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Should I worry about age discrimination in tech?

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Senior Software Engineer at Consulting Companya year ago

I am an engineer in my 30s and have heard that unlike a doctor/lawyer, who become more valuable with age, it's the opposite in tech. I've also heard getting on the manager track is a way to prolong your prospects (although this isn't necessarily the track I'd want to take). Curious on your thoughts on this topic.



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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    To preface my response, I'm 30 so I'm in a similar-ish boat. I think I'm more connected to this issue through my dad though, who's also a software engineer and has talked about this a good amount (he's in his 60s). That being said, my perspective on this topic is limited, so would love for folks with more first-hand experience to chime in.

    For your situation, my answer is: Not really (but I could be wrong).

    I have a lot of thoughts on the topic, so I'll split it up into 3 parts:

    1. Your specific situation
    2. My thoughts on age discrimination in general
    3. What can we do about it

    For Your Situation And Questions

    • You're in your 30s, which isn't really the age I've seen age discrimination historically affect. I've seen it more with folks in their 40s and 50s (and of course, it's worse with folks even older than that).
    • However, there is a huge difference between 39 and 30. I'm sure it's far worse at 39.
    • I do think that there's an association with leadership and being older. However, I wouldn't say it's a way to "prolong" your career, which I'll talk about more in my next comment. If you're unsure on whether you want to become a software engineering manager, I recommend our masterclass on what a good engineering manager looks like.
    • Another path I've seen many software engineers take after they grow past their 20s is to become a TPM (a technical project/program manager). It's generally a semi-leadership role that takes you off the code grind.
      • Some SWEs will drop the "T" and become a product manager. However, I feel like this is rarer as being a good product manager is extremely difficult (harder than most people realize).
  • 1
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    Does Age Discrimination Exist In Tech?

    • It definitely does, but it's very nuanced.
    • There's been a shift towards respecting very senior ICs, and this includes their age. Back in the day, going into management was associated with career progression - You were a software engineer for a while and then you had to switch into engineering management to climb up the ladder. However, companies are rapidly moving towards a model where for every engineering leadership level, there is an equivalent IC SWE level. It's not weird at all to see a principal or staff engineer in their late 30s/40s, and I've had the fortune of working with many of them. There are many places where you can find a long-term, sustainable growth path on the IC track as you age.
    • I feel like this topic was really big 5-10 years ago when Google and Facebook were taking off as companies, and their software engineering base was much younger (Facebook was pretty much a big of college kids in the beginning). They were definitely discriminating against older ICs back in these days.
      • Since these 2 companies have effectively defined the SWE "meta" (no pun intended) over the past 15 years and everyone wanted to work for them, what they did altered perception a lot.
      • However, these companies are far more mature now, and this includes their software engineering base. During my time at Facebook, I saw the scrappier, younger mentality fade firsthand as the company really needed to grow up.
    • Many startups, especially earlier-stage ones, will also discriminate against older folks.
    • However, I think a lot of this isn't outright discrimination - It's just that a lot of this is companies not being naturally set up well for folks later in their lives who have greater personal responsibilities (usually a spouse + kids).
      • Early startups and Big Tech in general will just push people harder and create poor work-life balance - The former because they need to survive and the latter because these companies are extremely competitive and pay so, so much much.
      • Since society is still so far behind in its treatment of women and understanding their responsibilities, this unfortunately disproportionately affects women with families.
    • Age discrimination also happens in reverse quite a lot. In fact, I would say this form of age discrimination against younger people is more traditional and quite prevalent. Most tech companies aren't Google/Facebook or a Series A Startup - They're generally established, bureaucratic giants.
      • A lot of companies will equate age + years of experience with engineering quality and hard gatekeep on that.
      • I've seen this myself with a lot of my own mentees at Meta, many of whom I raised from new-grad (E3) to senior (E5) in less than 3 years. They would reach out to other companies for senior roles, but they would get rejected for that level due to lack of experience. This is despite already being leveled at senior at Meta, which is literally one of the toughest companies in the world to be a senior engineer at.
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    So What Can We Do About It?

    • Of course, be a decent human being and be the change you want to see. One of my dreams with Taro is to raise a kinder, more empathetic generation of software engineering leaders. I try to weave this into all advice I give into Taro - I firmly believe you can build a strong career by being a genuinely good person as opposed to playing politics and tearing people down.
    • Something very important to learn, especially as you get older, is to be able to achieve more impact with less time. This is something I had to get good at as I approached 30, which I was able to do - I worked <8 hours a day during my later days at Meta and throughout my entire time at Robinhood, despite being a tech lead at both. Here's my very in-depth thoughts on how I did that.
    • Lastly, choose a team and company that matches your personal situation and priorities. We gave a very in-depth masterclass on how to do just that.