By Bradley de Souza
July 6, 2017
My own parents felt that the ‘computer’ was a passing fad and that my time would be better spent elsewhere. Even now, amongst people who work in technology, they shudder when asked how their parents feel about the work they do.
Is there a reason this problem is more pronounced in the technology workplace? Could this be due to the disconnect between parents of children who became interested in technology as a career?
Technology as a sector is still relatively young and not well understood by most. As a career choice, it's difficult for others to comprehend. It's much easier to explain and understand fields such as medicine, law, politics or teaching.
How often do parents of children in technology roles default to "s/he works with computers" or my personal favourite catch-all for the more trendy parent, "s/he works in I.T.".
I was a Head of Technology at the BBC for a while during the dotcom boom. It was a proud moment, a highlight of my career and the biggest technology job in Europe at the time. My parents simply told others that I worked at the BBC. People invariably assumed I was in Television.
Are people bringing this upon themselves? Are a few grumpy ones making it a problem for all? Is an explanation for age discrimination related to how some people behave as they get older?
As people age, there is a tendency to slow down, to stop learning, do less, become less active. What message does this then send to others in the workplace? When this tendency is also coupled with cynical behaviours and attitudes, it's no wonder all older people are tarred with the same brush.
Is there also a fear that as people age they will automatically become chastising, grumpy, slow employees? Hence the need to get rid of them before or in case it happens.
Ironically, some older and well established businesses behave in the same way. They can lack drive and innovation, only becoming active when threatened by competitors. For people working inside these organisations, this survival response is often too little too late.
The technology and processes in such places tend to be decrepit. Their fragility makes them vulnerable and worse still these days, open to criminal exploitation.
The hidden cost of age discrimination
Mark Zuckerberg once said "Young people are just smarter" but he didn't say that young people are wiser. Wisdom is the intersection between knowledge and experience, something which can only be acquired over time, even a short time.
Infosys, a large technology company, teaches clients that it roughly costs 10,000 times more to fix a defect in a finished product or service than it does to fix it at the requirements gathering stage. It emphasises getting things right from the outset. I believe that the multiple is even greater if you find the problems before, at the ideas stage. For that to happen, you need a combination of wisdom and experience.