Sign up FAST! Login

Silicon's Valley's Brutal Ageism | New Republic

Stashed in: Founders, Venture Capital!, Silicon Valley!, Winner take all., Awesome, @paulg, Google FAIL, inequality, Aging

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:


Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’ ”

In talking to dozens of people around Silicon Valley over the past eight months—engineers, entrepreneurs, moneymen, uncomfortably inquisitive cosmetic surgeons—I got the distinct sense that it’s better to be perceived as naïve and immature than to have voted in the 1980s.1 And so it has fallen to Matarasso to make older workers look like they still belong at the office. “It’s really morphed into, ‘Hey, I’m forty years old and I have to get in front of a board of fresh-faced kids. I can’t look like I have a wife and two-point-five kids and a mortgage,’ ” he told me.

Paul Graham believes VCs think 32 is over the hill:

The only question was what to invest in. “I could see the reality was I had two choices,” Scheinman told me. “One, I could do what everyone else was doing, which is a losing strategy unless you have the most capital.” The alternative was to try to identify a niche that was somehow perceived as less desirable and was therefore less competitive. Finally, during a meeting with two bratty Zuckerberg wannabes, it hit him: Older entrepreneurs were “the mother of all undervalued opportunities.”2 Indeed, of all the ways that V.C.s could be misled, the allure of youth ranked highest. “The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32,” Paul Graham told The New York Times in 2013. “After 32, they start to be a little skeptical.”

The economics of the V.C. industry help explain why. Investing in new companies is fantastically risky, and even the best V.C.s fail a large majority of the time. That makes it essential for the returns on successes to be enormous. Whereas a 500 percent return on a $2 million investment (or “5x,” as it’s known) would be considered remarkable in any other line of work, the investments that sustain a large V.C. fund are the “unicorns” and “super-unicorns” that return 100x or 1,000x—the Googles and the Facebooks.

Google fail:

ust because overt age-discrimination is illegal doesn’t mean it never happens. In 2011, Google settled a multimillion-dollar claim brought by a computer scientist named Brian Reid, who had been fired when he was 54. Reid said colleagues and supervisors had frequently referred to him as “an old man” and “an old fuddy-duddy” whose ideas were “too old to matter.” They allegedly joked that his CD cases should be called LPs. A labor lawyer I spoke with told me he recently got a call from a thirtysomething supervisor at a start-up who said her job was at risk because the team she was managing—most of them ten years younger—had rejected her on account of her age. “She was being referred to as a ‘den mother,’ ” says the lawyer. “If no one is following your lead, you’re not much of a supervisor.”

In 1999, a consultant named Freada Klein began a five-year “quality of work” study of 22 start-ups, whose employees she anonymously surveyed on a regular basis. Though Klein found that few of the companies copped to overt discrimination, many confessed to having elaborate points-based systems for evaluating job candidates, in which they deducted points for being married, having kids, and living in the suburbs. The older candidates were quite literally being held to a higher standard.Still, ageism in Silicon Valley is usually more subtle: an extra burden of proof on the middle-aged to show they can hack it, on a scale very few workers of their vintage must deal with anywhere else. “People presume an older developer learned some trade skill five to ten years ago and has been coasting on it ever since,” says a 40-plus developer whose department consists mostly of 20-year-olds.

In other instances, middle-aged people had to show they weren’t schoolmarm-ish authority figures out to stifle fun and creativity—parents, in other words. “A number of times, people said or wrote in survey comments something like, ‘We don’t want anybody’s parents in here,’ ” says Klein. “ ‘It’s too weird to have someone as old as my parents reporting to me.’ ” Many were referring to candidates in their forties.

Often the discrimination comes veiled in that vaguest of tech-world concepts: culture. One recent trend in Silicon Valley recruiting is for job candidates to interview with a programmer at their level or below after they’ve cleared every other bar in the hiring process. Ostensibly, the point is to make sure a candidate meshes with the whole team, a perfectly noble impulse. In practice, it’s frequently a tool for weeding out older applicants. 

And yet, age ain't nothing but a number:

The whole premise of youthful innovation isn’t even true. It turns out older people have historically been just as “disruptive” as younger people. A 2005 paper by Benjamin Jones of the National Bureau of Economic Research studied Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics over the past 100 years, as well as the inventors of revolutionary technologies. Jones found that people in their thirties contributed about 40 percent of the innovations, and those in their forties about 30 percent. People over 50 were responsible for 14 percent, the same share as the twentysomethings. Those under the age of 19 were responsible for exactly nothing. One study found that even over the last ten years—the golden age of the prepubescent coder, the youth-obsessed V.C., and the consumer Internet app—the average age of a founder who could claim paternity for a billion-dollar company was a rickety 34.

However much age and experience may grind down the rest of us, it is simply impossible to generalize to that tiny fraction of people so brilliant and driven as to be capable of creating the next Google. “You’re searching for patterns among outliers,” says one skeptical V.C. “The whole exercise on its face is logically absurd.” It is far more apt to think of these freakish specimen as though they fall out of the sky rather than emerge from any predictable feature of human behavior. By definition, they are different from us in almost every way. There’s no reason to believe they would age like us.

In the world of bubble economics, it is wise to time your birth (assuming you don't choose rich parents) so that you are at the right age (and have correct interests) when the bubble starts to inflate. 

It is wise to get lucky.


Meanwhile a young woman from Little Rock 

starts to take her place as anointed leader of humanity with her friends. 

So I find it very troubling that so many of my friends who are doing important and often disruptive work, whether it's in technology startups or the social sector or beyond, aren't thinking about how to translate those experiences -- and their desire to see our country be stronger and healthier than ever before -- into possibly entering into the political arena. 

Will the young Clinton admit it was her parents and friends' parents that have been f'n the world up for the last 30 years?

What is so disturbing is that they are so clueless about the real state of the world. (Or they just don't care and act like they do)

Being born to power or writing amazing code does not automatically give you the wisdom to do anything of value. 

Please just go be rich and stop making it worse.  

Wait, why are Spain and Greece doing worse than the rest?

Basically money (loans, bonds, property bubble crazy wall st financial products) tanked their economies much in the same way US financials crashed. 

The difference is the US sells paper in it own currency so as long as there is demand they can bail out, load a Fed balance sheet and keep borrowing. 

Spain and Greece have different internal problems, but the main problem is the can't print Euros.   The EU (Germany) and IMF are punishing them with "bailouts" that protect bond holders and crush the populations with "austerity" measures  

Did you see the protests in Spain this past week ? Insane. 

Take a virtual trip to Detroit.  Or how  Puerto Rico is near default and just got screwed on a 3.5 billion dollar bond issue just to cover interest payments on I think 75 billion outstanding. 

Pension powerhouse Franklin Templeton owns 1/3 of Ukrainian bond issues and hoping desperately for IMF help but they also owe 11 billion to Russia and China a chunk as well. 

It is a Plate spinning circus act, but lets just keep pretending politicians, tech geniuses, vc's and twenty central bankers have it under control and most importantly algo trading desks keep the numbers balanced. 

The dot com bubble was run of the mill speculation bubble, real estate was over zealous banks, this is now the very nature of economics based on sovereign states. 

Occupy Movements got shut down with a few canisters of tear gas at choice locations.   That won't happen in Kiev and maybe Spain Greece etc. 

You cannot destroy the lives of millions of people and think they are not going to burn your house down.  

But really, all you smart people keep working on the next bird game ap 

Actually, none of the smart people came up with the flappy bird game app.

That was a quiet Vietnamese kid.

Most of the smart people aren't rich, interestingly enough.

I'm guessing that's because wealth is a winner-take-all system.

Ok Candy Crush (I was thinking angry birds) which IPOs tomorrow 

You get my point

The whole conceit of Silicon Valley is an outlier...just with a lot of cash.  Meh.

Actually neither King (Candy Crush) nor Rovio (Angry Birds) is American. 

They're both from Scandinavian countries: King from Sweden and Rovio from Finland. 

Ok Adam, I am not only talking about  USA and still not the point of rants. Besides Rovio got started with a Nokia and HP contest and investors Accel Partners, Palo Alto, Atomico, London... 

Technology of any type, especially that geared to entertainment or advertisement (Pandora Spotify Facebook .....) can do nothing to address structural issues in the global economy. 

Global debt clock and map.

Global debt and currency flows have to go somewhere. 

Human capital has to flow somewhere. 

If you look at economics as aggregates like classical fed models you "fuck it all up."

It has to be viewed with greater complexity over time, space, and demographics. 

Start with time zero 1998 tech bubble.  (Oversimplified due to sleeping baby that keeps waking up)

Bubble pops and while stock prices crashed cash rose and flowed to real estate.  As RE bubbled it ran out of qualified buyers so to keep going it went subprime.   SP fails and bad financial instruments crash firms which crashed everything which leads to more inflating and web/social bubbles, and aggregate equities.  .... Just watch IPOs as they always decrease in substance at end. 

We are the magic 5 years into it. 


What are the problems, billionaires are made? Who is hurt? Hell Paulson made billions on crashing RE and rolling it to gold which bubbled and burst. 

Everyone is hurt (except maybe billionaires). The reason is bubbles create oligopolies that both compete and engage in collusion. (Wage fixing and illegal HR policies anyone).  Then the crash takes them more to monopolies, which become to big to fail, so the next inflate makes them even bigger (JP Morgan, Citi, GS) (FB Google apple Microsoft amazon .....) (Cargill Monsanto....Exxon Chevron....) The aggregate policies create possibility of oligopolies and monopolies. 

What this article was saying is that not only are new players taking in billions, are are restricting to place and worse people. 

A smart sustainable growing system will be spread out over space and time.  You don't build a sun you build a solar system.  You don't use your friends and frat brothers, you use both sexes and all ages with different cultures across regions. 

Personally I am playing the next bubble (by accident but never the less).  Pittsburgh will become a fracking center.  It will completely destroy the environment but our real estate will explode as there is limited stock. ... And we will be gone. 

You should see the change with a tiny google office and Range Resources propaganda.  I lived at a beautiful house my parents owned on 40 acres. Now a fracking site and trashed.  It is horrible but will happen. We are in the first years of 20 year cycle. The coasts are at the end of theirs. Anytime you see an increase in budding wars, insider activity and discriminatory activities it is near the end.  (Not to mention huge expensive ornate buildings)

Lather rinse repeat (not sure why bold type, sorry )

No problem with the bold.

Part of the problem with winner-take-all systems is that non-winners cannot begin to win.

Is that the gist of what you're saying?

Sort of, but I want winning and improving I don't want binge and purge and worship of twenty year old bodies, when healthy eating can keep things healthy for generations. 

In my neighborhood the big industry pre steel was meat packing and tanneries. It was huge until it was so repulsive it moved to Chicago.  Then it became glass and steel ... It was so concentrated that when it busted areas will never recover.  Pittsburgh is coming back but Detroit is gone and Cleveland is touch and go. 

We could probably frack in the area for a long time but it is a race to destroy everything. Much like all drill baby drill offshores. 

Tech and finance bubbles do not seem as bad because they are cleaner, but all bubbles are bad.  The higher Ed bubble is bursting and taking down lower tier schools and presidents are making more and fewer are willing and able to be professors. Let the adjuncts reign. 

And down goes candy crush. 

The worst part is all the winners take credit for what is actually a mass psychosis controlling the liquidity flow. 

Even the great S Jobs was a victim, he just was skilled enough to catch two waves of bubble.  

Compare that to Soros, who does nothing but rides and pops bubbles. His best comments are that systems should be such that he could not exist. Or, when you see a bubble forming buy it. 

Some people really do seem to truly enjoy riding bubbles.

It's not just the money but the enjoyment of it for them.

Systemic perspectives are always fun, swinging from one extreme of polemic conspiracy theories to the other anchored in bad behavioral economics.  And it's only ever entertaining when it reaches a percussive rant.

When we look at the situation dispassionately there's not much to discuss because it only takes a few, simple algorithms of prescriptive human behavior to create positively buffered systems...those that work until they collapse.

The more interesting questions are: 

1. "Is intervention possible?"  If so, 

2. "Who will intervene to change the systemic feedback loops?"

3. "What's the evidence for us to know it's working?"

Aside from those answers, our narrative can only evolve into wannabe fiction or not ready for prime time reality shows, which ain't bad, but...well, you know–meh.

Are the feedback loops change-able? Or is it flawed logic to even think such a thing possible?

You May Also Like: