What Romney REALLY Thinks of Elders
National Falls Prevention Day

Elder Technology Experts

For as long as there has been a technology industry, it has been hard for IT people older than 40 to find work. It is, somehow, believed that after that birthday, they suddenly forget all their computer knowledge and skills (not that this doesn't doesn't infect other industries, but in the tech field, particularly so).

However untrue it may be, those beliefs are even more common about “real” elders – people much older than 40 - but now and then I run across heartening news.

It may be only a dent in such wrong-headed ideas but for more than a decade, HP has heavily relied on elders age 50 and up as expert contributors to their online support forum.

"HP's Consumer Support Forums simply could not exist without the incredible contributions of our volunteer Expert base, many of whom are retired individuals with vast experience and a desire to help others," said Lois Townsend who is HP's Global Manager of Social Media Support.

Another reason older customer support contributors are good at what they do is that they are more patient and take more time with customers than young helpers.

Yesterday, I spoke with 63-year-old Cheryl Gilliam of Seneca, South Carolina who has been one of HP's top support experts for nine years. She answers questions on the website for at least two hours each day of the week.

Cheryl has no special training. She says she just “got it” about computers after a young friend talked her through installing additional memory in her first computer in 1998.

When she was fearful she'd break the machine, her friend urged her on. “You can do it,” said her friend, and that's the line Cheryl uses nowadays to encourage customers who are panicked, for example, about losing the family photos.

In New Orleans this weekend for the AARP Life@50+ conference, today Cheryl is joining 250 of her HP Experts colleagues in a marathon, 24-hour, live, “support fest” on the HP website.

It begins at 7AM Pacific time today and the collective goal of these 250 HP customer helpers is to flood the forums with as much useful information as possible and by the end – 7AM tomorrow - leave no question unanswered. Given the popularity of this event in the past (it is held by HP several times a year) and the anticipated flood of questions, that's a big order to fill.

Attendees at the AARP conference will be able to visit the HP booth to try out the program and see if they have what it takes to be an HP contributing expert.

Anyone can register to answer technology questions at the HP online support forum, but the cream does rise to the top as customers rank the quality of the answers and although no one is paid, experts at Cheryl's level are lent new HP equipment annually and they attend such conferences as AARP's as guests of HP.

Obviously, the online forum is intended to be and is about HP equipment – desktop computers, laptops, printers, etc. But I was surprised at the number of answers to general computing and web questions that can benefit people with other brands of hardware too.

It is not my purpose to promote HP products here but instead to report on a company who discovered that contrary to conventional wisdom, old people have a vast store of knowledge and expertise they are eager to share and the company has made the age-50-and-up crowd the “heart and soul of their support forum from the beginning."

Whenever a lot of old faces are mixed together with the young, it is a good thing in the world.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ross Middleton: Machiavelli

Comments

It's nice to be appreciated, sure. But, of course, they're not getting paid.

I agree, amba, but given what I know from the experience of personal friends and acquaintances about the job market for over-40 IT workers, I'll take this because it helps show that 40 is not and should not be the end of the line for workers.

Little steps need to be celebrated.

My daughter is 51 and is a computer whiz. She advises me and her advice it 'spot on'. However, I have a strange problem that even she can't help with.

I would call it a miracle if anyone can solve my problem, but you never know.

Although I have used a computer for about 12 years I doubt if I could be of much help unless the person needing assistance was new to a computer. Big problems are beyond my expertise.

Synchronicity again. The door of my apartment just closed behind KB, my first at-home, hourly helper for my iMac. Four years ago bought desktop in NYC, started Apple's one-to-one instruction. Worked pretty well.

Moved to Portland, Or., where physical set-up in store is awful. Perservered for a while, then Apple changed style of classes--less specific.

Mac at-home instruction unfindable in NYC as well as Portland. Finally happened because 30-something woman whose excellent history class I took last term at local state college cannot find fulltime job. Her loss, my gain. Most useful instruction ever!

Nice story, sort of a feel good story, even if they are not being paid. It is positive though and helps people feel productive, I suppose.

My story is a bit different about HP, after 10 years with them, at age 48, was laid off with ~30,000 others over a two year period (Carly Fiorina / Mark Hurd years). And now, under Meg Whitman, I recently read 29,000 more layoffs are coming. Is that "free labor" taking jobs? Is this a form of exploitation? Hmmm...

Like Cheryl Gilliam, I took to computers like a duck to water in 1984 as soon as I learned to turn one on! It was love at first DOS command.

At 75, I am still operating a radio station broadcast control board and producing a Web radio show for a client who has his own private studio, and work with all the radio studio equipment and computers to keep the thing on the air every week.

I have no art talent and little music urge other than to listen to other people perform. But some of us females are lucky enough to be mathematically and mechanically inclined and it has been a huge boon to us in the computer age. Before that, it was sometimes a terrible burden -- like the time I enrolled in our university's engineering school at the tender age of 17 and got harassed horrible by all of the professors and students until I had to change my major ... sighhh

Working with machinery and now with computers (also machinery) is the only time I've been truly happy.

Miki--It's too bad you and I weren't in the same school. Your experience mirrors my own except that I spent 30 years as an engineer. Fortunately, even at 17 years of age, I was a tough old bird.

Ronni--Golly! Many of us were already well over 40 at the time PCs were first adopted by businesses. In 1985, we received those marvelous machines to use in designing a major, next-generation aircraft. Over the Christmas shut-down, I encouraged "my" people to play with their machines, assuring them that they couldn't do anything to them from which we could not recover. As I recall, not one of us was under 40 - most were not under 50.

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