Struggling to be taken seriously by direct reports as a young manager, getting cut from a process based on a perceived lack of “culture fit”, or co-workers assuming you can't keep up with emerging technologies can be disheartening, especially when these challenges stem from your age.
So, how can we engage in a constructive dialogue about ageism in tech and develop strategies to overcome these obstacles, benefiting both younger and older employees?
Lisa Smith , Engineering Manager at Netflix, reminds us that biases are the beliefs held by others, and the best way to “combat” them is to continue to thrive and disprove them through action.
We turned to the Elpha community to gather actionable advice on navigating tech when your age becomes the focal point, overshadowing your skills and your potential to add value.
Here’s the TL;DR of what they had to say:
Check in on your personal biases around age.
Evaluate your job search strategy.
Embrace lifelong learning.
Reflect on your competitive advantage.
Create your own opportunities.
Check in on your personal biases around age
Examine your ambition and choose the route that fits you best, not your age.
As Dawn Springett , Director of Coaching & Transformation at Bright Content Ltd, states: the first bias you need to overcome is your own.
Older workers may feel pressure to move into management based on the misconception that climbing up the managerial ladder is the only path that equates to career growth when, in reality, there are many others.
“Lateral growth can be just as effective. Not everyone wants to be a manager, and that’s okay. As an executive coach, I’ve seen people 30 years into their careers who have found their niche and expertise and made themselves untouchable and invaluable as an individual contributor. Their knowledge and experience over the years have made them essential in their organizations. If you can stay relevant and transfer your skills and expertise to the changing tides of technology and your organization, you can live a high-quality, fulfilling, and happy life,” says Alisa Manjarrez , Managing Director at Stories Bureau.
Another path is to become the subject matter expert in your company.
“Some companies offer career paths that focus on academic or subject matter expertise rather than managerial (i.e. people) responsibility. Or you can become an expert project manager, leading a project team but with no direct reports,” explains Dawn.
Laura Webber , Principal Customer Success Engineer at Hightouch, shares why she chose not to pursue a managerial position and how she is thriving as an individual contributor.🚀
“I’m a principal-level IC and turn 53 next month. I started working in the startup world at age 49. I have chosen not to go the managerial route because while I like working with people, I love the intellectual challenge of the problems I solve every day. And, because we’re a startup, our people managers do a lot of hiring and interviewing. I’d rather be a participant in that process.”
Conversely, when you are younger and others view you as having limited experience, imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy can easily creep in. Kaitlin Graham , a freelance copywriter, shares her experience navigating these feelings as a young manager.
“When I was a junior in college, I had the opportunity to be a Marketing Content Manager at a mid-sized entertainment company where I managed a team ranging in ages from 18 to mid-30s. There were times when I felt uncomfortable giving assignments to people who were older than me, but I had to remind myself that I earned the management position from my own talent and hard work.”💪
Melanie Crissey , Product Marketing Manager at Warp, adds that the skills you need to be a great manager are not the same skills you need to be an excellent individual contributor. Experienced individual contributors will recognize and respect this.
“Acknowledge the experience of your colleagues, invite their consultation where appropriate, and exercise your explicit authority when it’s needed. Protect and support your team, own mistakes when they happen, and celebrate wins. Everybody wants to do their best work. As long as you can create an environment where people feel safe to do that, nobody is going to worry too much about your age or your credentials.”
Another approach to tackling these biases is to intentionally steer your focus away from age. Instead, focus on the expertise they bring to the table, their academic background, learnings from their last role, or your shared values and interest in solving the same problem.
“Focus on the person in front of you, not their age. Do they believe in a positive company culture? Are they respectful and kind? Those are qualities of emotional maturity – and emotional maturity doesn’t always correspond to chronological years. My CEO is a wunderkind who didn’t go to college and started working in tech at age 16. He’s also a lovely person and I respect him and I just don’t entertain any thoughts about when I was born and when he was born. Don’t write people off because they’re 20 years younger than you,” shares Laura .
And if you can’t get past an age gap and it makes you feel awkward, Heather Kenvin , Career Coach and Founder at Cardigan Associates, has some advice for you:
“Embrace the awkward. Life is awkward in all stages and at all ages. The sooner we get over thinking that something uncomfortable is always a problem, the better we will be. Focus on what you can learn from your CEO or manager and not the fact that she is young enough to be your daughter. I'm not a fan of generational typing because I think our values, much more than the decade we were born in, shape us. Look for those common values and focus on how you both are working toward shared goals.”
Evaluate your job search strategy
If you’re struggling as a job seeker, there are a few things you can do to make sure that you are positioning yourself effectively.💼
Optimize your on-paper image ✍️
Review your resume and LinkedIn to see what information you are giving away that may be working against you.
“Some concrete tips for seasoned job seekers include: leave dates out of your resume, especially those associated with when you may have obtained your degrees if you have any. Only include the most relevant experience for the job you are seeking. Keep your resume compact and resist the temptation to list every position you've ever held,” recommends Lisa Smith .
Iynna Halilou, Community Lead at Elpha, recommends keeping it to 1-page if you have under 10 years of experience, and if you have more experience you can extend it to 2 pages.
Younger or less experienced candidates may feel that they have a hard time convincing recruiters or hiring managers to recognize their potential. Melanie Crissey says that the key is to make it easy for employers to connect the dots.
“Position yourself as somebody who’s already experienced doing the work you want to do, instead of somebody who’s desperately looking for a chance to get your foot in the door. Drop words like “aspiring” from your vocabulary. Change your LinkedIn title (and your summary statement on your resume) to represent yourself as a professional in your field with the job role you want to have. Highlight your real, total years of relevant experience, even if that overlaps with your education or totally unrelated jobs. List your relevant work (including any projects!) at the top of the page and move your education to the bottom of the page.”
Kaitlin shares the best advice she received for combating ageism in tech during her early career job search: focus on showing the results of past work.📊
“I was highlighting my GPA and extracurricular activities from college, which I thought was giving me a leg up, but was actually hurting me. While it's great to have a high GPA and extracurriculars, once you graduate, they shouldn't be the focus of your resume. I shortened that portion of my resume and added more relevant skills, which has given me more connections and job opportunities.”
In a similar vein, pay attention to the information you aren’t providing. Dawn shares one of the reasons why companies may overlook older candidates who focus solely on positioning their years of experience.👀
“They care less about your years of experience and more about the value you can add to the role, and they don't see it clearly in your resume, because you highlight those years of experience rather than the impact, outcomes and value you have created.”
This shouldn't be misinterpreted as needing to dial down your experience; rather, it's about tailoring your job application to include what's directly relevant to the position.
“If you're a seasoned worker, your experience is your superpower. But, focusing only on what you've achieved in the past might project less of a growth mindset than you want. Position your experience as an asset because it gives you a strong base to build on. Instead of dialing down your experience, dial in on relevant achievements and skills that show direct applicability to the job you want,” says Heather .
To illustrate the idea of creating a job application that suits the job you are applying for, Veronika Litinski , CEO at GeneYouIn Inc., thinks it’s helpful to think of your resume as an oil painting instead of a snapshot.🖼
“The effort is in crafting a picture of your knowledge, professional attributes and passions in a language that fits the opportunity. When you are feeling that dialing down is needed, it is likely a waste of time for both parties.”
If you’re concerned that condensing your resume may diminish your experience and you’re tempted to include every detail, Sonia Rose , Senior Manager at Pure Storage, offers advice from the other side of the table.
“If you really want to make sure that they know you have more experience than what is listed, you can add a sentence at the end of your resume that says to see your full work history, visit your LinkedIn profile.”
Aim for authenticity in interviews 🗣
According to Dawn , there’s a fine line between being confident and knowledgeable and coming across as a know-it-all during an interview. It’s a tough balance to strike, but there are a few things she suggests keeping in mind – applicable to all candidates regardless of age.
“You might be tempted to show off your x-years of experience and wisdom, but what the manager really wants to know is whether you are adaptable and coachable, whether you are willing to learn new skills, whether you can collaborate with a younger and diverse team, whether the team will enjoy working with you, and whether you are manageable.”
Interviewers and managers who have a holistic view of candidates will also consider factors beyond just skills and experience when evaluating fit, which can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.⚖️
“Good interviewers and managers know how to recognize that someone’s lifestyle and desires are just as important as skills and experience. For example, if they are interviewing someone who seems overqualified on paper but wants the lifestyle that a particular role affords them, it’s a win-win for the candidate and the business,” says Alisa .
Ultimately, it comes down to being authentic and realistic about what you can bring to the role and what you expect in return. If it’s not a fit on both sides, it just won’t work in the long term. And it’s better to know that early on in the process.🤝
“If that’s not a fit on either side, I actively want to know. That’s the purpose of interviewing for me - if I need to be different than who I am to fit in, it’s not a fit. I’m sure some of the opportunities I’ve been declined for probably had something to do with my age, my education. I’ve even heard that I’ve got too much experience. Terrific, if that’s how you view me, it’s a gift to reject my application. I’ve also been on the hiring manager side, where I’ve seen people working really hard because they think they want a job, but then once they’re in, it wasn’t what they expected and/or they overstated their skills and couldn’t do the job they were hired for. All of these situations are so painful, so I’d advise you to always be as self-aware, authentic and clear about your experience as possible,” states Melanie Polkosky , Cognitive Psychologist, UX Researcher and Coach.
Embrace lifelong learning
If you worry about staying relevant, make yourself relevant. Adopt a growth mindset and be an eternal student – young or old. Here are just a few of the ways women on Elpha make themselves relevant.📣
“This is not a field you can ever ‘master’, so you have to be willing to keep learning, and at a dizzying pace. I subscribe to several tech newsletters and read them every morning. As soon as I see or hear something mentioned by a colleague, I look it up. I also make sure I’m active on the company Slack-- contribute to conversations about hot new tech topics and give kudos to my colleagues. I insert myself into channels and make myself relevant,” says Laura .
Dawn suggests dialing up your experience by staying on top of the trends and becoming a power user of technologies relevant to your role and industry.
“Excel, for instance, has been around for ages, but few people are expert users, and it is still an essential tool in corporate environments. Becoming a power user is a really effective way to make yourself indispensable, and if you can add your generative AI expertise on top of that, you're in a good place to stay relevant, no matter what your age.”
Alisa explains that making yourself relevant involves intentionally taking the time to immerse yourself in the trends within your space as an early adopter whenever possible.🌱
“Immersion can mean physically testing out tools yourself, going to conferences, reading articles, or listening to the people in or around your environment who can help you stay relevant. As a leader in tech, you have to not only speak the language of your early adopter peers and colleagues but also have a strategic point of view about what’s relevant, what’s not, and what actions to take as a result.”
Sambhavi Dhanabalan , Technical Co-Founder at GoLittleBig, says that the most important piece of advice for staying up to-date in tech is to never stop building.👩🏽💻
“Either make it a habit to join communities like Code Wars, Exercisim where you keep practicing code that in turn will ensure you find out the latest way of solving things, or, take small use cases and build full-fledged apps.”
Through building, you'll actively seek the latest developments in your field, indirectly create your portfolio, and cultivate a sense of business acumen.
She adds, “Another not-so-common approach is to check the type of projects that get posted on freelance platforms like Upwork, Fiverr. When you keep looking at the categories in which a lot of projects are posted, you'll get a sense of what's the "in" thing now.”
📚 Here are some more resources Sambhavi recommends:
Newsletters: Educative, Gergely Orosz's The Pragmatic Engineer, Byte Byte Go, Pybites, Real Python, Testdriven.io
Conferences: Pycon, VueCon
Communities: Code Wars, Exercism, Stack Overflow
Melanie ’s approach to embracing lifelong learning is to follow your own curiosity.🔎
“I’ve come to believe chasing relevance is really about a scarcity mindset: ‘I’ve only got so much relevance and it’s running out!’ That’s no way to sustain your motivation or even your enthusiasm for your work. It’s also no way to fulfill some of the bigger questions, like ‘What role do I want work to have in the context of my life?’
I like to reframe the relevance issue as ‘What’s really piquing my interest these days? What am I drawn to? What if my own curiosity is a lantern that’s drawing me toward what’s next?’
For me, that’s definitely meant some pretty significant changes in how I view my work but it’s also enabled me to explore and build my skills in new ways, grounded by the idea that there are many, many ways to contribute to tech with purpose and meaning.”
There’s a reason for the cliched advice that your network is your net worth. It’s in making new connections that you find support, under-the-radar opportunities, and fresh perspectives.✨
“A great networking strategy, besides one-on-one networking, is to join groups. Many of my connections have their own weekly or monthly sessions on a particular theme. The interactive ones not only want your participation but help everyone get to know each other, making it more likely they will introduce you to their contacts. It's taken me some time to really get this rolling, but it is invaluable, not only for networking but for the support,” says Kathleen Fava, Independent Writer and Photographer.
👉 At Elpha, there are various subcommunities tailored to different career stages, whether you're early career , an Elpha over 50 , or navigating a career transition . You can also attend one of our in-person member meetups (or host one of your own!), which provide an excellent opportunity for creating meaningful connections.
You may also want to consider mentorship – either seeking a mentor or becoming one.
“Mentor people who are younger than you. Spend any time you can with people of a variety of ages. If you are not used to being with that demographic, it will feel weird and uncomfortable. When you understand where they are coming from, what stresses they’re dealing with, and the pressures they are under, you’re going to be able to connect with them with ease. Then, you’ll be able to clearly see not just your points of similarity, but also the gaps that you can fill,” says Alisa .
It’s a great way to gain insights and perspectives from people from all walks of life, which can be an enriching exchange for both parties. After all, the best mentorships help both mentee and mentor grow.🪴
“Approach those opportunities with curiosity - you can learn and grow from contact with literally anyone of any age. My 3-year-old introduced me to a new dinosaur last week. Just because you are older, doesn't mean you can't learn and just because they are younger, doesn't mean they have nothing to offer,” says Lisa .
Sharing your expertise can also help you gain more confidence in your knowledge and become better at communicating your ideas.💡
“We learn a lot when we teach someone,” says Sambhavi , who suggests sharing your knowledge in tech-related Slack communities, forums or places like Stack Overflow.
Building a network shouldn’t be limited to a professional setting since community can take many forms.
“In my personal life, I do take time to attend church, where I am one of the youngest. It keeps me in touch with the other end of the age spectrum and gives me my own set of elders to look up to,” says Laura .
Reflect on your competitive advantage
Take a moment to think about the unique value you bring and how you can differentiate yourself from the rest.
If you’re an older worker exploring new opportunities, this might involve focusing on roles and industries where it’s unlikely for someone younger than you to hold the same level of qualifications or skill set.
“The important thing is to figure out how your long-term experience adds value to what appears to be a flat marginal value curve. In my industry, I add value because I have vision and leadership skills, along with many connections to other senior leaders in my field. A younger person may not have that or be able to attain that quickly, so the value added from my experience is clear,” says Sambhavi .
Laura is a great example of competing in a space where your experience is an advantage. She made her years of experience work for her and not against her. 💁🏻♀️
“I now get to do a lot of mentoring and developing processes to make things easier for my colleagues. I’m also a go-to person for dealing with important customers – I’m older, so I have some more gravitas. Not surprisingly, I was laid off earlier this year, but – surprisingly– I was hired back 3 months later. They really couldn’t do without me. I attribute that to being dogged in my pursuit of knowledge and being so exceptionally helpful to my teammates. And incredibly reliable. These are all traits ‘older’ women can bring to the workplace.”
Create your own opportunities
Consider the option to work on your own terms. If you’re job hunting or exploring your next move, it can be a good use of your time to dedicate some of that energy to creating. After all, your side hustle could become your main.💰
If the job openings you’re looking into feel like too much of a stretch, Melanie Crissey suggests reflecting on whether you truly have enough experience to step into the role right now.
“If you’re not there yet, seek out volunteer opportunities, group projects, or paid freelance work (your time and energy is valuable!) to build out your portfolio. Consider blogging, writing an email newsletter, or posting on social media to share your perspectives related to your field, highlighting things you’re most interested in.
While content creation and side hustles may not be logical for every field or sustainable for everyone in the long-term, it’s never been easier or more acceptable to start working for yourself this way. If you can give this 10% of your energy and treat it like “designing your own internship,” you’ll have evidence you can point to that shows you’re interested and capable of doing the work—no matter your age or background.”
Alisa reflects on her decision to start a business.⚡️
“I’m turning 40 this year, and as someone who’s just started my own business full-time (I was in tech B2B marketing and executive coaching prior), I feel excited about my next 20 years! I love my same-age peer group right now because many have passed that 10,000 hours of mastery. It’s exhilarating to be surrounded by and working with women who are just acing it right now, because of their years of experience in whatever industry.”
If you’re on a similar path as Alisa, she proposes asking yourself: If startup energy won’t be for you forever, what would be a fun way to leverage your expertise in the future?🤔
Upon re-entering the job market after a career break, Medha Nanal received a job offer that came with many nonstandard terms and conditions, which made her decline. That exchange inspired her to launch her own consulting business .
“It was my first time doing so, and after 7 years, I am earning more than what a salaried position would have gotten me, I have been able to go back to school to get advanced certifications and besides, I get to decide what projects I want to work on – to a large extent. My biggest regret now is that I did not do this when I was 33 (that is when I became eligible to own a business, being a first-generation immigrant in the USA)! Had I started then, by now, I would have ruled the world.”🌎
We hope this guide helps you rewrite the narrative, break the stereotypes, and seize the opportunities that await in tech – those that celebrate you regardless of your age.💜
👀 Looking for companies with diverse teams? Join the Elpha Talent Pool to discover jobs that are a match for your skills and values.