Saturday, June 08, 2013

Does it suck to be an old engineer? An old entrepreneur? An old VC?

I paused when I read a recent snippet from an older engineer:
http://bit.ly/15Lcjm9
"At my recent 40th Stanford reunion, everyone I knew who had stuck with engineering (as opposed to becoming an entrepreneur or a VC) was either unemployed or in fear of becoming so. A woman from my freshman dorm told me her brother who’d gone to MIT was also unemployed as were many of his classmates.

When not even a Stanford or MIT engineering degree is good enough to keep an engineer employed at 60, there is genuinely no market for engineers that age. Plan accordingly."
As the holder of just such a Stanford engineering degree, I felt the cold chill of fear, even though the quote specifically excepted entrepreneurs and VCs from the ageism.

There are reasons it's hard for an older engineer--the hot technologies of today are considered tired and out of date within 5 years.  Meanwhile, the computer science schools (including folks overseas like IIT) keep cranking out young, cheap(er) engineers who have no lives and are willing to work insane hours.

(Side note: I do think this is more true of coders; my dad has a Ph.D. in solid-state engineering, and is still employed today at the age of 70.  But I don't think the fundamental technologies involved in fabricating semiconductors change every 5 years; they simply miniaturize and evolve.)

Yet the same thing is true of entrepreneurs and VCs.  Do you really want a VC who doesn't understand new technologies?  (This is a cue for wags to say, "I'd settle for a VC who understands any technology.  Instant rimshot.)  And if you're an entrepreneur, how far are you going to get if you don't "get" the latest technologies and market developments?

The sad thing is, there are definite advantages to age.  People who have been through the wars know which traps to avoid.  They also tend to be much lower drama, having realized that starting a holy war over which framework to use just isn't worth it.

The key is to stay current on trends.  When you combine current knowledge with wisdom, you have a truly powerful combination.  But employers have to be open-minded enough to look for and value it.

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