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Stay Relevant: How Old Dogs Can Learn IT's New Tricks

There's a bias against older workers in IT and IT-adjacent professions. You can't change that. As you eventually get older, however, you can absolutely change yourself — and keep your career from fading out of the picture.

Getting old in the IT industry doesn't have to mean becoming irrelevant.As I get ready to board a flight to London, I find myself reflecting on my fast-approaching birthday, the next of life’s many reminders that time’s arrow points relentlessly forward. I am old. I don’t feel old, but being old enough to have grandkids, while also staying employed in the tech business, with its ever-quickening hustle and grind, is by far the hardest thing a person can do.

 

You have to keep up on rapidly evolving tech trends — while retaining older information that will occasionally be relevant — but also understand and accept that you are likely to be replaced when the tech you are supporting fades away (as all technology seems to do). You’re also left to stew in the nagging realization that the generation coming on your heels grew up with this stuff.

 

They didn’t have an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. Technology is in their blood, and while they may not actively be eyeing your job, it is a common occurrence for them to replace you. I had a boss once who said, “Hire your replacement and then work your (tail) off to keep your job.”

 

I always loved that saying. I thought of it as a fond acknowledgement of his intent in hiring me. Now, however, the shoe, as they say, is on the other foot. Having 20-somethings working on my team, I often ask myself, “Did I act like that?” “Was I that quick-witted and tenacious?” I may not ever know for sure.

 

One thing I do know for sure, on the other hand, is that you don’t have to leave behind ambition, tenacity, and smarts as the unavoidable consequence of getting a few gray hairs. There are many things those of us in the “older” generation can do to stay afloat in the technology sector and even improve our swimming stroke. Here are seven of them.

 

1) Lay Low — In the United States, it’s illegal to discriminate in hiring on the basis of age. We all know it happens, however, and happens a lot. During one of my past forays into the job market, I had a tip from a headhunter who said that I shouldn’t advertise my age. So I’ll pass that wisdom along to you.

 

Take the older items off your resume. No one cares, unless you are specifically interviewing for a COBOL programming job, that you know how to use a COBOL compiler. They aren’t interest in the first PC tech job that got you started in the industry. Remove language like “30 years of experience.”

 

The positive effect of all that experience will shine through in your work — after you’ve been hired. Space on your résumé should be strictly reserved for items relevant to the position you are applying for. A small side note on this: Pay attention to your appearance. Knee-high white tube socks, for example, are a dead giveaway that you may not be up on the latest tech — even if you are.

 

2) Always Be Consuming — By this I mean consuming new information, and by that I mean reading. There is no other ability that can benefit you more in the technology sector. Reading, studying, and constantly absorbing new information is more important thing you can do to both stay relevant and improve and retain you existing skills.

 

Want to get a leg up in those water cooler discussions? Fill your inbox with weekly newsletters. Want to get a leg up on cool new tech? Read the manual. Want to get a certification that validates your knowledge and skills? Pick a subject and start turning pages.

 

Older folks like me have the life goals thing and the “know thyself” thing figured out. We don’t need to do as much self-reflection, or involve ourselves in as much drama, or have as large a social circle, as the younger crowd. As the muscle fades from my limbs, it settles in my mind and I feel a sense of peace by studying and learning.

 

It shows through at work by making you a better person overall, as well as one who is much more in tune to what your company is doing and where technology trends are heading.

 

Getting old in the IT industry doesn't have to mean becoming irrelevant.3) Get Yourself an IT Crowd — Never lose sight of the importance of building and maintaining a professional network. There are so many opportunities that are missed because we didn’t ask, know, or seek. If your LinkedIn profile feels stale, then update it. If it's been five years since you went to the company Christmas party, then get your RSVP in gear.

 

Throw your résumé (all cleaned up per Item 1) out on a few jobs and hiring sites just to see what prospects are out there. Even if you are not actually looking, the amount of networking —meeting people, making connections — that can result from this exercise will astonish you. You will also find out where your skill set falls in comparison to others seeking jobs. Who knows? You may find a white whale, a situation that’s even better than what you you have now.

 

Could you imagine a scenario where you are not needed? If you can, then there may be an issue with your current position. Make people feel that they “want” to have you around but always build your processes so that they don’t break when you are elsewhere.

 

4) Stay Sharp — My fourth recommendation is to take a skills test on a regular basis. There are plenty of sites that will test your skills, and plenty of ways in which this is done. Find one that works for you. If you go to LinkedIn or Udemy, for example, then you can take very inexpensive tests that span a wide range of skill sets. Always be sharpening your knife.

 

5) Learn More — Dovetailing with Items 2 and 4 is Item 5: school. This doesn’t have to be a college degree, the MBA you never got, or really anything more advanced than an online course. Turn yourself into someone who works hard to learn what your company does and how it could be done better.

 

You only benefit yourself when you seek to benefit your company. It's a hard lesson to learn but the implications are profound. Create a time slot in your life that you fill with learning, and more particularly with organized learning. No, the school of hard knocks doesn’t count, and no you can’t get what you need in tech from resting on things you “used to do.”

 

Ask yourself every day what you need to know and where you can go to find out more about it. Potential energy is everything. Make a schedule and stick to it.

 

6) Know the Client — Who are your customers? Just as you network with your fellow employees and industry peers, you should get to know both customers and potential customers. Much like networking internally, you can gain a lot from the industry and from others in the market.

 

Whether they are buying, selling, or even in direct competition with you, there is no better way to become someone who everybody wants to be around than to always be around. Go to conferences and meetups. Ask questions and listen to answers. In addition to making valuable personal connections, you will gain important insights about the work you are doing and the industry you are doing it in.

 

Getting old in the IT industry doesn't have to mean becoming irrelevant.7) Take Care of Yourself — Always be positive. Complaining does nothing. It's not possible to change your situation or your life if you’re always griping, locked into a mindset where everything and everyone is against you. Keeping up on technology starts with a solid, grounded work ethic, a keen sense of self, and a steady, reliable routine.

 

Since you are older, you may have these covered. You may have your sleep and eating right, your speaking ability down, your self-care perfect. If you don’t, then get things cleaned up. Organize your life and everything you want to do and stay up on will fall in line — things get easier with less drama, less baggage, and more automation. Look up and implement as many life hacks as possible to free your mind up for learning new things. You will thank me for it.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nathan Kimpel PhotoNathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.