Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that employers prefer younger engineers over one who is 50 or older. But a new study suggests the peril of that position.
In "Is Programming Knowledge Related to Age?", a recent paper by Patrick Morrison and Emerson Murphy-Hill, the authors ran a big-data experiment to see if aging developers have trouble with the latest technology.
The experiment is somewhat crudely-crafted (perhaps the study's authors are graybeards). By tracking responses to questions on Stack Overflow they correlate the site's "reputation" statistics against age. Interestingly the vast majority of participants on that site are youngsters, clustered around 29.
In my recent experience, the ones doing the hiring are the HR people. Often these are 20 somethings that hire based on a list of requirements. The one who most closely matches the list gets the job. Looking for somebody with experience on an Intel 8045678B processor? To them the an Intel 8045678C is NOT the same even if they really are the same. Its like looking for a truck driver with experience driving a Ford, driving a Chevy truck is not the same.... even if it is. Plus all of us gray beards learned how to do CAD on the job and never took College classes in it. Why? Because we learned to do it BEFORE it was offered in College. We learn everything before they teach it in College. But to the people in HR it means.... "no formal training". The people actually in the Engineering departments love us because we have a mountain of skills. The people in HR who do the hiring have no idea that its THEM that don't understand the requirements.
I was once teaching a customer class on the Microwave EDA software we sell and about half the students were young guy, just out of college, the other half were older than 50, like myself. After a leacture session, I would give them a hands-on lab to do. The "young guns" would have it all done in a few minutes, while the older guys would tend to work through each step and try to understand what they were doing at each step. I decided to ask some of the the younger guys about what they had just done, and virtually all of them had no clue, they simply had followed the steps to complete the lab. After that I decided to rearrange the class so that one mentor and one young stud sat next to each other. It turned out to be one of the best classes I've ever taught. The younger guys would help the older guys with the computer work, while the older guys would explain to them at each step what was really going on.
Older engineers can become a problem for a project when they don't respect the opinion of their younger colleagues. I think, we all should always benefit from the experience of our older colleagues and from the new ideas of the younger ones.
Yes, it's certainly all about the cost. But do you really think older engineers cost that much more than younger engineers? Ever hear of 'graduate creep'? I know a young girl who just graduated with a Nursing degree who is making $80K in NYC. I doubt if it's much different for engineering grads...
I have had very similar experiences while teaching classes! some 'older' engineers would take longer on a couple of examples but were cruising thru the rest and had better understanding of what the problems were attempting to teach.