Aargh! I Too Am the Victim of Age Discrimination!

Today I was at GTC, a large conference in San Jose on graphics processing units, a form of hardware to do parallel computation.  It is sponsored (not sure to what degree) by NVIDIA, one of the major makers of GPUs.  Part of my research and teaching involves GPUs.

While I was waiting to watch a talk, a recently-graduated young man from NVIDIA struck up a conversation with me.  At one point, he praised me for attending the conference, saying, “Good that you’re keeping the brain moving.” From the context, it was clear that he finds it odd that someone of my age would be involved with GPUs, or for that matter with any newer technology.

I found the incident amusing, rather than being offensive.  But it was certainly ironic, given that I write about age discrimination in the tech industry.

And it was even more ironic in that the defendant in one of the age discrimination cases I’ve served on as an expert witness was NVIDIA!

Recently a middle-aged specialist in data science with a Master’s degree and a considerable amount of relevant job experience, but no permanent job for over a year, told me,

…people like [his friend, a department chair at a major university] who brings in dozens of young foreign students each year is now annoyed with me. She sees my job problems as my fault. Her student [from China] did not believe that there is discrimination against older American workers. From his view there are an unlimited number of possibilities out there.

So for me, today’s incident with the kid from NVIDIA was just fodder for my lighthearted posting title above.  But for many others less fortunate than I, it is not funny.

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18 thoughts on “Aargh! I Too Am the Victim of Age Discrimination!

  1. You might respond in the future that your brain is moving ever more so than the brain of a young new grad because yours is finished developing and consumes petaflops to process the vast knowledge and experienced when considering a technical topic – and that’s on a slow day.

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  2. The Chinese culture, as with many Eastern cultures, has long revered older people as sources of wisdom. I suspect they find it difficult to see how a nation that supposedly respects science, technology, and intellect (USA) would reject the very generations who advanced us to this point.

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  3. When I was young and dumb and thought I knew everything, I never thought I would live past 35 so I didn’t take very good care of myself.

    Now that I am 57 (still learning) and know I don’t know everything, I’m wishing I had learned how to take better care of my body.

    But what gets me about this attitude is this.

    Are they so stupid to think that they are the only generation capable of learning?
    Are they so stupid to think that what they are doing to us will not be done to them when they start to age?

    Where in the hell is the EEOC and why are they not making life hell for the executives of these companies?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a non techie who has worked in the tech world. I was having breakfast with 2 friends, one a QA guy, one a data warehouse techie. This was 12-15 years ago, and they were telling me how they buy all this stuff online. I told them I didn’t trust the security. They told me about SSL, encrypted this and that, and how I was behind the times. A few months later as we had brunch together we all read about a huge security problem that potentially affected millions of users … so I had a nice chuckle.

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  4. Ahhh! such a delightful topic when you have gray hair! I’ve worked as an SWE, PM and BA for more years than JRStern (above) has been alive, probably. That progression of careers is indicative of the levels of age discrimination I’ve encountered at each stage. The most recent example is the feedback I got when applying for a permanent job where I had just finished as a contractor. The head of the group cited “poor cultural fit” and being “a maintainer, not a builder” as reasons. I’m not sure what my “sin” was, but it could have been in not joining in wholeheartedly on some of the sillier team-building activities. Or it may have been that I was honest about the impact of upper management disorganization and misdirection on a project where I was a BA.

    I am for the most part a mellow, congenial fellow. I like to support and encourage all participants in any project I’m working on. I don’t accuse, I don’t blame, I don’t complain, I just try to facilitate. Most older workers do the same. The patience, tolerance, adaptability and willingness to help seems to come with age.

    And this flexibility certainly applies to technology. My list of hardware and software I’ve had to learn and work with over the years is as long as my arm. I’m building a website currently, coding HTML on a text editor. Doing the raw HTML is more fun and interesting than using the various GUI site-builder software. And I’m teaching my high-school kids Python, three steps ahead of them.

    So age doesn’t make us stupid or incapable of learning new things. But it’s all perception, and the sad, ironic thing about age discrimination is that it’s done by people who lack the experience to appreciate the benefits of age.

    The ultimate irony is that the discriminators will also go gray (if they don’t die first), and will probably suffer the same discrimination they inflicted.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is one of the few fields where an older person is seen as less knowledgeable.

    Older doctors, nurses and lawyers are seen and regarded as more experienced, even if they just graduated from med or law school!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We’re not old Norm. We’re just crystallized (as opposed to fossilized)!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/health/older-really-can-mean-wiser.html

    Older Really Can Mean Wiser

    By BENEDICT CAREY MARCH 16, 2015

    Behind all those canned compliments for older adults — spry! wily! wise! — is an appreciation for something that scientists have had a hard time characterizing: mental faculties that improve with age.

    Knowledge is a large part of the equation, of course. People who are middle-aged and older tend to know more than young adults, by virtue of having been around longer, and score higher on vocabulary tests, crossword puzzles and other measures of so-called crystallized intelligence.

    Still, young adults who consult their elders (mostly when desperate) don’t do so just to gather facts, solve crosswords or borrow a credit card. Nor, generally, are they looking for help with short-term memory or puzzle solving. Those abilities, called fluid intelligence, peak in the 20s.

    No, the older brain offers something more, according to a new paper in the journal Psychological Science. Elements of social judgment and short-term memory, important pieces of the cognitive puzzle, may peak later in life than previously thought.

    http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/03/06/0956797614567339.abstract [paywall for full paper]

    The postdoctoral fellows Joshua Hartshorne of M.I.T. and Laura Germine of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed a huge trove of scores on cognitive tests taken by people of all ages. The researchers found that the broad split in age-related cognition — fluid in the young, crystallized in the old — masked several important nuances.

    “This dichotomy between early peaks and later peaks is way too coarse,” Dr. Hartshorne said. “There are a lot more patterns going on, and we need to take those into account to fully understand the effects of age on cognition.”

    The new paper is hardly the first challenge to the scientific literature on age-related decline, and it won’t be the last. A year ago, German scientists argued that cognitive “deficits” in aging were caused largely by the accumulation of knowledge — that is, the brain slows down because it has to search a larger mental library of facts. That idea has stirred some debate among scientists.

    http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/the-older-mind-may-just-be-a-fuller-mind/

    Experts said the new analysis raised a different question: Are there distinct, independent elements of memory and cognition that peak at varying times of life?

    “I think they have more work to do to demonstrate that that’s the case,” said Denise Park, a professor of behavior and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas. “But this is a provocative paper, and it’s going to have an impact on the field.”…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a 63-year old American citizen with a natural science Ph.D. employed as a college and university professor, I like to remind advocates for employment age discrimination that all of those young people are being taught by professors such as myself! Clearly this discrimination against us is rooted in many employer’s covetous desire for inexpensive “fresh young blood!” 😦

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  8. Not sure what JR is talking about, but I used to hang out with Elrond’s grampa. For A.T.: old Lawyers, M.D.s and PhDs, get respect, but the rest of us, like Rodney Dangerfield, don’t. And that’s most of us. One additional exception: old politicians, who are given deference regardless of the nonsense they come up with. Witness recent statements by Cheney and Giuliani.

    I think drgenenelson has part of the truth. Corporations want cheap (aka young) labor, a point Norm has been making for a while, as part of the H-1b issue. But there’s also a cultural element. Youth rebellion in the 60’s may have started it. And that’s ironic, because it impacts the baby-boomers, who started the whole thing. But “youth culture” has certainly been exploited for profit since that time And the corollary seems to be that age has been denigrated in the process.

    But the good thing, for me, is that I look younger than I am (about Elrond’s age), and not all prospective employers have an issue with gray hair. Age discrimination exists, but not always. And yeah, Virgil, where is the EEOC?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to page through a British science magazine some decades back, when the U.S. had age discrimination laws but Britain did not yet, and maybe half the industry employment ads were like: ‘Chemist, age 25 – 29.’

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    • Our age discrimination laws are not very strong, and it is very difficult to make a legal case.

      Worse, the public seems to accept age discrimination as a business necessity. They’re wrong, of course, but the industry PR works quite well. I’ve long written that age plays a central role in the H-1B issue, but I’ve never gotten much traction from this.

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  10. Ironically and tragically, the very same immigration / H-1B forces that have made software a young profession, have had the opposite effect in some science research, because the researchers have tenure.

    In biomedical research the country has [deliberately] overproduced so many PhDs, many from foreign countries lured by the chance of a job and permanent residence here, that there’s a long waiting time to escape post-doc hell and get a chance to lead research. Principal investigators are increasingly older.

    The NIH doles out most of the government’s biomedical research money, $30 billion a year. In 1980 for principal investigators receiving the main grant, R01, those under 36 outnumbered those over 66 by maybe 50 – 1. Today the over 66 crowd gets twice as many as those under 36. [1980 was 16% under 36 versus a fraction of 1% over 66, hard to tell exactly on the chart.]

    http://news.sciencemag.org/funding/2014/10/updated-fountain-youth-congressmans-plan-make-nih-grantees-younger?rss=1

    It’s a terrible waste of resources for everyone.

    [Anecdotal] Long ago I was asking a friend, a very sharp businessman, for big-corporation job hunting advice, and he said: “You’re young, that’s what they want, your resume should show it.”

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