Is 40 the New 60?

Reviewed by Greg Wilson / 2021-10-03
Keywords: Age Discrimination

Here's a funny story: I've been using and teaching Python for over 20 years, and designed its built-in set module, but nobody would hire me as a Python programmer when I was laid off by RStudio in February. I was "too senior" for every developer role I applied for, even when the first paragraph of my cover letter said I recognized that blah blah blah. Several of my friends have run into the same thing: while the experience that comes with age is valued in fields like music, it counts against you in tech.

…which made Baltes2020 a particularly interesting read. Its subtitle is, "How popular media portrays the employability of older software developers," and the first blow is what the tech press considers old:

An "old" software developer is… Number of articles
30+ 4
35+ 3
35-40+ 2
40+ 7
45+ 2
50+ 1
Not stated explicitly 5

The employability strategies recommended by the articles surveyed included specializing in a legacy technology, networking (which I think translates to "asking your friends if they can hire you"), moving into management, and mastering some of those durned new technologies what keeps cropping up. The articles also discussed such strategies as modifying your resume to make it harder for HR and its algorithms to guess your age, getting plastic surgery, and working overtime or weekends just like young'uns do. If my generation hadn't made tech such a toxic work environment by ensuring that people had little or no recourse when treated unfairly by employers, I'd be tempted to feel sorry for us. Instead, all I can say is, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Baltes2020 Sebastian Baltes, George Park, and Alexander Serebrenik: "Is 40 the New 60? How Popular Media Portrays the Employability of Older Software Developers". IEEE Software, 37(6), 2020, 10.1109/ms.2020.3014178.

We studied the public discourse around age and software development, focusing on the United States. This work was designed to build awareness among decision makers in software projects to help them anticipate and mitigate challenges that their older employees may face.