Ageism in tech: the not-so-invisible age limit developers face

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When it comes to job hunting, a common concern is not having enough experience. In tech, the fear riddling job seekers and holders alike is the opposite. They worry they have too much experience.

Experience comes with age, and age is proving an issue in tech careers. As many as 68 percent of baby boomers don’t apply for tech jobs for fear of being “too old.” Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that three-quarters of professional developers are younger than 35.

Ageism is the elephant in the tech room. As programmers progress, their years of experience increasingly become a poisoned chalice. If the statistics are anything to go by, this problem is even more entrenched than you might imagine.

The not-so-invisible age barrier

61 percent of developers over 45 are concerned that their age is limiting their career options. And this concern is not unfounded. According to the Stack Overflow developer survey, less than seven percent of professional developers in 2018 were 45 or over. Worldwide, meanwhile, the average age of developers ranges between 22 and 29.

These statistics are telling. They suggest that by the time a developer reaches their mid-40s, they’re likely to face career worries. Perhaps they fear for their job security, or perhaps they’ve found it increasingly difficult to land a new position. Either way, the numbers show that developers contend with an illicit age barrier in their career.

Worse still, the flipside of the experience coin is often ineffectual. Experience should be a factor that gives older people a competitive edge. Yet experience seems to be hurting their applications, not helping. So much so, in fact, that some people have started removing references to earlier experience from their job applications.

Why is this happening?

Clearly, it’s a poorly kept secret that the tech industry favors younger team members. But when did experience become a bad thing?

One of the more obvious factors is money. In general, older developers (and those with more experience) tend to warrant higher pay. They know what their skills are worth, and aren’t likely to sell these hard-won skills for a junior salary bracket. This can then drive a preference for younger, cheaper developers—the “hungry” grads and interns desperate for a foot on the ladder.

However, this is the case in many industries, and yet the problem is not as rampant outside of tech. So, we must turn to the fast-paced, innovation-fueled nature of the industry itself to tackle tech’s ageism issue.

Innovation vs experience


Technology is future-focused. It evolves and changes with every passing day, and a drive for innovation has everyone looking to the future. Very little is the same as it was a decade ago. With so much change and so much emphasis placed on the tech-infused future, looking back seems redundant.

And that’s exactly what experience does: it looks back. As a result, years of experience in tech isn’t always perceived to be as valuable as it is for other industries. Employers (wrongly) assume that experience implies a stagnated skillset, or outdated expectations.

In finance, for example, being able to balance books years ago suggests skills that are still largely relevant today. Things are a little more disruptive in tech. If you’ve been working for ten years on a legacy codebase, it doesn’t automatically follow that you can leap straight into a programming role on a more modern product.

So, recruiters looking on programming experience with a devaluing eye may be leading to discrimination against it. They scan applications for buzzwords and trendy new languages, not always recognizing the worth of years of acquired knowledge. Their view of the future looks for flexibility, not a developer stuck in their ways or hardened by years of experience.

Stereotypes and complacency

This view of the future feeds into typecasts. While young people are often referred to as “the future,” the stereotype of the tech-illiterate older person pervades. It’s assumed that, because someone is older, they can’t possibly know modern tech. It’s the classic fallacy: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Combine this stereotype with the reduced value of experience, and you find another contributing factor to ageism in tech: the concern of complacency.

Programmers need to be constantly learning. Skills can quickly become out-of-date or redundant. The pace in tech is relentless, with long-standing languages rendered obsolete and new languages and methodologies lionized.

Unfortunately, this pace once again paves the way for ageism. When developers are in the game for so long, the assumption is that they’ve no doubt become complacent. They might have lost the passion they once held, or fallen behind the times in terms of languages.

The stereotype might be incorrect, but if a developer becomes complacent (no matter their age) they risk being left behind.

The problem for developers

This rampant ageism in the technology industry causes several problems for developers both young and old.

Older developers face concerns about the stability of the roles they’re in. This can lead to heightened stress or even imposter syndrome. Ageism in tech also makes competing for new jobs an uphill struggle for older developers. The result is a generation of developers facing a forced exit from their career.

And it isn’t any better for young developers either. The ageism in tech has also created an unhealthy attitude toward new, younger developers. As Dan Lyons, a former writer for HBO’s Silicon Valley, said in an interview on the topic: “I think they’ve all decided that the optimal return is young kids: burn them out, get rid of them, replace them.”

If this is the case, ageism in tech means more than older developers struggling to put food on the table. It also means that younger developers are being treated like consumables. This is not to mention the fact that the new programmers entering the industry have less guidance available to them from people that know the job well. (Aka., older developers.)

Advice for developers to combat ageism

startup business, woman  working on desktop computer

So, how can developers start to combat the ageism that’s placing a countdown on their career?

For older developers, it can help to reduce the emphasis placed on your age. So, if you are job hunting, age neutralize your resume or CV. A good way to do this is by removing old or irrelevant experience from your application. Instead, cherry-pick the most relevant and impressive examples of your experience. Tailor your experience to the job you’re after.

Whether you’re old or young, never be discouraged enough to stop learning. Continue to demonstrate your passion for the role. Keep up-to-date with the newest trends, languages and other technology. It’s about proving that you’re an asset now, not that you used to be.

To that end, remember that performance proves value. If one of the causes of ageism in tech truly is the drive for innovation, then prove that you can perform as part of an innovative culture. (And that applies no matter how old you are.)

Finally, wherever you work now, however many winters you’ve seen, network. Build relationships, make yourself known. Make friends and establish yourself as a valuable team member. So, when you reach the not-so-invisible age limit, you’re just that little bit harder to let go.

The benefits of age-diversity

Ageism in tech isn’t a problem that affects only candidates and employees. It’s damaging to the businesses that fall foul of it as well. They miss out on the benefits that an age-diverse team can bring.

For example, older developers offer insight from experience. Their time in the industry typically makes them better suited to senior roles than a fresh-faced programmer. Older developers may also be better equipped to handle legacy code too, with a greater likelihood of knowing older languages.

Younger developers, meanwhile, give fresh insight and are often more energetic. They bring a new outlook to an old problem, making them great catalysts for finding new solutions. They also benefit from a diverse team because they get a mentor that can help them learn and grow.

Evidence backs up the power of diversity in the workplace. Offices with greater diversity across age, race, and gender, it’s found, enjoy 19 percent higher revenues from innovation.

Advice for tech businesses and recruiters

So, removing the age barrier in tech is set to provide benefits to all involved. But what can businesses do to help remove the developer age limit?

For a start, don’t discredit an applicant because they have more experience. Experience isn’t everything, and that goes both ways. If you have a young, super-motivated candidate with a hunger for code, then great. If you have an older candidate with years of experience and up-to-date knowledge, then great.

Remember to check you aren’t falling foul of assumptions. Recognize what the candidate is doing and can do now. Don’t assume that an older developer can’t learn new code, or that a younger developer won’t know an old language.

You should also encourage mentoring. Developers of any age can share their experiences, their knowledge and their ideas, upwards and downwards. A young programmer could show an older colleague a new way of looking at a problem. An experienced developer could explain common approaches to a difficult problem.

The point is, experience and age aren’t adequate deal-breakers. Use experience as a backdrop; not the be-all and end-all.

Break the barrier

Ageism in tech is a much bigger problem than it should be. Regardless of the reasons behind it, we need to do something about it. Finding a way to break down these biases is perhaps one of the most innovative and important things we can do.

The only way we can break the age bias in technology is if everyone works towards that goal. Developers need to keep learning and avoid complacency. Companies need to stop letting age and experience be a barrier to tech jobs.

So, let’s get on with it.


  1. “Age-neutralize your CV”?! Should we also ‘gender-neutralize’ and ‘race-neutralize’ our CV’s while we at it? I mean God forbid we look wrong race and gender on top of looking old.

    • Yes Vladimir it seems that to “Age-neutralize” is perfectly acceptable to the author Howard Williams and most of the tech industry. At the same time most tech companies HR departments will always have some rhetoric on how they embrace a diverse workforce. I agree why doesn’t Howard suggest that people Race-Neutralize, Gender-Neutralize, Sexual Orientation-Neutralize their cv’s?? Answer = Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit but hey, to Age-Neutralize is perfectly acceptable and non-discriminatory.

  2. This is a great article. One thing that people forget, regardless of any other attribute and difference we have is no one and I mean NO ONE is escaping aging. Only youth and inexperience might possibly provide you with blinders to that. So if you are one to overlook someone due to age means you must look at your future self as less worthy. And if you think by then, you will be retired and are just lounging around, then you really need a reality check. Your niavete is showing

    Experience/seasoned AND innovative is an amazing combination. My partner, who is over 50 is that. Stays on top of the trends, even more so than some younger counter parts. This 50+ hard working, passionate, driven, person has innovative new ideas all the time and has the solid seasoned experience that can actually drive product to a finish line with reality and solid solutions in check along the way. Risk with know how. It’s like going into battle with a seasoned warrior who knows how to bring something new to game as well. Yes, a company may pay more, but they would get the benefit of two employees in one….a young and seasoned employee in one. But yet due to age, my partner has a harder time moving on to another company from the current job.

    I really hope more tech companies understand that they do not have the key to the time machine, that they will keep themselves….and there is true value in diversity of age and experience. And also understand that older workers can bring both experience AND innovation.

    And also… Even if a tech company found the key to a time machine that kept everyone Young….. Would you really want to give up all the experience you gained?

  3. As an older dev, you can get a look at a prospective company’s age range of current staff and if they’re all in their twenties, encourage them to treat you as a diversity hire. If they don’t go for that, sue them – you’re in a protected class. Also let the young ones know that the culture they’re subscribing to will have them out of work in a few years too and perhaps they should reconsider their shortsighted agendas.

  4. What stupidity my resume will never get looked at if I neutralize my age. First the application requires dates like when you worked somewhere when you graduated(required fields). It is filtered out long before my resume is sent to a human. The ad says for new grads only. I was layed off not fired my qualifications are inconsequential. I know there is someone in India that will do my job cheaper. I was in a group where the people hated working with these foreign groups that had unrefined skills. The company was basically having us teach them then layed us all off. No one wants to hire me. I teach my son software algorithms he can get a job easy. You think neutralizing your age works that * next to dates on the application says don’t lie or we won’t review your application and if you do lie we can fire you for it.

  5. This article is very helpful. Up until this year I had no evidence of discrimination as seems like everywhere I work are people my age (54). But I’ve recently landed some jobs with managers a little younger than me and that is where the discrimination lies. Both my managers told me I was their top programmer. That’s never been the problem. The issue is with power. Most younger managers want to force very bad decisions or tech strategies or habits onto younger people so they either look good failing or they can climb the ladder by grooming henchmen that do what they want. That has nothing to do with making good IT planning decisions, projects, or making a business money. It’s just how they see their careers. It’s how they cover for their deficiencies.

    Those happen to be the people that hire, too.

    The problem with older techies is they don’t fit into that model and most experienced people offer positive improvements to a business organization. When you pierce their bubble managers don’t see it as constructive but very threatening. So it spells the demise of the older programmer. Even if like me you shut up and follow the plan often good or superior work is a threat. The goal often in IT today isn’t to do quality work or innovate its to follow leaderships plan. When it fails they like you to fail with it and experienced people offering solutions goes against the departments corporate culture and internal goals (which must be followed to keep jobs).

    What this article helps to do is add more reality to the situation that talented people have….those that have helped other companies succeed bigtime through our experiences using cutting edge tech despite bad management.

    To me the solution is obvious. We cannot change the loyalty and grooming that managers only expect to find in fresh new young faces or offshore sweat shops. We can’t change any of that. Those managers will have to follow their own failed paths being closed to experience that might have guided them. That’s the trend in 2020z

    What older or experienced techies have to do is play a different game. Besides maintaining cutting edge tech skills and superior results and our talent
    base, we have to consider options like remote work which make us more anonymous, consulting by selling our expertise vs contracting which is just coding, and disguising our age completely through many different strategies so we are proven by our quality work alone.

    In terms of coping with the increasingly poor short term management people I run across, you cannot effect change there. That’s why it’s best to avoid the diversity solution and work exclusively as an outside contractor there to only code by project then move on. We have to completely forget the long term corporate culture integration idea and just not plan on working for these companies and remain hired guns, cleanup crews when offshore solutions fail, and focus on specific expertise in a valuable technology that young people struggle to perfect.

    I think we cannot swim upstream. But we can float beside the current in our own boats and add huge value to the mess that is modern, mismanaged, wasteful technology, at the moment.

    • I live in the EU, and have top programming skills because I love this job, but despite of this I cannot manage to find prog job for the last two years. I don’t count number of applications anymore, when they realize my age they do amazing things to turn me off making false excuses. One of my favorite is ‘can you learn … in a month, because we will need it’, picking a technology not mentioned in my CV that takes months to learn. After I say yes aI can they don’t call me anyway. To my wonder I realized that hi tech industry is full of lying, bad, dishonest and overall low characters. Situation in te US is much more real, I would say more honest.

      In the EU they lay, give false promises, make creative excuses etc because they know very well that they are doing wrong (and they want to avoid me suing them for age discrimination). Funny thing is that I can much easier find a job as taxi driver, doorman and similar no-education position than a highly skilled pro position that requires a lot of knowledge. I don’t understand why in the hi-tech society knowledge society knowledge is actually not so unimportant, but that’s reality. World is not fair

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