Is Silicon Valley's youth movement really just age discrimination?

When Cisco claims it will hire 2,000 workers, then lays off 4,000 staffers, older employees may question company's motives

The alarming turn of events at one of Silicon Valley's stalwart, iconic companies leaves many older Silicon Valley techies with more evidence in support of a legitimate gripe: They're losing their jobs to younger people.

Earlier this summer, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the collaboration technology group at Cisco Systems, told a crowd at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco that Cisco will hire 2,000 Millennials this year.

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Four weeks later, Cisco said it will cut 4,000 workers on top of the nearly 8,000 workers it let go over the past two years. "We just have too much in the middle of the organization," Cisco CEO John Chambers said. "We've got to speed time to market. Small teams move much faster."

It's a fair assumption to say that the middle layer Chambers speaks of are older workers. Even if Trollope spoke while not knowing about looming layoffs, the message is clear: Out with the old, in with the new.

Related: CIOs Look Ahead: Millennials, Consumer Tech and the Future

In truth, Silicon Valley is undergoing an age crisis. Older tech engineers have complained to me over the last couple of years about age discrimination and their inability to get hired. At the same time, tech companies claim to have tens of thousands of jobs begging to be filled, according to an SFGate story from this weekend.

But they're looking for younger workers.

Tech executives have been dropping hints about the kind of job candidate they're seeking for quite some time now. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University a few years ago, "I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30?"

At the recent Commonwealth Club event, Melissa Daimler, head of organizational effectiveness and learning at Twitter, said she really couldn't comment on what older-generation workers want in the workplace in order to make them happier and more productive because they don't work at Twitter. Nor does Twitter target them for hire. The average age of a Twitter employee is 30.

Silicon Valley setting another IT hiring trend?

Accusations of age discrimination in Silicon Valley, of course, are nothing new. In many ways, Silicon Valley is the bellwether of trends in the tech jobs market.

In early 2000s, for instance, Silicon Valley was awash in angry protests from techies decrying the rising practice of offshore outsourcing and the hiring of H-1B workers. Tech companies said they needed the tech talent because of a looming skills gap; tech workers accused companies of taking advantage of cheap labor and depressing salaries.

To be clear, these are not cavalier issues. People's ability to provide for their families, not to mention their feelings of self-worth, hang in the balance. Older tech workers have had to dye their hair, rework their wardrobe, leave graduation dates off their resumes and even get rid of age-telling AOL email accounts in order to get a shot at a job.

But there is a level of hypocrisy among these tech workers. For decades, they were part of a libertarian undercurrent in Silicon Valley culture, one that values freedom of thought, speech, and -- yes -- business practices without government intervening.

Theirs was supposed to be a culture of absolute meritocracy, cut-throat innovation, and supply meeting demand at all costs. Fair or not, Silicon Valley companies today are demanding younger workers to replace older ones.

The veterans may not be happy with what Cisco, Facebook, Twitter, and others are doing, but they shouldn't be surprised.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google +and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com.

Read more about hiring in CIO's Hiring Drilldown.

This story, "Is Silicon Valley's youth movement really just age discrimination?" was originally published by CIO .

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