Never the let a story get in the way of some good data. More thoughts on age discrimination in tech

I wrote a short post a couple of days ago about Amazon Web Services hiring technical leaders of a certain age. My tweet about it totally blew up

A lot of folks were quite encouraged by the idea Amazon had just hired a 61 yo distinguished engineer. Folks like me, maybe closer to the age of the folks cited than a 22 year old, that saw Star Wars in a movie theatre when it first came out. We like to think we have plenty of runway left, and aviation fuel in tank.

Werner Vogels AWS CTO said with characteristic succinctness:

But of course a story based on anecdote, with a clickbait headline, is going to have some people pushing back. AWS is well known working its people pretty hard, and it does hire a lot of super bright youngsters and have them churn out code, often led by older engineers with some grey hair. According to PayScale the median length of time people stay at Amazon is one year. It was also pointed out that hiring a famous (white) programmer of a certain age was hardly a big deal when it comes to a lack of diversity in the industry. I knew that when I wrote the post but should acknowledge it here. Lack of diversity in tech is a problem for all of us, and it is intersectional. I do my best to help foster diversity in the industry, but it’s hard to work on every issue at the same time.

So why celebrate AWS? I wanted to focus on recent AWS hiring as a push back against casual age discrimination. If AWS sees value in hiring engineering leadership from folks that are frankly a bit older than the norm in the industry, isn’t that worth shining a light on? So what is the norm? In my post I estimated that the average age of the engineering teams I talk to is 40-45. But as an industry analyst I generally talk to engineering managers. Skew! Of course managers are generally older that their reports.

So here is the some data about average employee age, also according to PayScale. I don’t have enough insight into PayScale’s methods to know if the data are accurate but they are interesting.

Amazon is at the younger end of this scale, but it’s interesting that the oldest median age at a tech firm here is 39. Feels young, but this median covers all employees in all functions, not just technical staff. I am definitely going to continue digging into the issue. For an industry to complain so much about skills shortages, and invest so little in training and retraining, and bringing in groups under-represented in tech, is frankly pretty shocking. Age discrimination is a taboo subject, partly for legal reasons, but one surefire way to find more talent is to widen the net. Let’s stop complaining about talent shortages and start doing better in training and investing in people. We need to create cultures where people feel more welcome. We need a sea change.

I still want to praise AWS for recent high profile hires. Like I say, I know a lot of people took heart from my post, and that’s important.


disclosure AWS is a client.


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