Overcoming Age Bias in IT
I am 48 and have several years of experience in the IT field. At my last job, I nearly went nuts because most co-workers assumed that because of my age I was not computer literate. I made up for this with drive and desire to learn. I learn quickly, and my advantage is years of business experience. But there are holes in my knowledge, and I believe certifications will solve the problem. I have an appointment with DeVry; they are going to tailor a program of learning for me, starting with prep for CompTIA A+, N+, MCSE and CCNA. Do you think I am going in the right direction? Once I have these certifications, where should I place myself in the market? Entry level? Midlevel? Management? Contracting?
There are two questions here. The first is how you can use certification to avoid some of the negativity over your age. The second is how to position yourself in the industry based on your experience. In the U.S., discrimination based on age is illegal. That having been said, there is no doubt in my mind that hiring managers and technical staff continue to entertain preconceptions based on the age of candidates, and I can definitely understand how that can be a bit of a roadblock to you at present.
One of the best ways to surmount age bias is to make sure that from the first moment you present yourself to a potential employer, you are presenting a coherent image that illustrates your experience as a technologist and a professional. Certifications can definitely help you do that. Obtaining your A+, N+ and MCSE will put you in an entry- to intermediate-level position as a help desk representative or entry-level support. Based on your past experience, I am not entirely sure that this is where you want to be. The first step is sitting down and thinking about your career. You need to decide what you really want to do and where you want to be in five years.
Focus on building a certification portfolio that backs those specific needs. If it is apparent that your soft skills are really your best asset right now, consider starting with a professional credential in project management or technical communications. If you are more interested in the technical side, I would advise skipping the A+ and Network+ and focusing more on building your skills off of your past analyst experience.
As far as positioning yourself in the industry, I wouldn’t knock contracting, particularly if you are still building your technical experience. Position yourself as a professional and focus on the technical areas in which you have an interest. As long as you are in a position to be able to go without extended benefits and job security for a while, contracting will help you gain experience while obtaining a higher pay rate.
As for co-workers assuming that you’re not computer literate, that happens regardless of what age you are. The younger generation will, for the most part, always believe that they are more IT literate than you and the older generation. It’s up to you to change their perception.
As for holes in your knowledge, everyone has that — the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. You’ve got the soft skills that businesses and IT departments want and need, so you’re good there.
If you do want to go down the data analyst route, then I would say doing the B.S. in computing, specializing in software engineering, and doing an MBA with analyst modules and some project management certification like Prince2 or CompTIA Project+ will benefit you.
Will more education help with people’s perceptions? For the most part, yes; however, theory and experience need to work hand in hand for best results.
As for where in the market you should place yourself, this would depend on your qualifications and your experience again. If you have sufficient work experience in a particular area, then you want to go for midlevel to management. If you do not have any real experience, then you want to go for entry level.
Wayne Anderson is a highly certified instructional consultant and the certification lead for Avanade, a global Microsoft consultancy. Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. To pose a question to Ken and Wayne, send an e-mail to DearTechie@certmag.com.