Since when does experienced = out-of-date ?

While I agree with  much of what entrepreneur/ professor/ author Vivek Wadhwa writes, I think his latest article in the Wall Street Journal is a little off target. He says,

Why would any company pay a computer programmer with out-of-date skills a salary of say $150,000, when it can hire a fresh graduate — who has no skills — for around $60,000?

This is the kind of mind-numbing question usually asked by managers who don’t want to pay what top programmers are really worth. What on earth makes you acquaint older and experienced with out-of-date? Most of the people I know (assuredly not a random sample), progressed from FORTRAN years ago to C, Objective C, C#, Ruby, JavaScript, Python, Perl and PHP. We didn’t all just stick with COBOL for decades, for crying out loud.

I’m heading up to the SAS Global Forum on Saturday with thousands of other people who will be learning about  everything from data visualization to random forests to high performance computing. I haven’t been sitting around running one ANOVA after another on BMDP for the past thirty years. (For those of you who think SAS is old hat, you might be surprised. If they are successful in their moves into web-based products from Enterprise Guide to data mining, the people who thought SAS would be decimated by R might end up looking like the people who said Apple should sell its assets and give the money back to the shareholders. See, that’s the thing about us older people – we DO have experience and sometimes it’s applicable.)

Perhaps Los Angeles is different than Silicon Valley, where I hear people in their forties get Botox and other “work done” so they could appear younger to venture capitalists. The irony of LA being LESS youth-obsessed is certainly not lost on me.

This next line in the article made me laugh out loud, really.

Even if it spends a month training the younger worker, the company is still far ahead. The young understand new technologies better than the old do, and are like a clean slate: They will rapidly learn the latest coding methods and techniques, and they don’t carry any “technology baggage.”

A MONTH?!! I don’t make any apologies or pretensions about my age. I’m 54. I’ve done a hell of a lot – started four companies, earned a Ph.D. , turned a profit for 28 straight years, written grants funded for over $30 million, won a world championships in judo, published scientific articles, designed and developed a computer game to teach math, written one hell of a lot of SAS code, some in JavaScript, PHP and Ruby  – as well as languages I don’t use any more. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in design and development and the result of that is that I don’t make them any more. I really wasted a lot of time getting those degrees and taking all of those courses and attending all of those sessions at software conferences over the last 28 years to learn something that could be trained in a month. Gee, if only I had known.

I’m married to someone a few years older than me and he is brilliant.  I guarantee you that he is worth triple any fresh graduate – and he was getting that, too, until he decided that he would rather work at home with me on 7 Generation Games doing programming with Unity 3D

Although Wadhwa makes the comment with which I wholeheartedly agree

To be writing code for a living when you’re 50, you will need to be a rock-star developer and be able to out-code the new kids on the block. Top developers are always in demand and companies will readily pay top dollars for them.

My gripe with him is that it is buried far down in the article after spending two-thirds of it equating older with obsolete. Again, my experience is undoubtedly not typical. A very large proportion of the people I know do fall into that rock star category. Truly, I often mention on twitter how blessed (and that is the most accurate term) I am to be surrounded by brilliant people in my daily life. I’m sure my experience is disproportionately filled with those rock stars and I am truly grateful for that. If his point is that it’s hard to retire in place with mediocre skills, well, that is true, but I think it has probably always been true in every field.

Where Wadhwa is correct is that

Prominent Silicon Valley investors often talk about youth being an advantage in entrepreneurship. If you look at their investment portfolios, all you see are engineers who are hardly old enough to shave. They rarely invest in people who are old.

Part of that may be due to the other alternatives older entrepreneurs have.  We have investments from the past 28 years of income so we don’t need to give up equity in the company at this point. Also, I’m cool with not working with anyone who thinks they could hire someone without the skills our team has and teach them to be equivalent in a month. Good luck with that. Maybe that explains why such a large percentage of start-ups in your portfolio fail.

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