Many programmers wonder whether they will still be hired as they enter their golden years.
If you are a programmer and have been working for more than a few years, I won’t be surprised if thoughts have gone through your head about whether you will still be hireable as you approach your forties and fifties.
Don’t worry, you are not alone. Traditionally, programming has been looked upon as an industry for young graduates (the average age of a programmer is 32 years old), and the vision of a 55+ year old programmer is something that most of us rarely, if ever, see in technology companies.
Some 43% of Indeed survey respondents said they worried about losing their job because of their age. And 18% said they worry about that possibility “all the time.”
As I am about to enter my fifties, I wanted to share my thoughts on what you can do to make sure that you will be even more hireable when you hit fifty than you are now, and take a glimpse into what I try to do to make sure that I am a good pick.
Others Jumped Ship, Should I?
From early on in my career, I saw fellow programmers who started out with me in my company at the same time, progressing with me from the role of junior developer to senior developer positions, and then suddenly within a few years they “progressed” to positions of team leader or product manager. It seems that they too might have had the same concerns I had and took a quick escape ‘while they could’ and went along a career path that does not have the same ageism concerns as programming.
As years passed and my former colleagues became my managers, and my manager’s manager, this clearly got me thinking — am I really doing the right thing by staying in my role as a programmer where I am slowly becoming the oldie in the team?
My Journey as a Middle-aged Programmer
As might be obvious from this post, I stayed on as a programmer, and am extremely glad that I did.
Just to clarify, I didn’t want to be just another programmer in my team. I made sure that I grew in my skills, making myself invaluable to my team.
Here comes a few tips and techniques that I have used to manage my career — I hope that they will help you stay focused as your career progresses as they have helped me.
Learn from other people
There are a lot of smarter people out there in the tech world — learn as much as you can from them — read books, subscribe to blogs, watch online tech conferences, find a favorite channel and stay passionate about technology. Don’t restrict yourself to free content — if you see a book you’d like, buy it—even if you can’t expense it to your employer and if you find some great publications on Medium, pay for a subscription. The return on investment is well worth it.
Apply your broad experience
Use your experience and wisdom from your previous jobs that younger programmers lack: other programming languages, limited resources for executing software, lack of logs, lesson learned spending nights debugging, months of refactoring.
Share knowledge and experience — what you know is extremely valuable and by sharing it you will not only become a go-to person in your development group, but you will also improve the skills of your fellow programmers. Sharing knowledge can be done through Code Reviews, presenting in technical meetings at work, participation in Meetups, or writing blogs.
There is an ancient book called Ethics of The Fathers, written by Jewish Sages nearly 2000 years ago that talks about how we change over the years . We can learn a lot from this wisdom — Twenty years is the age to pursue a livelihood, thirty the age for strength, Forty the age for understanding and fifty the age for counsel.
The technology stacks and languages that are available to us as programmers are changing and advancing at an enormous speed. Staying in the same technology, using the same design techniques for a long time is comforting but might not be smart. Don’t get locked into a single technological stack for too long. Whether it’s introducing new techniques or technologies in your group, internal mobility, or even moving to a new job, do what you need to stay technically fresh.
Go out of your comfort zone
Try not to stay in your comfort zone for too long — volunteer to be the one to learn that new library, write a prototype in a new language, or agree to give a lecture to your team on a recent project. By continually stepping out of your comfort zone, you are ensuring that you will always be growing, and thereby increasing your value.
A Note For My Potential Recruiters
You, the recruiters, have a new reality — demographics are changing — the average age of developers in the tech industry is increasing³. It’s important to come to terms with this, and realize that having an older developer in your company is not a bad thing — on the contrary, it’s a great asset since you will now have people with an enormous amount of experience that you, as a technical organization, can tap into.
About 6 years ago, I interviewed a 70-year-old programmer for a developer position in one of my previous companies and was shocked that, even though he passed my interview, he was rejected later on by HR. This was extremely upsetting for me — I am not sure whether I was more upset for this 70-year-old person who just wanted to keep on programming or in shock for myself, seeing how age discrimination might affect me in a few years down. Whether this was age discrimination or not we will never be able to prove it, but I do remember that it shocked me to the core.
I have a request to all tech recruiters — please relate to the age of your potential programmers as you would to a fine bottle of whisky and not as you would relate to a piece of moldy cheese lying in the back of your fridge.
There have been a large number of Age Discrimination law suits filed against tech companies in recent years, whether it be unfair dismissals for employees nearing retirement⁴ or targeted advertisement of tech jobs to 25 to 35-year-olds ⁵ . Through the public awareness of these suites as well as the fact that no matter what happens, the average programmer is getting old, we are slowly causing recruiters to relate to older programmers as a mature whisky.
Is this enough? Will tech companies still hire you as a 50-year-old over a 30-year-old? A definite yes. Will there be companies that might reject you without looking at your resume once they see your age? Unfortunately, also a definite yes, but don’t let that deter you as your progress.
Remember that in the Tech Sector, due to the enormous growth, it is still an employees market, so lucky for us there is a high demand for programmers.