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Old and in the way

Preston Gralla | Oct. 12, 2016
In Silicon Valley, 40 is the new 80, and ageism is rampant. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s long been known that Silicon Valley has a monochromatic white-bro culture in which minorities and women are severely underrepresented. But a problem that is just as serious is only now coming into focus: The tech industry is ageist as well. If you’re of a certain age and you’re looking for a job in tech, you need not apply.

The evidence is in plain view. In 2007, then-22-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford that when it comes to hiring people, “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. … Young people are just smarter.”

Zuckerberg has since taken back that remark, but Facebook’s hiring record still reflects his advice. The average age of the company’s employees is 29, according to Payscale. And Facebook isn’t an anomaly: At LinkedIn, the average age is 29, at Google and Amazon it’s 30, and at Apple it’s 31.

Zuckerberg isn’t the only Silicon Valley honcho to air ageist views about older workers. Prominent venture capitalist and former Sun Microsystems founder and CEO Vinod Khosla echoed them when he said, “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

In an in-depth investigation by the New Republic titled “The Brutal Ageism of Tech,” Noam Scheiber reports on what he found interviewing dozens of people about the issue during the course of eight months. His conclusion: “Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old.”

There’s evidence that not only is ageism rampant in Silicon Valley, but it may be more widespread than racial and gender bias. Bloomberg reports that between 2008 and 2015, 226 complaints of age discrimination were filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the 150 largest tech companies in Silicon Valley — 28% more than racial bias complaints and 9% more than gender bias complaints.

In the most visible recent instance of ageism, 54-year-old JK Scheinberg, the Apple engineer who spearheaded the company’s move to Intel processors for the Mac, applied for a job at an Apple Store Genius Bar. Scheinberg, who had retired, figured he’d be a shoo-in for the job. After all, who could be more qualified to give help about Apple products? After a group interview in which he was twice as old as everyone else in the room, he was told by all three interviewers, “We’ll be in touch.” When they didn’t get back to him, he called to follow up. Again, no interest. Eventually he got an email setting up a second interview. But by then he had no interest in working for a company that didn’t want him because of his age.

 

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