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No Place for Age Bias

I found the Leading Edge column “Over the Hill at 40” in the September 2011 Prism to be extremely offensive.  Although the author claims to not share the age bias mind-set of Mark Zuckerberg, the following quotes from the article make me wonder:

  • “After all, the (fresh) graduate is likely to have more up-to-date skills and will work harder (than an older worker).”
  • “I didn’t pay older workers the same salaries they made at their peak, though.  Most often, I paid a worker with 30 years of experience the same wage as someone with 10.  These workers were always grateful …”
  • “They also need to prepare for the salaries to fall as they approach their 50s.”

Why would anyone want to work in an industry that treats its workers this way?  I doubt that his views accurately describe engineering in general but perhaps his corner of it.  It is a shame the column appears in the same issue as “Seeing and Doing,” which describes the efforts of engineering faculty to keep their students in engineering.

I wonder if the author would fly in an airplane designed by entry-level engineers.

— Allen Plotkin
Professor of Aerospace Engineering
San Diego State University

Columnist Vivek Wadhwa replies:

Allen, I am sorry that I offended you, but this is the harsh reality that your students will face when they graduate. This is why we have so many middle-aged engineers in the ranks of the unemployed. Sadly, this is not a small corner of engineering, but the tech industry as a whole. Most engineering professors don’t understand the dynamics of the real world and they don’t prepare their students adequately. That is why I felt compelled to bring this issue to the surface. And to answer your question, I wouldn’t want to fly in a plane designed by entry-level engineers, but if I were developing a new social media app, I would prefer to hire a fresh engineering graduate.


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