This week the UIT class was asked what their goal was for their participation in the program.  My response was “To prove that old dogs can learn new tricks”.  Although it may have been seen as somewhat tongue in cheek, it is the basis of my commitment to the next step in my career.  I’ve had a 20+ year career solving complex problems and implementing technology for governments and some of the largest most recognizable companies in the world.  This dog has a pretty wide range of skills and tricks, he has performed some pretty impressive tricks in his day.  That said, having performed cool tricks as a young(er) dog doesn’t change the fact that time has passed.

At points in my career, I have had the opportunity to work with older people in the technology field.  Many of my younger colleagues would often joke about them making comments about how they would call back to their past experiences.  Case in point: a gentleman I worked with was our development test lead.  He was in his late 50’s early 60’s and not many people took him very seriously.  His methods and ideas were a little different. He was eccentric to say the least, grey hair in a pony tail…wore some pretty odd ball clothes…ate odd food and did yoga in the aisle by his cubicle.  Rather than follow the crowd of people looking at him sideways, a colleague and I took him out for a beer one evening.  Our goal was to get to know him, make him feel welcome, and to learn how it was that he became our test lead.  We learned about an incredible history of experience and accomplishment.

He had worked as a researcher at Xerox PARC  and IBM in the late 60’s and 70′ and wide array of high level positions through the 80’s and 90’s at Microsoft, Oracle, and others.  He had a very impressive list of patents to his credit including a number that weren’t relevant for many years after the idea had been invented.  His knowledge of software design and intellectual property was encyclopedic.  This man was inventing technology when I was in diapers…that I was using in 2005.  An impressive, interesting and very knowledgeable person for sure.  From that point forward we helped educate our younger colleagues just how relevant his experience was to the technology we use every day.  From that point forward, many people spent time with him asking his opinion and working on ideas with him…and like many years before he went on to patent ideas that affect how we compute in the mobile world every day.

As I sit here in the class at the UIT 2016 cohort, I don’t think of myself as old.  However it is very obvious that I am the oldest person in the room…including the instructors.  I can’t help but feel a little out of place and a little intimidated.  Not because of the actions of others, but merely the fear of failure and self doubt…which are not things I have experienced in an awful long time.

Ageism is a very real thing in the world of technology.  I have seen it, worked along side it, and experienced it first hand in the last couple of years.   It isn’t a great feeling to not be given a chance to prove your ability and relevance to a company because you would raise the average age of employee too much…But it happens, more often than many people think.

So I applaud the UIT Program for not being party to this unfortunate reality of the technology industry by letting this old mature student take on the opportunity of learning new tricks and helping to change the perception of us old dogs.


2 thoughts on “Don’t judge an old dog by the age of his tricks”

Eric Lortie Eric Lortie says:

Boy howdy, can I ever relate to this. I remember when I went back to school to learn programming and found myself with a pile of people who were younger than I was, and had a totally different view of things that I did, it was a little jarring.

There is a large and obvious cultural gap between modern generations and the ones where technology wasn’t as pervasive as it is now. Your perspective is spot on though: it’s important to play on your strength and recognize that that different perspective can be an asset when focused properly. I have no doubt that you’ll use it to contribute meaningfully throughout the entire year, and on into your career afterwards.

James, Thanks for sharing your blog. I am glad to see that you recognized the opportunity to get to know someone better that had already been stereotyped and pre-judged by your co-workers. It shows a great deal of leadership and I hope others had come around to your older co-worker. Building a culture of understanding and acceptance is something I feel very strongly about and I’m so glad to see that you used an example of your ability to build strong bonds at work, despite the underlying tensions and sad realities of ageism. That experience will surely help you succeed as you continue on your journey here and into the future. Cheers!

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