No Longer Old and in the Way

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2001-10-15

A few years ago, I worked for a publisher launching a new magazine to cover emerging Net software developments. The editor, a bright 28-year-old with a computer science background, needed some tech-savvy writers. I offered the name of someone we both knew and expected a positive reaction, but his dismissal was matter-of-fact: "What does he know? Hes over 30. Nobody over 30 knows squat about the latest software programs."

The person I recommended was all of 37 or 38.

This wasnt the first time, or the last, that I was exposed to Internet/IT age discrimination — just the most overt.

But in the past weeks, a lot has changed.

Recruitment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas last week released a report that stated in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, employers were starting to place a greater emphasis on experience. "In this unpredictable business environment, employers will benefit greatly by adopting a strategy focused on experience over youth," company CEO John A. Challenger said in the report. "It will be important to have seasoned veterans who have weathered rough storms before."

Is this true for Internet and IT professionals as well? The consensus seems to be yes. "A lot of companies are looking to hire the [Internet/IT] people who have the most experience," says Roberto Zegarra, a senior consultant of Marsh, one of the countrys leading risk management firms.

While the feeling isnt universal and some search firms and Internet professionals say its too early to tell what trends will emerge from the terrorist attacks, Zegarra may be more sensitive to current needs than most. Marsh and some associate companies shared space in the World Trade Center towers — the offices are missing more than 300 people.

Older tech workers, Zegarra explains, have been around longer, have seen more things, can fill in many posts and know better what to look out for than younger workers.

Indeed, deep and varied experience is a prerequisite for Internet and information security personnel. A report issued last week by Broadmoor Group, an executive search firm, notes that corporations are looking for personnel who are either IT specialists by education and training, who have added knowledge regarding security, or who are law enforcement or security specialists with added knowledge regarding IT. As Interactive Weeks Robert Bryce points out in this weeks Salary Survey, universities may be turning out big numbers of computer science grads, but few are equipped to deal with todays heightened security needs.

Do employers want only seasoned Internet workers? No. And they shouldnt. Every organization requires new blood. Needed skill sets — and salary budgets — always vary. And, most important, the training of tomorrows pros needs to start happening today.

Still, many experts no longer think young techies will get priority over the older veterans. Thats changed. But then, in the past few weeks, a lot has changed.

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