If you go to an amusement park or carnival perhaps you’ll find a person that can try to guess your age for a prize. I wonder if eventually these people get really good at it. I don’t think I would do too well, because my internal compass for age isn’t very accurate. Instead of having 4 cardinal points and 3 divisions in between (between N and W is NNW, NW, and WNW) I’m just left with a compass that has four sections. The numbers are very rounded, so telling the difference between someone in their 30s from 40s becomes a challenge.
Fortunately this doesn’t work into my day-to-day so I almost never have to worry about it. I don’t think I’ll quit my job in the I.T. sector to go join a carnival in the near future. Starting at about my early teenage years I’ve been told I look younger than I actually am. This is not something a teenager wants to hear, but it was always followed with “you’ll be glad for that when you get older.” Well, they were wrong. In the world of technology, and especially when job hunting, looking younger can be a problem.
You see, with age comes wisdom. Similarly age runs parallel to expertise. There are exceptions to every rule, and undoubtedly there are people advanced in their years that have done little to further their education. You can be wise, but lack expertise at the same time. Also you can have a load of expertise while missing some basic wisdoms. What I’m trying to get across is that these are directly correlated.
In the world of Information Technology, which I find myself submerged in, a lack of expertise is not something you advertise. Nobody wants to employ the uneducated, after all. If you want to give someone money to handle your technology you want to know that they know what they’re doing. So it is in my best interest to give off the appearance of expertise. Hearkening back to expertise and apparent age, if I look young then it will be harder to find a job. It’s hard to say what uneventful job interviews were affected by this, but there is no doubt in my mind that my younger face eventually played a small part. Perhaps this effect wasn’t intentional. If I’m optimistic I’ll tell myself that when the interviews were over the decision makers didn’t consider my age, but that it affected their “feeling” about me.
Whatever the case may be I have found an inverse effect. At my job my age was brought up in casual conversation one day. I’m the youngest on my team, and my actual age was a surprise to someone. However, they thought that I was older than I actually was. How can I be mistaken for a younger person for so many years only for this to change? My only hypothesis is that it’s because of my proven expertise. Since I have been at my current position I have had the opportunity to showcase what I have learned.
The person that was surprised was hired for a similar role, but his expertise was in a different field. He had spent many years getting an education in another field, and is now learning the ropes in a pseudo-software development environment. Of course being formally trained in this area I have much more expertise than this person, even though I’m easily a decade younger. So, since this person only ever knew me by the expertise that I had shown they assumed that with it came age. Their knowledge actually changed the way I was perceived.
I would like to believe that in a perfect world we wouldn’t judge books by covers. However, we’re only human. And humankind has spent generations and countless years depending on interacting in a society, using sight as one of our primary senses. Judging a book by its cover actually has some evolutionary advantage in perceiving threat and opportunity. Given this I don’t think it will ever be possible to completely eliminate this flaw from the world. We have to care about our appearance. It’s built into our society. So we will continue to judge books by covers, but at least we can lean this flaw in the right direction to offset it. It’s a social bandage, a temporary fix for a larger problem that I am far from the right person to try to solve. So, in the meantime I’ll keep trying to prove myself to others and hope that my age never becomes an obstacle.