The generational divide has never been more openly visualized than today. I mean I haven’t even lived a quarter century yet but it’s A LOT different than how I remember it as a kid. Terms like ‘Ok boomer’ gaining traction, people saying millennials can’t buy houses because of avocado toast, the rise of Karens…it’d all be so laughably hilarious if that all just stayed in meme territory and didn’t spill into the real world. But alas, reality replicates art or whatever, and we see the ageism divide become more common today. It’s especially prevalent in the tech industry.
I’m writing this post from the perspective of a young person and I have to say it goes both ways. You see older professionals dismiss new ideas all the time, with the classic argument that it has “always been done”. You see younger professionals dismiss the experience of their older peers, because they perceive that they don’t know how to work with the newest technologies. My thought on this? It’s like seeing someone shout across the Grand Canyon and then getting mad because the person on the other side can’t understand them. It explains a lot of the divide happening currently in the country. It’s disheartening. But today, we’re going to focus on the effect that ageism has as an obstacle to growth, prevalent to the tech industry.
There’s no argument that those new and excited to tech will always stumble upon a blocker in the form of beauracacy and routine. Red tape, no desire to innovate, a “if it’s not broken why fix it” mentality all come together into some perverted cauldron that makes us shake our heads and scowl. And a lot of times we (the younger generation) project that fault onto our elders.
It’s also no surprise that those in tech are gradually becoming younger and millennials start making up the majority of the workforce. Tech is hot. It’s exciting. It’s why places in Silicon Valley have places that seem more like a playground than a workplace.
But we rarely hear about the older side.
I know people who work at FAANG companies that see themselves passed over in promotions or job opportunities for those younger than them, all on the basis of age. You can argue that the younger people are promoted because they have more ambition and a longer career in front of them, sure, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. I used to be one of the younger people who was critical of how the older generation had ruined everything for us. I held it deep in my heart. Then I started talking to more of the senior engineers and got to know them. It made me realize that not everything is so black and white.
Sure there are people who stifle innovation, but then there are people who are in their fifties that still want to learn new technologies and help you grow your career. There are those that still want change, but are just too tired to fight for it now. But the biggest thing I heard, is regret in how we disregard their thoughts on the basis of age. There’s the mistake that the younger generation make in discounting the perspectives of the older generation.
Experience is knowledge compounded over time. That’s how I see it. And to discount our elders is to disregard the wealth of expertise and knowledge that they gained over their period of time. Innovation is not making something out of nothing, contrary to popular belief. To me, innovation is the continual expansion of a simple idea, to take the foundation of what already exists and build upon it in a way that is never seen before and unique. Those before us have done the leg work to get technology to the point that it is now. Understanding that background and knowing the history on why some of the things were done in the way they were helps to provide a more holistic viewpoint one can take when looking into the future.
And like I said earlier, it goes both ways as well. For my older readers, the older generation needs to stop discounting the value of younger and early career professionals all on the basis of a lack of experience. Experience is something that one can only get through trial and error. How can we gain experience if we never have the opportunity? We want to innovate. We want to make the world better and do cooler and bolder things. That’s not a sign of a hopeless dreamer. It’s a sign of taking leaps of faith to change the world for the better and how all great things begin.
In this day and age, we need to remember that we need both. In tech and in life, the forward path of humanity can not exist without the history of those before it and the actions of those that come after it. Ageism in any direction is horrible and I condemn it.
If we want to continue to follow our passions in technology and spearhead new inventions, we need to get rid of the idea that it’s a you vs me kind of thing. There’s only one thing that matters, and that’s setting an example for the next generation.
Because even if we’re young now, one day we’re going to be apart of the generation with our own angsty teens and mortgages (scary thought huh???).
So let’s start with us to be the change we want to be, regardless of whatever generation you’re apart of. Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z, fugazi, fugazi.
We’re better learning together.