In 2013, I got called by Google out of the blue to go on-site to their NYC location, just after I’d turned 40. Note that I had gotten my PhD in 2012 and was working as a CS professor when they called me. They insisted that I was so awesome that they skipped me right past the phone technical interview directly to an on-site interview, because they really wanted me right away. Oddly, although I’d made it clear that my strongest skills were in computer architecture and circuit design, they insisted on interviewing me for a software engineering positon (which I had done for many years prior to grad school, so I was not totally unreasonable). I’d also told them that my “superpower” was debugging, but they never tested me on that. The interview went reasonably well anyway, although the whole process was totally dehumanizing, with it being obvious that I was going to be judged by what 5 engineers wrote down about me on a single sheet of paper.
About a month later, I got the rejection call. The two reasons I recall being given were (1) something about not fitting with the culture, and (2) they felt that I had jumped around too much in jobs. The first one other people told me was code for “too old.” The second one made no sense since it was clear from my CV that I’d only ever had two real jobs, one before grad school and one after, plus a couple of short internships during grad school.
My suspicion, however, is that the ageism at Google is indirect and a side-effect of other practices. Despite the fact that outsiders all think that Google practices ageism, it’ll come as a shock to many people AT Google when they are judged to having practiced systematic ageism. They’ll do an internal review trying to figure out who is turing down people for their age, and they’ll come up empty, because none of the interviewers or hiring committees actually try to figure out anyone’s age. There are several factors that contribute to virtual ageism. These include the current state of CS education relative to what was taught 10 years earlier and a somewhat more systematic and less distractable mentality that sets in as people mature. I’m actually MORE effective as an engineer than I was 10 years ago due to accumulated skills, but I'm less easily diverted from the tasks at hand, which some people may interpret as being less creative (until they get me on topics outside of focused engineering problem solving). In other words, as engineer age, they continue to improve in their effectiveness, but aspects of their personalities (such as focus and less externally visible intuitive processes) naturally mature such that they behave less “Googly,” where “Googly" effectively means “having mad skills at CS theory and coding but also having not compensated quite as much for some of the ADHD traits that a lot of engineers possess."
I often ask myself whether or not I would have taken the offer. I like my current job a LOT, but the pay sucks. I gets better after tenure, but at my age with small children and medical expenses outside of what they insurance will pay for, I have to consult on the side to make ends meet. This is the main reason I took the Google interview seriously. Even if there’s a 75% chance I wouldn’t have taken the offer, there was all that build up of them talking me into going on the interview, followed by the whole dehumanizing interview, and the bizarre rejection. That makes me angry.
Today, when my day job as a professor doesn’t make enough money, I make $200+/hour as an expert witness and $150/hour as a software/hardware engineering consultant. I could work part time telecommuting and still make more money than I could ever get at Google, especially when you account for the cost of living in NYC. Google’s loss.