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Does the Tech Industry Have a Young vs. Old Problem?

There's a fascinating story just published on The New York Times, "Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem," that explores the many facets of the age divide in the heart of America's tech industry. Written by a Comp Sci graduate student with a few internships at hot new Silicon Valley startups under his belt, the article touches on many aspects of the new guard/old guard divide in an industry where "companies like Intel post disappointing earnings reports and others like Snapchat turn down billion-dollar offers.":

The rapid consumer-ification of tech, led by Facebook and Google, has created a deep rift between old and new, hardware and software, enterprise companies that sell to other businesses and consumer companies that sell directly to the masses...

In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests. Without a good router to provide reliable Wi-Fi, your Dropbox file-sharing application is not going to sync; without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh. The talent — and there’s a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more web apps...

Why do these smart, quantitatively trained engineers, who could help cure cancer or fix healthcare.gov, want to work for a sexting app?

The story also explores the other side of the age divide, since the author's father and quite a few of his Comp Sci friends' fathers, have been working in Silicon Valley for decades.

Older engineers form a smaller percentage of employees at top new-guard companies, not because they don’t have the skills, but because they simply don’t want to. “Let’s face it…for a 50-something to show up at a start-up where the average age is 29, there is a basic cultural disconnect that’s going on….The flip side of the kind of cohesion I saw at Stripe is that it can be off-putting to people outside the circle. If you are 50, no matter how good your coding skills, you probably do not want to be called a “ninja” and go on bar crawls every weekend with your colleagues, which is exactly what many of my friends do.

And it could just be another face of ageism.

“Top tech companies emphasize rigorous algorithms problem solving and de-emphasize prior experience, which is where an older engineer is going to shine,” McDowell [a recruiting guru] said. “Older engineers are also very likely not to have computer-science degrees; even if they do, C.S. was a completely different field 30 years ago.” The dearth of older engineers in new-guard companies is thus due in part to their feeling intimidated and in part to hurt feelings. “With interviews the way they are, the new-guard companies are basically saying, ‘We don’t care about the fact that you have 30 years of experience — that doesn’t matter to us.’ Older engineers often don’t react well to this.”

The article explores a lot more than I've highlighted -- it's definitely worth a read. What do you think of the new guard/old guard divide? Do you have any personal experiences about it to share?

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