I was listening to NPR the other day as Terry Gross interviewed Dan Lyons.
Lyons, who was born in 1960, had a distinguished career as journalist in the tech sector, including stints as the tech editor at Forbes and Newsweek. But a few years ago, when Lyons was 52, Newsweek laid him off. The print journalism world Lyons came from has been as disrupted by online media as the ad world's been. Lyons realized that he wasn't just going to be able to find a replacement journalism job—at least, not at a salary that would support his family.
So, he turned to the industry he'd been covering, and got a "marketing" job at HubSpot—one of the myriad companies offering recipes to make spam palatable. His experiences on the inside of a typical startup illustrate the new business model for most contemporary tech companies; mainly, it's a lesson in the fact that most founders' exit strategy precedes any commitment to actually adding value to customers' lives or businesses. His book also explains that the tech business is nearly as ageist as the ad business.
Fired at 52, trying something new in a company where he was about twice the average age, then writing a best-seller about his experiences... that alone would justify calling out Dan Lyons as one of re:'s 50 over Fifty. But that's not all, because he's since made another way better career move; he's now a screenwriter on the hot HBO series 'Silicon Valley'.
One thing really stuck with me, after hearing his Fresh Air interview, was Dan's response to Terry Gross—playing the devil's advocate—and suggesting the tech industry is justified in its ageism.
GROSS: Do you think that some of the emphasis on being young, too, is kind of drawing the line between people who are digital natives and people who aren't? You know, like, people who grew up with computers and so a lot of things are just second nature to them in a way that older people had to learn from scratch because it was introduced to them. It wasn't something they grew up with.
LYONS: I think there's validity to that. But there's also this - the way it's described is almost like everybody born after 1980 has a gene that the rest of us don't have, that they were with born with this thing that somehow they can understand this.
Now I do know my kids are very good at picking up new things, and they're learning how to code in Python. And I am not a coder at all, but I'm pretty sure I could learn to write code in Python pretty quickly if I had to.
And I think it's not just that. It's people who have been working as coders, as programmers, as engineers who get kicked out when they turn 40 or 45. They have tech skills, they have degrees in computer science. It's not believable to me that they couldn't learn whatever the new programming language is.
Also, they - they've put in those 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about to gain expertise in a skill. Why would you not want them? They've learned their skills on someone else's dime, and now you can hire them and get the benefit of all that experience.
This is, of course, just as true of the ad industry. I wonder what the Millennial response would be if that 'digital native' attitude was turned on its head, and Millennials were immediately dropped from consideration from any position that involved direct interaction with other people.
I can imagine conversations that go something like this...
"Well Courtney, you're doing a great job here in our digital content department, but we can't really consider you for a manager's role. You see, managers need interpersonal skills, so we only really consider older workers who are Analog Native. It's not your fault that you grew up interacting only with devices and not people..."
"But that's just prejudice," Courtney would protest. "I could learn to have face-to-face conversations."
"Courtney, look at yourself. You're actually texting as we speak."