If you’re a tech professional on the other side of 50, you’re probably wondering whether the dreaded specter of ageism will come into play at some point—if it hasn’t already. Fortunately, there are great options for older job seekers in tech, along with great benefits such as flexible hours and healthcare. The key (and the challenge) is leveraging your strengths and experience to remain in demand despite economic downturns, poor hiring decisions or age discrimination.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the tech unemployment rate stands at 2.1 percent, which is notably low. Industries are desperate for tech specialists in all kinds of fields, from data science to machine learning and software development. Older job seekers who are scanning the job listings should focus on how their unique experience and specializations align with these employers’ needs. Let’s delve into the challenges and opportunities facing technology pros who are looking for high-paying jobs for 50-year-olds.
Is Ageism a Problem?
Let’s get real: ageism remains an issue in all industries, not just tech. A few years ago, ProPublica and Washington-based think tank Urban Institute analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) that showed those over the age of 50 often don’t leave their jobs voluntarily, and the chances of earning a similar salary in a new job are low. Dice’s own surveys have shown that a significant percentage of tech professionals have experienced or witnessed ageism at their jobs.
“Older workers don’t lose their jobs any more frequently than younger ones,” Princeton labor economist Henry Farber told ProPublica at the time, “but when they do, they’re substantially less likely to be re-employed.”
What Steps Can I Take to Fight Ageism?
Fortunately, there are steps that older workers can take to find a job and push back against ageism. High-paying jobs for 50-year-olds are often managerial; these job requirements include great “soft skills” and deep knowledge of a particular industry vertical, two things which often come with age and experience. Even if you want to avoid the management track and remain an individual contributor, your job search should yield many great jobs that value experience. There are always options for people.
According to Dice’s Optimizing Your Tech Career e-book, there are some concrete steps any older job seekers can take against ageism, including:
- Show Your Accomplishments: In your resume and application materials and during job interviews, position yourself as the voice of experience and a subject-matter expert who’s committed, responsible and resilient in the face of change.
- Show Your Soft Skills: “Soft skills” such as communication and empathy are vital for virtually any position. Through descriptions in your resume and stories told during interviews, show how you’ve used those skills to guide teams of various sizes through considerable challenges.
- Show Your Curiosity: Emphasize to managers and recruiters how you’re constantly picking up new skills and platforms and staying up to date on the latest in the industry.
- Show Your Dependability: You should project that you’re happy to work with younger folks, that you’re actually interested in the job at the table (and not using it as a quick springboard to something higher) and that you can bring your considerable expertise to bear on whatever your future manager wants.
Use any job interview as an opportunity to tackle negative perceptions head-on and ask insightful questions that show you know your stuff. You may also want to tweak your resume and other application materials to eliminate your older, less-relevant experience and skills, which could boost your chances of landing an interview.
Here are some other helpful tips as you pursue software jobs as an older tech professional:
Older Workers: Always Be Learning
Database administrator and software consultant Roger Ruckert started his career programming in Fortran and COBOL. He balanced delving deep into the Oracle database (in which he now has 30 years of experience) with picking up new skills. Databases on the backend all look pretty much the same, but as a contractor, Ruckert, who began his career at Medtronic in 1982, had to make sure to keep his skill set current. He learned to code in Java and HTML and PROC and other technologies, all with an eye to how they related to the database.
“I’m a contractor, so when the contract’s up and I start looking for new ones, the big thing for me is to make sure that my skills are up to date,” he said. “I spend quite a bit of time investing in myself. I go to technical conferences, user groups and meetings. I stay current with my certifications. I think that’s important, so that you can show prospective clients that you’re relevant and investing in yourself.”
Tim Jahn, co-founder and CTO of Matchist, a company helping businesses find quality freelance Web and mobile developers, agreed that with the sentiment. “My advice would be for people of that demographic to always be learning. Stay up to date on recent technologies using niche technology forums or message boards, blogs, and trade publications,” he said. “Go to relevant meetups and networking events in your local area to learn more about the technologies and also about how people are using them in your area.”
Leverage Your Experience for Jobs Over 50
Having a few decades of experience in the industry is a strength, not a weakness. “If you've been programming in Java for 10 years and are competing against someone who's younger and doesn't have that experience, you should be able to use that as an advantage” for a Java job, Ruckert said.
In other words, don’t be afraid to play to your strengths: “You can cite different programs you've written, applications you've been involved in and projects you've worked on.”
Additional experience in the industry also gives you more of an opportunity to network, which Jahn recommends for software engineers of all ages: “Whether you're 55 or 25, your network is always your strongest asset, and you should never stop meeting new, interesting people. You never know what opportunities you might exchange with them at some point in the future.”
The best strategy for software engineers in it for the long haul is to invest in themselves. “If you’re in it for the long haul, you don’t want to be exhausted and wear yourself out,” Ruckert added. “You want to pace yourself. I take three to four weeks of vacation a year. You have to live, too.”