A common misconception about tech workers of a certain vintage is that they’re caught in the past and either overqualified or unable to adapt to future technology. As with most conventional wisdom, there’s as much fiction as fact surrounding the supposed work habits and career opportunities for veteran IT pros — even those as young as 40.
For seasoned professionals looking for jobs — or looking to shake up their careers — tech leaders say to take heart: Experience, soft skills, and other factors that only come from time on the job mean they’re in demand in one of the tightest job markets in recent history.
And for hiring managers seeking younger talent because of preconceived notions about the value of veteran talent, take note. The following common misconceptions should open your eyes — whether you’re looking for a new opportunity or in the position to offer one.
Tech workers and hiring managers may both believe that veteran IT pros are stuck in their ways. But that’s not the case, says Diane Albano, chief revenue officer at Globalization Partners. Although the IT industry is filled with younger workers, Albano’s seen experienced tech pros excel at handling difficult situations that were solved, in part, because of their understanding of the needs of clients and colleagues.
“I have watched many newly trained but older IT workers seamlessly navigate through tricky situations, bringing a level of critical thinking and sheer knowledge that can’t be taught,” Albano says. “While hard technical skills or practices can always be learned, the soft skills, such as dependability, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and empathic communication, are just as important. The skills necessary for roles that manage multimillion-dollar budgets, systems, hardware, or software platforms for everything from billion-dollar companies to startup environments can be found in IT workers that are older, and these skills are extremely transferable for those interested in looking to move to new types of careers.”
Experienced tech workers have soft skills that younger employees are just developing, agrees Lossie Freeman, director of corporate partnerships at Zip Code Wilmington. And those skills are in need particularly in IT.
“Soft skills, such as communication, organization, and creative thinking, are very important to employers and we are hearing from our corporate partners the need for these traits,” Freeman says. “Some companies do not have the middle management required to onboard the less-experienced talent to meet their needs. There is a critical need to fill these positions with experienced workers who already possess leadership traits, such as being a good motivator or holding themselves and teams accountable, and good communicators that can work individually or collaboratively. We’ve seen these individuals come from all walks of life and past jobs and adding technology skills to that existing experience can be quite beneficial to an employer.”
They can’t pick up new technology
Another common misconception is that older tech workers can’t keep up with the latest technology, says Eric McGee, senior network engineer at TRGDatacenters. He considers that view shortsighted.
“Older IT workers are extremely valuable to companies even in the face of advances in technology,” McGee says “Their skills and experience are key factors in giving their companies significant competitive advantage. And they provide mentoring resources that are crucial to developing the skills of younger IT practitioners in the company. Mentoring will significantly improve the quality of your IT team as well as its performance. Experienced IT workers that are worth their salt are also adept at overcoming any perceived technological gaps without much hassle.”
Agism around experienced workers is becoming less common, says James Lloyd-Townshend, CEO of Frank Recruitment Group. But he still believes some hiring managers think IT veterans can’t pick up new tech skills as well as younger employees.
“Typically, you’ll hear that business owners or hiring managers don’t want to hire people in this age demographic, because they’re not as quick to understand new technologies, or even keep up with advancements of older ones,” Lloyd-Townshend says. “What people don’t consider is how the tech landscape is continually evolving, so there’s never a time when any of us are 100% caught up. And that’s true whether we’re new to the industry or have experienced it for the best part of our working lives.”
They’re out of touch
Ben Taylor, an IT consultant and founder of remote work advice site Homeworkingclub.com, says that while experienced IT workers may sometimes be skeptical of the latest technology trends, their experience can be a powerful ally to the business.
“There’s a vast amount that hasn’t changed,” Taylor says. “Companies still want systems that work reliably, data that’s secure and safely backed up, and processes that staff readily adopt. Getting that stuff right can be as much about experience and wisdom as raw technical knowledge.”
Long-serving IT pros have seen massive change over time, and they also recognize that not all projects are free from constraints of the past.
“Not every firm is ready or able to adopt to cutting edge ways of working, be that for reasons of lingering legacy tech, a less tech-savvy workforce, or the quirks of connectivity,” he says. “A techie who’s kept pace with technical change brings knowledge and wisdom to a business. Effective IT is often as much about processes and best practice as it is about the heavily technical stuff — and that has actually changed very little over the years. Almost every day brings a strange and new challenge to an IT professional. The simple fact is that the longer you’ve been in the game, the more of those days you’ve experienced and learned from.”
They’re stressed out
Burnout in IT is real. After years of stressful situations, constant change, and long hours, it wouldn’t be unheard of for experienced IT pros to feel a little crispy. But Shahar Erez, CEO of Stoke Talent, says that older employees have hard-won experience around what hasn’t worked in the past, leading to insights on what will succeed going forward. Mixed with the insight of other employees using new techniques, they can lend stability and bring a sense of calm to difficult situations.
“Older employees are very valuable because they tend to panic less when major challenges arise,” Erez says. “They are more confident in their abilities and better at client-facing, which you sometimes need when it’s best for the IT department to deal with clients directly. You also want older employees who can mentor younger, less experienced employees. Teaming them up will certainly be much more effective than allowing generational silos to develop.”
Julie Rysenga, principal and senior consultant at 3LS Consulting, says a common myth around seasoned tech workers is that hiring managers may think they have too much education or experience for a position.
“Candidates over 40 have a depth and breadth of experience that can be used to their advantage when switching careers,” Rysenga says. “The first step is a review of job experiences and identification of the skills transferable from those experiences to new roles. Then, candidates should craft stories around these skills that can be told during the interview process. The goal of these stories is to demonstrate mastery of the skill by relaying real-life work experiences.”
Richard Lubicky, founder of RealPeopleSearch, says another myth is that once tech pros hit 40, they should start taking a longer view and begin planning for their next role in consulting or other non-techology roles.
“I think that some common misconceptions around working in IT after 40 would be that they are not as good as they used to be and need to take it easy,” Lubicky says. “But they have more experience with company policies, procedures, workflows, and platforms that the younger generation doesn’t have yet.”
They’re less productive
Some may believe that veteran workers can’t handle the load of their younger colleagues, making them less productive, but that’s not the case, says Lloyd-Townshend.
“There has been no correlation established between advancing age and declining work productivity,” he says. “If you’re able to demonstrate initiative, drive, and innovation, you’re just as likely to succeed in an IT job as even the most experienced employee there.”
In addition, James Philip, managing director at Employment Boost, says the maturity and dependability a seasoned IT pro brings to the job are less-apparent benefits.
“With your seasoned career, you’re the person they can count on to always show up on time, to be reliable, to not call off on Mondays and bring a mature, level-headed approach to solving problems,” Philip says. “Your value is more than your skills; it’s the behavioral traits that also make you more valuable.”
Their salaries top out
Some older IT pros may believe their worth drops over time. But Haroon Sethi, chief technology officer and CEO of Proqura Technologies, says it’s all about experience and showing the value of expertise to get the best offer when finding a tech job.
“A popular misconception about people above 40 working in the tech industry is that they experience a drop in salary,” she says. “The truth is that they are as comfortable around technology as the younger generation and do not have lower salaries. In reality, their wages increase with time and experience as they would in any other industry. They should use the fact that they are as valuable as the younger generation and leverage for higher salaries. If they can prove their worth by showing technical skills and relevant experience, they can negotiate for a better offer.”
They can’t self-teach
Lloyd-Townshend says barriers to entry into tech roles are reduced for people of any age by the ability to self-learn online, but again some hiring managers may incorrectly assume older workers aren’t able to pick up new skills this way.
“There’s no valid reason for workers over 40 to believe they’re any less capable than anyone else,” he says. “I often hear about concerns from workers in this demographic about having had access to less knowledge and resources in the past — and while that might be true, the scope for learning in IT is now endless, and a lot of them are free or low-cost. So whether you learn from YouTube trainers, embark on mentoring schemes, or decide to advance your knowledge and skill set by undertaking some certifications, you don’t have to let these myths define or limit your career progression, and ultimately your success.”