August 30, 2020

Being Malleable

I was reading Hacker News comments and someone was complaining about how they weren’t able to find a job in computers anymore due to ageism in tech. Reading this, something occurred to me which I thought was worth writing about, which is the idea of malleability.

First of all, I agree that ageism in tech is a thing and it’s a problem for experienced people trying to find a new job. In a capitalist society you want to hire the cheapest employees who can “get the job done”, and experience is often grossly under weighted. My hypothesis for why it occurs has to do with the fact that some people perceive more experienced technologists as more expensive and less malleable.

What do I mean by that? When it comes to hiring people, you generally want people who are open to new ideas and doing things different. In my experience the most difficult people to work with are those who are set in their ways and don’t want to do things differently. To be fair, sometimes it’s better to avoid thinking outside the box when the core proficiency of your business is not creating new technology.

Malleability as a technologist working in technology is important for a variety of reasons, but for starters let’s consider technology itself. Technology is the application of the scientific method to various applications or industries in order to solve problems. It is, by definition, a process of exploration and experimentation.

As a technologist one must be tolerant of inevitable failures along the path to creating a finished product, process, or whathaveyou. Malleability is about adapting, being tolerant of change, and having a certain expectation that in order to make progress you must have change, and change inevitably leads to regressions and failures. Being set in your ways, i.e., not malleable, is a failure in and of itself if you are a technologist.

I think discriminating against older technologists is dumb (because experience is incredibly valuable). If you’re talented, experienced, and find yourself being rejected in job interviews by 20-somethings who believe they’ve already achieved enlightenment, I’d suggest you hang in there and keep doing what you’re doing, but try to present yourself as being a little more malleable.


© 2020 Brenden Matthews, some rights reserved.