Monday, August 22, 2016

Gray Hair in Tech

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
–Mark Twain

I recently read Winer's comments about the lack of older people in tech. Just a day earlier my 79 year-old mother headed back to New York after visiting me for a week. She had some concerns about traveling alone which had me thinking...

An old person is someone at least 20 years older than you. When we encounter people, we make judgements by fitting them into a persona or applying a label we've experienced which can help or hinder our view of the true reality. A 20 year old's view of a person in their 40s or 50s is that of their parents, their view of a person in their 60s or 70s is that of their grandparents.

Today, as I waited at a bus stop, a slow moving woman, close to 80 years old, headed in my direction. As she approached me I wondered if she was homeless, looking for a handout. Stopping in front of me, she held out her hand with some change in it and said, "Could you help me? Are these two quarters or two nickels?"

After I answered her she said, "I have trouble seeing, could you tell me when the 215 bus comes?" I immediately realized that she could be my own mother asking similar questions while traveling through the airport, such as where a particular gate or baggage claim carousel is located.

I told her that I'd let her know when her bus was arriving and, at that point, I decided I'd wait until this nearly blind lady got on her bus which arrived about two minutes later. She's was extremely grateful.

So, now that I'm "old," let me go back to when I was in my 30s, as a software engineer at Apple. I worked with an older, gray-haired, software engineer and my perception (misperception) of him was, "Why is this guy still coding in his mid 40s? Why isn't he in management?" At 40, software engineers are taken out back and shot, or promoted into management.

So, therein lies the issue – I, too was part of the problem, back then and now I'm on the receiving end.

It's a fact of life that people will judge you based on how you look, smell, dress, age, poise, presence, etc.

So it's key to have to have a lot of experiences and an open mind.

Note: I originally drafted this last October, but didn't publish it until today.