There are good and bad ways to be on the cutting edge at work. Getting your tongue pierced or dressing like the latest pop idol are bad ways. Good ways, as some older technology workers know, include learning the latest programming techniques or staying current through listservs and blogs.
Age discrimination and bias, burnout and the pressure to keep skills current are all issues older techies face. Some workers contend companies prefer young, comparatively cheap talent to those with more experience.
Is Company Culture Excluding You?
Even if company executives and hiring managers don't admit it -- and they don't -- they may favor younger candidates, simply because these workers seem more in tune with company culture.
For example, the computer and video game industry "in terms of work practices and quality of life, does lend itself to the young Turk with all kinds of energy, jacked up on caffeine and willing to become, basically, an indentured slave," says Jason Della Rocca, executive director for the International Game Developers Association. "It is very exciting, challenging and mentally stimulating, but it does attract those willing to sacrifice everything."
Learn to Brag
"When you go to a conference, do you arrange to talk about it to people in your company?" asks Judith Gerberg, past president of the Career Counselors Consortium. Learn to bolster "extroverted communication skills," says Gerberg. Tell others about your activities and accomplishments. Share your conference or professional group experiences at meetings.
Build a Blog
Online journals or weblogs are not for everyone, but if you have something to say, especially within the IT realm, keeping a blog can convey the image of a nimble-minded, forward-thinking techie, no matter what your age. Check out sites like Slashdot and Geekswithblogs.net for links to techie blogs.
"The need to maintain a certain level of hipness, or currentness, in the game industry is particularly acute," says Della Rocca. "It requires you to be in the know."
The same is true for other IT specialties. If you're not working with the latest technologies at your job, catch up. Learning a hot methodology such as Web 2.0 conveys an up-to-date professional image to your boss or potential employers.
Work on Open-Source Projects
Contributing to an open-source project signals to employers that you're willing to explore something that's new to many of your peers.
Never Stop Learning
Spend time and money updating your skills. "You have to invest in your training," says Gerberg. Consider online or classroom courses. Note recent classes on your resume and mention books during interviews.
Teach a Course
Experience and expertise are related. How do you highlight expertise? Teach a course at a local college -- adjunct professors are often in demand -- to showcase your communication skills and help your resume stand out.
Be a Leader
Companies expect older workers to have leadership experience, even if they are not seeking management jobs. Leadership can mean anything from a stint as a project manager to volunteering in your community. Getting involved in a local IT organization can help show you're serious about your career.
Hiring managers like to see enthusiasm and passion from job seekers. Burnout is a turnoff. "If you're 45 or 50 and still playing games, that would be a huge check mark in your favor," says Della Rocca. "It's like a universal language if you can talk about the game you're playing. That would break down a certain amount of the age barrier."