Zapier’s engineering manager points out that unless you’re Gen Z, you’re closer than you think to being old—or you’re already there—and you need to have a plan.
I’m Lisa Smith, I’m an engineering manager for Zapier’s developer platform, and I’m an Old. I’ve been working in tech since before there was a Google. In a previous life, I was a librarian. The kind that touches actual hard-copy books.
I’ve been working on inclusion and diversity issues in tech for nearly as long as I’ve been working in tech, and—as an Old—I recognize that tech has an ageism problem. Much like sexism and racism in the workplace, ageism affects not only the person being discriminated against but also the larger company culture. It deprives the company of needed perspective and the tools and staff they need to innovate.
Before we go on, the sobering news: Old in tech is 41. A survey from Indeed indicates that 82% of the tech workforce is 40 and under. Nearly half (46%) is 35 and under.
This means that, unless you’re Gen Z, you’re closer than you think to being old—or you’re already there—and you need to have a plan. While you can’t automate your future, I do have a three-step process to help you stay relevant and get all the jobs.
The older you get, the more you might feel like you’ve learned everything you’re going to learn. Old horse, new tricks, all that. But especially in tech, a field that is constantly changing, there’s always something more to learn. So figure out what you want to learn, and there’s absolutely a way to learn it.
What should you learn? I’d ask you: What do you want to learn? What’s fun? And what can you learn while still doing your current job? Try asking a teammate what they’re working on and if you can shadow them a bit. Use any professional development funds you have for classes, books, and conferences. Out of budget? Apply for conference grants. Volunteer to be a TA or to help run a conference or mentor at a hackathon. Helping others learn is a great way to pick up new skills and reinforce skills you already have.
Of course, you can’t do everything in a silo, or the skills you learn won’t add any value to your career. You have to meet people. You can do this in person or online—whatever is feasible for you. And the communities you join don’t have to be tech-focused: Just find a group that shares common interests and join them for events.