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Is IT only for young talent or older workers have their place?

The IT Industry prides itself for being the place where young people can make and achieve world-changing goals. But that doesn’t mean older people can’t.

A while back Mark Zuckerberg said “young people are just smarter” and that caused a lot of heat on him. He probably meant that young people are usually more in tune with the latest technologies and are more open to change. Older people usually are more set in their ways and not that open to changes. And change is one of the other names of IT.

Age doesn’t really matter in IT

Most IT companies prefer younger employees. They feel this makes them hip, cool and innovative. But, to quote Q and James Bond: “Age is no guarantee of efficiency” and “Youth is not a guarantee of innovation”.

In fact, quite a few tech startups are looking for older employees who can help them with organizing skills, experience and advice. But older people can in fact be very useful for day-to-day operations as well.

“There’s some well-worn stereotypes about the white, male, under 30 and Stanford-educated brogrammers in the IT industry”, says Tarsha McCormick, head of diversity and inclusion at global IT consulting firm ThoughtWorks to ComputerWorld. “But women, underrepresented minorities, anyone at all ages can thrive in the industry. When we hire, we’re looking for things like passion, intellectual curiosity, aptitude, attitude and integrity. These are all transferable skills that can be applied from any background”.

Anyone in IT can make great things. Age is not a factor and can’t limit someone to solve problems, to write code or to have great ideas. Actually, there’s one main issue – skills and education. It’s the same issue which faces young talent, too. And what’s the main challenge for IT companies? Lack of talent. But, if the company opens itself to older workers it opens the doors to a lot more possible new team members.

Skills, skills, skills

“You should never stop learning. And there are so many ways to do that now, that it’s almost impossible not to find opportunities: coding bootcamps, community colleges, internships; many companies are offering sabbaticals, work-sharing and job sharing programs to allow their workforce to gain critical skills — take advantage of these programs,” says James Stanger, senior director of product development at CompTIA.

Granted, most of these things are not really suitable for older workers. But there’s one way to get the most out of them – trainings and certifications. Quite a few companies are investing in team trainings and own academies. It’s a great way to bring entire teams up to par with their skills. Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

“Certification gives everyone a lingua franca through which to talk about skills and your experience. It’s a shared language that everyone understands. That benchmark means that these hiring decisions can be skills-based and it can level the field so that anyone can participate,”  Stanger says.

Emotional connections matter

Back to Facebook. It’s hiring policy is an example of this. Employees don’t need to be masters of all disciplines. Instead, Facebook hires for positions knowing the strengths of those roles and looking for employees to fill them, Oxegen Consulting team founded by early Facebook HR execs, Sara Sperling and Stuart Crabb tell BusinessInsider.

They also don’t look for wrong answers of questions. Instead, they look for strengths of candidates. If an interviewee says they get lost spending hours coding on a project they’re excited about, then they might be a coding machine. If they lose track of time while brainstorming new ideas on a whiteboard and feed off of others suggestions, then they might be a collaborative product manager.

“Why do we expect our employees to be A students?” Sperling said. Instead, companies should look  for individual strengths of their employees and build on them. This might mean some people will have to change their teams or departments, but if this leads them to work better, they will feel better and do more.

The key is unlocking whatever it is that an employee has an emotional connection to and directing that energy towards their work. “Strength has an emotional connection to it,” Sperling said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could intersect that emotion with the needs of a business?” It’s possible and age doesn’t matter in this quest.