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