By now, just about everyone knows that Mark Zuckerberg, 26, is the world’s youngest billionaire. He’s not the only one under forty here in Silicon Valley. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for example, who founded Google, are both in their mid-thirties, while Steve Jobs and Woz created Apple in their twenties, around the same age that Bill Gates founded Microsoft. The computer industry and Silicon Valley were started by young people, and even as Steve Jobs, Woz, and Gates contend with gray receding hair lines and a growing paunch, the youthful culture that they created is alive and well here—at least according to a survey conducted by Business Pulse.

The survey, conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, found that 27 percent of the people interviewed claimed to have experienced age discrimination on the job. 14 percent said that it occurred at their current job, while another 29 percent said that it may not have happened to them, but it happened to someone they know. Only 11 percent said that age discrimination didn’t happen.

Of course, if Steve Jobs went looking for a new job, it’s very unlikely that his new employers would turn him down because he was too old and stodgy. The problem is with programmers or people in managerial positions. The situation is not quite as extreme as portrayed in The Social Network, where Facebook’s first interns were hired on the basis of their ability to hack while downing shots.  On the other hand, some people explained that the people who are doing the hiring are often inexperienced and have “a mental picture” of the ideal candidate before they even walk in the door. This, one respondent said, is especially problematic for women.

To test the hypothesis further, a technical writer applied for a job using a made-up persona—someone fifteen years younger from Asia. He was called for an interview. In a blog post describing what happened next, he explained how he told the recruiter the truth, and was called for an interview anyways. Things went downhill from there. He was told that he had held too many jobs (five in twenty years), even though his predecessor held three in ten years. He noted that the company was looking for employees straight out of college, but asked, “Isn’t this preference effective age bias?”

In September, reported on a similar phenomenon that occurred at Intel in 2006. A large group of managers over the age of fifty were laid off in what became known as ““The 1,000 Manager March.” Intel attributed the layoffs to restructuring and performance, but the people who were laid off felt differently.

While the problem is never couched in terms of, “You’re too old,” there is an attitude of “out with the old and in with the new.” The excuses given range from “You are overqualified” to “You have higher salary expectations,” but the problem remains the same—once your age starts showing, your desirability recedes like your hairline.

At Intel, the managers who were laid off filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They actually won, just last month, four years after they were laid off. But they are the exception, not the rule. Only 3 percent of similar complaints with the EEOC result in similar rulings.
Read More at the Business Journal.