It's a tough industry to be washed up at 35; it won't last, maybe 10 years at the most.
That's what happens when you push all your chips on a sexy startup, working crazy hours at an office playground with slippery slides, free gourmet food and a ubiquitous foosball table. Just remember you're burning the best brain cells of your life, the highest level of concentration you'll ever know, developing mobile apps, social network plug-ins, wearable gadgets, fly-by-night cloud services, e-markets, gamification apps and other light-weight products — the eye-candy of the technology stack.
Even worse, the company's future rests on a fickle consumer who jumps to the latest fad as quickly as the next smartphone comes to market. Let's face it: you're the new kind of dot-comer with the same short shelf-life. Not everyone can be a 10x engineer pocketing millions or work for an IPO winner like Relypsa, Marketo, Fireye or Twitter, which raised $1.82 billion last year, or be a part of a startup like WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion this year. You've got better odds of winning a Texas Hold 'Em tournament by catching an ace on the river.
If you do manage to stick around, you're not out of trouble yet. Herein lies the dirty little secret of the valley, which GenX-ers and Baby Boomers like to call "ageism." Lu caught a whiff of this foul odor while reporting her story. She found that exciting, new tech companies tend to weed out older job seekers in an interview process geared toward younger workers.
In a make-or-break moment, a job applicant is asked questions and expected to whip up code based on computer-science undergraduate algorithms and data structure textbooks, Lu says. Older engineers might not have seen these textbooks for decades. Computer-science courses they took have little to no bearing on today's courses. In turn, older engineers might feel intimidated, especially when they're told that their 30 years of experience, the biggest advantage they've got on their resume, doesn't count for much.
Even worse, ageism goes beyond the interview. Last summer I attended a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco that had panelists from Cisco, Google and Twitter talking about tech jobs. When the issue of age came up, all panelists said they were actively recruiting millennials, not so much others.
The average age of an employee at Twitter is 30. Cisco's Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the collaboration technology group, said the company planned to hire 2,000 millennials; four weeks later, Cisco said it will cut 4,000 workers, mostly in middle management. The youth movement was unmistakably underway.
Of course, not all young techies are chasing the Silicon Valley dream of riches and fame. SFGate ran a story this week about techies finding fulfilling work at nonprofits. Web designer Zac Halbert, 28, told SFGate that he took a 40 percent pay cut leaving billing management software company Recurly to work at startup Samahope, which facilitates funding for doctors in developing countries.
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