Donald Trump As Bizarre Champion of the Older IT Professional

My blog has strayed a bit into politics in the  past few posts, however I got an email from a reader which said something like, “I don’t give a $h!t about whether Trump is scum, crazy, or whatever … at least he’s against the H-1B which could cost me my job.”  Its understandable that someone might feel threatened when they read others in their industry are being replaced by cheaper younger foreign workers.  In some cases, they are forced to retrain the new worker who will sit in their chair.  I think they believe a number of social contracts have been violated.

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We often do not think about social contracts since many are unwritten.  The old are expected to sacrifice/contribute for the next generation and the young are expected to care for them when they get old.  If you work hard, its expected that society will reward in some manner your commitment.  A nation, which can call on its citizens to defend it with their lives (even involuntarily as in the draft), will look after its own first.

social-contract-theory

When social contracts are abandoned people feel abandoned.  Those who faithfully fulfilled these unwritten commitments feel betrayed and confused.  When people feel abandoned, betrayed and confused, the next natural feelings are anger/rage.  In the post WWI period, war reparations were used to punish Germany for that war.  The reparations were designed to cripple and humiliate Germany which many historians site as critical in the rise of Hitler.  Few know that Germany only finished paying off the WWI reparations in 2010!

Faced with hyperinflation and soaring unemployment, people sought refuge in a movement that promoted national pride, and signed up to Hitler’s Nazi party – which used the reparations as a propaganda tool. – Why has Germany taken so long to pay off its WWI debt?

Now, I’m not saying Trump is Hitler.  I thought initially he was hoaxing American society by running for President, but now I see that he’s just some egotistical fame seeker with loads of money.  He’s a buffoonish spotlight seeker with bad hair … but why are people backing him?  My view of history is that when people are existentially threatened (facing the street) they act badly.  Very badly.  Even violent badly. Let me clarify.  Why do middle class or formerly middle class act very badly.  Often the lower classes have are so beaten down and/or entrenched in a sense learned helplessness that they can generally initiate widespread movements.  People who have had power and lose it can be dangerous.  Especially if they feel that unwritten social contracts have been betrayed or perceived to have been betrayed.  Really dangerous if they can call upon the underclasses to rally with them.

Matloff argues that abuse of the H-1B system by companies that give preference to cheaper foreign candidates over equally qualified, and in many cases older, American workers is common across the technology sector, not just among the India-based outsourcing companies but also at the U.S. technology companies that hire international students. – Source: Republican presidential candidate — and immigration hardliner — Donald Trump sends welcoming message to international students | InsideHigherEd

It is understandable that Machiavellian-orientated tech companies have no sense of social contract, respect for citizenship, or even respect for the inherent dignity of their workers.  As it appears with Amazon, its all about the mission and workers are just fuel for building their cultish vision of Amazon-world.  What is not understandable is that politicians are letting them do it.  What is even more understandable is that politicians, especially the Democrats do not understand the consequences of their failure to protect citizens from obvious undermining of the social contract between state and citizen.  Championing poor migrant workers might trump (pun intended) protecting a nation’s citizenship rights, but there is no just case for championing young highly educated immigrants at the expense of older, committed, skilled IT workers.  Unless of course, you don’t care in the least for social contracts.

I roadtrip a lot and in an Oregon campground a police officer and his wife shared our campfire one evening. She explained with some embarrassment the Tea Party stickers on her RV.  “We don’t believe everything they say, but they stand up for us.”  There was no racism and they weren’t buck toothed hill-billies, but clearly people who felt that their lives were threatened and were turning to movements which promised the protect them.  About 1/3 of Tea Party supporters sometimes vote Democrat.  Look at the statistics for membership in this movement and you’ll see who feels threatened.   Yes, there is the caricatured old white Republican segment, but the data also shows 41% female and a that Tea Partiers are generally have more education than the general population.  They also are not doing well given the recession. The main segment, driving the movement is older professionals who feel threatened economically and do not think the current leadership of the Democrats and Republicans are looking out for them.  I’m not saying they are right or wrong, but rather pointing out there is a large segment of alienated middle class people and that I think that is a dangerous for our common future.  I think most of this alienation has been dismissed by the mainstream parts of the political class of America.  Over coffee I’ve heard friends say, “Oh they are just a bunch of idiots who will eventually go away”.  The data says otherwise and history says otherwise.  An alienated middle class is an unpredictable animal.

In my reading of the human condition, I believe that modern social contracts within a democratic framework can easily give way to oaths of feality within non-democratic frameworks when people feel significantly existentially threatened.  When society is bereft of the stability that commonly shared social contracts give or appear to give, many will look for the powerful for protection.  Much has been written on the threat of fascism on the rise in Europe.

I don’t think Donald Trump is the great leader for whom people will cast their loyalty to for protection.  He’s popular because he’s voicing the angst which the middle class and especially older professionals are experiencing.  I would not be surprised if loads of former democrats are supporting him.  They are not supporting the Republican Party or Neo-Conservatism or even right wing economics, but Trump.  I imagine someone thinking, “He’s a prick but he’s saying stuff that I can’t say and he’s someone standing up for me and mine.”

I see Trump as a bellweather of dangerous times ahead if America does not wake up to an alienated middle class and the abandonment of various social contracts which have helped stabilize their society.  You can not expect people to respect societal authorities for long if they have no reason to benefit from doing so.

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This is my second politic post in a month. I don’t intend this blog to be a political one, but given the Amazon Acting Like A Cult story in the news, I’ve been thinking about the big picture that Geezer Geeks live within these days.  Instead of continuing to lament the bastards at Amazon and other of their ilk, I want to instead highlight those who hire older IT workers.

I think it is more fruitful individually for older IT workers to steer clear of ageist tech companies and focus on those who “get it”.  Let’s look for places which see us as the treasure we are!  Dear readers, let me know about companies which value older IT workers and I will highlight them.

Age Discrimination in IT. Cautioning the young.

When I talk with my son about an IT career, I sometimes wonder whether I should steer him clear of the industry.  If I had a daughter, the caution would be doubled by the problem of sexism.  Should young people invest 20 years of their lives  only to discover that Silicon Valley considers them obsolete while in their prime (ie 40’s).

“42% of age 50+ workers in the high tech industry consider age to be a liability in their career – more than double the rate of other industries” – Source: EEOC Official Blasts Age Discrimination in High Tech Industry

I can count on both hands the number of older IT workers (around late 30’s) who’ve either burned out by endless coding crisis/deadlines or decided that their opportunities are drying up.  A number have become electricians!

Combine this problem with the H-1b visa abuse (in Canada, its called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program), and perhaps recommending IT to any young person could be bad advice.  One could invest a decade or two only to find themselves forced to train some cheaper replacement worker.

Don’t get me wrong, I love geekdom and IT work, however unless the industry and governments wise up, they will find old IT workers recommending to the younger generation that they become electricians, linemen (there is a huge shortage and the pay is great), and carpenters.

 

Don’t Pity the Ol’ Fool, Embrace the Uber-Grockers

I run into articles like this one often. “The struggle today to embrace older workers is a continuation of that journey.” The journey is towards inclusion and diversity, which I’m fine with, however often older workers are seen as pity-cases, rather than the sagely-uber-experienced worker which generally is closer to the truth.

How Prepared Is Your Organization for an Aging Workforce?: Associations Now.

Society is changing, and if young IT workers are uncomfortable with the 40 year old who’s got 20 years under his belt, I can’t imagine what they will think of working with ol’ grandpa-Jimbo when I’m 70 and still coding. I like coding and I love the joy I create when client experience systems with good UX which and don’t break. As long as the neurons are still firing, I’ll be creating “beautiful” as will many other Gen-X Geezer Geeks … and some Boomers who may code into their 80’s.

Aside from the annoying, pity-the-old-farts-so-include-them tone of the article, it highlight that companies are starting to get the mentoring issue. Geezer Geeks and other older professionals are the bearers of knowledge which can not be written down, codified (pun intended), or acquired quickly. Wisdom is knowledge put into action and that can only come with time. To make a real Samurai sword take 20 years of working with a master before you can attempt it. Coding may not take 20 years to master (although some of you might indeed make that argument), but its not something you do really well after a few years of college and a couple years being in the trenches. It takes a decade to make a solid coder … and then you continue learning … and reapplying wisdom/skill/experience … to evolving technology.

Coding is a way of life. A weird one. And a wonderful one. As I often say, “its about making beautiful”. Good code is beautiful.

Tell me dear HR types who are hiring kids out of college … when have you heard them talk about the beauty of code and the joy of mastery (ooops … Uber-Grocking … :) .

And now a clip from the 1983 movie “Wargames” … 1983 was about the year I first used the Internet. Long before the WWW was implemented by Tim Berners-Lee. The Cold War was still a reality, and personal computers had only been on the market for a few years. I’m glad Seattle didn’t get nuked … watch the clip and you’ll get it. :)

Ageist IT Jobs Ads and Why I don’t Care

 of Fortune.com has an interesting piece on how governments are calling IT companies on the carpet for discriminating in their ads.   While companies can no specifically exclude workers of 40 in the USA, they are using language which effectively tells older workers “do not apply”.   The offending phrase is “new grad”.

See: Tech industry job ads may illegally discriminate against older workers.

Nerf War in Young Hipster Company

As I’ve stated before, as someone politically who leans towards libertarianism, I’ve got no problem with this or even open ageism.  If IT companies think that hiring younger workers is better for their bottom line, that’s their choice.  I don’t think Geezer Geeks need government to parent the IT industry on our behalf.  Instead we need to convince the IT industry of the reality that we are a gold mine of talent.  We can certainly do so.   In the article, Kopytoff tells us:

Vinod Khosla, a prominent venture capitalist, once said “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas,” although, like many in Silicon Valley who make such statements, he’s since rejected that view.

He’s rejected this view because he got an earful, but more importantly he was convinced of the fallacy that Geezer Geeks are a liability.  While Big Government may force companies to stop discriminating, if they are convinced of their position they will always find other ways to maintain their viewpoint.

Some hiring managers also look for candidates who are a good “cultural fit,” which can be code for young and hip.

A recent trend in interviewing in the “group interview” where you meet with the other candidates in order to see how you interact with others and members of the company.  It’s primary goal is to access personality type, group interaction, teammanship, and the dreaded ‘cultural fit’.  The reality is that young hip IT companies where they have regular nerf-gun wars likely that “old farts” and “grey beards” will cramp their style.  Let’s be honest, some would.  Others like this Geezer Geek would have them running back to their cubical chewing on polyurethane.

My personal position is that I would not want to be part of a company where I was not appreciated or valued. God forbid being the literal token grey-beards at Facebook, Google, and other big companies, if Big-Government-is-the-Solution types got their way.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree.  Do you have another solution?

Google, Ageism, and the Business of Plastic Surgery in Silicon Valley

More on the issue of ageism in Silicon Valley, this time from the Motley Fool.  Is there ageism in the IT industy?  It appears there is.

“according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, more than two-thirds of all cases over the past three years (68% in 2013) found in favor of the employer, finding “no reasonable cause” to believe that discrimination occurred.” – Google, Ageism, and the Business of Plastic Surgery in Silicon Valley.

This of course was over all businesses in the USA, and from my experience, ageism is worse in the IT industry.  I do think the answer isn’t government or Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions.  The solution is to challenge the perception of older IT workers are not as smart.  In 2007, Zuckerberg said that he thought younger IT workers were smarter.  To be fair to the lad, he was 23 and I think we all thought we were smarter than everyone else at that age. I did.

First however we need to address whether Zuckerberg was right.  In addressing any social issue, the first question must always be whether our critics are right.  I looked on the internet for some studies on aging in relation to intelligence and found an interesting conversation on the value of fluid vs crystallized intelligence. See: http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/fluid-crystal.htm

Fluid intelligence is related to abstract thinking and the ability to solve problems which are completely new.  Crystallized intelligence is the ability to recalled learned knowledge.  Putting it even more simply; fluid intelligence is being able to think on your feet when face with a new problem and crystallized intelligence is experience learned.

I going to catch some flack, but I do think Zuckerberg is partly right and that younger IT workers are smarter, but only in one area.  The ability to engage in new highly abstract cognitive tasks is central to being an uber-geek.  I confess right now that I am not as smart at this mental skill as I was 30 years ago however I don’t think it matters.  In fact, I think (know) that I am far more competent and creative at 50 than I was at 20.

I recall one study on the relationship to intelligence and the winning of Nobel Prizes (Geezer moment … someone remind me where I read this).  The study found that most Nobel Prize (the real ones … science) winners had IQs around 140 to 180+.  While a higher IQ was indicative of a greater chance of a nobel prize, only up to a point.  You needed to have an IQ of at least 140 but over 160, it didn’t matter.  People with an IQ of 160 were just as likely as someone who was well into the genius level.  Why is that?  The reasoning was that a person had to be smart enough and once that was discounted other factors came into play.

Most people who go into IT work already are in the highest percentile of abstract cognitive intelligence (ie fluid thinking) and while this declines, in my experience, the necessary capacity to think fluidly is still high at age 50.  It’s high enough, however, combined with crystallized intelligence, it is my position that older IT workers are generally better IT workers.  Older IT professionals also learn the limits of fluid thinking ie. there comes a point where you can not conceptualize complex systems.  Methodologies which compensate for human conceptualization limits are needed.

Consider Alan Kay, one of the fathers of OOP,  he was in his mid 30’s when he and a team of coders at the University of Utah developed object orientated programming.  While structured programming still has the benefit of speed and simplicity, without Data Abstraction/Encapsulation, Polymorphism, Inheritance, etc many complex systems would surpass the capacity of the coders to conceptualize them and therefore be unable to maintain them.  I recall being involuntarily being given a structured library system after the developer of seven years left for greener pastures.  The system was unmaintainable without at least a year’s exploration of the underlying structure.  Good OOP coding segments systems and allows for the broad maintainability of system.  I think it was no surprise that Kay and his team were in their 30’s.  As IT workers age, they learn the limits of fluid intelligence.

In conclusion, yes, IT workers are not as smart in terms of fluid thinking.  This is why young people can come up with answers quicker and are more flexible with those answers, however older IT workers bring experience, but more importantly they bring humility to the game.  Alan Kay and others in the 1970’s were able to perceive that great IT workers do not just think smarter, our outside the box, but within the limits of human experience.  Older IT workers combine sufficient fluid intelligence, combined with experience (crystallized intelligence) and combine it with what is called “relational intelligence“.

The greatest deficits I’ve discovered in my IT career are two fold.  1. the ability to get alone with others.  2. the ability to be reliable.  Both of these virtues are found in people with high relational intelligence.  While some might equate relational intelligence to just learning these skills, I do believe that these skills increase with age.  The older I get, and many others get, the more we value relationships and especially long term relationships.  It was no surprise to me that Google and many other Silicon Valley companies have a problem with retention.  I suspect they also have problems with teammanship given that Google has been saying recently it looks for something they call “intellectual humility“.  You don’t look for something that is in short supply in your pool of talent.

I’m not saying that all young IT workers are young  arrogant pricks (YAPs), I mean lacking in intellectual humility, however I do think as we age, many of us who perhaps were once YAPs, have learned the value in listening to people, even people who seem less intelligent and skilled.  We learn that the smartest guy or gal in the room is not necessarily the one who is right.

As for people getting plastic surgery to appear young. LOL … how dumb can you be. 😉