Some employers claim older workers don't stay current, cutting themselves out of the job market. Donaldson accepts the need to stay current: "In the software development field, you either keep abreast of what's current, or you die," he said. "I've got the chops, very experienced and totally qualified." And yet he's struggling to find work, even though he's based in Oakland, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area where a huge influx of young and foreign developers and tech workers continues in response to all the unfilled tech jobs at the Silicon Valley epicenter.
Many companies looking for IT workers are "overly picky," allowing them to pass over veteran workers with similar -- but not the exact -- experience they want, says Donaldson. "Any halfway decent software developer can jump right into any of those languages."
Bea Dewing has long-term experience in data modeling, one of the IT skills that's supposed to be hot. She has worked in the tech industry since 1986, as a programmer, systems analyst, database designer, and project manager. She's been out of work since December.
"I have been doing this type of work since I got my B.S. in computer science ... in 1986," she says. "I was just turned down for a job after having a very successful meeting with the data management team at a large corporation. I was assured by my recruiter that they would make an offer within a week. Someone came in with a cheaper person, so that job is gone."
Dewing, 61, moved to New York City to take a project, then says she was laid off and replaced by a foreign worker. She has relocated 14 times for jobs, she says.
Many Indian recruiters that Dewing has talked to recently start the conversation by low-balling an hourly rate, she says. "I personally find it insulting to be treated like a commodity. The assumption seems to be 'Get your rate low enough and you'll be hired.'"
Dewing has two friends over age 50 who also cannot find work in IT, she says. One former IT employee "works as a dog walker, and one lives on recycling cans and bottles, which she fishes out of trash cans."
Greg Steshenko, who immigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union in 1987, says he hasn't worked steadily since 2002. The resident of Silicon Valley has a master's degree in electrical engineering, a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, and a second bachelor's in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Steshenko, 51, has worked as a nanotechnology engineer, a software engineer, and a digital hardware design engineer. "I'm unemployed, on welfare," he notes. "Since 2002, I had just very brief periods of temporary employment as an engineer-consultant, hotel clerk, and a Home Depot associate."
He's taken college courses throughout his years of unemployment. "I'm over-educated and over-experienced," he says. "The depth and breadth of my education and experience could hardly be matched. I am able to perform any job in electronics, programming, and biomedical industry, and I'd be able to come up to speed within a week or two. Still, [there's] no job for me in this country."
Asked if he's keeping his skill set current, Steshenko says it's difficult to guess what hiring companies want, when technology is constantly changing. If a developer has experience in Android 2.0, "the company would be hiring only someone who had at least six months of the [Android] 4.0 experience," he says. "And you cannot get that experience unless you are hired. And you cannot get hired unless you provably have that experience. It is the chicken-and-the-egg situation. "