Ageism is forcing many to look outside Silicon Valley, but tech hubs offer little respite

Ageism is forcing some to look outside Silicon Valley, but tech hubs offer little respite

Source: Ageism is forcing many to look outside Silicon Valley, but tech hubs offer little respite

Tom Aldous of The Content Era posted this article on his Facebook page, and it seems to flesh out an important topic of what’s ailing the tech industry, including technical communications. If you had read the comment thread to this on Tom’s posting, it seemed to be that the sentiment of some that most older workers are not willing to learn new things, and are often “riding out the latest tech craze” until retirement.  But there were others in the thread–including myself–that disagreed with that.  Tom’s commentary, which was correct, was that no matter what age you are at, you have to constantly challenge yourself to stay current and relevant; otherwise, you are bound to have problems.  Several of us who make up Baby Boomers and GenX alike feel that we do our best to learn things, and we’re always eager to learn more, and yet, the opportunities are still not always there.

Despite what this article says that ageism is an issue–and it is–there’s another problem going on as well. That’s the fact that from my experience, especially recently, employers want “unicorns”–something that’s rare, and in some cases, unreal. They want someone who can do it all. For example, there’s a great position that’s nearby me for a large publishing house that requires a technical writer and content strategist who understands DITA. Since DITA is not a big thing down here, and I’ve been working on my DITA skills, it sounded great–until I looked at the rest of the requirements. Perhaps I’m in my own la-la land, but they also wanted someone who understood VBA and Xquery/Regular Expressions, among other things. Well, that’s web developer stuff, so unless you’ve done web development before, you’re not going to have that skill. I asked my husband how hard VBA and Xquery was–could I learn it? He said sure, but it’d take a while. But he also looked at the job description and questioned it. Do they want a technical communicator, or a web developer? Maybe in California, they finding people with both skillsets might be a dime a dozen, but in Central New Jersey where it’s mostly pharmaceuticals and finance, you’re not going to find a person with both of those skillsets, and if you do, they are a…unicorn. They are a rarity. I know this position has been open for several months. But they aren’t the only employer in the area that is like this, and it makes for a frustrating time looking for new opportunities.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

There are lots of very experienced people out there who can do the work, do it well, and can learn. Nobody wants to teach anymore. I understand wanting as little ramp-up time as possible bringing someone in, but it’s not realistic from what I can tell from my own experiences. Nobody wants to mold employees anymore. They just want cloned worker bees, and we aren’t that. We are people–individuals who bring a plethora of experiences and insights, and learning capabilities.

So, how do we get tech employers to a) stop with the ageism, and b) stop looking for unicorns? I don’t have any answers for that. Do you? Include your comments below.

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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2 Responses to Ageism is forcing many to look outside Silicon Valley, but tech hubs offer little respite

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Great analysis, Danielle. Many companies (not all, thankfully) no longer want to invest in their employees — to train them, to help them realize their full potential. Instead, as you said, they see their employees as interchangeable parts, not as people. It’s incredibly shortsighted. Gee…imagine that: corporate America being shortsighted.

    I wish I knew how to fix it. Part of the solution, I think, is to call attention to the problem and push back against it. Just like you’re doing.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Larry. I think you are right about the analogy of employees as interchangeable parts and not as people. It’s just unrealistic. I was just reading an article today about obsolete jobs like gas lamplighters or milkmen. Technical communicators are constantly trying not to be obsolete, especially in this digital age when things are changing pretty quickly, but it’s odd how things morph so quickly that sometimes we can’t catch up–or, what I’m finding is that, as I mentioned, companies are looking for “unicorns”, instead of taking the time to invest in employees anymore, no matter what the age is. It’s discouraging. My younger sister, who is not a technical communicator, is running into the same problem. She’s a very smart, accomplished person, but finding appropriate work for the same reasons is tough. Unlike me, she’s willing to travel to the cities (she’s single without kids), which gives her a little more flexibility, but again, it’s a little tough finding something.

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