want to learn a "flavor of the month" skill without seeing the value. (Employers are sometimes willing to train skills, but only for relatively young people with low salaries to match their limited experience.)

The result is that employers have job openings for IT personnel that go unfilled because they pass up candidates that could do the job, but don't have the right qualifications on paper. It also means that there are IT personnel with the qualifications to work in the workforce who choose not to put in the work necessary to get hired.

So this helps prove Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

This article was originally posted here and may have been edited for clarity.