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I Was Told I Was Too Old for a New Tech Job. Now I'm Fighting Back. I've been to 92 countries and earned an income in every one of them. This is the first time in my career that I've ever had more than 24 hours that I have not been employed somewhere.

By Tim Paradis

Key Takeaways

  • Vern Six shared his encounter with age discrimination after a recruiter questioned his tech career.
  • Following a viral post about his experience, Six started a LinkedIn group to fight ageism.
  • He would like to work in tech again while building his fundraising company, Purpose Brew Coffee.
Vern Six Courtesy Vern Six via Business Insider

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Vern Six, 58, who has worked in tech for over three decades. After getting laid off from a contract job, he updated his LinkedIn profile to indicate he was open to work. A recruiter contacted him and expressed surprise at how long Six had been in tech. Six, who lives near Waco, Texas, with his wife, posted about his experience with what he saw as ageism. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

I've been in tech as a developer, a senior engineer, principal software engineer — whatever you want to call it — for 37 years. My career has ranged from three-month to four-year engagements. I'm almost always hired as an independent contractor.

After I got laid off, I got a phone call from a recruiter, which happens a lot. He said, "Hey, I've got your résumé. Can you spare a few minutes?" I said, "Sure."

So, he went to pull up my LinkedIn profile. He goes, "Oh, wow, you've been doing this for a long time." It was like he'd never read my résumé, which was 12 pages long and listed every project I ever had.

Then he goes, "With 37 years in this business, I'm surprised you're not a CTO." He said, "That's going to be a hard sell. I don't even know if I can pitch you to any of my clients. They're all going to wonder why you're not a CTO or at the C-level." I was like, "Did you just say that?"

I think I responded to him in a way my mom would not necessarily be very proud of. Then I hung up. He was really hateful.

After my post on LinkedIn about his call went viral, he begged me to take it down and not be naming and shaming. I probably have no less than 200 emails from attorneys wanting to represent me to go after this guy. But I'm just like, "I don't need to be a part of him getting bad karma, and I don't need it to possibly come back on me with some bad karma. It's just not who I am."

Other people have also come out of the woodwork. I have more than 73,000 emails in my inbox. In the ones I've gone through, I've gotten, I don't know, 100 invites to date. I've been married for 25 years, so I'm good.

I've had probably 200 hate messages. They're like, "Just go away, you old goat," and stuff like that. Other people have used some very explicit language.

The post had over 2 million impressions on LinkedIn, and I've had thousands of connection requests pop up. People wanted me to start a group there, so I created one called Inclusive Futures to fight ageism and discrimination. It already has over 400 members.

'Bring the old guy in here.'

I didn't see any ageism at my last company. But, before that, I'd seen it. "Bring the old guy in here. See what he has to say about this." I can't tell you how many times I've heard that since I was 45-plus. On one hand, it's kind of flattering in that, OK, my opinion is valued. On the other hand, it's damn insulting.

It was most prevalent when I was working as a software engineer. At many social events, I was simply excluded. In other cases, it wasn't the right type of event for me. I'm not going to go to an axe-throwing bar in downtown Dallas. They would go play paintball. I'm an old Army sergeant; I can play paintball, but I'm 58 years old. I have broken my back a couple of times, and I'm not exactly going to do those things anymore. If they want to go out on my bass boat and we go fishing — let's go.

But in my experience, over 37 years, women have gotten a much worse run over the coals than what occurs with ageism. I've heard hundreds of people comment about women in tech — which can be career-ending discussions — and they're just talking lackadaisically in the middle of the boardroom or cubicle or whatever. Discrimination, in general, just kind of pisses me off.

Going for coffee

This is the first time in my career that I've ever had more than 24 hours that I have not been employed somewhere. I'd been on this work project for four years. I've always been an independent contractor; I've had a great career. I have been building web apps mostly for the last 26 years. And I'm a former CTO.

My wife and I recently bought more than 30 acres next to us. We went to the closing at 3 p.m., and at 4:20, I received a phone call from my client that my contract work was being suspended because they'd had a problem at the company. I was just like, "Holy smokes. I just made myself cash-poor and don't have an income."

We're former full-time missionaries. Before that, we had been kind of serial entrepreneurs. We owned a chain of indoor amusement parks. We sold that, went and lived in Guatemala, helped build an orphanage, and financed all of that through the sale of the amusement center business and my tech work. I've worked wherever I can plug in my computer. I've been in 92 countries and earned an income in every one of them.

In 2021, a friend and I were discussing how we could really make an impact in the world. So, my wife and I started this fundraising company called Purpose Brew Coffee. We wanted to focus on helping projects raise money. The basic model is that we white-label our coffees. And we create a website — because I'm a tech guy, right? — and brand our coffees for the organization doing the fundraising. They promote it to their supporters, and we ship the coffee to the customer.

The seller of the coffee earns a percentage for each bag sold. It's a huge share. Thirty percent of the retail dollar goes to each organization. If you sell popcorn, cookie dough, or chocolate bars, they often get at most 2% to 4%.

So when the layoff happened, my wife and I looked at each other and said, "Well, maybe it's just time." Then she said, "Nobody can do our tech better than you. Let's stop paying the contractors and have you take over." So we went down that path. We've doubled the number of partnerships — just in the last few weeks — because I'm doing it full-time now.

But even though I love the coffee business, I am still looking for another tech role.

After the LinkedIn post, I've been getting a couple hundred calls a day from recruiters. I would take a project that lasted from a few months to a few years. But, for now, the coffee business is growing. It's going to be a cool, cool deal. I think it's really going to take off. It will not support us at the moment. We're living off of savings. But within two months or so, I think the business will support us.

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