Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Would you hire someone over 60 years of age?

We have the discussion on if you would hire someone with or without a degree.  So would you hire someone over 60 years of age?

If yes what do you think they will contribute?

If no what are your objection(s)?

Andy C
Saturday, December 8, 2001

It depends how good they were. I would hire Donald Knuth and Marvin Minsky if they ever needed a job.

Matthew Lock
Saturday, December 8, 2001

I was recently involved with two people from academia at a very product focused company.  It didn't work out for a couple of reasons:

- They did not like the compromises in design we took to get the product out the door.  They wanted technical perfection.

- They did not like the rush of our product schedule.  They wanted time to pursue side projects.

- We didn't get our money's worth out of them. The salary they were willing to take was based on their academic credentials, but their value to us was in their ability to develop product.

Would I hire Minsky or Knuth? Probably not based on my recent experience with people from academia.

Nona Myous
Sunday, December 9, 2001

It certainly depends on the company's doing. If it's a research where people mostly write articles and sometimes code - they may be good.
But, yes, in real production the academic staff doesn't function pretty well - I can also see it myself.
Besides, "over 60 years of age" shouldn't be an academic person. It's the person born in 40-th and may have lot's of experience. I was interviewing him like all other candidates.

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, December 9, 2001

I read in today's Sunday Times that the Govt. (British) is finally going to reveal proposals on anti-ageist laws.  This would even out part of the discrepancy with other European Law.  However, it might be 5 years before anything actually happens.

As for the specific of hiring someone that was 60.  Not all of them would be academics.  One of my first teachers in programming (it was too raw to be called computer science), was initially discovered pushing a broom at BICC (a rope and cable making company), in the Fifties, given an aptitude test and went to work as a programmer for them on their Leo computer, one of the first commercial computers.

He was about 60 when I came across him and he retired around five years later, I seem to remember a valedictory piece in Datalink at the time.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, December 9, 2001

Let's face it.  We are in a profession that loves youth and hates age as much as the NFL and the NBA.  What kind of profession drives out people as they reach 30, 40, 50 besides professional athletics and maybe porn photography?

If I knew then what I know today about the software development field, I would have gone into law or medicine.  Kids today won't go into IT because they see their uncles and parents lose work to a bunch of cheap imported H1B labor.

I am not anti-immigrant, but it is certainly not fair to use H1B labor almost exclusively to drive down IT salaries.

Matthew Cromer
Sunday, December 9, 2001

Yes, yes ,yes, we have had great luck with older employees.
We hired a number of people who took early retirement packages from Lucent. They really know telcom, and have worked on bigger projects.
The same rules apply, look for smart and gets things done. Watch out for people who have not done any real work for years. These people we found want to write code. Management and a big career path are not interesting, just the work. They are very happy to be in a smaller company with no bureaucrats.
The only thing that pisses me off is they are getting their retirement, plus a healthy salary from my company. They all have new SUV's, plus a little convertible for when the weather is nice. It ain't fair.

Doug Withau
Monday, December 10, 2001

I'm coming up on 30.  It's already clear to me that I have 5 more good years left... then age discrimination will start kicking in.  Hopefully my business will up running well by then.

I already have difficulty finding engagements because employers are looking for Young, Cheap, and Permanent, while I am experienced, expensive, and contract.

I love working on software, but this comment is 100% right:

"If I knew then what I know today about the software development field, I would have gone into law or medicine. "

Advice to college students: if you meet the Joel criteria ("smart and gets things done") you will probably have a better career in one of the aforementioned fields then in software development.

Monday, December 10, 2001

>>"If I knew then what I know today about the software development field, I would have gone into law or medicine. "

I wonder how much people who make these comments actually know about law and medicine.  People's impressions are largely based on TV and the movies.  Those depictions are about as accurate as the portrayals of software engineering in the movie "Hackers".

My wife used to practice law, but she quit years ago, as did many of her friends and coworkers.  Being a lawyer is a lot of boring grunt work with very little glamor, and not necessarily a lot of money.  Sure, lawyers who go to an Ivy League law school and work for top-tier firms get paid a lot, but they're the minority.  Saying all lawyers are well-paid is like saying "Hey, look at all these magazine articles about Microsoft millionaires and dot-com billionaires -- all programmers must make $300,000/year and drive Porsches!"  It just ain't true. 

And even if you get a job as an associate working for a large firm, many more associates are hired than will become partner.  So you could give your life to the firm for years and still get let go, without the pay off.  This is especially true now since we're in a recession and a lot of dot-com work has dried up.

Doctors have to work days without sleep when they're interns, and at that point they're saddled with a huge amount of debt and not much salary.  And they have endless paperwork and battles with HMOs to look forward to, as well as the constant threat of malpractice suits.  Not to mention people always ask them for a diagnoses when they're at a party.  (Heh.)

Now, I'm not saying we should have endless sympathy for doctors and lawyers -- they should know what they're getting in to.  But most people in those fields are not as well paid or as glamorous as people think they are.

Jeff S.
Tuesday, December 11, 2001

My dad is a doctor, my uncle a lawyer.

They didn't get forced out of their profession by H1B immigrants at the age of 35, 40, 45, 50.  Compare that to software developers most of whom are out of the field by age 45.

Matthew Cromer
Tuesday, December 11, 2001

I'd _always_ hire my dad, though he has not turned 60 yet, but will within five years from now. He taught me BASIC when nobody knew how to spell computer. He wrote the fastest graphic drawing algorithms in assembler when everybody was still using character mode. However, I don't believe my father's the only smart guy in his age.

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to hire someone.

René Nyffenegger
Friday, December 14, 2001

At eChoice, the Australian financial services company that I've been helping build for the past three years, we used to joke that we were the oldest dot-com in existence. At 35 I was the youngest executive there. Then most of the other Australian dot-coms went out of business. We kept heading towards profitability. Maybe age was on our side.

As another poster said, you look for people with a record of getting things done, not people promoted to a succession of executive positions within large companies. We have some highly effective operational (non-IT) staff in their '50s. They tend on average to adapt a little more slowly to technology, but on average they also know how to react to new business situations because they've seen it all before. They know what the industry-standard way of doing something is, when you can depart from the standard and what the costs and benefits will be. They tend to be more rigorous about getting it right and to know when they're being fed a load of BS (they've been served it before).

Rider: we have never hired a 60-year-old programmer - or found one, for that matter. But our head of technology is in his late 40s or 50s. All of the above applies to him in spades, except that he adapts very fast to new technology - he runs projects using Java, XML, Oracle databases, Visual Basic and anything else you want to throw at him.

He also tells a great story about his biggest misjudgement: reading E. F. Codd's original relational database papers and thinking "this will never take off". With age comes perspective.

David Walker
Tuesday, December 18, 2001

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home