IT has the reputation of being a young person's game.

Average tech workers are portrayed in media and industry lore as  20-somethings who spent their youth tinkering with code and playing video games.

The 40-something tech worker who cut his teeth on such technologies as mainframe computing? Let's hope he cashed in on the first dot-com boom or this second wave, because otherwise, his tech career is coming to an end.

In truth, nothing could be further from the truth, say IT recruiters and human resources staff contacted for this article.

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"When IT workers hit their 40s and 50s, they have an advantage to workers in other industries," Eli Halabu, managing director with Miami-based Ascendo Resources, told CMSWire. "As technology is a comparatively new and ever-growing industry, those tech professionals will not only learn the latest advancements, but know the root of them as well. " 

That kind of perspective is truly invaluable, Halabu said, "and gives them a much deeper understanding in their daily work."

Still, that image of the geeky-yet-socially-aware 25-year-old tech genius is hard to vanquish (and, to be sure, it certainly does exist). So consider how IT recruiters really view the value offered by the seasoned tech worker.

The Appeal of the 20-Something Worker

It's there, said Larry Williams, senior vice president of the national IT practice at Chicago-based Addison Group. "In general, we have seen that some companies prefer the 20-something candidates due to the desire for a fresh candidate that is moldable. On the flip side, some clients prefer the middle-aged workers   because they are more well-rounded, battle tested and may take less time to get up to speed. The exception is the middle-aged worker who is resistant to change, has not grown at their company and does not invest in retooling their skills for newer technologies."

Experience Counts

 IT is a unique industry where experience, over conventional education, is paramount, Halabu said. "Managers need the job done properly, quickly, and efficiently. They rely on those with deep understanding and experience as the cornerstones of their teams.  I have yet to meet a manager that wants someone with less experience when building added to their team."

The Mainframe isn’t Dead

IBM has been making this case for years and it is more than just marketing speak. Mainframes are definitely not obsolete, especially in the healthcare and financial industries, Halabu said. "Those industries have yet to adopt the cloud on a broad scale, and with such sensitive information, they need to be secure and working properly at all times. In IT, experience trumps all and skilled workers will be the ones called upon to support the existing systems."

Still, it is important not to count on the mainframe as a staple in the computing industry forever, Williams said. "It is not cutting edge and workers that have not adapted from those specific older technologies are paid less and viewed as fixed overhead."

The good ones, he said, have carved out a niche and if they are willing to travel, they can find specific companies that are still running mainframes. "The candidates that are high in demand are the mainframe developers that know how to phase out the old tech and implement the newer technologies."

The Underrated Roles of Mentors 

This generation is also valued because of their mentoring skills, which benefits both groups, said Amit Parmar, HR director of Unisys Technology Products. "Millennials gain company-specific knowledge and the rich history from the mentors, the mentors learn about and potentially develop cutting-edge skills from the millennials and the company benefits from this interaction as we transfer knowledge and increase innovation," he told CMSWire.

Title image by Juan Escobedo  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.