Hitting 55 does not dictate retirement

Empty nests can be a very good thing, especially for an IT professional.

By the time people reach the age of 50, they have often watched their children leave home to start their independent lives, and the uppermost question becomes, what do they do then? According to Kevin Brown, CIO at Edmonton-based Epcor, they now have amazing flexibility to focus on their careers, much the way they did at 25.

“I think today’s younger IT person, say under 30, is not faced with family issues because they are not getting married yet. I think the young people are focused on salary, travelling and climbing the corporate ladder. When you get to the age sector where people are starting families, often they are looking for jobs with less travel and fewer hours at the office,” Brown explained.

“As families get older and kids are leaving, suddenly the flexibility opens up again. There’s less pressure on you to always be home.”

He added that IT is a vibrant community which helps keep people very energetic. “My job is stressful, but I’m not saying it’s negative stress.”

Faye West, director of information systems for the Alberta Research Council, agreed it is impossible to focus solely on your career if you are trying to raise a family.

West, who is also president of the Canadian Information Processing Society, said she is basically working two full time jobs right now.

“I certainly couldn’t have done this with a child at home. Now I’m free to travel

when I need to be away without worrying about the details of what’s going on at home,” she said. “There are different opportunities (at work) because the responsibilities at home are different.”

In the past, health may have started to come into play when thinking of careers at the age of 55, but today 50-plus IT professionals are a healthy lot, according to West.

“I think that we are healthier as a generation than in the past. When my grandmother was my age, she was, well, a grandmother. I don’t look like my grandmother did at this age.”

She admitted there are those who don’t age well. “I think they have a different approach to their career and their retirement.”

Brown, who took up running at the age of 40 and competed in marathons at 45, said if people do not focus on staying active, that can be detrimental to career goals and this only gets worse with age.

He also noted staying physically fit has helped older IT professionals maintain mental focus.

“Mental energy is so high when you’ve worked out. I think you’re invigorated after a good workout,” he said.

Ted Barnicoat, CIO at Calgary-based Trimac, said there may be some people who find the IT industry burns them out. However, he noted that 50 is considered young, and most people don’t even think of leaving the industry at that age.

“I wouldn’t be looking to hire someone over 65, because frankly I feel that their knowledge base just couldn’t keep up. It’s a young person’s field. But 55? I think that sounds young,” Barnicoat said.

He noted some people will retire at 55, but most are not as financially sound at that age as they would like to be.

“I’m not sure that if financially you didn’t need to stay, many would retire at around 60, unless you desire to go to a guru level or something,” Barnicoat said.

He added that most people over the age of 50 are starting to look for consultancy work, which suits a flexible lifestyle.

“The opportunity to move into a staff function, I think, is going to diminish (as I get older). I’m a CIO now and I would think the chance of being CIO again in a new company would be limited,” he said. “I think you start to have to leverage knowledge and skills in a more conservative capacity.”

But West noted that if the time came for her to go on a job hunt again, she wouldn’t expect to have too much trouble.

“I haven’t looked yet, but I’ve been told I shouldn’t have a problem. From the research I’ve done and the people I’ve talked to, I’ve found that the need for experience and experienced people is increasing.”

She added that she attends seminars and reads a lot to keep her industry skills and knowledge current.

Brown stressed that the key to staying in any industry is to like it.

“I couldn’t imagine doing a job I didn’t enjoy, even though I know there are many who do just that. If you are not doing what you enjoy, or if you no longer enjoy doing it, part of your career management has to be figuring out what it is you would like to do,” he said, adding that, “attitude is pretty much everything.”

West’s attitude is optimistic. “I’m not ready to leave, I’m having too much fun to retire. IT is like that. It could tire you out and you want to say, ‘Oh I can’t keep up with this anymore.’ But a lot of us find it an on-going challenge,” she said. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, there are new things to do and new things to learn.

“If you don’t like what you’re doing today just wait until tomorrow.”