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I am 15 and I'm volunteering at an organization comprised of adults. The organization does software engineering work, and while I do have some experience in as a hobby, I have less experience than the other volunteers.

I've been volunteering for 1.5 years, but right now I'm starting to lead a project. The leaders of the organization are supportive of me doing this. Other than doing my job to the best of my ability, should I be doing anything to maintain respect due to my age?

During the pandemic, I've also been avoiding mentioning my age. Specifically, on video calls (which aren't regular) I've avoided turning on my camera. Is this a feasible approach?

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  • @Issel: the correct, respectful and professional way of addressing people depends on local culture, of course. Since the question is about maintaining respect, I'd give the same general advise for addressing that Kaz gives for dressing: go for slightly more formal than average. I'm in Germany in an application field that is somewhat more formal than software (chemistry) and here I'd not advise OP to switch to less formal first names. You'd go on with first names with whomever you've been on first-name-terms before, everyone else is Mr/Mrs/Dr/Prof (incl. others addressing OP). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 5 at 12:26
  • What age are the other people, besides "adults"? – user3067860 Jan 5 at 15:20
  • @user3067860 The other people's ages range from 20-60 years old, with a slight bias for younger people. – The-Toon Jan 5 at 17:44
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    @AzorAhai-him- There are plenty of organizations that work to use software to help various causes. Here's one list from a network that has 30+ members: codeforall.org/members There are lots of other similar organizations as well. In fact just a few hours I heard of another one: aptivate.org/en/about – Cyphase Jan 6 at 8:27
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    You are volunteering for 1.5 years and people still don't know who you are and how old you are? – puck Jan 6 at 13:32
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Other than doing my job to the best of my ability, should I be doing anything to maintain respect due to my age?

Just act like a professional, and hold people accountable to do the same toward you.

I've also been avoiding being public with my age. Specifically, on video calls (which aren't regular) I've avoided turning on my camera. Is this the correct thing to do?

No. Turn the camera on and be confident. No need to be ashamed of your age.

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    Just be ready if there is any surprise when you turn the camera on - e.g. make sure your name is displayed so people know it is you and be ready for any questions. If comments are made have an 'elevator pitch' ready "I'm Bolun, I've been volunteering here for about 18 months and I've been asked to lead this project". – Alan Dev Jan 4 at 15:39
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    Also, whatever counts as "above-averagely formal/serious" in your company, wear that. – Kaz Jan 4 at 16:41
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    Really, there is nothing you can do to "maintain respect". You get respect from people when they can see you deserve it. You can't compel somebody to respect you. You can (sometimes) compel them not to say or do things which make it obvious to others that they don't respect you, but that is not the same thing at all. (And of course if the don't genuinely respect you, they will say so when you are not listening.) – alephzero Jan 5 at 2:24
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    I would add, turn your camera on if you are comfortable doing so. There are many valid reasons to leave your camera off, and many of my "video" conferences at work are audio-only as people leave their cameras off, if for no other reason than to conserve bandwidth and improve audio quality. – chepner Jan 5 at 14:03
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    "Turn the camera on..." - that's organization-and-situation-dependent. In my company we never turn cameras on because some of us are very bandwidth-limited when working from home. – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jan 5 at 17:21
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I think you are doing a lot right, or you would not be where you are.

You will get respect from people when they have the feeling that you use their experience. I don't mind a younger, inexperienced person asking me for advice. I don't mind if they listened to me, thought about my advice and still do something different, maybe based on different advice or their own thoughts and experiments. The only way you will lose respect is by not listening in the first place.

I don't know you, so this is a bit generic advice, but I have seen this with many younger people, I might have been the same when I was young. Watch your language. I don't mean curse words or swearing. We all do. I mean things you use in normal conversation with your peers that are okay with your peers but may be offensive to older, more experienced people.

Since I have no idea where you are or what the culture there is like, I will give you an example from here: Young people have begun to refer to things that suck with terms that translate to "aids" and "cancer". So if they don't like math, it's the "cancer math exam next week" or the "aids Spanish homework". And I get it. They are young, for them that is just an abstract term. The comparative or superlative form of "it sucks" is "cancer". That's not strictly wrong. It's just a word to them and you could argue they did get the basic spirit of the term correct. But as people get older, that abstract word becomes reality, the charts and numbers no longer faceless, but connected to real people, friends and family who died of this or who are currently fighting it. And comparing the next math exam in school to some loved one battling a deadly disease is deeply offensive to most people.

Your generation and your location will have a different language, different slang terms used by younger people. Make sure they don't offend. Pick the language appropriate to the situation and when in doubt, stay formal.

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  • If I may add: to people in -- I don't know, late 50s or later -- the term "sucks" itself is kind of profanity. I can't explain the derivation of the term here, but I recommend finding a synonym. – Shawn V. Wilson Jan 7 at 0:56
  • "I don't mean curse words or swearing. We all do." – nvoigt Jan 7 at 11:53
  • Let me put it this way: I assume you consider "sucks" a non-offensive word, because you use it on this forum. The OP probably feels the same, so I wanted him to be aware of old fogeys like me. It's a specific case of your answer. – Shawn V. Wilson Jan 7 at 21:00
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In addition to the other answers, don't be discouraged or think you've done something wrong just because some people don't seem to respect you no matter what you do - there are those who will disrespect anyone young, regardless of their attitude or position. If possible, make it clear that such rudeness will not stand, even via some sort of penalty if appropriate and necessary.

Also, this should really be a comment to nvoigt's answer, but due to lack of rep I am adding it here; it is also useful, though not as vital, to try and limit non-offensive slang from your generation when speaking to people outside of it (obviously in a professional situation, but also in informal ones, like a after-work wind-down session, not that those are currently really possible). It helps communication, and lessens the focus on your age.

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    OP knows the difference between then and than, they're already golden in my book. What's more, there's a moderator on World Building that iirc let slip at some point that they violated the ToS minimum age when they joined, but that's not the amazing part; they're basically a freaking rocket scientist, and nothing they've ever said (other than the aforementioned) would make you think that they're anything less than a 60yo. – Mazura Jan 5 at 4:23
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Whilst not directly analogous to your situation, as I was slightly older and an employee, I can provide some advice based on my experience.

When I was 18 I worked as a Control Systems Engineer on some offshore oilrigs. I was by far the youngest person out there and was even younger than most of the trainees and apprentices.

If you conduct yourself professionally and are confident about your abilities but show a willingness to learn from those more experienced people will respect you even more due to your age rather than less. The key is striking a balance between sticking up for your opinions and ideas and ignoring those more experienced and seeming cocky. My advice here would be to take every disagreement as a learning experience, explain why you think something should be done your way, let the other party explain why they think it should be done there way and then discuss it.

Another thing, if you've been volunteering for 18 months now and they're expecting you to lead projects. I'd consider asking for a job (unless it's a charity and you're all volunteers of course).

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It looks like you are doing a great job and sounds like a test before you get accepted. It's only reasonable that you need continue the same behavior as before that lead to your situation.

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Show up on time, do your job, help others, treat people decently. That will gain you a lot of respect.

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