You’re too old to work with computers!

Sometimes you hear something so much that you no longer think to question it. Today, let’s question whether or not you are, in fact, too old for IT. Special thanks to u/Working_Dude for requesting this post.

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

Look, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here.

The fact is, you’re twenty-nine years old and that’s just too old to switch into an IT career. Let’s face it, at twenty-nine you’re no longer able to learn things fast, if at all. I mean, twenty-nine is practically thirty! At this stage in your life, you should be thinking about your upcoming retirement, knitting, and taking care of your grandkids. Stop thinking about working in IT already. It’s too late.

Give up the ghost.

Or maybe don’t listen to people when they spout this kind of nonsense.

Right now, are you worried that you might be aged out of the field? Answer the questions below to see if you’re right:

  1. Are you in a nursing home?
  2. Do you have an age related degenerative disease that prevents you from forming long term memories?
  3. Do you think that things should only be done a certain way? Do you refuse to change your opinions or learn new things? Do you think that you don’t pick things up as quickly as an eighteen year old, so it’d be best not to try to tackle a new challenging career at this point? Are you afraid of challenges? Are you afraid of failing?
  4. Are you dead?

If you answered yes to either questions 1, 2, or 4, then yes, you are in fact physically too old for a career in IT. (If you answered yes to #4, please also accept my condolences.)

If, on the other hand, your only ‘yes’ answer was to one of the questions in section three I have good news for you: you’re only old in your own mind. Unlike physical old age, mental old age can be changed… if you’re willing to do it.

Now look, I’m not trying to paint an overly rosy picture here. Of course age discrimination exists in IT. And yes, young men and women are joining the field every day. Maybe one of them might even replace you. And it’s true that one day, you may end up working for someone younger than you.

So, basically it’s just like most careers out there.

You may choose to go into construction work and find your body wearing out at fifty, unable to work as fast or as hard as the twenty year old next to you.

Maybe you’ll work in a bank and slowly rise through the ranks until you become a middle-manager. Unfortunately for you, one day in your fifties a deep recession hits and you’re laid off because they can pay the younger guy in your department half as much to do your job.

Or maybe you’ll become a professional athlete and age out at twenty-five? Who knows?

Age discrimination exists in just about any field.

There are some notable exceptions though. Older doctors don’t worry about age discrimination because experience is seen as a plus in the medical field. Similarly, in academia an older professor enjoys tenure and is fairly secure in their position.

Cyber Security also enjoys this type of age-proofing. Typically, those in the Cyber Security field tend to be older as experience is practically a prerequisite to be successful. (Some people try to get into Cyber Security straight out of college, but they don’t do as well as people who’ve come up through the ranks. But this topic merits a post of its own, so we’ll discuss this another day.)

But back to question number 3; if you recognize yourself in any of those statements, you are your own worst enemy. You’ve internalized society’s ageist message to the point where you now accept it as truth.

I’m not judging you! I was in your shoes not so long ago myself. At age thirty-five, I thought of myself as too old for IT. Sure, I was technically savvy. And yes, I was constantly learning new things. But for some reason, I thought I was incapable of making a career switch into IT (even though I’d made previous career switches.)

Then one day, the universe hit me over the head with a two-by-four. 2014 was a devastating year for me: getting cheated on, divorce, debt, living in a tiny rented room with a bunch of strangers. That was me hitting my personal rock bottom. The only thing I managed to hold onto was my cat and my job doing social work. Unfortunately, that small income stream was not enough to live in a city like Miami with the overwhelming debt I was carrying.

Something wonderful can happen when you lose all the constants in your life: you’re free to reinvent yourself!

I decided to go for it – I’d try to make the switch into IT. I mean, what did I have to lose, right?

I first had to educate myself, so I spent a few months reading through this A+ book. I read it through twice; the first time, I underlined everything I didn’t know without worrying about memorizing anything. The second read-through, I wrote down everything I had underlined in a folder. Then, I studied that folder. At the same time, I looked up interview questions online and prepared flash cards for how I would answer them.

After roughly six months, and once my divorce was finalized, I started putting out applications. The technique I used to find work is the one I described in this post, reaching out to friends and friends-of-friends. This eventually led to an interview and subsequent job offer.

I was terrified on my first day of work. One of my coworkers was showing me around and explaining the various tools I’d be using: document repositories, knowledge bases, ticketing tools. He was talking very fast, and to be honest I didn’t understand everything he was talking about. What’s a sprint? What’s a Kan Ban?

On that first day, I was terrified that I’d made a really big mistake. I’d moved to a different state for this job, I was out of money, and if this didn’t work out for me I would be in big trouble.

My anxiety turned out to be helpful. In that first year, I made everybody laugh because I’d actually print out pages of our documentation to bring home and study. I’d underline important points and look up things I didn’t know about. In time, I found myself asking fewer and fewer questions. And then on day, almost magically, I found myself answering questions for others.

Every step of the way, I just focused on learning as much about what would make me most effective at that moment in time. No one wanted to do support on the audio/visual systems that my company used for meetings, so I became an expert on it. It wasn’t hard, really. I went online and found the user guides for the various A/V components we used and studied them. I learned all the keypad shortcuts that no one knew about and helped people save time at the start of their meetings. Just by doing that, I became the go-to guy for anything A/V. While A/V is not “sexy” work, learning how to do it well allowed me to create value for my company and my coworkers.

As long as you focus on making sure to generate value, you’ll always be learning the right things throughout your career.

Looking back, I was a fool to not make the switch sooner… but I thought I was too old! So now, almost six years later, where do things stand? I’m forty-two years old, an age that many would say is quite dangerous in IT. I’ve gone from help desk to systems administration and then switched into Cyber Security. Do I sometimes feel like I don’t learn as fast as some of my younger coworkers? You bet! But does it matter as long as I keep learning and generating value? Not so much, no.

Now go forth and generate value, young buck!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should be able to answer.