From a recent article in New Republic:
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. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”
And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’ ”
I love the quote. “Token grown-up.” I can’t say that quite describes me, but I understand the mindset.
I’m dabbling in a world that belongs to youth. Or at least that seems to be the not-so-subtle message that frequently goes hand-in-hand with the universe of tech. And some days, when I’ve lost my way, trying to make sense of terminology (have you ever looked at the Google Testing Center site?) and the next link to the next to the next…well, some days I wonder: is it true? Am I just kidding myself that I can create a presence in this world, learning as I go, learning from stumbling and self-support? Oh, I pay for things along the way: books, and an occasional training program or an upgrade for my blog. I do a lot of reading, trying to stay current, trying to figure it all out.
It is overwhelming. But I also know that even if the technology we have today had been available when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have dived in. Because I was busy with life, and raising kids, and keeping milk in the house.
I’m still busy. But now I have a lot more free time to invest. Life doesn’t revolve around school schedules, or youth group activities. I’m working my own hours, my own pace, for the most part. And while I have plenty of self-doubt to fuel the fires of insecurity, I’ve also had successes to bolster my confidence. And I think I’m not the only one of my age and experience who has freedom and incentive to navigate in the brave new world. I see a lot of people with more than a few years under their belt out in the digital universe.
The truth is, I’m probably more valuable in the work force now than ever before. And I would guess that’s true of a lot of people my age. We don’t have as much pressure at this stage. We’ve seen business booms and corporate cycles, we know the buzz words and the corporate-speak. We know how to read the writing on the wall, and how to get the job done. And while I may not be start-up CEO material, not being a 20-year-old, fortunately, that’s not the role I’m seeking.
I like to think that this is my time to shine, and to be told that my best work is behind me feels like an insult. What happened to all the slogans that say 50 is the new 30? Because the truth is, I’ve known people who were young at 60, and others who were old at 40. Age is as much a function of one’s mental state and physical health as the actual number. And we’ve known that for a long time.
So while I don’t kid myself that I’m a 20-something, hot out of college and feeling my Wheaties, or even a 30 or 40-something, I also know: I have a lot to do yet, and a long way to go. I won’t be the person churning out new inventions of technology, but I’ll be using the methods and the platforms that work for me.
And I’ll be playing nice. I’m not going to show an ageist attitude toward the young people in the tech industry. They have every right to be where they are, and I’m even happy for them to lead the charge. But don’t tell me I’m too old to participate in a meaningful way just because I’m a few decades further along. I’ve only just begun!