What does age mean in the tech world?
Mary Jo asks: “At Microsoft, is age more than just a number?”
In the responses to her post I saw a few comments along the lines of, “ageism happens, get over it.” One commentor wrote:
“Truthfully, younger Folk will just not like you, simply because of your age, and in the workplace that has insidious ways of working against you no matter how good you are.”
This is completely counter to my experience. If I ever had any preconceptions about how “with it” the older / more senior folks at Microsoft were, it didn’t take long for them to be washed away when I actually started working there. In fact, one thing I love about my job is how closely I’m able to work with incredibly bright people who’ve learned so very much over their years in the industry or at the company. I take every chance I get to learn from their experience.
Yes I (and other younger folk) could shut them out and spend 20 years learning the same lessons the hard way, but that’s a terrible waste of the evolutionary gift that’s done the most to set our species apart from every other – our ability to pass on knowledge and experience from one generation to the next.
If you ask one of the people Mary Jo calls Millenials (which I read as “you kids”), I’m sure most of us would be happy to extole the virtues of young engineers. Today’s college grads know what it’s like to grow up with their own PC and cell phone. They’ve probably gleaned a lot just from seeing their parents and teachers work with technology. Their social paradigms have changed – many won’t know what it’s like to lose touch with friends from college or high school after they graduate and move away… they’ve got Facebook to automate the previously daunting task of keeping tabs on dozens or hundreds of people you’ve known. Their world is smaller, their stages of life more connected with fewer seams.
But the truth is you don’t have to be born in the 80s or 90s to understand these things. I bet you Steve Jobs does, and he’s 54. As much as the world has changed over the last couple decades, a heck of a lot has stayed the same. Sure, maybe kids these days date differently, but I’m willing to bet that looking for ways to minimize your vulnerability and potential for embarassment is nothing new. The medium is all that’s really changed. You don’t have to be young to notice these trends or to empathize with young customers. The best creative minds in any industry need to be able to put themselves in their customers shoes, whether you’re designing for someone 20 years your junior or 30 years your senior.
So I guess mine’s a two-part answer. First, if you’ve got experience, it can be a tremendous benefit to you and to those with whom you share it. Second, the ability to empathize with and understand others is an invaluable skill at any age.
As always, this is all just my personal non-corporate-approved perspective and may not reflect the experience of anybody anywhere (at Microsoft or otherwise).