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Saturday, December 29, 2018

How the Valley treats its experienced people

There's something I once read in an article which I can't find any more. It was something by a really young CEO of some unicorn startup type company, and it said things that people really did not like. It was the sort of thing that you should never say about other people. Actually, more to the point, it was the sort of thing you should never think about other people, but this person obviously failed at both. People gasped at the audacity of talking about it and kind of missed the fact that ... yes, people DO think that way. Even now.

Am I talking about racism? No. Sexism? No.

This particular example was about older folks in tech.

As I remember it, the story goes like this: you're supposed to get into this business, get your money, and get out, meaning retire. You sell all your stuff and travel the world and write posts on Medium. You know, the whole pyramid thing, right?

Therefore, if you are still here, and are visibly old, something must be going on. They seem to boil it down to two things.

The first possibility is that the person is a badass. They are one of those people who already made their fortune and only hangs around at the job because they feel like it. They don't have to be there.

The other possibility is that the person is the exact opposite of a badass, and has managed to not cash out despite being in the biz for a very long time. They've made no money, may be living paycheck to paycheck, and really need the job. Basically, the fact they're not "at the top" despite their age means they are crap.

Both of these are so wrong it's not even funny... but you know there are people who honestly believe this, who operate on those principles, and apply them to the folks they interview, hire, promote, and yes, fire.

Anyone remember this post or news story? I've been trying to find it.

If you haven't put it together yet, the people who think that way have basically managed to eliminate any chance of a middle ground for anyone who isn't sufficiently young in their opinion. If you're not absolutely amazing all the time, you must be garbage, since why else are you still here?

I'm sorry to say this is not hypothetical. A friend in his 50s told me a tale not too long ago which came from a conversation he was having with his manager. In short, the manager said something I still find amazing:

Why are you still working?

In those five words, the manager managed to say so many things. First, the worker is deemed "old". Then, following from that, why can't they afford to quit? Why haven't they gone off to sail the world? What is their major malfunction which makes them unable to hit the jackpot? With all of the years they have put into this career of theirs, how have they managed to suck?

Let me be clear: this was not an extract from a longer sentence between two friends, like "Since you have all that cash, why are you still working". It was a straightforward antagonistic question by a manager who's too stupid to know that such things make the company lawyers nervous because discrimination lawsuits have been started over less.

Also, my friend does not suck. He's going to go on to another place and actually succeed there, at which point anyone who's been paying attention will realize the problem was the company all along.

If you want a healthy team, you're going to need a mix of people. Cutting off entire segments of the population from your company's ranks just because you don't understand their value only hurts yourself.

Believe it or not, they teach you this in high school economics classes. Public high school classes, at that.

Discrimination doesn't pay.