Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ageism, Statistical Discrimination and The Lost Civilization of Silicon Valley

With all of the back and forth about the cost of housing, Google buses, economic class warfare and other symptoms of something horribly wrong with things these days, I want to pull together something that is sort of a synthesis of several items to help fill in a few more dots on the changes in Silicon Valley. You might call this Part 2 of my endless rant on Silicon Valley Lost.

As I spent time reflecting on why the culture has changes so much, I was reminded of how much aspects of age have changed around here. When I first began working in tech back in the 1990s, I was one of the younger members of the staff. Demographically speaking, the workplace was reasonably well distributed in terms of age; young workers just out of college, middle aged workers that had been in the workplace for ten years or more, and older workers that had been around for a long time.

These days, much of that has shifted. Consider this data from research by Payscale:
  • While the overall median age of American Workers is 42.5, the oldest median age in the Payscale survey of technology workers was at Hewlett-Packard at 41 years.
  • The other five companies with older workers, in descending order of median age, were I.B.M. Global Services (38 years old), Oracle (38), Nokia (36), Dell (37) and Sony (36). Note that from this list Oracle is the only business that's primarily here in Silicon Valley.
  • The seven companies with the youngest workers, ranked from youngest to highest in median age, were Epic Games (26); Facebook (28); Zynga (28); Google (29); and AOL, Blizzard Entertainment, InfoSys, and Monster.com (all 30).
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only shoe stores and restaurants have workers with a median age less than 30.
You can look at that data and the companies and draw a lot of conclusions, but one that's noteworthy factor is that most of the companies in the youngest end of the rank are Internet and post-dot.com companies. Some of that probably goes back to a shift in thinking that took place back in the days of the dot.com era when part of the world wanted to invest everything in Internet clicks, and the brick and mortar world kept asking where the money was going to come from. Sure, some companies found ways to make money, but the conventional wisdom take-away was that the old guys just don't get it.

Perhaps, like this story about the economist on the dating site, hiring youth is more statistical discrimination than it is anything else. When I heard Stanford Professor Paul Oyer on the radio promoting his book, he also described some of the significant similarities between the dating world and the job market. To paraphrase something that he said during his KQED appearance, "like dating, both the employer and the job candidate must like each other and be interested in the relationship."

Whatever the reasoning behind it, working from a general recognition that today's emerging companies are less likely to hire older workers, you can draw some other conclusions; specifically, if there is a surging economy in the world of tech start-ups and if you don't belong to a specific demographic, then, like a Google bus, you're probably not getting on in. It matters little whether you are a nice person with a great personality, whether your interests are aligned, or even if you've been waiting at that public bus stop for a long time, you're not going to get on that bus.

Want to see what the impact of this trend has been? Here are a couple of links:
What you can see is that there isn't nearly the kind of growth out in the Avenues and the Sunset, the areas that tend to be older, quieter, more families. In that way, this is not a story of the awesomeness and desirability of the geography of San Francisco. Instead, it really highlights the demographics of this economic surge -- and the bystanders, or casualties, depending upon where you find yourself in relationship to that trend.

Today's Silicon Valley is trending Logan's Run. It's an Amazing place. There's just one catch. You are only allowed so many technology cycles before you're replaced by an H1B visa, an Ivy League intern or perhaps someone with not less than 4.6692 Likes on Facebook. Then, it's carrousel. Or you can run.

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