There’s a stereotype about the technology world that the whole thing is run by young wunderkind founders and powered by 20-something engineers. Anyone older is probably comfortably ensconced in management. Famous college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg have reinforced the idea.
That perceived reality prompted Quora question: “What do people in Silicon Valley plan to do once they hit 35 and are officially over the hill?”
It continues: “Since life in Silicon Valley ends at 35 unless you hit it big or move up in management (and simple logic tells you that most won’t), I’m curious what people younger than this think they’ll be doing at that age.”
Rather than agreeing, the question prompted a pretty massive backlash from founders and entrepreneurs.
“Well, (I) started Netflix DVD rental when I was 37…and first streaming when I was 47…so maybe not too bad after 35 except that all-nighters are definitely harder.”
“I turned 35 the year I founded Wikipedia. 38 the year I founded Wikia (now ranked #30, quantcast).
“The premise of the question is wrong. A better question might be: How can we in the tech community make sure that unusual success at a very early age is not mistakenly thought to be the norm?”
“I founded Zipcar when I was 42.
GoLoco when I was 47.
Buzzcar when I was 52.
Veniam when I was 54.
“Made lots of friends, learned lots of new things, entered new fields. Oh, finished raising three children as well — all of whom are terrific. I’ve done a lot since I was 35.”
“I started GigaOm (the company in 2006) at the age of 39. 7 years later, I am still going strong. Success, ability to start afresh and create new things isn’t and should be gated by age.”
All together, the combined efforts of founders volunteering themselves for user research came up with a massive list of “over-the-hill” founders.
- Michael Arrington started TechCrunch at 35.
- Craig Newmark started Craigslist at 42.
- Mark Pincus was 41 when he started Zynga.
- Reid Hoffman was 36 when he founded Linkedin.
- Marc Benioff started Salesforce at 35.
- Robert Noyce started Intel at 41. His co-founder was 39-year-old Gordon Moore.
- Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi were 52 and 50, respectively, when they founded Qualcomm.
- Pradeep Sindhu founded Juniper Networks at 42.
- Rashmi Sinha founded Slideshare at 37.
- Mitchell Baker founded Mozilla at 35+.
- Linda Avey co-founded 23andMe at 46, and then co-founded Curious at 51.
- Janet Kraus founded Circles at 28, Spire at 40, and became CEO of Peach at 47.
There are dozens more answers from founders, programmers, and entrepreneurs still going strong at or well past 35.
One of the best responses came from Obvious founding partner Susan Wu. She writes:
“This is an insane question, made even more insane by the fact that it’s perceived as entirely reasonable by a culture which fetishizes the myth of the young, rock star, male founder.
“The very premise of the question as applied to entrepreneurship is illogical. If you believe that life ends at 35 if you haven’t hit it big or moved up in management, then you are not an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur means, in part, that you have the courage to start, to launch, to build, despite the numerous barriers that might exist in your path, one of which might be your perceived elderly state.”
In many ways, the youth bias in Silicon Valley isn’t just wrong, it’s harmful. It biases people toward early, rapid growth, when the people who should be emulated are the ones sustainably growing a company later on. Research also finds that people are at their most innovative and productive around their late 30s.
30-five is only “over the hill” if you lack imagination and drive.
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