The painful truth about age discrimination in tech

There are bold programmers, but no old programmers -- the reasons for this reality aren't simple age discrimination

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But older tech workers are scarce -- why?
So, assuming the numbers don't lie, well-paying industries like IT should be chockablock with 40- to 60-somethings pulling in handsome salaries.

But they are not -- and they have not been for some time. A late-1990s study by the National Science Foundation and Census Bureau found that only 19 percent of computer science graduates are still working in programming once they're in their early 40s. This suggests serious attrition among what should be the dominant labor pool in IT.

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Something has been pushing IT workers out as they hit their high-earning, low-unemployment 40s and beyond. Is it burnout or pervasive age discrimination? What are the culprits contributing to this "Logan's Run"-like marketplace?

Sure, your average IT operation is staffed by people whose answer to the question "What were you doing when the Berlin Wall fell?" is going to be "teething." But it's not purely a hatred of older people that's led to a sharp falloff in older IT workers. Here are some possible factors.

A change in the IT culture. The Net is rife with mainframe operators and Cobol pros who will tell you that they got into IT for love of the challenge or subject. It was passion-driven. Now, however, IT occupations are rigorously bound by performance metrics and other management controls that provide a healthy reality check to anyone who thought passion would be enough to sustain a 25-year career in coding.

Bean-counting. Older workers have a (not entirely) undeserved reputation for being expensive, which hurts them going and coming. If there's what the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics quaintly calls a "mass layoff event," the high-paying jobs are looked at carefully to see if the worker brings a perceived value to the organization. If not, the math is brutal: Ax two or three high-paying positions and see an immediate growth in the margins. And when it's time to hire, two entry-level workers provide -- in theory -- more bang for the buck than one expensive member of a protected class (that is, older workers for whom the government has imposed more hurdles to lay them off).

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