Monday, August 16, 2010

The Unexamined Life

For the past few weeks, I've been working with an intern from one of the local universities. I have to say that it's been a lot of fun for me -- I've always enjoyed teaching, analyzing things, and so much of the actual process that goes into marketing. For me, it's also always interesting to see the world through a new set of eyes, even on those days when I'm swimming in a sea of 'Oh My God!'s.

In the past week, there was an age discrimination case against Google that made it's way to the front of the news. Roughly, a senior director of engineering wound up leaving Google alleging that the work environment and his colleagues there discriminated against him for being too old and a fuddy duddy -- apparently, he was even struggling to chain at least two 'oh my god!'s together in a single expression.

For those of us who are neighbors of Google and Silicon Valley veterans, Google's culture and hiring practices can be a source of both amusement and frustration. It's amusing when you hear stories of the benefits that they offer their workers -- the cafeterias, on-site laundry, 20% time, and everyone pedaling around the Google campus on bikes -- it's the valley culture we know and love. The frustration comes from knowing aspects of their hiring practices -- like wanting to know your undergraduate GPA, an emphasis on hiring people with advanced degrees, and a focus on building a youth culture. Around the valley, we often hear anecdotal stories of people who leave Google because they felt too old.

But this approach isn't unusual. Many Internet / social network start-ups look at age when they're looking at hiring. It's like there's this unwritten rule that if you've been doing what you've been doing for more than 10 years, you can't understand the value proposition of social networking software. Or the cloud. Or location and check-in.

And the worst thing about it, this age-based mindset, is that these guys -- the ones who think that youth and GPA outweigh experience -- have no idea what they are missing. Sure, I'm a twenty-year veteran of the valley, but I actually get along better with the youngest guy in the office. We speak the same language of in terms of software, computer games, technology and culture. And while I may not share your love for Lady Gaga or Smirnoff Ice; maybe, if you try really hard, you might begin to share my appreciation for the culture of the valley.

And this brings me back to what I learned from the intern -- smart, entrepreneurial, hard working -- it doesn't matter. I can teach. I can tell stories. I can talk and explain through the next downturn. But at the end of the day, you can't just transfer years of experience like a document archive or a project folder. Practically, we all know this, but some people want to pretend that it's different. And that's why Google and some of these other start-ups will never see some very talented, experienced people -- they simply won't get a second look.

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