Tag Archives: Noam Scheiber

ANewDomain.net Essay: Don’t Hire Anyone Over 30: Ageism in Silicon Valley

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

Most people know that Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. Women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in Big Tech. Racist and sexist job discrimination are obviously unfair. They also shape a toxic, insular white male “bro” culture that generates periodic frat-boy eruptions (see, for example, the recent wine-fueled rant of an Uber executive who mused — to journalists — that he’d like to pay journalists to dig up dirt on journalists who criticize Uber. What could go wrong?)

After years of criticism, tech executives are finally starting to pay attention — and some are promising to recruit more women, blacks and Latinos.

This is progress, but it still leaves Silicon Valley with its biggest dirty secret: rampant, brazen age discrimination.

“Walk into any hot tech company and you’ll find disproportionate representation of young Caucasian and Asian males,” University of Washington computer scientist Ed Lazowska told The San Francisco Chronicle. “All forms of diversity are important, for the same reasons: workforce demand, equality of opportunity and quality of end product.”

Overt bigotry against older workers — we’re talking about anyone over 30 here — has been baked into the Valley’s infantile attitudes since the dot-com crash 14 years ago.

Life may begin at 50 elsewhere, but in the tech biz the only thing certain about middle age is unemployment.

The tone is set by the industry’s top CEOs. “When Mark Zuckerberg was 22, he said five words that might haunt him forever. ‘Younger people are just smarter,’ the Facebook wunderkind told his audience at a Y Combinator event at Stanford University in 2007. If the merits of youth were celebrated in Silicon Valley at the time, they have become even more enshrined since,” Alison Griswold writes in Slate.

It’s illegal, under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, to pass up a potential employee for hire, or to fail to promote, or to fire a worker, for being too old. But don’t bother telling that to a tech executive. What used to be a meritocracy has become a don’t-hire-anyone-over-30 (certainly not over 40) — right under the nose of the tech media.

Which isn’t surprising. The supposed watchdogs of the Fourth Estate are wearing the same blinders as their supposed prey. The staffs of news sites like Valleywag and Techcrunch skew as young as the companies they cover.

A 2013 BuzzFeed piece titled ” What It’s Like Being The Oldest BuzzFeed Employee” (subhead: “I am so, so lost, every workday.”) by a 53-year-old BuzzFeed editor “old enough to be the father of nearly every other editorial employee” (average age: late 20s) reads like a repentant landlord-class sandwich-board confession during China’s Cultural Revolution: “These whiz-kids completely baffle me, daily. I am in a constant state of bafflement at BF HQ. In fact, I’ve never been more confused, day-in and day-out, in my life.” It’s the most pathetic attempt at self-deprecation I’ve read since the transcripts of Stalin’s show trials.

A few months later, the dude got fired by his boss (15 years younger): “This is just not working out, your stuff. Let’s just say, it’s ‘creative differences.’”

Big companies are on notice that they’re on the wrong side of employment law. They just don’t care.

Slate reports: “In 2011, Google reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in a…suit with computer scientist Brian Reid, who was fired from the company in 2004 at age 54. Reid claimed that Google employees made derogatory comments about his age, telling him he was ‘obsolete,’ ‘sluggish,’ and an ‘old fuddy-duddy’ whose ideas were ‘too old to matter.’ Other companies—including Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo—have gotten themselves in hot water by posting job listings with ‘new grad‘ in the description. In 2013, Facebook settled a case with California’s Fair Employment and Housing Department over a job listing for an attorney that noted ‘Class of 2007 or 2008 preferred.’”

Because the fines and settlements have been mere slaps on the wrist, the cult of the Youth Bro is still going strong.

To walk the streets of Austin during tech’s biggest annual confab, South by Southwest Interactive, is to experience a society where Boomers and Gen Xers have vanished into a black hole. Photos of those open-space offices favored by start-ups document workplaces where people over 35 are as scarce as women on the streets of Kandahar. From Menlo Park to Palo Alto, token fortysomethings wear the nervous shrew-like expressions of creatures in constant danger of getting eaten — dressed a little too young, heads down, no eye contact, hoping not to be noticed.

“Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America,” Noam Scheiber reported in a New Republic feature that describes tech workers as young as 26 seeking plastic surgery in order to stave off the early signs of male pattern baldness and minor skin splotches on their faces.

Whatever you do, don’t look your age — unless your age is 22.

“Robert Withers, a counselor who helps Silicon Valley workers over 40 with their job searches, told me he recommends that older applicants have a professional snap the photo they post on their LinkedIn page to ensure that it exudes energy and vigor, not fatigue,” Scheiber writes. “He also advises them to spend time in the parking lot of a company where they will be interviewing so they can scope out how people dress.”

The head of the most prominent start-up incubator told The New York Times that most venture capitalists in the Valley won’t take a pitch from anyone over 32.

In early November, VCs handed over several hundred thousand bucks to a 13-year-old.

Aside from the legal and ethical considerations, does Big Tech’s cult of youth matter? Scheiber says hell yes:  “In the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain. The consequences are downright depressing.”

One result of ageism that jumps to the top of my mind is brain drain. Youthful vigor is vital to success in business. So is seasoned experience. The closer an organization reflects society at large, the smarter it is.

A female colleague recently called to inform me that she was about to get laid off from her job as an editor and writer for a major tech news site. (She was, of course, the oldest employee at the company.) Naturally caffeinated, addicted to the Internet and pop culture, she’s usually the smartest person in the room. I see lots of tech journalism openings for which she’d be a perfect fit, yet she’s at her wit’s end. “I’m going to jump off a bridge,” she threatened. “What else can I do? I’m 45. No one’s ever going to hire me.” Though I urged her not to take the plunge, I couldn’t argue with her pessimism. Objectively, though, I think the employers who won’t talk to her are idiots. For their own sakes.

Just a month before, I’d met with an executive of a major tech news site who told me I wouldn’t be considered for a position due to my age. “Aside from being stupid,” I replied, “you do know that’s illegal, right?”

“No one enforces it,” he shrugged. He’s right. The feds don’t even keep national statistics on hiring by age.

The median American worker is age 42. The median age at Facebook, Google, AOL and Zynga, on the other hand, is 30 or younger. Twitter, which recently got hosed in an age discrimination lawsuit, has a median age of 28.

Big Tech doesn’t want you to know they don’t hire middle-aged Americans. Age data was intentionally omitted from the recent spate of “we can do better” mea culpa reports on company diversity.

It’s easy to suss out why: they prefer to hire cheaper, more disposable, more flexible (willing to work longer hours) younger workers. Apple and Facebook recently made news by offering to freeze its female workers’ eggs so they can delay parenthood in order to devote their 20s and 30s to the company.

The dirty secret is not so secret when you scour online want ads. “Many tech companies post openings exclusively for new or recent college graduates, a pool of candidates that is overwhelmingly in its early twenties,” Verne Kopytoff writes in Fortune.

“It’s nothing short of rampant,” said UC David comp sci professor Norm Matloff, about age discrimination against older software developers. Adding to the grim irony for Gen Xers: today’s fortysomethings suffered reverse age discrimination — old people in power screwing the young — at the hands of Boomers in charge when they were entering the workforce.

Once too young to be trusted, now too old to get hired.

Ageist hiring practices are so over-the-top illegal, you have to wonder: do these jerks have in-house counsel?

Kopytoff: “Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Dropbox, and video game maker Electronic Arts all recently listed openings with ‘new grad’ in the title. Some companies say that recent college graduates will also be considered and then go on to specify which graduating classes—2011 or 2012, for instance—are acceptable.”

The feds take a dim view of these ads.

“In our view, it’s illegal,” Raymond Peeler, senior attorney advisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told Kopytoff. “We think it deters older applicants from applying.” Gee, you think? But the EEOC has yet to smack a tech company with a big fine.

The job market is supposed to eliminate efficiencies like this, where companies that need experienced reporters fire them while retaining writers who are so wet behind the ears you want to check for moss. But ageism is so ingrained into tech culture that it’s part of the scenery, a cultural signifier like choosing an iPhone over Android. Everyone takes it for granted.

Scheiber describes a file storage company’s annual Hack Week, which might as well be scientifically designed in order to make adults with kids and a mortgage run away screaming: “Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside.”

No matter how cool a 55-year-old you are, you’re going to feel left out. Which, one suspects, is the point.

It’s impossible to overstate how ageist many tech outfits are.

Electronic Arts contacted Kopytoff to defend its “new grad” employment ads, only to confirm their bigotry. The company “defended its ads by saying that it hires people of all ages into its new grad program. To prove the point, the company said those accepted into the program range in age from 21 to 35. But the company soon had second thoughts about releasing such information, which shows a total absence of middle-aged hires in the grad program, and asked Fortune to withhold that detail from publication. (Fortune declined.)”

EA’s idea of age diversity is zero workers over 35.

Here is one case where an experienced, forty- or fifty- or even sixtysomething in-house lawyer or publicist might have saved them some embarrassment — and legal exposure.

In the big picture, Silicon Valley is hardly an engine of job growth; they haven’t added a single net new job since 1998. “Big” companies like Facebook and Twitter only hire a few thousand workers each. Instagram famously only had 13 when it went public. They have little interest in contributing to the commonweal. Nevertheless, tech ageism in the tiny tech sector has a disproportionately high influence on workplace practices in other workspaces. If it is allowed to continue, it will spread to other fields.

It’s hard to see how anything short of a massive class-action lawsuit — one that dings tech giants for billions of dollars — will make Big Tech hire Xers, much less Boomers.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: At Some Point, Progressives Need to Grow a Pair and Stop Having Anything To Do With the Democratic Party

 

At a certain point, if you have any relationship with dignity, you’re supposed to get sick of being used and abused. Speaking of which: liberal Democrats.

Democratic politicians act like right-wingers. Liberals vote for them anyway.

The Democratic Party espouses right-wing policies. Self-described progressives give them cash.

Comedian Bill Maher gave them a million cash dollars — yet Democrats don’t agree with him on anything. Why? Because he hates Republicans even more.

Why didn’t Maher save his money? Or better yet, fund a group or a writer or an artist who promotes ideas he actually agrees with? Because he, like tens of millions of other liberals, are stuck in the two-party trap.

The relationship between liberals and Democrats is dysfunctional and enabling, abused pathetics sucking up to cruel abusers. Progressives like Maher are like a kid with two rotten parents. The dad drinks and hits him; the mom drinks less and hits him less. The best call is to run away from home — instead, most children in that situation will draw closer to their mothers.

Voting-age progressives, on the other hand, are adults. When will they kick the Democratic Party to the curb, as Ricki Lake used to say?

Probably not in time for 2016. But they ought to.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that the next presidential election promises nothing for liberals but more of the same: dismay, disappointment and disgust — in no small part with themselves.

Hillary Clinton, a conservative warmonger ideologically indistinguishable from Dwight Eisenhower, will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. But she isn’t really a Democrat. Traditionally, Democrats were pro-worker; she and her husband pushed through NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and a slew of free-trade scams that have destroyed American jobs and depressed salaries. Democrats cared about the poor; Hillary has never so much as suggested a substantial anti-poverty initiative. Democrats aren’t supposed to invade sovereign countries for the hell of it; Clinton repeatedly pushed WMD lies, voted to invade Iraq and still hasn’t apologized for the two million Iraqis whose deaths for which she shares responsity. Democrats want single-payer healthcare; instead, she created the template for Obamacare, which keeps rates high to protect insurance company profits.

Yet in today’s “Democratic” Party, Hillary is “inevitable.”

Yes, the highly resuméed, slightly accomplished ex-senator could face a challenge from the left. But not a real one. Even if party bosses allow an actual primary process (they did not in 2012), any primary challenge will be symbolic and impotent (hello Bernie Sanders), poorly funded and sad, raising the faded, tattered flag of liberalism in a quixotic bid to coat Hill’s coronation with a veneer of small-d democratic legitimacy.

If you’re a leftie, the Democratic establishment doesn’t care about your opinion. They certainly don’t want your input. What they want is your vote — in exchange for exactly nothing in return. They’re political parasites, draining the enthusiasm and idealism of progressives, simultaneously neutering and exploiting mainline libs.

Like a tick, mainline “centrist” (i.e. conservative) Democrats will suck you dry. First they misdirect your hope for real change. Then they extract your vote. By the time you realize you’ve been chomped, the buggers drop off, bloated on stolen power and wealth.

You’re left with drained political energy.

During the initial months following the election, you get angrier. You watch con artists like Obama take office, appoint right-wingers to the cabinet and ignore America’s victims — the poor at home, the bombed overseas. Off goes the president — your president, since you voted for him! — golfing and shooting hoops and vacaying on the Vineyard while millions lose their homes to illegal foreclosures, poverty soars, the military gins up new wars and expands old ones, Gitmo stays open and killer drone planes fill the skies. Eventually, of course, you get over it. You recover.

Then, two to four years later, the parasitical Dems are back to suck out whatever idealism you’ve managed to regenerate.

Progressive Democratic voters are understandably unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. After enduring her conservative Southern Democratic husband (major accomplishments: bombing Bosnia, ignoring Rwanda, NAFTA, trashing welfare) and Obama (major accomplishments: drones, Libya, Syria, Iraq again), they know what’s coming: more of the same. Because they’re not willing to ditch the Democratic Party, however, they’re trapped in a state of cognitive dissonance, unable to act in order to avoid certain disaster.

Thus progressives are resorting to ridiculously transparent non-tactics. For example: “deploy[ing] the spectral presence of [Elizabeth] Warren to extract as many [liberal] concessions as possible.”

“It’s not a crazy strategy,” libbies are told. “The mere thought of Warren seems to rattle the Clintons, who are haunted by the debacle of 2008.” Actually, it is crazy. Because the Clintons watch the news — and Warren ain’t running.

Noam Scheiber recently wrote a New Republic piece titled “How Hillary Won Over the Skeptical Left,” in which he argues…well, read the title. (Note: by “left,” Scheiber doesn’t mean left. He means centrist Obama supporters, who are slightly to the left of Hill.)

“It’s not that liberals don’t perceive some ideological distance between themselves and Hillary Clinton, at least as they become more informed,” writes Scheiber. Hillary became First Lady in 1993. What is there left to learn? “Nor is it that they recognize this gap and simply don’t care about it. It’s that, after the somewhat disillusioning experience of the Obama years, many actually consider this gap an advantage for Clinton.” In other words: we’re out to beat Republicans, not help poor people.

I’m quoting the following section from Scheiber’s piece at length because it supports my contention that, at this early stage, it is perfectly obvious that Hillary Clinton will screw over progressives. Not only is it evident that she will break their hearts, it is clear how she will go about it.

So let’s say Democrats’ faith in Clinton is rewarded and she wins the presidency. Here is how the 2016 transition is likely to play out. Having talked about inequality during the primaries, and maybe even the general election, she will feel pressure to appoint economists who know something about the issue. She will pluck a few advisers from the reserve army of liberals at think tanks like the Center for American Progress (home to many former Clinton White House aides over the years), the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But as the transition goes on, liberals will notice a disconcerting shift. They will watch most of the senior posts in her Treasury Department go to alumni of Wall Street. They will see her fill out the top echelons of financial regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency—with banking-industry lawyers. They will even notice bankers turning up in agencies with little role in finance, like the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. Though any one appointment may be justified—the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance should probably have a finance background, for example—the larger mass of Wall Street transplants will create a stubborn level of groupthink. Their skepticism toward policies like a financial transactions tax, aggressive prosecution of financial-market crime, and breaking up the megabanks will ensure they never happen.

Don’t come back in 2017 and say you were surprised.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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