The Age Dilemma: Challenges Faced by Technology Engineers Over 35

The Age Dilemma: Challenges Faced by Technology Engineers Over 35

Age discrimination is increasingly concerning in the technology industry, particularly for engineers over 35.

Despite efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, ageism persists, impacting job opportunities and career advancement. This discrimination is evident in hiring practices, promotions, and how older workers are treated within the sector.

In the technology industry, age carries significant weight as youth and innovation are often prioritized over experience. Workers over 35 are often seen as less adaptable to rapid technological changes and less willing to work demanding schedules. These biases can hinder their professional growth and job security.

The term “35-year-old curse” describes the challenges faced by technology engineers as they reach this age. It reflects the industry’s tendency to view older workers as less desirable due to assumptions about their ability to keep up with technology and their willingness to adhere to demanding work cultures. This phenomenon has serious implications for the careers of older engineers, potentially leading to marginalization or exclusion from the industry.

1. The Age Bias in the Technology Industry

The technology sector, with its rapid evolution and dynamic landscape, often grapples with biases that impact hiring, promotions, and job security. One such bias is the preference for younger workers, which can inadvertently sideline experienced professionals. In this article, we delve into the age-related challenges faced by tech workers and explore potential solutions.

1.1 Preference for Younger Workers

Coding Bootcamps and Youthful Image: Tech startups and coding bootcamps frequently emphasize youthfulness. They seek fresh talent, assuming that younger workers are more adaptable and innovative. However, this approach sometimes overlooks seasoned professionals who bring decades of industry knowledge. For instance, a startup might hire a recent college graduate for a software engineering role, inadvertently bypassing an experienced developer.

Tech Industry Icons and the Youth Myth: High-profile tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk perpetuate the notion that success is synonymous with youth. Their achievements at a young age influence hiring decisions across the industry. Imagine a hiring manager unconsciously favoring a 25-year-old applicant simply because they resemble these industry icons.

1.2 Perception of Older Workers as “Old” and Less Adaptable

Challenging Stereotypes: Older workers often face stereotypes. They’re labeled as resistant to change, lacking tech fluency, or less open to learning. These assumptions can hinder their participation in transformative projects. Consider an experienced project manager excluded from a digital transformation initiative because colleagues assume they won’t adapt to agile methodologies.

The Tech Skills Gap: Employers sometimes wrongly assume that older workers lack the latest technical skills. This bias affects hiring and promotions. Picture a seasoned data scientist overlooked for advancement because they haven’t participated in recent AI workshops. The reality is that experience and adaptability are not mutually exclusive.

1.3 Impact on Job Security for Workers Over 35

Job Displacement and Automation: As technology evolves, older workers fear displacement due to automation or outsourcing. A 40-year-old network administrator may worry about job security as the company invests in AI-driven network management tools. It’s essential to recognize that experience and expertise remain valuable even in an automated landscape.

Salary Compression: Rehired older workers often face salary compression—earning less than their previous roles—despite their wealth of experience. Imagine a software engineer laid off during the pandemic who rejoins the workforce but struggles to regain their previous salary level. Addressing this issue requires fair compensation practices that value expertise regardless of age.

2. Factors Contributing to Age Discrimination

The technology industry, with its relentless pace of innovation, often overlooks the wisdom and experience of older professionals. Age discrimination persists, affecting hiring decisions, promotions, and job security. In this article, we delve into the factors contributing to this bias and propose strategies for a more inclusive tech ecosystem.

2.1. Work Culture and Overtime Expectations

Long Hours Expectations: In many industries, an unspoken norm prevails: long hours demonstrate commitment. However, this expectation disproportionately affects older workers. Health concerns or personal commitments make it challenging for them to maintain demanding schedules. Unfortunately, this can lead to biases against seasoned professionals.

Tech Literacy Challenges: The digital revolution has transformed workplaces, emphasizing technology proficiency. Yet, older employees may struggle with the latest tools and software. The assumption that they won’t adapt well to new systems perpetuates discrimination. Imagine a seasoned executive excelling in strategic planning but grappling with project management software—a perception of obsolescence emerges among younger colleagues, impacting collaboration.

2.2. Leadership Preferences and Organizational Reshuffling

Youthful Leadership Bias: Organizations often favor youthful leaders, associating youth with innovation and adaptability. Consequently, older employees are overlooked for promotions or leadership roles. Their wealth of experience remains untapped, hindering organizational growth.

Restructuring and Downsizing Challenges: During organizational reshuffling or downsizing, older employees face involuntary retirement or redundancy. Employers assume that younger hires bring fresh perspectives and cost-effectiveness. However, this shortsighted approach undervalues the wisdom and stability that seasoned professionals offer.

2.3. Recruitment Strategies: Unintended Discrimination

Youth-Centric Job Descriptions: Job postings inadvertently exclude older candidates by using language that appeals primarily to the young. Terms like “dynamic”, “energetic”, or “digital native” subtly signal that older applicants need not apply. This perpetuates age bias even before the interview stage.

Implicit Bias in Interviews: Interviewers unconsciously favor younger candidates, assuming they adapt better to fast-paced environments. Older applicants, despite their relevant experience, may feel excluded. Consider an advertising agency seeking a social media manager—the job description emphasizes “keeping up with trends” and “24/7 responsiveness”. Older candidates, despite their expertise, face an uphill battle.

3. Challenges Faced by Older Technology Engineers

The technology landscape is a dynamic arena, perpetually reshaped by innovation and progress. Amidst this whirlwind of change, seasoned technology engineers face unique challenges. In this article, we explore these hurdles and propose strategies for a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

3.1. Struggle to Keep Up with Technological Advancements

Rapid Technological Evolution: The tech industry evolves at breakneck speed, introducing new programming languages, frameworks, and tools. For older engineers who cut their teeth on legacy systems, staying abreast of these changes can be daunting. Consider an experienced software developer who mastered Java a decade ago. Now, with Python and JavaScript on the rise, they grapple with an overwhelming learning curve.

Bias Against Older Technologies: Companies often prioritize cutting-edge skills, inadvertently sidelining engineers proficient in outdated technologies. Imagine an older database administrator skilled in Oracle databases. Despite their expertise, they struggle to convince employers that their knowledge remains valuable in an era dominated by NoSQL databases.

3.2. Balancing Work and Family Responsibilities

Dual Responsibilities: Older engineers shoulder dual commitments—work and family. Caring for aging parents or supporting children impacts their availability and focus. Picture a senior engineer attending late-night conference calls while helping their child with homework. The delicate balance between professional and personal responsibilities can be taxing.

Work-Life Integration: The boundary between work and personal life blurs. Experienced project managers find themselves checking work messages during family vacations, compromising relaxation. The pressure to be perpetually available erodes the sanctity of personal time.

3.3. Pressure to Conform to 996 Work Culture

The 996 Culture: In some tech companies, the infamous “996” work culture prevails: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Older engineers, mindful of health concerns and seeking work-life balance, resist this demanding schedule. A seasoned software architect prioritizes well-being over constant availability, refusing to work excessive hours.

Age Bias: Employers sometimes assume that younger engineers willingly embrace the 996 culture. Older engineers who resist face subtle discrimination. During performance reviews, feedback may imply a lack of commitment because they don’t adhere to this grueling regimen.

4. Statistical Insights and Industry Trends

The technology industry, a crucible of innovation, thrives on the collective expertise of its workforce. However, age-related challenges persist, affecting engineers worldwide. In this article, we delve into statistical trends, explore the effects of layoffs, and hear from those directly impacted.

4.1. Statistical Insights: The Age Composition

Global Workforce Median Age: In 2019, the median age of the global workforce stood at approximately 38.9 years. As we approach 2025, this figure is projected to inch upward, settling around 39.6 years. The tech industry mirrors this trend, reflecting a diverse age spectrum.

Distribution by Age: A UK Perspective: In the United Kingdom, tech workers span various age groups. Notably:

35-44 Age Group: Comprising 30% of the workforce, this cohort is actively engaged in shaping technological advancements.

65+ Age Group: A smaller segment, constituting only 1%, yet their experience remains invaluable.

Historical Shift: From Apollo to NASA: The Apollo moon landing, a historic feat, was orchestrated by engineers with an average age of 28 years. Fast-forward to today, and the average age of NASA engineers has risen to 47 years. This shift underscores the enduring contributions of seasoned professionals.

4.2. Effects of Layoffs and Business Tightening

Layoffs and Unemployment: During economic downturns, older workers bear the brunt of layoffs. Their spells of unemployment tend to be longer, impacting financial stability and mental well-being. Some opt for early retirement, navigating unforeseen transitions.

Job Displacement and Compensation Challenges: When older workers lose jobs, reentering the workforce becomes an uphill battle. Even if they secure new positions, these roles often pay less than their previous ones. The struggle to maintain financial equilibrium is real.

Health Risks: A Silent Toll: Older workers face heightened health risks. The stress of job loss, coupled with workplace demands, can lead to permanent disability or worse. The toll on physical and mental health is often unspoken.

4.3. Testimonials: Voices of Experience

Jordan Killebrew: Leading From Within: Jordan Killebrew, from Santa Barbara City College, shares his journey. “Leading From Within provided space for me to recognize, reflect, and refine my leadership skills. The biggest outcome for me was self-awareness”. Jordan’s testimony sheds light on personal growth during career transitions.

Industry Insights: Microsoft Word and McKinsey:

Microsoft Word: Their report, “COVID-19 and the Workplace”, underscores the impact of layoffs, especially on older workers. It delves into economic, social, and psychological challenges faced by those navigating uncertain terrain.

McKinsey: Their research on technology, jobs, and the future of work provides valuable insights. By understanding workforce dynamics and the effects of technological shifts, we can create a more resilient and inclusive industry.

5. The Impact of Age Discrimination on Career Prospects

The technology sector, a dynamic realm of innovation, grapples with age-related biases that impact career prospects. In this article, we delve into the hurdles faced by older engineers and shed light on personal experiences and industry insights.

5.1. Limited Job Options for Older Engineers

Reduced Hiring Opportunities: Age-related biases often limit job options for seasoned engineers. Employers perceive them as less adaptable or hesitant to learn new technologies. Imagine a 55-year-old software developer, armed with extensive experience, struggling to secure interviews due to these biases.

Industry Trends: Prioritizing Youthful Talent: Some tech companies prioritize hiring younger talent, assuming they bring fresh perspectives. Unfortunately, this bias affects older engineers seeking new roles. Consider a seasoned network architect facing rejection from startups fixated on youthful energy.

5.2. Difficulties in Career Transitions and Finding New Opportunities

Transition Challenges: Older engineers transitioning to new roles or industries encounter hurdles. Their experience may not align with emerging trends. Picture a hardware engineer aiming to shift to cybersecurity—skepticism looms about their ability to adapt to software-centric roles.

Networking Gap: The Hidden Barrier: Older engineers often lack robust professional networks. This impacts job referrals and access to hidden job markets. A 50-year-old project manager, after a company downsizes, struggles to find opportunities due to this networking gap.

5.3. Personal Anecdotes and Industry Insights

Trish’s Story: Battling Age Discrimination: Trish, a 60-year-old software tester, faced age discrimination during interviews. Employers questioned her ability to learn new testing tools. Despite her skills, Trish received fewer callbacks than younger candidates. Her story reflects the uphill battle older professionals face.

Industry Leaders’ Insights: Unmasking Discrimination:

David Neumark’s Research: A field experiment revealed robust evidence of age discrimination against older women in hiring. The struggle for equal opportunities persists.

CDC’s Real Stories: Personal narratives from people living with disabilities highlight workforce challenges. These stories underscore the need for inclusive practices that value experience over age.


The “Curse of 35” looms over technologists who break into the industry in their 40s or later. Despite the growing number of older workers, age discrimination persists. By 2026, workers aged 65 and older are projected to have the fastest growth in the US labor force. Yet, a 2018 AARP survey revealed that three in five workers aged 45 and over have either witnessed or experienced age discrimination11. This barrier affects career prospects, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.

It’s time for the tech industry to recognize and respect its elders. Ageism limits access to a diverse talent pool and hinders innovation and productivity. Companies must actively combat age discrimination by:

Promoting Diverse Hiring Practices: Build relationships with diverse organizations, ensure inclusive job descriptions, and train interviewers to reduce bias.

Seeking Out Diverse Candidates: Break hiring patterns and actively seek older talent.

Providing Mentorship and Recognition Opportunities: Lift up people within your company, regardless of age25.

Remember, a diverse and inclusive tech industry benefits everyone. Let’s celebrate the wisdom and experience of older professionals while fostering an environment where all voices are heard!

Author: Tam Pacific

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The Age Dilemma: Challenges Faced by Technology Engineers Over 35

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Keywords: Age discrimination in tech; Challenges for engineers over 35; Technology industry bias; Job security for older workers; 35-year-old curse; Balancing work and family; Technological advancements; Inclusive workplace; Career transitions; Testimonials from professionals.

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