IT Veterans Take Life by the Horns

Empty nests can be very good things, especially for IT executives. By the time people reach the age of 50, often they have watched their children leave home to start independent lives. Then the uppermost question becomes: what do they do now?

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.

“Today’s younger IT person, say under 30, is not faced with family issues because they are not getting married yet. 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 explains. “As families get older and kids are leaving, suddenly the flexibility opens up again.”

Faye West, IS director for the Alberta Research Council, agrees 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, says she is basically working two full-time jobs at the moment.

“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 says. “There are different opportunities (at work) because the responsibilities at home are different.”

In the past, health may have started to come into play by the time a person had reached the age of 55, but today’s 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,” West says.

Brown, who took up running at the age of 40 and competed in marathons at 45, says if people do not focus on staying active, it can be detrimental to their career goals. He suggests staying physically fit can help 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.”

Ted Barnicoat, CIO at Calgary-based Trimac, says some people may find the IT field burns them out. But, he notes 50 is considered young in the industry, and most people don’t think of leaving the IT field at that age.

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

He adds 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 says. “I think you start to have to leverage knowledge and skills in a more conservative capacity.”

But West notes if the time came for her to go on a job hunt again, she wouldn’t expect to have too much trouble getting hired. “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 the need for experience and experienced people is increasing.”

She adds she keeps her industry skills and knowledge current by attending seminars and reading.