The painful truth about age discrimination in tech

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The nature of the job. The mental stage that psychologists define as "flow" is one of sustained concentration on the task at hand and a pure focus on your attention on a project. In other words, it's the ability to work without interruption on a task until you've found a natural stopping point. A lot of developers strive for flow when they're working, which is why one meeting can blow an entire day's worth of work. It takes time to get in and out of flow and to retrace your steps to the point where you can move forward.

When it comes to flow, a 20-something worker without the obligation to pick up a child from daycare has a definite advantage over an older counterpart with a life and family outside work. And while it is explicitly illegal to ask prospective job candidates if they're married and have children, it's not illegal to infer -- based on age, résumé, and a glance at their ring finger -- whether a prospective candidate is going to be able to sink limitless hours into a development job or troubleshooting task.

And entry-level workers aren't burnt out by experience. They haven't had a decade of watching their work get torpedoed thanks to office politics. "You become more cynical about the possibilities of real rewards from your hard work after being so disappointed so often in management," says an engineer who also asked to remain anonymous. "And with advancing age, you have more responsibility, too -- which does not lend itself to that the singular focus required to complete most IT projects."

Thus, the harsh reality may be that IT jobs -- at least as they're defined now -- may be perpetually entry-level.

The tech industry is like sports or pop music: a young person's game

So is there an age discrimination problem in IT? Perhaps -- in the same way there's an age discrimination problem in professional sports, journalism, and the arts. At some point in those career arcs, the assets that made workers such hot properties -- youth, the ability to devote lots of time to their vocation, comparative inexperience -- diminish. And the marginal utility of what's left -- experience -- is not as strongly valued.

In other words, all you IT veterans are still big. It's the jobs that got small.

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This article, "The painful truth about age discrimination in tech," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest develoments in tech careers and get practical career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice blog at InfoWorld.com.

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This story, "The painful truth about age discrimination in tech" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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