I recently started a new job, and I started working with an older product manager on my team. By “older” I don’t mean someone in their 40s… but a man in his 60s.
Let’s call him Mike. Mike is a total baller. He’s a wealth of information about geospatial (the industry I now work in.) Mike always has a solution to a problem, because he’s been around the block. Mike once lived in an ashram. I’m pretty sure he partied with some famous people in the 70s. He knows everything about HD maps. I’m blown away by how much information he holds in his brain.
The tech industry is rife with age discrimination, but no one talks about it. Gender has become an important and much-discussed topic in recent years, and companies are taking active steps to hire, train, and promote more women.
But no one is talking about age. We work in an industry where youth is prized and baby geniuses are celebrated. Although I’ve worked with many badass women in my career, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any over the age of 45. This is sad… and also scary, since all of us will one day be over the age of 45.
Which brings me back to Mike. Mike is a huge asset to our team. Mike is a great product manager, a wealth of information, and now a mentor.
Here are three reasons you should befriend the ‘older product manager’ in your office.
1 - S/he has a different user perspective that is often overlooked.
Perhaps the product you work on is only used by Millennials (or you think it’s a product that is only useful for Millennials). If you’re a product manager that works on enterprise products, or any product that does (or could) span various age-ranges, older people on your team can provide valuable user perspectives that are often overlooked.
As product people, we consciously work towards inclusiveness in our customer research, but I rarely see much emphasis on researching different age groups. Older age groups are routinely overlooked. I often hear the excuse “well, old people won’t use this product!” Yet when I go home for Thanksgiving, my 68-year-old father asks me about different apps on his iPad, which service he should use for streaming music, and how to hook up an Apple TV. He even uses Square to sell his art at fairs in the summer, and he set it up himself.
People in older age groups do use technology, and their input should be part of user research.
2 - S/he can draw on valuable past experiences.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “history repeats itself.”
Mike, the older product manager I now work with, knows everything about the geospatial industry. He’s owned his own AI consulting firm. He’s up-to-date on the latest machine learning and data science technologies and has a keen knack for remembering even the smallest details. He knows all the players in the autonomous vehicle space.
He’s just super, super smart.
Whenever I’m stuck, Mike immediately has ideas, probably because he’s thought through many more problems in his lifetime than I have. He often has suggestions for possible solutions that I haven’t even thought about. He thinks about the big picture, and possible outcomes that I haven’t thought through yet.
(As Little Finger famously told Sansa, “Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.”)
3 - S/he can discern what’s worth stressing over, and what’s not.
When I was in my 20s, I wasted a lot of time stressing about small stuff that wasn’t really important. Now in my 30s, I have a different perspective about what’s actually important.
As product managers, prioritizing effectively is a very important part of our job. Those with more experience - particularly people in their 50s and 60s - can sometimes more easily discern which problems need attention most urgently, and which aren’t worth stressing about. I think this just comes innately with experience.
We will all be older someday. I will be older someday. I hope to still be working in tech.
Next time you make a blanket statement like, “Oh Susie is old. She doesn’t get it,” - pause for a moment . Maybe you’ve never said such a think out loud, but we’ve all (most likely) had this thought before, whether at work or talking to our parents.
Instead of succumbing to your unconscious bias, have a conversation with Susie to learn more about her, her experiences, and what she knows. Tap into Susie’s knowledge and you may unexpectedly find a wealth of information you didn’t know you had access to.