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Job Chances for Older Coders? 581

Posted by Cliff
from the let's-not-forget-the-seasoned-IT-worker dept.
emtboy9 asks: "As the semester winds to a close, exams fall upon us students once again. Today, outside of one of my programming classes, I overheard a conversation between a pair of middle aged women about programming degrees (which they are involved in), and this made me wonder. With the job market in IT being as pathetic as it is, what are the real-world chances of someone who is taking a programming course getting a job. In the places I have worked, all the coders were fairly young. So the question is, what are the chances for an older person, who is just now learning programming to get a job in that field?" Ask Slashdot last touched on this topic back in February of 2001. In the intervening two years, have things gotten worse or better for those who have been in the industry for a long time?

"With the increasing popularity in such places, tech and trade schools and even colleges and universities are spitting out MCSEs, CCNAs, A+, Net+, etc certified techs, as well as people of all ages (one person in my VB class is nearly 60) who are trained to write code.

With that in mind, I guess I thought I would throw that out to the Slashdot crowd to see what kind of experiences they have either as a middle aged person entering the IT workforce for the first time, or as a younger tech, or even a manager, faced with either working with, or hiring someone who is from a completely different generation."

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Job Chances for Older Coders?

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  • by Exocet (3998) * on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:44PM (#5923031) Homepage Journal
    I don't know about everywhere else, but the coders where I work (Liberty Northwest, who's parent company is Liberty Mutual - both big insurance companies) are all pretty goddamn old. Even the people who do web stuff (relatively "new" technology) are at least 30+. I don't think I've ever seen a coder under 30 here.

    Of course, a lot of it has to do with the type of company you want/are working for. LNW/LM has lots of old but fairly stable hardware in use. I see lots of COBOL books on shelves, litterally. There's no place for flashy people with their flashy coding - at least not in this insurance building. The management seems to like their coders old, experienced and on the crotchety side.

    Note: I'm a young, brash contractor that was brought in for a Win95(!) to Win2k migration project six months ago. So my views are somewhat biased, though not any more than anyone else's I suspect.
    • by vladkrupin (44145) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:25PM (#5923249) Homepage
      Since you mentioned COBOL... Employment is determined by demand, which in this case really depends on a lot of factors (the life expectancy of your code and how many bugs you left in there being just two of them :) - there are more.)

      Think of an old coder as of an old chair. What is the difference between an old chair in an antique store and an old chair in a thrift store? None, except the price! Well, one might have been used by Elvis, while the other was not - but who cares it's the same old piece of junk. One got lucky (Elvis sat on it); the other did not. Tough luck. Same with us. You might be lucky because you are working with systems that will exist for the next 40 years. And I, with all my C/C++ coding skills, will become a dinosaur in less than a decade. Or maybe the other way around. We never know who will get lucky, and who won't. Just like the chairs.
      • by jelle (14827) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @12:48AM (#5924409) Homepage
        "What is the difference between an old chair in an antique store and an old chair in a thrift store? None, except the price!"

        "Elvis sat on it" doesn't make a chair antique. A collectors-item maybe, but that is not the same as antique.

        The chair in the antique store represents a lot more workmanship (experience and quality) and has passed through many proud owners hands and will be a welcome addition to a sophisticated new home.

        While the chair in the thrift shop is almost falling apart and the previous owner was happy to get rid of it. The new owner shopping at the thrift store, if any, is just looking for the best bargain sitting equipment, new or old, but mainly cheap.

        Connect the dots, fill in the analogy. Apply to real life.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:06PM (#5923450)
      Where I work, almost all of the tech people are in their 50's. Unfortunately, none have taken the time to learn about new technology, so things like token ring, Novell 3.51, and crappy X.25 modems are the norm and will continue to be until these people retire. I myself am "old." But I keep up on new tech and no matter what I do I am always met with fierce resistance because everyone fears change or doesn't understand how the new technology works. It seems to me that when most people get as old as me, they don't care anymore, they figure they aren't going to advance any farther than they are now, so they do just enough work not to get fired until they retire.

      I've been pushing hard to get some of the younger applicants hired, people just out of college with a fresh look and new ideas about how we should do things, and the younger guys we've hired are doing some amazingly brilliant things. Unfortunately, they are not well liked by the older guys because they are taking away the things that keep these guys coming into work every day.

      I'd still hire "old" people, but only if their resume showed strong skills with new technology and new ways of designing/doing things.
      • by Arandir (19206) on Friday May 09, 2003 @09:15PM (#5923723) Homepage Journal
        I'd still hire "old" people, but only if their resume showed strong skills with new technology and new ways of designing/doing things.

        "I'm sorry, I can't hire you because you haven't demonstrated that you can keep up with the technology."

        "What are you talking about?"

        "Well, it says here that you wrote the kernel for Windows 95, but nothing about experience with Windows Server 2003. And you seem very efficient in Perl, C, C++ and Java, but we're using C#. And to top things off, you drive a Buick Regal and don't have any body piercings. We can't possibly hire you because you're married and have kids, which means we won't be your sole overriding priority in life."
        • Actually, this is quite interesting. I'm the youngest person in my group (I'm 25) at a major systems engineering house. It might be because of the company I work for, but the guys in my group are using the tried and true methods to get the systems put together (radio base stations, and the like).

          They may seem old, but they follow the requirements that they need to (one currently includes using Win 2k Server as a db for users), and there's always some interesting new problem to tackle. I guess if you're o
    • 30+ is old??? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zackbar (649913) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:30PM (#5923546)
      Hey, I'm 37, and I've been in the field professionally since I was 22. I'm not the youngest at my current client, but I'm hardly the oldest.

      In fact, most people I see in this business fell into it from other fields entirely. I've only met a few out here in the real world that actually went to school specifically for programming. Most got degrees in other fields.

      I really don't know that age is that much of a factor either, except that the younger ones actually chose the field during college instead of afterwards.

      • Re:30+ is old??? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Stinking Pig (45860) on Friday May 09, 2003 @11:11PM (#5924113) Homepage
        "In fact, most people I see in this business fell into it from other fields entirely. I've only met a few out here in the real world that actually went to school specifically for programming. Most got degrees in other fields."

        I've been in the industry since I graduated... with an English degree. Most of the EECS graduates I've worked with were... salespeople. Most of the admins, programmers, engineers, and trouble techs have been liberal arts types, chefs, and general knock-abouts who get involved because there's no jobs in the field they came from and this stuff is fun.

        There's a basic dichotomy in mindset here: those who think that school is for education and those who think that school is for socialization. If you think of school as a factory which is churning out skilled individuals, you're a) probably disappointed with the American school system and b) probably going to be on the dustheap in ten to twenty years, whether through personal burnout or skill rust.

        School to me was a piece of paper that I knew would open doors with people who think papers are important; but I did enough research ahead of time to see that few of the people I respected had studied what they were doing for a living. So I took a degree that I cared about and that I thought would be fun. I had a great time, I learned interesting stuff, I met cool people, and when I was done the BA degree opened doors just like a BS degree would have done.

        YMMV.
        • Re:30+ is old??? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rycamor (194164) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @12:56AM (#5924433)
          Amen to that.

          I am also 37, and my first degree was in English. (Really, the English major was just an excuse to study anything that interested me so besides literary theory, creative writing, history and music, I also made it to Calc II, some other sciences and took a couple programming courses).

          But I really didn't get back into computing until I was 26. Started re-learning programming by reading, and by developing databases and web-based applications. Later became lead developer at a couple different companies. Between free-lancing and full-time employment I have never been more than a month without work, even after the dot-com crunch.

          One of those companies had two C.S. graduates, and two of us with no CS or IT degree, yet we were the ones doing the programming. Even though we tried to share our books and ideas with the others, it just didn't really happen, so they ended up doing other things, such as system administration, web design, etc... Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the point is programming is a passion, and no degree in the world will change that. Smart employers learn to look for those with the passion, not the degree.

          As lead developer at my current job, I personally will be happy to hire and work with developers of any age, as long as they are the kind of people who bother to continue learning. And its not about whether they know Java or C# or PHP. Conceptual ability is much more important than rote knowledge of implementations.
        • Re:30+ is old??? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jelle (14827)
          "and when I was done the BA degree opened doors just like a BS degree would have done."

          How do you know where _you_ would have been had you had a BS degree? Your BA degree obviously opened enough doors to satisfy your appetite, but maybe the BS degree would have opened more or better doors and there is not way to find that out but speculation.

          Sure, learning is more than just a result of a particular university degree and never stops, but a good start is a good start and if you think that universities exist
    • by pyrrho (167252) on Friday May 09, 2003 @09:09PM (#5923701) Journal
      the net boom started in the late 90's, it was common for 20 somethings to fill a company. It wasn't because 20 is like the prime of your logical abilities in life! It was because there were damn few programmers older! There had been few jobs, especially for totally self taught people... and oh, there were few self taught people because there was no PC around if you were older than say 10-15 circa 1980. We were the first wave of computers programmers in any popular sense... the idea of "personal" computer software and consumer software such as games.

      I learned computers on the school computer in the closet somewhere, the schools I was in got computer labs just as I left them, and that was still a couple years before other schools were getting them (there were dilligent pro-computer math teachers at my junior and high school).

      I'm used to being and old timer. When I was 27 I was already an old timer at these startups. It's like being the oldest sibling, you are oldest even when you are 7 and the little brother is 4.

      So we're still here ten years later (7=10 true enough for software engineering purposes), don't be suprised. In ten years you'll notice the ages go up to the 40's. When were 60+... well you get the idea.

      Computers are not a thing of the youth. The
      Startups might still have 20 year olds becuase they can risk more... but many companies or well funded startups will continue to have ages that rise to my generations level with a few baby boomer guru's flitting about (if they are not busy buying the Seattle Seahawks or something).

      In places where computers have existed for fifty years (like science, banking, government, universities etc.) you see the full age range. Not because those places are more conservative. It's because the semi-specialized employees hang around where they know how to make a living.

      Young executives and managers are another thing entirely.
    • I'm an older coder who's worked in Life and Health environments using Cobol. I'm also a C/C++ coder writing interfaces to replace older mainframes with PC based servers for these industries. Here's the scoop your looking for. The United States Government is offering corporations a tax incentive for hiring overseas labor from India. That means that young people getting degrees in IT will have to compete against Indian labor for less than 1/2 what an American programmer would make. Anyway you cut it, our
    • Trees have visible rings because they make a lot of wood during fat times, and only a little during lean.

      It's the same way with programmers' ages. During boom times, companies will pick up a glut of programmers, including youngsters. This is what happened during the late '90s: They were hiring a lot of people, fairly indiscriminately. Further, the population of new programmers (or new people in any career) is disproportionately young. Young people are more likely to be either switching careers or just
  • by infonography (566403) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:45PM (#5923032) Homepage
    It's Logan's Run all over again folks.
  • by Dynamus (591600) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:45PM (#5923034)
    Its completely true, at least in México, that you can see older people pushing code.

    But I blame this on the stupid idea that coding is unimportant, and everyone should go ahead to leading people as fast as posible.

    I should extend over this, I'm sure I will sometime, but I can say now this is causing terrible problems on the side of quality of coding in Mexico.

    The average quality of the code produced by mexican programmers is terrible.
  • by drink85cent (558029) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:47PM (#5923046)
    Yeah, you see a few of them here or there in your cse classes. We always called those guys dad. WE had Dads 1-6.
    I saw that Dad 2 got a job with a local software company. It was good to see him go because it was gross to see him always hit on all of those mediocre cs girls.
  • IMO
    A programmers value is determined by experience and ability to learn. Since someone new to the IT field has little experience, being hired is determined mostly by their ability to learn. Since young minds are better suited for learning, they are going to be hired more often. This is the trend I have seen at my company.
    • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:56PM (#5923102) Homepage
      A programmers value is determined by experience and ability to learn. Since someone new to the IT field has little experience, being hired is determined mostly by their ability to learn. Since young minds are better suited for learning, they are going to be hired more often. This is the trend I have seen at my company.

      Oh please. Anyone who is capable of earning a University degree, old or young, is quite clearly capable of learning... after all, at least when I went through Uni, we had to learn to get the damn degree in the first place! What you describe is just a prejudice... the "old dogs can't learn new tricks" mentality which is, unfortunately, prevalent in our society.

      I*M*HO, there is no specific reason to assume older people make poorer techies. In fact, the manager I work for is in his late forties, and he's probably one of the smartest men I've come across. He's constantly learning new things... hell, he seems to have an easier time keeping up with trends than I do!
      • by bluethundr (562578) * on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:44PM (#5923358) Homepage Journal

        A programmers value is determined by experience and ability to learn. Since someone new to the IT field has little experience, being hired is determined mostly by their ability to learn. Since young minds are better suited for learning, they are going to be hired more often. This is the trend I have seen at my company.

        Oh please. Anyone who is capable of earning a University degree, old or young, is quite clearly capable of learning... after all, at least when I went through Uni, we had to learn to get the damn degree in the first place! What you describe is just a prejudice... the "old dogs can't learn new tricks" mentality which is, unfortunately, prevalent in our society.

        I*M*HO, there is no specific reason to assume older people make poorer techies. In fact, the manager I work for is in his late forties, and he's probably one of the smartest men I've come across. He's constantly learning new things... hell, he seems to have an easier time keeping up with trends than I do!


        I don't think that the ability to learn is determined at all by age. I believe that nearly anyone can learn how to code at nearly any age. But I would liken this ability to that of playing a piano.

        Sure, an older person can pick up the ability and wield a certain prowess and even artistry. But no one, to my knowledge, would argue the fact that a person who learns to play the piano in childhood has a certain "feel" for it that people who pick up this ability later in life can never attain. It's not that the older person can't play sonoriously with rhythm and emotion. But the younger player has a certain reach that will never be known to the older guy.

        Andy Hertzfeld (of the original Macintosh development team) claimed that he used to be able to track and house far more complex contructs of thought, and more of them, in his mind when he was in his early 20's than he ever could at the time he was giving the interview (I would guess he was somewhere in his mid forties at that time). He called this ability "the gift of the young".

        But in the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution [barnesandnoble.com] Steven Levy described how Ken Williams, the founder of Sierra Online [sierra.com] felt a missionary zeal in converting people to the belief that learning how to program a computer could change your life. Ken met Bob and Carolyn Box, who were an older married couple in their fifties. Bob was "...a former New Yorker, a former engineer, a former race car driver, a former jockey, and a former Guinness Book of WOrld Records champion in gold panning." When they both tried to get a job working for Sierra, Ken told them to "put up something on the screen using assembly language in thirty days". According to how the story is told, they both became very able assembly language programmers. Roberta Williams (Ken's wife) considered the Boxes "inspiring" and felt that learning how to program "rehabilitated their lives".

        Of course that was a long time ago, and thus far I have spoken only of the abiltity to learn and to become an able programmer. To get slightly more "on topic"; as to whether there is job market opportunities for older folk, there is no reason an employer should discriminate on the basis of age, though I'm sure that many do. But as for the pure concept of programming I myself only picked up some ability in C++ (on my own, not through any school) when I turned 30 as I realized I was getting older and it was basically "now or never". I still enjoy learning as much as I can about it, and consider it a wonderful intellectual exercise, though I have no concrete plans of doing it for a living. I've already got a stable professional life and see it as a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby.
      • Late forties! Hah! I'm in my mid fifties doing software development for a NASA contractor, and doing quite well, thank you! I'm always amused by these Slashdot posts agonizing about turning thirty ...

        Here's what works for me.

        1. Position yourself so domain knowledge counts, don't just code. In my case I have learned about orbital physics, scientific modeling, and simulation. I do more than code - I architect systems, facilitate articulating requirements, design, code, and test. I also get involved in techn
    • by RatBastard (949) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:58PM (#5923120) Homepage
      The cruel truth is that younger people will work for less money than older people are willing to accept.
      • MOD THIS UP (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:07PM (#5923166) Journal
        This is dead on. Younger people are far more exploitable (as a group) than older people. They are less likely to have their own families, more likely to be willing to work ridiculous hours, and less willing to stand up for themselves.
      • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:58PM (#5923413) Journal
        The cruel truth is that younger people will work for less money than older people are willing to accept.

        I think the real problem is that employeers THINK they want more money. Thus they bypass them. The hirerers judge expectations based on other careers that are less volitile than IT and think that experience equates to more money expectations in all fields.

        In reality us IT'ers know that managers often don't give a flying sh8t about experience beyond about 5 years because the abilities that experience improve, such as long-term maintanable code, are not readily visable to them.
        • by dcavanaugh (248349) on Friday May 09, 2003 @10:11PM (#5923939) Homepage
          All things being equal, the older people really DO want more money, the question is "More than what?".

          ANY person with a current job is not likely to switch for less. You have to assume that a person doing a good job is going to get a few raises along the way, so the older person SHOULD be making more than a newbie. If that is not the case, you have to wonder why. A recently unemployed person is going to try and hold out for whatever they made before. The long-term unemployed person has a salary of $0; therefore any offer is an improvement.

          Think of an IT shop as if it were a sports team. Nobody has the budget to put a star at every position. Most teams would like to keep the stars they have, develop new stars from their own ranks, and fill the occasional specialty need from the outside.

          There ARE situations where your team really needs a star in a certain position, and it makes sense to pay a premium for a free agent. Younger people are like draft picks. You might get a future star, you might not. Young people with language skills and top-notch degrees are the first-round draft picks. Random H1Bs are the 20th round. There are some possibilities in between. Can you sign a 20th round draft pick (for peanuts) and get a star? Sure, it happens. Just don't plan on building the entire team this way; the statistics will catch up with you eventually.

          Older workers are the free agents. Some of them are established stars and worth a premium salary. Some have years of experience, but not as much success as the stars. They are not worth a premium salary, and sometimes not worth as much as they are currently making. Every team has a few players whose compensation exceeds their value. In some cases, their skills have dimished; everyone KNOWS these people will be making less with their next team, assuming they can stay in the game at all.

          So if my team needs a second-string linebacker, I might look first to the draft picks, or perhaps a free agent if the price is right. If I need a starting quarterback, I probably have to pay a premium to sign a free agent star.

          The problem is that we have too many IT teams who are perfectly willing to put mediocre talent on the field. Some of them have lost the ability to identify talent; they just make sure to have a body at each position. They will tolerate lousy performance as long as the payroll is kept under control. There are sports teams like this also; you find them at the bottom of the standings. When a few decent teams manage to demonstrate the value of winning, nature will take its course and things will change.
    • Since young minds are better suited for learning, they are going to be hired more often.

      This is, of course, nowhere near the truth. I'm 36, and not only do I have a boatload of relevant experience, I also have learned to learn _faster_ with age. Experience (in most programmers I've known) leads to wider horizons and opportunities for understanding the many new technologies that come our way. There's also the axiom (followed by the experienced) that if you start slow, you'll finish fast--while the oppo

    • by cfury (172260) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:14PM (#5923200)
      Not true. I am an adjunct professor at a local community college. Most of the brightest students I have are actually 30-40+. Granted, this isn't always the case, but the tendancy is that the older individuals actually *want* to learn.

      This isn't to say that there aren't young people who are bright and gifted (these *want to learn* too.) But I honestly have to say that age has very little to do with learning capacity. Rather, it's the inquisitive mind, one who is willing to learn new things, that do the best.

      IMHO, the most important aspect of a programmer or technologist is the ability to solve problems and the capacity to figure things out on their own. In the end, the technology becomes a tool, and nothing more. This requires an open mind, insight and a huge helping of curiosity....
      None of which are directly related to age.

      To simply think that younger people are automatically terrific at figuring out new technologies is a silly idea, at best.

      Chris
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:48PM (#5923053)
    they are idealistic and a real pain in the ass to deal with. I know, I was one.

    Yeah, flamebait, I know. You are probably in your twenties...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:10PM (#5923185)
      Actually, I'd agree, and I'm halfway through my twenties.

      There's nobody more annoying to work with or argue with than a CS purist -- someone who doesn't care about CPU utilization or memory limits or disk space, has his flashy new computer paid for by mommy and daddy, the type of idiot who will suggest massively complex general-purpose algorithms for tiny problem instances... just the insistence that there's one perfect way to solve any problem pisses me off.

      The number one thing I look for in employees is flexibility -- if a coder can tell me a good anecdote about porting a massive C++ program back down to C, or tell horror stories about their time doing IT support, or talk about functional languages over beer, I'm going to value them a LOT more than someone who can code well in a pinch but is impossible to work with.

      Attention, coders still in college: Figure out how many hours per week you spend in your dorm room in front of the computer. If it's more than 35, then you have a problem. Go out and have dinner with your friends, get drunk, hit on girls, get some sun. The only thing that's more valuable to your career than solid coding skills is solid people skills -- knowing how to talk to average people, to your colleagues, and to your potential clients without coming across as clueless or pompous (or both). If I can't trust you to talk about our technology to a client at a meeting, I don't want you.
  • After my degree in CS, all I've ever had were hardware jobs. All my code now is written in SPICE.
  • Two cents... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AntiOrganic (650691) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:50PM (#5923065) Homepage
    Younger coders tend to be (erroneously) hired because many people think they're on top of the newest technologies. Here's a news flash: Newer technologies are only new for a short period of time.

    This is why you see so many corporations, and smaller companies too, with interned developers, and why it's so common to hear, especially in the IT world, of rounds of layoffs followed by hiring fresh new faces from India or someplace.

    The truth of the matter is that enthusiasm about programming, and computers in general, is what a lot of people should be looking for. It's very easy to keep on top of the newest technologies when doing so is a hobby rather than a once-a-week training seminar. One enthusiastic programmer can easily do more than an entire group of slack-jawed code monkeys with no real desire to do what they're doing.

    Younger programmers might get hired more quickly, but they also run the risk of getting laid off pretty fast, too, if they pick the wrong place to get a job.
    • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:29PM (#5923276) Homepage
      Younger coders tend to be (erroneously) hired because many people think they're on top of the newest technologies.
      I doubt that's true. I think younger coders get hired more quickly because:
      1. they'll accept lower compensation, and
      2. you can work them harder
      Older coders are much more likely to have families, children, and (dare we say it?) lives than fresh cannon-fodder from the universities. They're going to want to spend the weekend helping the wife paint the nursery, and they're going to want to go home before somebody yells at them because dinner's cold. They're also going to raise more of a stink when the pointy-haired boss decides to cut corners on the healthcare policy yet again, and they're more likely to notice that company-wide salary freeze plus ever-decreasing benefits equals less compensation every year. They might be wise enough to realize that those paper stock options aren't going to mean as much as, say, money. Et cetera.
      • by smagruder (207953) <stevem@webcommons.biz> on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:35PM (#5923569) Homepage

        you can work them harder

        Yes, let the kid spend two days, working 12-hour days, doing what an experienced senior developer can handle with aplomb in 2 hours. Let the geezer go home to supper! He's getting far more work done!

      • by richieb (3277) <richieb&gmail,com> on Friday May 09, 2003 @09:35PM (#5923808) Homepage Journal
        2. you can work them harder

        Well, you can make them stay in the office longer. However, the number of hours you stay in the office is not a good measure of productivity. Just like countings lines of code.

        If you spend a week writing and debugging 2000 lines of code, and I spend half an hour downloading an open source lib from the net that does the same thing and more and solves the same problem, who is more productive?

        • Actually, that depends, which open source license is valid for the library and where and how the resulting code is to be used...

          Perhaps writing that 250 line perl script would have been an even better choice.

  • Re: Older Coders (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My father joined a large corporations programming team, at age 48, he doesn't have any IT degree, (he was initially a teacher), or other related qualifications, just a lot of experience in the field. (And if I may say so, a pretty smart fellow :o). He did it the only way I can see it being done: start from the bottom. Here's what he did:-

    1. Joined the Support section (let's face it, anyone can make it in there without a degree)

    2. After a few years in support, he'd made enough contacts, that he was able to
  • by sammyo (166904) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:52PM (#5923086) Journal
    Look for ways where all the life experience you have can be use to advantage. There is more to many software jobs than pure code. Solve problems. Pure code can be jobbed out to India ;-)

    • by twitter (104583)
      BBC shows us that your competition is worse than you could ever imagine. Your next comercial code might be written in an Indain jail [bbc.co.uk]. I wonder if the Chinese do this. Uhg, slave labor at it's purest. Comercial code writing is dead, long live free software!

      Write code becasue you enjoy it or have a problem to solve. Don't go to school because you think your going to get rich coding. The software world is moving away from the closed source model faster than you can imagine. Those dummies in jail won't

  • You know... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zelet (515452) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:54PM (#5923094) Journal
    You are farked just like the rest of us. Go to grad school until the economy improves.
    • by stanwirth (621074) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:40PM (#5923589)

      The advantages of going to grad school, particularly when slightly older, during a recession are numerous. I did it during the last two recessions (MSc in the early eighties, a Ph.D. and a couple postdocs during the early nineties), so I speak from experience:

      • The cost of living goes down during a recession, which does make it a little bit easier to get by on what you'll be earning during your graduate school indentu^h^h^h^h^h^h^hadventure.
      • You'll use the time and the freedom and the access to resources to develop a new technology which could be a super-big bargaining chip when you get out of jai^h^h^hschool.
      • As a more mature person with, presumably, assets, a decent credit rating and a good relationship with your banker, it's much more reasonable to consider starting your own business when you get out -- based perhaps on some of the ideas you've had the time and freedom to develop in grad school -- and the advanced degree will make it much much easier for you to respond credibly to RFPs, particularly for SBIR/STTR grants to do ongoing technology transfer/R&D/productisation of what you developed in graduate school.
      • You make terrific international contacts in graduate school, and are usually required to master a second (spoken, natural) language. This expands your opportunities and employability immensely.
      • University career services are particularly helpful to graduates with advanced degrees, because they're able to think creatively about how your unique skills and the technology or principle you've developed (it certainly better be unique and useful, otherwise you've wasted your time and don't deserve the degree!) can be useful to their more interesting corporate and industry contacts. i.e. you're not just the 654th MSCE that just rolled off the assembly line. You have something unique and important to contribute, beyond just coding coding coding for some dumb-ass business process. You're more likely to find yourself in new product development, R&D,
      • Play Co-Ed Softball in the graduate intramural league. This may be your only chance to make contacts in the B school and Law school that will be extremely valuable to you in the future, especially if you're considering starting your own high-tech business in the real economy when you finish. Uh, and the med school students might be helpful if you're, like, really old...:)
      • Faculty (and people in general) find it easier to relate to people their own age, so being older is a benefit. Also, (on a more cynical note) since you're obviously industry-oriented rather than truly academically inclined, you're not offering any future competition for their little pets and bright-boys, so they're less likely to shaft you.
      • It's NOT just "more years of the same academic crap." Some terminal masters' programmes are like that, but in general, in grad school, you will be challenged to think more creatively and critically than you ever have before. You will be required to zoom out to the big picutre and then zoom back in again to the finest details--and then synthesize them into something comprehensive: a new big picture. It's about creating new knowledge and new technologies, understanding things that have not yet been understood by anybody else in the world except you , not just learning more stuff from more stuffy old professors. And it will be this ability to think that will make you valuable over the much longer term, not just specific coding skills on specific platforms.
      • They pay you, rahter than you paying them, and the class sizes are much smaller. What a deal!
  • Don't count on it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:55PM (#5923098)

    I've been coding for almost twenty years, and have watched the other coders around me dwindle away. I've made sure to keep on the leading edge, learning new tools and technologies, but guess what? Most companies aren't interested in hiring older programmers. They feel that they can get current knowledge a lot cheaper from younger folks. Not only that, but there just aren't many jobs out there that require senior level software engineers, (and I'm not talking about all the "senior engineers" who've been doing it for less than 10 years). You accumulate a lot of knowledge and experience over the years, but today's coding tasks require less experience than you may think.

    I've recently had to accept that I'm about halfway through my working life, (early 40s), and there's no way I can keep coding for the next 25 years. In today's business climate, jobs are too precarious, and I can't take a chance that I'll get laid off and not be able to find a job. So now, I'm getting my masters and moving into (shudder) management.

    You'd be surprised how much technical knowledge is needed in management, however. System architecture and project management, effectively performed, are skills in high demand. I feel like, even though I prefer coding, I'm positioned well for the remaining 25 years of my career.

    I managed to squeeze an almost 20 year career out of coding, and have had a great time. I'm at the end of that path now, however. Time to get on a new one that has solid employment and advancement opportunities for people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond.

    I'm gonna miss it though!!!

    • by GlassHeart (579618) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:31PM (#5923552) Journal
      Most companies aren't interested in hiring older programmers. They feel that they can get current knowledge a lot cheaper from younger folks.

      Age discrimination is a real and serious problem in many industries. This post is not an attempt to defend that illegal practice.

      Having said that, the key question is whether the older programmer generates enough value for the company, compared to a younger programmer. Programmer A with five years of experience might get something done (by that I mean debugged and ready to ship) in half the time than programmer B fresh out of school. That means the company can afford to pay programmer A about twice what programmer B is paid. Everybody is happy.

      Problem is, programmer C with ten years of experience isn't going to get stuff done in half the time of programmer B! Your salary as a function of personal productivity must taper off at some point, possibly even cutting into the company's profits.

      We can easily see that even an honest company may essentially have to freeze the wages of older programmers, or lay them off altogether. What we need is a way for older programmers to become more productive, and I think the answer is for them to teach. If old programmer C can make young programmer B more productive, then C deserves part of the additional value generated by B. If C can teach several young programmers D, E, and F, then their additional productivities can help sustain C's salary requirements.

      This of course requires a pretty enlightened employer, but it also requires programmers to understand that they will hit their pay ceiling pretty early in their career, unless they take on slightly different jobs as they progress through their careers.

      • by pi_rules (123171)
        I think you forgot that the older programmer is far less likely to produce bugs. Sure, the young new hot shot pumped code out that can sell, but what's the suport cost of a shitty product vs that of a product produced by an experienced person?

        Personally, in my current job, I'd much rather be handling software pumped out by some older guys that knew what the heck was going on. I see too many bugs to think that a new hot shot programmer can actually do the job the Right Way. ... Mind you, I say this as I m
        • by 2short (466733)
          Actually, the older programmers I've worked with indeed produced less bugs on first writing. But their code was behind schedule and unmaintainable. One wanted to keep learning new things, so he would use the 5 latest new things he wanted to learn, regardless of project requirements. Another had so much experience it crippled him. Every project could be (over) designed as a combination of things he'd done before, so the simplest dynamic web page became a pile of multiply inheriting objects comunicating v
    • Re:Don't count on it (Score:3, Informative)

      by richieb (3277)
      I managed to squeeze an almost 20 year career out of coding, and have had a great time. I'm at the end of that path now, however. Time to get on a new one that has solid employment and advancement opportunities for people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond.

      You gave up after 20 years! I've been coding for over 25 and still going strong. I have no plans to stop :-)

      My first programs were in FORTRAN, for the moment I'm doing Java, and I'm hoping for Lisp in another 10 years...

      • Re:Don't count on it (Score:3, Informative)

        by dsplat (73054)
        My first programs were in FORTRAN, for the moment I'm doing Java, and I'm hoping for Lisp in another 10 years...

        Not a bad goal. Lisp has certainly weathered well over the years. It has fallen somewhat out of favor in the past decade. I attribute that to two things. First, it has suffered by association with AI. Second, Lisp is not a language one grasps quickly. The power is contained in idioms and composition of features one with another. That doesn't invite the newbie.

        When you can look at Paul G
  • A middle-aged applicant who is looking for a job writing software for retail sale (i.e., at Microsoft or at ... who else sells software to the consumer, nowadays?) might be in for a tough time, judging by the stories about age discrimination and worker abuse we've heard here and elsewhere. But, a middle-aged newcomer to programming is probably going to have some experience and/or talent in some field. In that field, there's a good chance that being able to write a program is an asset.

    Where I'm working no

  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:58PM (#5923116)
    As an 'old coder' (30 languages since 1968), I can tell you the natural process, that being one of evolution, is for the seniors to become managers. Move up, it's where you belong.
    • by DrCode (95839) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:25PM (#5923255)
      That seems to be the way of things. But generally, we don't expect doctors and lawyers to become managers, so why should we expect software developers to do so?
      • Doctors and lawyers either do advance or already own their practice... it's hard to promote the owner it just doesn't work out very well, the best you can do is hire a "sub owner" and even he needs a "sub sub owner" and pretty soon you have a 3yr old girl who rides around the clinic on a tricycle with a sign that says "sub sub sub sub sub sub owner, I work for lolliepops".
      • by sql*kitten (1359) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @04:01AM (#5924916)
        That seems to be the way of things. But generally, we don't expect doctors and lawyers to become managers, so why should we expect software developers to do so?

        Yes we do. A good lawyer will eventually become a partner in the firm, at which point their job will be a) selling new work b) supervising younger lawyers and c) handing the really tricky cases that the associates can't. The same is true in civil engineering, accounting, management consulting, even medicine (don't you watch ER? :-) ). It also happens in teaching, a good teacher will become a head or a principal, and have less to do with standing in front of a class and more to do with the budget. In the military, senior officers join the General Staff and concentrate on planning and strategy, while younger officers actually lead the troops on the ground. In fact, that's the way it works in every profession.

        What you should be asking is, what makes programmers different?
    • by mikec (7785) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:28PM (#5923533)
      I dunno. In my late 30's I went with the flow and moved from programming to managing programmers. After a few years, I was doing fine, but I realized that my life kinda sucked. All the stuff I really enjoyed doing, I didn't have any time to do anymore. So I moved back into programming and haven't regretted it for a minute. I'm 47, working with people ranging from early 20's to early 40's, and I really don't notice any agism. Of course, maybe they're mocking me and I don't notice; my eyesight isn't what it once was :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ..because old people actually expect reasonable money and decent hours.
  • SIlly question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by I Am The Owl (531076) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:05PM (#5923153) Homepage Journal
    It's not as much that older people, who are slower to learn new things and tend to be afraid of technology, are inferior job prospects. It's that the whole profession of coding is becoming irrelevant.

    With jobs opening up in places like Mexico and India where the labor force is cheap and educated, the American code monkey doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell. What you need to do is move on to more specialized fields, like MechE or EE. Nobody would trust a bunch of cheapo foreigners with stuff that people would depend on for their safety, so those fields certainly won't be going away any time soon. On the other hand, those of you managing "Linux boxen" are quite replaceable.

    • by StandardCell (589682) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:13PM (#5923476)
      I'm an EE. Actually, a BSEE, and an MSEE, and I have my MBA for good measure too. I knew that I didn't want to work in software and coding, so I took a hardware specialization in ASIC and digital.

      Well, lo and behold, after four years in the workforce, two layoffs, slavedrivers at my first job, all that work is being farmed off to Asia, eastern Europe and other low-paying locales. No joke - you can walk to an average ASIC provider with $200,000 and get a 2 Million gate ASIC with an embedded ARM, SRAMS, and ADC/DACs designed turn key. Those types of ASICs with design services used to cost almost ten times that amount. That also includes mask and tooling costs, btw.

      In fact, most of the rest of hardware engineering has cratered in the same way. Cheap foreign labor has usurped the profession because electronic devices, like software, have for the most part become non-locale-specific commodities. Those electronic devices only need to pass Underwriters Laboratories or Canadian Standards Association safety certifications, and if they don't they just get redesigned. No engineer in electronics that I have ever known in my short career has needed their Professional Engineering degree, but I'll tell you that none of these guys who would have a product for sale here in North America would sign off on the design documents and be personally liable for them if they were designed outside of the United States and Canada, even under their project control.

      Contrast this with, say, civil engineering, where the engineer has to stamp his life away on the lower left corner of the blueprint of that bridge or building, and if something goes wrong and it falls down and kills people, it's his ass. Plus, they need to be on-site almost all the time, because they're virtually all locale-specific type of projects at one point or another, particularly when it comes to the geotechnical aspect of it. I sure as hell wouldn't trust someone to design and spec out bridge trusses if they lived somewhere else, nor would I want it to be built on a mound of quicksand (as the Alberta Provincial Legislature was).

      What's even more sad is that I've personally seen cover-ups of folks whose consumer electronic devices have burnt up in the end application due to overcurrent latch-up on a power IC, yet nobody needed their P.E./P.Eng. designation. Only in higher voltage power systems design has an EE required his/her professional designation and to stick his/her neck out. Well, that and for those who develop military and aerospace systems. But who cares if a piece of software asserts a line too long or wiggles it the wrong way to send a device into a tizzy, right?

      The real solution is to reregulate the profession such that safety, both software and hardware side, become personal liabilities for those who have designed them. Small errors are liabilities for civil, mining, chemical, and mechanical engineers that need to be corrected. Yet small errors in functinoality are things that "we just have to live with" and accept for redesign. You can bet diamonds to dollars that the SW/HW design clowns outside this country have virtually full immunity on a personal if something happens or will at most get fired. Big whoop. Once you change SW/HW engineering to a locale-specific and safety-specific craft for which individuals become personally accountable and necessary locally, you will fundamentally restore dignity to the profession and cauterize the wounds that are causing the outflow of this profession to other countries.

      As for me, after a couple of layoffs and general disgruntlement with the profession, I'm going to look at getting into management consulting and using my MBA a bit more. God knows half the companies I used to work for sure need an internal overhaul. But it's cultural- and location-specific type of work, it is very versatile, you can consult for yourself or someone else, and you can't farm most of it out because it needs to be local.
  • by oldenough2knowbetter (217806) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:07PM (#5923164)
    Sorry, but many companies aren't interested in hiring scraggly-bearded hotshot hacker-wannabes to write payroll code. They're looking for stable and mature people who will show up, on time, everyday. Not finger-signing really cool dudes who part-tay every weekend then come in with hangovers on Monday and spend the rest of the week trying to put undetectable backdoors into the check printing code or copy the executive payroll file for their own enjoyment.

    The poster who noted that leading-edge programming languages are only leading-edge for a couple of weeks is absolutely correct. COBOL may not be cool, but it was once leading-edge and has persisted because it works. Want to take bets on whether applications written in COBOL or applications written in (enter name of flashy new language here) are more likely to still be running in 20 years>
    • The poster who noted that leading-edge programming languages are only leading-edge for a couple of weeks is absolutely correct. COBOL may not be cool, but it was once leading-edge and has persisted because it works. Want to take bets on whether applications written in COBOL or applications written in (enter name of flashy new language here) are more likely to still be running in 20 years

      IBM are investing a lot of time, effort and money into making Java the new COBOL and VB - a standard business-applicatio
  • by lkaos (187507) <anthony.codemonkey@ws> on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:09PM (#5923175) Homepage Journal
    If you are an older person with the same level experience as someone fresh out of school (in a particular domain), you are much less hirable regardless of profession. Why? You're value as an investment has dimenished greatly. If you are going to be collecting retirement in 20 years, why would I hire you verses someone who won't for another 40 years? Chances are, if you're just getting into something at age 40, you're not going to do anything that changes the industry.

    If you're older and have experience, well, that's a different story entirely. Mostly depends on why you're making a career change.
    • As someone who hires programmers, I disagree strongly with you. This is not America pre-1975, when people were hired, and expected life-long employment. If *ONE* of the programmers I have working for me here is still here in ten years, I'd be amazed. If I am still here in ten years, shoot me. --L
  • by Durandel1020 (230673) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:09PM (#5923177) Homepage
    There are always going to be more and more college graduates coming who are willing to code for less money. Younger people who are willing to work longer and harder who may not have established a family of their own yet.

    The demand is going down and the supply is growing fast.

    The real shortage is COMPETENT management. If you learn and can implement real software management practices, then your more marketable.

    "Code Monkeys" are dime a dozen, and most younglings dont pay much attention to the management practices of software development endevours until after they are in the business a while.

    Just a tip for professional growth...
  • 30 is young! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yintercept (517362) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:10PM (#5923180) Homepage Journal
    If you think about traditional professions, 30 is young, especially in complex technical fields like lawyering, doctoring.

    In such professions you generally complete your degrees in your mid twenties (that is if you are fortunate enough to have rich parents). Then you start clawing your way up the ladder.

    My experience is that the best programmers and designers are in their mid thirties. But the computer programmer industry is known for chewing up people and spitting out useless husks.

    As for the computer industry right now. Your chances of getting a job right out of college is pretty low. Your chances for getting a job with a few years of experience is pretty low, and your chance of getting a job when you are past 40 is basically nil.
    • Re:30 is young! (Score:3, Informative)

      by sql*kitten (1359)
      If you think about traditional professions, 30 is young, especially in complex technical fields like lawyering, doctoring.

      Yeah, I always laugh when these kids with a couple of years experience in IT call themselves "gurus". In any other profession, 5 years experience is barely enough to be allowed to work unsupervised!
  • by Kefaa (76147) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:10PM (#5923182)
    Most of what you will be competing against is dollars. As single person, coming out of college, with limited expenses is a cheaper date. While we would wish it otherwise, the wisdom of age, and to some extent even experience, is not valued greatly in the IT sector.

    Today, as the "way back link" shows people buy experience or "hot tech". They buy it cheap because most of it is learned by students or people fairly young. They are always exceptions, but they are exceptions.

    If you are 40+ you are going to have a hard time switching positions, unless you know a hot tech. The fact is you want more money than the developer who is 24. You believe your experience brings value and to some extent it does, but...how much? With CS grads coming out of college, glad to make 26k a year, can you take such a job? Can you afford a 10k pay cut?

    What I found is people will not let you take a pay cut because they fear you would leave for better money, but they will not hire you for better money, because they could hire someone 24, for 40% of what you make now. So I see more stay with companies, waiting to retire, or go into consulting.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:19PM (#5923223)
    From an actual Monster job posting.

    SW EMBEDDED SYSTEMS ENGRS (56 positions open)

    Candidates will be developing embedded encryption systems and network security systems. Full
    relocation will be provided.
    Must Have:
    * BS or MS in Computer Scient, related technical field, or equivalent experience.
    * Active "Secret" Security Clearance.
    * NO MORE THAN 3-5 years experience. (Candidates with 6+ years experience fall into different job
    classifications with this company. These 56 openings are for candidates with ONLY 3-5 years
    experience.)
    * C/UNIX and Assembly and the development of multi-tasking software.
    * Cryptography experience is a strong plus.
    Also, familiarity with Power PC architecture, Network Processor architecture, TCP/IP, ATM, Wind
    Rivers' Tornado operating system, and ClearCase is a plus.

    Care to guess how many older workers will get these jobs?
    • ...it was probably put on Monster only because DOD regulations require (or at least they used to when I worked in defense several years ago) that it be posted publicly if no one in-house is (officially) qualified.

      They probably have a few people in mind (that one or more managers know or are related to) that have these exact qualifications but they can't hire them unless the job offer is made public first.

      This is quite common in the defense world. I doubt that they really need 56 people with those exact
    • BS required, indeed.
  • Keeping Up To Date (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Flamesplash (469287) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:26PM (#5923258) Homepage Journal
    I think the biggest issue is simply keeping up to date. I work at an academic lab that does DoD contracts. 95% of my co-workers could be my parents. The problem we're having is not of age but of abilities. The current people there are all stuck in their particular languages. We have an Ada person, and the rest are old school C people. The newest ( and relatively younger ) people that have come in, including me, are pushing to start using c++ and OOP methodologies. Our problems are two fold, updating the C people, and highering new people that already have a handle on c++ and OOP.

    It's not so much about age but about what the person can do when hiring. I've interviewed a couple people this week already across a range of ages, and luckily of both sexs. We haven't gone with anyone yet because they aren't versed well enough in what we want even if it is the baby boomer of languages.

    So wether you are young or old, don't pigeon hole yourself into a single technology or language. Investigate the new ones that look promising.

    ( Note: I only used the c++ issue as a particular point, there is obviously much more that we care about than knowledge of a certain language, so don't flame me for being short sighted :P )
  • My experiences (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:26PM (#5923262)
    I've been programming since 1968, from vacuum tubes and punched cards to today, custom OSs, drivers, softare and hardware testing, web sites, networking, firmware, translators, and all sorts of jobs, some boring, most interesting, some exciting (like the one using a real gun, had to test with Michael Jackson playing real loud to drown out the shots :-). I was laid off in September when the company shifted direction to a Windows project which they planned to convert to Linux, but not yet, and I know next to nothing about Windows (in fact, that was why I got the original job years before). Haven't even had a response to any resume yet. Northern California, no where near the bay area, and I like that.

    I do NOT attribute my dismal job search with age, I have never felt my age was a problem. I believe my problem right now is that I am a jack of many trades and master of only a few. I am a good employee, havbe always worked smart, not hard, 8-9 hour days, never had a job which expected 12 hour days, but I have no problem with them in emergencies and rushes, just not days on end for months and years. I have worked with people who routinely put in 12 hour days, and frankly, their code sucked hind tails.

    I think it is a matter of so many programmers out there that companies can hire the best buzzword match, if it doesn't work out, fire them and try again. Or a new project comes along, one new skill required, fire the old buzzword match, find a new one. I have learned Java three times, always got the job done, but didn't use it again for several years, and it had changed enough in between to require partial relearning.

    But I do not think my age is a problem.
  • Age Not The Issue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:33PM (#5923295)
    Age itself isn't really the issue. Any negative arguments are generalisations. All you have to do is convince them that while the stereotype may be true about most older coders, you're not most older coders, you're you.

    Then you point out how your age means you've got experience to bring to the fore and, most of all, you've learned to deal with issues maturely. One of the main problems in a lot of "younger" software companies is that all the early 20s coders think it's an entitlement and get in to rages at every bit of stupidity, bad mouthing people, talking about how the company sucks, moving on etc.

    Once you've been around, you realise every company has its compliment of bad managers etc. and even that sometimes those bad managers are actually perfectly good managers, you personally just happen not to have the full picture. You work well anyway, rather than complaining. That's a huge bonus to an employer.

    The question is, and one I find myself asking as I get older, do you want to put up with the same crap the younger coders do? Or do older coders fit the stereotype because, funnily enough, as you get older, you learn more and realise coding can be a sucky lifestyle?

    That $50,000 job is great for a single guy but suddenly it's not so great for someone with a house and kids.

    Those long hours just before a release are fine for someone who just has to go back to an empty room but a major issue when you have to pick the kids up, take them to ballet and then put them to bed.

    The sudden change of deadlines that mean you're working over the weekend and you're not told until Friday afternoon don't give the flexability you need for family.

    Having a conference during the school holidays that the company HAS to have a demo ready for becomes an issue if it's the only time your kids can go on holiday with you.

    Maternity leave? Sure, it's a protected right. You still expect to be getting the same promotions as the guy who isn't six months behind on the latest technologies?

    Your wrists starting to ache? The young coders can burn through five years before their carpal tunnel syndrome gets really bad. Now you're older and know how much pain it can cause, are you prepared to burn your body up like they are?

    Coding is a high paying lifestyle. It's also a pretty abusive one to your body and your family life over the long term. Most older people aren't prepared to put up with that once they're old enough to realise. Most younger guys are too stupid to realise. Knowing what it entails, if you're prepared to put up with it anyway, there's still work.
  • by manlupus (672280) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:37PM (#5923316)
    I just started a new job and I am 48. We do xsl and xml web development. Who gets the job is based on ability, not age. I am the old man (wise?) on our team.
  • Good luck. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by litewoheat (179018) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:38PM (#5923327)
    With the market flooded with experienced engineers with BS and MS degrees. Mid-life crisis cases with a class or two on their resume don't stand a chance in the job market.
  • by aaaurgh (455697) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:45PM (#5923360)
    I've been in the industry for almost 20 years (25 if you count school/uni.), mostly contract both here in Oz and formerly in the U.K.; I find it bad enough having to run to stand still and keep up to date on all the new technologies - you all know what I mean! Unfortunately, people still see the I.T. industry as the universal panacea to employment problems, after all "how difficult can it be to programme one of those computer things?"(!)

    What few of these poor schmucks are told or realise is that different languages are basically just a change of syntax (plus some relatively minor technique changes) and therefore easy to pick up if you already have the grounding. It's the underlying design and analysis skills (the ones you can't really teach) plus straight-forward experience that people are looking for in the more mature developers.

    If an employer wants inexperienced developers, the newbie graduate will be be favoured as they will have lower salary expectations. If they are looking to the more mature person, it's because they are looking for the I.T. skills and not the "life" experience.

    My current employer just sent round some c.v's for us to comment on for a work experience (read: unpaid) position we have - God, I hate doing that - and half of them were "mature" people moving from other industries which have slackened off. You try to ignore that you are potentially consigning the unchosen to failure and potential unemployment, thinking "there but for the grace of God go I". You look at the scant overview of I.T. skills that their three/six month "training" course has given them and know that most haven't got a chance - they've been sold a fantasy by the training agency.

    The fact is that I.T. is a young person's industry, be it due to misconceptions or not, and unless you get in early it will be very hard to make it stick. We all know how rapidly the technology changes and how hard it can be to keep up; when you have a house and family there's even less time available - I've learnt to read and walk (without bumping into things/people) just so I can use the train/walk to work to read manuals - it's only my long experience, adaptability and up-to-date skills that have seen me through these last few years of lean times.

    If you can show the ability to adapt, have plenty of hands-on and can keep up then contracting is the way to go for the older developer IMHO. Employers don't want to take on permanent oldies (like me, shit I'm only 41!) but the contract industry cares less about the person and looks more for the right skill-set and the experience to back it up. It's kept me in good money thus far but I have to admit it's getting harder to keep up all the time.
  • It depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by studerby (160802) on Friday May 09, 2003 @07:48PM (#5923372)
    There's a lot of things that affect your chances, age is just one of them.

    At my company (if we were hiring), we'd only hire experienced programmers (including former interns) right now. "Just out of school" with no practical experience wouldn't be considered. This is a product of both the current state of the company and the local hiring market; we're very short-term focused currently and there's a glut of good people in our local market - I personally know over a dozen good programmers who've been job-hunting in the last 3 months. If we hire, we're going to cherry-pick.

    However, some other factors that will influence the ability of a new coder to land a job are:

    • contacts - a very large amount of jobs still get filled (at least in part) via contacts and "word of mouth". Especially smaller employers like to have someone they know vouch for the candidate, at least to the extent that the candidate isn't a total asshole and some companies now won't give more than a "yes, he worked on those dates" reference for former employees, for fear of lawsuits. Get yourself friends and associates in the business area you would like to work in.
    • grades - they're just about the only evidence that you're competent in your new field.
    • previous work experience - a lot of programming deals with particular business or technical information and someone with experince in a particular field will have a chance landing a job programming for that field; a former nurse at medical supply co., an accounting clerk for a in-house accounting software, etc. Most disciplines are getting computerized to at least some extent, so an older worker can try to put experience to work in the new job. I know of an ex-"blue collar" guy who used to work warehouse and delivery jobs and had to re-train after an accident; he managed to (eventually) get a job working on inventory software despite being over 50 with some modest disabilities. He started in Quality Assurance and then managed an in-house transfer to a coding position.
    • the local market - if experienced people are on the streets looking for work, new coders are competing to some extent with that pool of talent. Newer training and lower salary demands can somewhat counter-balance this though.
    • language skills - multilingual coders have an edge for some positions
    Good luck.
  • by j1mmy (43634) on Friday May 09, 2003 @08:36PM (#5923573) Journal
    you obviously have some other skill and experience to boot. That's your edge over the younger crowd. If you're looking for a menial 9-to-5 position, that's not going to be worth squat. If you're looking for something a little higher up the ladder, you're far better off.

    If all else fails, kill yourself.
  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Friday May 09, 2003 @09:19PM (#5923730) Homepage
    Those 40+ workers won't have a snowball's chance in hell in the current market. Roughly what anyone that doesn't currently have a job, I might add.

    Not only that, but I suspect that many people with CS degrees - the technical rough equivilent of an Engineering degree or such - are getting a mere fraction of what other people in technically inclined career paths are getting. The situation doesn't look like it's going to improve, either - at least not within the decade, and probably longer.

    I see tech workers having several options from which to chose from. The available options are probably not anything that will happen without a fairly large pull on the government from the private citizens of the US: civil liberties have been pretty low on the totem pole of things to do for the government of late.

    The first thing that could be done would probably be to form a union. Many people in the tech industry protest this it seems, though, because they might see 'union' being attributed to 'lower' work, such as manual labor. However, I do not see this as meaning that it shouldn't be done, or that it would be bad for tech workers if it were done. It would provide for wage and sallary standardization for specific tasks and job requirements. Granted, the people with lucrative 200k$/year jobs would probably lose out.

    Another option - and probably the best - is to get a government licsensure board set up, such as what conventional engineers have. This would act positively on several fronts. First, it would change being a 'tech worker' from being simply that - someone with technical skills that is seen by management to perform menial technical tasks - to a trained and licensed professional.

    Then, in turn, commericial software could not be sold without a licensed programmer's 'signature'. (This could work much like the current engineer scenario of a single engineer watching over draftsmen - the real programmers (people that hvae been programming for years, with many languages, etc - programming managers, basically, instead of the clueless IT Managers we have now) look over, debug, and LART the 'coders'. Granted, there'd probably be a higher ratio of programmers/coders than there is of engineers/draftsman, simply because it takes a lot more man hours to review code than it does to look over a blueprint.

    Additionally, this would do several things for the quality of code. It would increase, one, because there would at least be a minimal level of competence on a given project (as shown by the licensure test taken by the programmer).

    Second, an programmer putting his stamp of approval on a project is much more likely to pay attention to the overall quality of the product, since his license is on the line. There will have to be some more thought done on how to determine whether or not a programmer is responsible for a problem with his software, of course, but I think it can be safely said that large vulnerabilities and inherrently insecure software design would result in such a license revocation. It would, of course, be determined by the governmental licensure board.

    Thirdly, this would be a positive long-term thing because all the Indian and Asian imigrants that are currently working here without their blue cards, and many with, would not be able to work in the capacity of programmer. Hopefully 'coders' would have to be licensed too, a requirement being that they be a civizen.

    Similar rules can be drawn up for system administration, although I'll argue that the infastructure is already largely there. sysadmins follow previously defined guidelines, for the most part, and work within a boundry. They have things like Cisco's intensive certification program which is largely respected in its higher manifestations. Etc.

    The fact of the matter is, the software industry has been going through an 'industrial revolution' of sorts, similar to what occured about 100 years ago. Ideas have been formulated, mistakes have been made, and now we're still going over step 1 and 2 wi
  • by acidrain69 (632468) on Friday May 09, 2003 @09:26PM (#5923758) Journal
    With the industry in the shitter like it is, I am having a hell of a time finding work. I just recently graduated with a degree in CS from UCF, and it's near-worthless. There are a million people out there with actual on-the-job experience in ADDITION to their degrees, and they too are working for pitiful wages in whatever they can get right now. I think if anything, age is a BONUS as long as you have the experience that usually goes along with it.
  • by gmacd (181857) on Friday May 09, 2003 @10:12PM (#5923943) Homepage
    I went through a tough transition from techie/code writer to manager. I hire people old or young that will improve my team. Sometimes that means young people with enthusiasm and a misplaced sense of what the latest technology can really accomplish and sometimes it means hiring someone older who has lived through several "revolutions" in programming that will "forever change" the IT world. The more experienced (often but not always older) programmer/analysts are the better listeners who remember that our primary purpose is to build software systems that people can use intuitively to accomplish their work more effectively. They are also the ones that can resist the temptation to build "clever" code remembering from past code maintenance nightmares that just because something is possible doesn't mean it is good idea.

    Lately, to help screen applicants we have found it is extremely useful to test and interview. This quickly helps us identify those with a balance of technical and communication skills. It is remarkable how few applicants carefully listen to our questions before answering. Most use every question as a starting point to launch into a detailed technical diatribe of their favorite projects, scattering acronyms throughout, forgetting that only one of the interview committee members (who have all been introduced and identified by position) has a technical background suitable to understand their answer.

    Summary - those managers who want the best team members will find ways that do not prohibit older programmers from making it through the screening process. We will occasionally miss the truly gifted but this is unfortunately but part of risk management.
  • by mrobinso (456353) on Friday May 09, 2003 @10:45PM (#5924048) Homepage
    Good Things about young coders
    1. Work cheap
    2. Work long, work hard
    3. Don't die as easily.

    Bad Things about young coders
    1. Transient, bored easily
    2. Fuck everything in site
    3. Inexperienced.
    4. Priorities b0rked (cock first, code later)
    5. Client schmlient
    6. Fuck everything in site
    7. Normalization is too conformist
    8. Want everyone else's job
    9. Fuck everything in site

    Good Things about older coders
    1. Stable
    2. Experienced
    3. Choosy about who to fuck

    Bad Things about older coders
    1. I forget

    -mike

    -- Karma Whore? You betcha!

  • by flacco (324089) on Friday May 09, 2003 @11:20PM (#5924132)
    ... and I'm really at a total loss about how I would go about it.

    The only tactic I can think of that I'd be comfortable with is: "disarm them with honesty!"

    How do you think the typical interviewer would handle a nearly-forty sysadmin/programmer who points out:

    • my greatest weakness is my inability to work a regular schedule. i need flex time in order to work efficiently. i put in above and beyond in terms of number of hours, but sometimes i come in four hours late; sometimes i take off a friday and work saturday instead; sometimes i'll come in at 7pm and work until noon the next day. however, when i'm at home and not sleeping, i am almost always abvailable on call should something come up. if you have more rigid scheduling requirements, i'll do my best, but no promises.

    • in my everyday life, i love things that are quick and easy. just like my wimmins. but when it comes to writing code, i will not rush to get a project out the door. i understand that i will be maintaining that code probably until hell freezes over, and i'm going to do it the right way the first time. if you misbudget development time - that's your problem.

    • i don't like microsoft. there, i said it. i will not use a microsoft development environment, and i will not use a microsoft os on my development desktop. i will not program in asp, com components, or vb. if you need that stuff done, surely there are less principled employees on the payroll that will take up those tasks.

    • when it comes to public web applications, i will not write any code that is not standards-compliant. life is too short, and the art of web development is so broad, that i won't waste any time on platform-specific or browser-specific code. if we're talking about an internal application where the user-base is known, i will still strive for standards-compliance, but will consent to using proprietary technologies if there are no other options.

    So, what do you think? Am I unemployable?

    ah, what the hell. I figure it would keep me out of places that i'd hate to work in anyway.

    • Is the "disarm them with honnesty" approach a job killer? It is if you need to pay the bills, but if you are not in any rush to get work (house and car already paid for, etc.), then it will save you and the candidate employer a lot of wasted time and frustrations:
      • The first two points will weed you out of a company that insits upon deadlines and schedules, with managers that presume highly of their abilities to budget and schedule everything oh-so brilliantly.
      • The last two points are guaranteed to preven
  • by serutan (259622) <(moc.nozakeeg) (ta) (guodpoons)> on Saturday May 10, 2003 @01:26AM (#5924537) Homepage
    I have been programming for 25 years and switched to web dev about 6 years ago. Living in Seattle, where there are even more unemployed programmers than latte stands, I have never had much trouble finding a job, including during the dotcom bust a couple years ago. I think the important thing is to have a history of constantly learning new stuff. I know guys who smugly spent the late 1990s raking in money doing Y2K conversions on old COBOL programs while I was making less money doing web pages. Those are the guys who are hard up for interesting jobs.
  • by fupeg (653970) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @02:11AM (#5924656)
    You might have had a problem finding a job three years ago if you were 35+, but probably not because most places would hire anybody who was even remotely competent. These days if you are light on experience (which most really young people are) you are completely screwed. Every company I've seen needs people who can be immediately productive and require no training. If anything, I would imagine that a 25 year old programmer with 3 years of experience would have a significantly more difficult time finding a job than a 40 year old programmer with 15 years of experience. Companies don't hire young people because they're cheap, they hire old people because they are just as cheap. This may be unique to Silicon Valley...

    Of course the philosophy at big software shops is different. Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, IBM all like to recruit directly out of college/grad school. It's easier to teach people the "right" way to do things that way. This also lets them pay people less. Of course they are able to do this because they don't need people to be immediately productive. They can afford to invest a few years of brainwashing, err training.
  • In a word, lousy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whitroth (9367) <whitroth@NOsPaM.5-cent.us> on Saturday May 10, 2003 @09:03AM (#5925569) Homepage
    A lot of you kids seem to be assuming you're talking about somebody trying to get in...and missing those of us who've been here for 10, 15, 20 and more years.

    Let me put it this way: on a techie mailing list I'm on, with maybe 30-50 heavy posters, and including people who some of y'all might recognize the name, the last time we polled ourselves, last year, we had over a dozen of us out of work. Since then, several have gotten jobs...and several more lost 'em.

    This matches what I read in ...zdnet?... a few months ago, where it said that in the tech sector (thir largest, behind retail and fast food!), the unemployment rate is around 15%.

    In the Chicago area, when I left for FL in Jan, it was about 20%.

    Does the word "depression" come to mind?

    And for the jobs that are available, HR, who, in general, barely know how to bring up email, put a laundry list of languages *and* packages that would require any three people to cover, and don't want to pay for it.

    I've recently seen one in my neck of the woods, that want an experienced person to do troubleshooting and installs, with up to 75% travel, and they want to pay $30k/yr for this. Would you like fries with that?

    Finally, there's yet another, almost unprovable issue: ageism. I'll bet you a drink that the interview I had last spring, I didn't get the job, because the owner was early 30s, and everyone else in the office seemed to be early 20s.

    At 50+, I wouldn't "fit into the culture".

    Meanwhile, let's all just sit back, watch them CEOs take their paid-for GOP legislators' tax breaks, and export jobs overseas (e.g., IBM's 500 seat call center in India), and bring cheap labor H1b's over here. Ah, unions and labor laws are *so* 20th century...as is a decent living.

    mark, programmer/software developer/Unix/Linux sysadmin, 23 yrs experience, 21+ mos. out of work
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @11:18AM (#5926075)
    On my last Job (all staff laid off on Dec. 31, 2k3) I shared the office with the Senior Developer, a 40 year old with 20 years expierience in Pascal/Delphi Developement who had a University Diploma in Informatics (that's what it's called in germany, go figure...).
    He didn't know zilch 'bout OSS, Linux and the lot. I went about evangelizing him and six months later he was way ahead of me in gcc, Python, Java/Netbeans and co.
    I was/am the young guy (well, sort of young (32 :-) )) who new all those new goodies and he has the RL expierience. I'd pick him over any hotshot podknocker on *any* IT related project I can think of. And I'd advise anybody to do the same. 3 Days with him are more worth than 2 weeks with a team of twens with all but a handfull of coding-years each. The same would count if he were fifty or just before retirement.
  • Move to India (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Barleymashers (643146) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @11:58AM (#5926202)
    I work for a large telecom (think mom), we were recently sold off (outsourced), a few days after being sold, all the developers that were left were told that they now only do design, all the coding is to be done in India. My old company's model now appears to be outsource all development, the new company has all development done in India.

    So the coding future doesn't look good at the moment if you live in the US and want to work in voice telecom (not that I would recommend that industry after working in it for 10 years, perhaps VoIP has a better track record). However, if you want to do high and low level design documents and integration test when the code comes back you might be able to find something.

  • by cfish (61161) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @12:58PM (#5926476)
    If you care so much about money, perhaps you should go into finance instead of computer science. If you have no passion for what you do, what are you doing in an "enthusaists" forum anyway?

    I believe in doing what you love and not worry about money. In our field, it's actually quite easy to accomplish.

    And I'm sick of this "IT" this "IT" that; everytime someone tells me that he works in "IT," I'd ask them exactly what they do. None of them knows crap about technology or computers. I'm sick of the constant whining by "HTML Coders." They deserve what they got for dropping school/job/whatever to join the dotCom gold rush.

    I'm damn sick of computer science students not knowing shit about computers. If you came into this field for the money, what right do you have whinning about your income? The field no longer offer you the good pay; then leave. Switch to investment banking or car repair or strip dancing. Stop whinning.

    A poet never think about striking rich; they do what they feel passionate about. Programmers shouldn't be any different. If Linus didn't get paid for Linux, why should you demand a certain pay? If I were the recruiter, I will reject you whinners because only failures worry about salaries, not the work to accomplish. Be thankful that we are damn lucky to be able to make a good living doing what we love.

    It's bad times. So what? I know of people who can't wait to retire and I know of people who just love doing what they do and refuse to retire. Your happiness is your choice.
  • MOVE TO DC! (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheSync (5291) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @02:55PM (#5927083) Journal
    The Washington, DC, area has more jobs now than a year ago. If you can't get a job in New York or SF/SJ, please pick yourself up and move to DC.

    Older coders who are more likely to get a security clearance are needed, especially if you have any old military or government experience.

    The trick is finding the position that gets you your first security clearance. Take less money for it. Once you have one, you will have little problem holding a job in the DC area.

    Besides government, there are also many non-profits and lobbying groups in the area. National Geographic is looking for an experienced webmaster, for instance.

    While AOL and Wolrdcom/MCI/UUWho shed some people, it is looking like many of them are ending up in other places. Plus MCI is moving their main operations to Northern Virginia.

    Jobs might not be as cool in the DC area as they were three years ago, but the good news is that there are jobs at all, and that there are cheap places to live in DC. South of DC in Maryland, $250k buys you a spacious McMansion. Cheap rents in Oxon Hill and SouthEast DC. Just don't live in MD north of DC or in Northern VA, it is expensive there.

    No, it is not nirvana, but there are jobs here.

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