Ageism and Tech

I’ve had a passion for technology since I was in High School, circa 1983. Yes, 1983. I was one of very few kids with an Apple IIe that I had begged my parents for and they reluctantly purchased. I was not a geek by any means. I was a multi-sport athlete and spent much of my time in the great outdoors; golfing, skiing, fishing, playing baseball. But I had an insatiable curiosity about this new thing; microcomputers. That’s what they were called then, look it up.

Not long after I began plunking around on my beautiful, beige box, our school district introduced Apple IIe’s into our math program. My first thought, “Wow, that worked out”. Problem was, no one knew how to use them. The teachers were given some minimal instruction and told to include BASIC programming for mathematics in their curriculum. They were lost. But guess who knew the Apple IIe and how to program it?

Yay, Me. Instant teachers assistant.

During my junior year of college at the University of Minnesota, I received a job offer from a silicon-valley startup called SuperMac Technology. In 1987, there was only a fraction of companies like this, and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. A chance to learn from, and work with, the best and brightest in the tech revolution. My Dad and I loaded up my 1985 Honda Prelude and a U-Haul trailer and headed west.

I was in heaven. New hardware, new software, and new technologies that no one knew about and it was mind blowing. I got to work with designers and engineers from Apple, Sony, and others. We had brilliant software developers that would show up at 1:00 in the afternoon and work until midnight. I learned more in the first 3 months at SuperMac that I did during my entire college career. I had my finger on the pulse of the next big thing, the Macintosh. We were building hardware and software that every company buying Mac’s wanted, and needed.

We worked hard, every day. 10, 12, 14 hour days. After a couple years at SuperMac, I was lonely for home. Eventually I made my way back to Minnesota. My girlfriend, my family, lakes, snow, and fresh air called me home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I’ve now had the pleasure of working for small studios and Fortune 100 companies. Until recently, I was the Technology Director for an award-winning, world-class branding and design agency in charge of every facet of the digital side of the business. Hardware, software, networks, communications, audio-visual, photography, print systems, presentations, social media, and web development.

But, business is hard. When a company hits a certain spot and has to eliminiate most of it’s executive team, they let you go. This has never happened to me. Fresh territory.

Regardless, the moment friends, colleagues, and family heard the news, they were shocked, but reassuring “…with your talent, you’ll find something right away.” Quite frankly, I thought so too. I was pretty confident, because I know how good I am. I know what I can do. I’m no different now than when I left for Silicon Valley 30 years ago. I’m the same curious, wide-eyed kid.

So, I am, at age 52, going to look for a job. I haven’t had to “look” for a job since I wanted to buy my first car and applied to bag groceries at the local Red Owl. Yet that’s exactly what I have been forced to do. I didn’t have a resume to “update” because I’d never needed one before. I toiled over reviewing my lifes work and built a resume. Nothing fancy, just the facts. I’m a worthwhile designer and average writer so I was confident that my resume would be fine. Nope, nothing.

One day, Ireceived an email from a top resume-writing service. Looked interesting, and they’d give a free evaluation of my exisiting resume. I did, they responded, and I needed a spark. $220 and 2 weeks later I had a fancy new resume. I used my new resume for a slew of applications with renewed enthusiasm. Nope, nothing.

By now, a realization has set in. Who I am, the things I’ve done, things I’ve learned, things I have been responsible for, and things I’ve taught others cannot feasibly be put onto a resume. Especially one that never even gets seen by a human being.

No one is listening. No one. Why? Because I’m 52.

When you put 30 years of experience and expertise onto a 2 page PDF, guess what you end up with? A generous list of skills, experience, and accomplishments, that no one will ever hear about. A career filled with passion and excitement and sweat and curiosity, that no one will ever ask you about.

Why? Because I’m 52.

Experience, check. Skills, check. Fresh resume, check.


Why? Because I’m 52.

I’ve now applied to 30 or 40 technology-based positions. Jobs that I am qualified for. Jobs that I’m over-qualified for. Jobs that I could do with one hand tied behind my back. I’ve received two interviews in 6 months. One I was dead sure I had, but it was given to an “internal candidate”.

Dear *insert company name*, if you already have an “internal candidate” don’t waste the time of hundreds people who will spend hours applying and never get the job. (Yes, I know the legal department told you to, it’s still sucks)

Now, let’s assume, just for a fleeting second that just maybe 2 or 3 of those hiring managers actually see my resume, and don’t care that I’m 52, but for some other reason I don’t make the cut. I will probably never know.

Why? Because we no longer matter. They ghost you. Not kidding. They literally just leave you hanging. No rejection letter. No email. No phone call. I’m just supposed to magically know that I’m not getting that job.

This is what I call ‘Job App Limbo’ and it’s quite rampant. Jobs that are still advertised, weeks and months after I’ve applied, and not one single word from the company.

Here is just a sampling of companies with whom I’m currently in Application Limbo: Apple, Vail Properties, Advanced Imaging Solutions, CH Robinson, ESCO, Patterson Companies, Savigent Software, Sleep Number, Taylor Communications, and Wells Fargo. Big, successful, well-reviewed companies.

What could be even worse, are the companies that literally tell you up front (via auto-responder email) that you won’t get contacted unless you make it through.

Wait, wut?

But, how long does that take? A week, A month, 3 months? How do I know if my application is being considered? You can’t even muster a second auto-responder email telling me to pack sand? Lazy bastards.

Great. Now let’s assume that I’m not going to be contacted to interview for the other 38 jobs I’ve applied for. The question I really, really, really want answered, and am clearly not going to get, is… what’s missing?

What’s missing from my extremely full file cabinet of work? No, seriously. What skills, experience, education, and expertise are missing? What makes me unqualified to even garner an interview? Why can’t even one of those 38 call or email and let me know I didn’t get the job because ____________ but thank you and good luck in your job search! At least that would provide means to assist me in making decisions moving forward. That apparently doesn’t happen in 2019.

So here I am, back at square one. After 6 months of job searching, I have zero feedback on why I am not being considered for these positions. Zero feedback means I have to guess. My guess as to why I’m sitting here with few prospects?

I’m 52.

It is now my humble opinion that the job application process is a big, smelly disaster. Indeed, Monster, Dice, LinkedIn, blah, blah, blah. The process of finding and applying to jobs consumes mountains of clicks. Every site is different. For the big ones especially, you’re asked to fill out the same information multiple times, and they’re more focused on whether you’re hispanic, disabled, or a veteran than whether you can actually do the job.

After an hour or more of work tweaking your resume, writing a cover letter, polishing your LinkedIn page, and submitting your application, off it goes into the great ATS ether. The magical Willy Wonka-esque Automated Tracking System. No one really knows how the work.

What I do know about them is Automated HR systems have made it impossible to show who you really are and what you can offer a company unless you have the correct 250 keywords in your resume. Keywords. My 30 year career now has to be distilled into keywords. Geezus.

Let’s just say somehow, by pure happenstance, I roll a 7 and properly include the correct 250 keywords in my resume; and my skills, experience, education, and expertise match the job description, and I live in the same city, and I’m willing to travel, am experienced at public speaking, have won multiple awards, possess certifications, been on Twitter since 2007, Instagram since day one, have officiated weddings, have met Steve Jobs, care for stray animals, and ski, hike, swim, and golf… I probably still won’t be hired for that technology job.

Why? Because I’m 52.

Ironic, actually. The industry that I love, and has helped make me who I am, is now keeping me from trying to help make it better.

I had never felt old before. Now I do.