No Company For Old Men

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Perhaps there is no place that is more of an epicenter for startups than sunny Silicon Valley. This part of California is host to hundreds of companies, both large and small. It is like the Hollywood of tech, where computer geniuses fresh off the planes with newly minted ivy degrees from back East arrive to make their fortunes. So in this world of startups and failures, it isn’t any wonder that the majority of the workers are young and without roots. In fact, they often resemble nomadic geeks than traditional employees.

Which isn’t to say that startup companies in other major commercial hubs such as New York City or Chicago are any different. By and large, startups attract the very young. And older workers for the most part are happy with that arrangement. For while startups are certainly more exciting and offer the possibility of hitting a jackpot, they provide little job security and fewer rewards.

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In homes all throughout the Valley, tech workers room with each other, often a half dozen or more per property. These workers are dedicated to their jobs, living minimalist lifestyles of privation and long hours in front of computers. For the older worker who has a family to take care of and a mortgage to pay, such schedules would be an unacceptable nightmare. Many of these youth, however, view it as a chance to make a name for themselves. To write themselves into the history books and perhaps reach greatness by becoming the new Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Startup managers know that these jobs are too demanding for older workers. As such, they tend to utilize unconventional approaches to developing contacts, interviewing applicants online, and making offers through social networking sites. While this can seem innocent enough, with the company perhaps adapting to new technological changes or developing better ways of acquiring talent, in fact it is simply a way for hiring managers to reach workers that better fit their needs — namely those who are young, driven, and naive.

In tech, there is also the bitter truth that the experience of older workers is worth less than in other industries. In business or accounting, for example, an experienced worker is viewed as valuable and worth retaining. In the tech world, where prominent programming languages and ideas evolve from one year to the next, age and experience are more of a liability. Older workers are viewed as being less flexible, more set in their ways, more demanding of benefits, and less likely to learn new skills in order to remain competitive. As such, they’re persona non grata in the startup world. This rift between older workers and startups seems to have survived the recent economic downturn, and has in fact only become more prominent.

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