Senior staff not feeling their age in IT

It’s no secret that the average age of Canadians is rising, but things are different in the IT community. It’s a culture usually associated with a young, twenty-something cult of people driven to gain entry into the sanctuary of high-tech. Some experienced workers say age discrimination is not an overbearing factor prohibiting them from continuing to function effectively within their organizations.

Others tell a different story. Recently in the U.S., five former supervisors at a Mitsubishi plant filed discrimination charges, claiming they were let go in part because of their age, while some said they believed they were laid off because of their non-Japanese heritage. All of the individuals in the case were over the age of 50.

Faye West has been in the IT industry for 35 years, and began as a programmer at the University of Alberta. West, now 54, is the director of information systems at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton. She said working in IT keeps you young as it is an ever-changing environment that doesn’t really allow a person to stagnate in their career, but that it does lend itself to a specific breed of individuals.

“It’s a fast paced, high pressure industry that lends itself to young people. It’s a young single guy industry in many respects”. While she doesn’t personally feel that her age or another’s age is of any real importance, she speculated that older professionals seeking employment, could face some problems because of their age. She said what grey-haired people bring to a company is the experience of dealing with critical issues – recognizing and dealing with them effectively.

Defining what is old in any industry is not easy to do, but Ted Barnicoat gave it a try. Anyone in their forties in IT would be considered old, he said, as it’s a relatively young industry today. The CIO for Tri Mac Corp. in Calgary has been associated with the industry since 1967 and began as a programmer. At 57, he said he doesn’t feel any discrimination because of his age, but there was a time when he may have answered yes if asked whether he felt discriminated against because of his age.

“If you asked the question five years ago then I think the answer might have been yes, because there was a resistance to process change, mostly around changing the back office functions.” He said during the dot-com explosion, there was disgust at these young individuals who made huge amounts of money in a relatively short period of time. But he emphasized that individuals in IT are valued for their contributions, and said age hasn’t made a great difference but that experience in the industry has led to most companies wanting to hire older staff.

“Most companies today are looking to hire older IT workers because the nature of information technology is that we have matured to the point where they are part of most business processes. Most enterprises, both public and private are going to have senior level people.” He added that people in his age bracket are usually hired on as administrators.

In 1968, George Boynton used his mathematical and computer background from university to land a job as programmer with an insurance company. At 55, he said he doesn’t consider himself old for the IT industry. He related a story about a colleague who had recently joined a start-up company and was surrounded by twenty-year-olds who thought computer programming was pass