Saturday, March 13, 2010

Past Fifty

In an IT shop full of young people fresh out of college and management in their mid to late thirties, someone in their fifties does not fit in very comfortably. I tend to observe what works and what does not for this demographic for very selfish reasons. Unless, I am able to retire before I am that old, I will at some point need to be part of a workforce whose average age is twenty years less than mine. The pace of social and cultural change driven by ever newer technology will make for a generation gulf rather than a gap by that time. The little that a fifty five year old has in common with a twenty five year old today, may entirely disappear by then. If anything, the challenges will be far greater.

I have learned a few things from the fifty plus set in the workplace. If they happen to be consultants with a wide variety of experience, their acceptability tends to be a lot better. They are able to remain relevant instead of becoming obsolete - they are respected for the perspectives and lessons they bring from success and failures of the past. Someone who has worked forever in the same company may be valued for their deeply entrenched knowledge that could only be acquired over the years but as soon as management does an infrastructure rebuild (as is inevitable), their value plummets.

Ability to learn from younger people, take an interest in what they think is cool is very helpful. Respecting them for their nimbleness of thought and action is critical. I have seen some who act like they are victims of a cruel system that is designed to make their lives miserable - that they are being unfairly treated because of their age.  This attitude invariably results in bad outcomes. Some people of that age come across to the younger set as very positive role models and even parent figures. This is possibly the best thing that can happen.

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