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Tech's Dark Secret, It's All About Age

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the just-like-supermodels dept.

Businesses 602

theodp writes "Universities really should tell engineering students what to expect in the long term and how to manage their technical careers. Citing ex-Microsoft CTO David Vaskevitch's belief that younger workers have more energy and are sometimes more creative, Wadwha warns that reports of ageism's death have been greatly exaggerated. While encouraging managers to consider the value of the experience older techies bring, Wadwha also offers some get-real advice to those whose hair is beginning to grey: 1) Move up the ladder into management, architecture, or design; switch to sales or product management; jump ship and become an entrepreneur. 2) If you're going to stay in programming, realize that the deck is stacked against you, so be prepared to earn less as you gain experience. 3) Keep your skills current — to be coding for a living when you're 50, you'll need to be able to out-code the new kids on the block. Wadwha's piece strikes a chord with 50-something Dave Winer, who calls the rampant ageism 'really f***ed up,' adding that, 'It's probably the reason why we keep going around in the same loops over and over, because we chuck our experience, wholesale, every ten years or so.'"

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602 comments

Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416046)

Anyone in the field who hasn't figured this out yet needs to be let go. Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages. Experienced directors/designers have the foresight to be able to properly direct all that youthful energy to the most worthwhile pursuits, rather than just letting them wander aimlessly through some other other geek's code.

It's all about sage (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416162)

sage this thread bitches

There's Something About Rosemary (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416196)

in the mashed potatoes bitches

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Interesting)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416176)

"Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages."

Actually, no, it doesn't. I have never done this and never will. And yet I'm gainfully imployed as a programmer and my bosses (including the owners of the company) constantly tell me they value my contributions to the company.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416260)

"Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages."

Actually, no, it doesn't. I have never done this and never will.

To each his own. More importantly, if you are being directed properly by experienced management then you see the meaning of the statement. The purpose is meant to divert overly enthusiastic but misdirected individuals from spending countless hours whiddling away at unimportant tasks which due to their lack of experience might put them at risk of staring blankly - nights or days is irrelevant.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416220)

Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

You're doing it wrong.

This is the same attitude that puts every project behind schedule, because 20-something morons who have never seen a project managed competently think it's supposed to be that way.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416232)

Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

No, inexperienced programming requires that.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416256)

Employers need to keep in mind that age discrimination is ILLEGAL in the United States... just as illegal as discrimination based on religion or race.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (4, Insightful)

brainboyz (114458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416306)

But proving you've been discriminated against by age is difficult, at best. "The candidate we hired had skills more relevant to our business needs and displayed an attitude that meshed better with our company culture."

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416508)

In exactly the same way that it is difficult to prove you were discriminated against based on race or religion.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (2, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416660)

I would guess it is much harder to prove than race or religion. I mean seriously, we interview a lot of candidates. No one I have ever worked with expressed the thought that older people can't be competent in CS, whereas I have run into actual racists/religionists.

Older people don't get hired because:
1) They let their skill sets get out of date. We're hiring people currently skilled in java. I have seen some older people apply who only knew cobol, apparently, and weren't willing to learn enough java to pass a basic technical interview.
2) Older people can appear tired. We're hiring energetic people with enthusiasm for their work. If you can't even fake it the length of an interview ....

I say all this headed for my 30th birthday and knowing the clock is ticking.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (3, Interesting)

wagadog (545179) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416690)

...Actually Google tried that "company culture" line of crap out on Brian Reid, and it's actually digging them further into a hole -- because the "stray remarks" doctrine no longer applies in that case -- since "stray remarks" are indicative of "company culture."

It's funny how the things companies try to keep themselves off the hook tend to be the very things that hoist them in the high-profile cases.

Ah, the irony, sweet irony.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416532)

You can't discriminate based on age, but if you can get somebody cheaper, faster, stronger and/or better then its just a business decision and not at all based on age. Statistical trends are not all discrimination, sometimes things just are as they are and you need to stop bitching. Its like saying boxing discriminates against the feeble.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (2, Insightful)

wagadog (545179) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416666)

...and just as illegal as discrimination based on childbearing status and gender, I may add.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416294)

Experienced directors/designers have the foresight to be able to properly direct all that youthful energy to the most worthwhile pursuits.

This.

100 times this.

This to the power infinite.

I'm reaching my 4th year of professional programming (so still pretty young), and I remember starting out I definately marketted myself as one of those fresh new guys who are up to date with the latest stuff. I would not be where I am today without the senior developer over my shoulder though - he is basically the bridge between what you are taught and what the real world is like. Universities, Colleges, Polytechnics, all churn out hundreds of monkeys like me, but those guys who stick with it are the valuable ones, and I hate to see them under-appreciated. We recently had our lead developer with 10+ years experience in the company leave because of political BS, and while I'm capable at keeping the maintenance in check, I have no idea how to lay out the big projects that the VP's want done. Well, let me rephrase that: I know I could come up with something, but I have no idea if it is truly the best course of action, how easy it will be to implement with existing systems, or any of the logistical stuff on how long each section will take under the rest of the team with their experience.

I only hope that I can stick it out long enough to develop my skills to be as helpful to some protoges some day, and that they too will be appreciative of me.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416328)

That's funny because every time there's a massive security problem, it's not a younger programmer at fault. People my age learn about how to avoid, for example, SQL injections. Older programmers never had to worry about that because when they were in college, they didn't learn about it. And when it comes to retraining and keeping updated, well they're just "too busy" and will "do it later." So in review, for younger programmer, stupid mistakes and software glitches, yes, blatant security holes and generally old technology and methods, no!
And don't even get me started on all the clueless IT admins that got promoted to oversee everything just because of their age and supposed experience but take that as an excuse to not keep up on any new technology and generally don't know as much as the people under them. Although I've also seen several get fired for seriously screwing up so that's good at least.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (3, Insightful)

ahodgson (74077) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416372)

I have yet to see a developer fresh out of school even know what a SQL injection is, let alone code to prevent it.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416594)

Yet I could name dozens (myself included) who knew what an SQL injection was (and how to avoid them) long before graduating.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416422)

On the other hand:

SQL injection, while yes clearly a bad security problem, is pretty fixable. By fixable, I mean it generally would take a non-ridiculous amount of time to analyze the code/procedures for a project and eliminate SQL injection problems.

Major architectural or technology decisions really are not fixable on anything near the same scale of effort. These are the big mistakes that new developers make wrong (if they are allowed to make them) much more often than experienced developers.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416572)

The last 3 programmers that I dealt with in hiring fresh out of school couldn't even tell me what SQL injection was, let alone how to code to prevent it. OTOH, the programmer with 10 years of experience was able to tell me what it was and how to prevent it. Hell he even took the time to write me an example on the fly. Who do you think got the job?

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416638)

That's funny because every time there's a massive security problem, it's not a younger programmer at faul

Citation required.

." So in review, for younger programmer, stupid mistakes and software glitches, yes, blatant security holes and generally old technology and methods, no!

Arrogance and belief that as a younger programmer one intuitively knows how to avoid vulnerabilities and poor security practices are far more likely to cause such security holes. such a person might be one of the fraction of a percent of programmers (young or old) who is as good as he thinks he is - but I wouldn't bet my livelihood on it.

There is no substitution for experience - in security matters as well as avoiding stupid mistakes and software glitches.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (5, Insightful)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416662)

You must work exclusively with stupid older developers then, because that kind of generalization is ludicrous.

Experience can't replace knowledge, but knowledge won't do you a whole lot of good until you have some experience.

In my experience there are good developers and not-good developers.

The good ones "get it", and can adapt to new languages and platforms quickly and still be effective and productive.

The "not-good" developers won't do well on the platforms they are used to no matter how long they work at it.

I was able to get hired to work in languages I'd never used before and adapted quickly. Good managers, which are increasingly hard to find, can recognize this kind of thing. Bad managers are how mediocre people can thrive in a career they are no good at.

Many, but not most, young kids fresh out of school "get it". They are worth hiring. Many, but not most, old timers with decades of experience don't "get it", and by that point they probably never will.

But I don't care how smart a person is, years of paying his dues in the trenches is absolutely imperative to become a true expert.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416368)

Anyone in the field who hasn't figured this out yet needs to be let go. Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages. Experienced directors/designers have the foresight to be able to properly direct all that youthful energy to the most worthwhile pursuits, rather than just letting them wander aimlessly through some other other geek's code.

There's probably a good amount of truth to this.

Coding, to a large degree, is grunt work. No, this isn't universally true... But a lot of it is.

You want your more experienced people to be supervising the grunt coders - not wasting their time actually turning out line after line of code.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

CreatorOfSmallTruths (579560) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416650)

Anyone in the field who hasn't figured this out yet needs to be let go. Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages. Experienced directors/designers have the foresight to be able to properly direct all that youthful energy to the most worthwhile pursuits, rather than just letting them wander aimlessly through some other other geek's code.

There's probably a good amount of truth to this.

Coding, to a large degree, is grunt work. No, this isn't universally true... But a lot of it is.

You want your more experienced people to be supervising the grunt coders - not wasting their time actually turning out line after line of code.

Its sad that you think that. Coding can be grunt work but the same piece of code can be art, it all depends on who does the coding.

I'm an old timer and like vacations more than work (1)

pushf popf (741049) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416430)

Why on earth should I work insane hours to write code that younger people can write faster and cheaper (and honestly probably better)?

Start your own business and hire the "young guns" instead of complaining about them.

If I need a bunch of code written, I'll hire 20-somethings to write it while I go SCUBA Diving in the Caribbean.

Life is short, you might as well enjoy it because, well, because . . . "fun is better than anxiety"

Re:Experience is a Gift... (3, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416462)

Anyone in the field who hasn't figured this out yet needs to be let go. Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

That's simply not true. It's just *one* way of getting the job done. True, you need to achieve a flow state to be maximally productive. The reason for the late nights is to have time when you aren't interrupted. In other words, the belief that you *have* to stay late at night to be productive is the product of incompetent management.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1)

N7DR (536428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416576)

Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

I beg to differ. It requires thinking hard enough about solving the problem so that you don't spend long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

Re:Experience is a Gift... (1, Flamebait)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416668)

Programming requires long nights staring blankly at mind-muddling objective languages.

Only for people who suck at it.

Typical Dinosaur Mentality (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416052)

who calls the rampant ageism 'really f***ed up,'

Phhhbbt, sounds like something your average old timer would say ...

'It's probably the reason why we keep going around in the same loops over and over, because we chuck our experience, wholesale, every ten years or so.'

Oh, sure the initial steps in the web's client/server model may have had resembled the dumb terminals and mainframes of the days of yore but with HTML5 my generation is bringing in a new original and fresh way of computing where worker threads [w3.org] and local storage [w3.org] give us the ability to distribute ...

*red LED under the skin of eldavojohn's arm starts flashing*

What's this!? What? Wait, no! Nooo! It can't be!

*eldavojohn stands up to run only to be met by two members of the sunset squad holding stun batons behind him*

No, I just turned 28! You bastards, I was supposed to have more time! It's not my time yet!

*as they drag him away, a young acne faced male takes his place and begins mockingly humming "Circle of Life" from the Lion King while tearing down the X-Files poster and MST3K figurines adorning the cubicle*

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (4, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416180)

Phhhbbt, sounds like something your average old timer would say ...

I'm one of those old timers. I still stay up all night programming about once a week, but only because I work for myself. Ageism affects those in the corporate culture ... and those of us trying to deal with people just starting out who think they know everything. It's rare to find someone who is young who values the experience we dinosaurs bring to the table. We've been around long enough to have broken it and fixed it again several times over so don't discount our skills just because we're old enough to be your parents.

No, I just turned 28! You bastards, I was supposed to have more time! It's not my time yet!

Wow, I've been programming longer than you've been alive ... surely my experience is worth something, isn't it?

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416246)

Apparently a sense of humor is the first thing that goes...

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416478)

Apparently a sense of humor is the first thing that goes...

The Logan's Run reference wasn't lost on me ... I saw it in the theaters when it was 'new'. The red crystal in the palm of his hand shouldn't be going off until he's 30. I guess one of those 'young coders' didn't check his code very well and now eldavojohn will be going off to the cornfield a little early ... unless this is a plot by the youngsters to slowly reel in the age limits. Beware the Sandman gentlemen for they care not what you say, but only what your crystal tells them.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416322)

I worked not very long ago with one of those young "rockstar" programmers. While he was intelligent and a good worker, he had no formal education in computer science, and in some ways it showed. For example, he had no idea what a Big O() was, and did not have the necessary math or theory to be able to determine the efficiency of anything he was writing.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (3, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416640)

*nod* That has been my problem with working around untrained 'rockstars'... they can be really bright, but they spend all their time reinventing things that have been around for decades because they did not know the solution already existed off the shelf.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (4, Insightful)

Americano (920576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416408)

and those of us trying to deal with people just starting out who think they know everything.

It's rare to find someone who is young who values the experience we dinosaurs bring to the table.

We've been around long enough to have broken it and fixed it again several times over so don't discount our skills just because we're old enough to be your parents.

Sounds like you're indulging in a bit of casual ageism yourself! Delightful, innit?

I'm 35. I work with lots of guys who are 15-25 years older than me; some are quite bright, excellent problem solvers, and their experience is tremendously valuable. Others are obnoxious, stale, inflexible, cantankerous pains in the ass. I value the former. I despise the latter - not because they're old, it's because they behave as if their age automatically confers upon them some sort of infallibility in all things technical.

Not surprisingly, the latter group are also the ones - in my experience - who like to knock me (with ~12 years in the field) as "young," "unseasoned," and "still wet behind the ears," normally while I'm disagreeing with their approach and outlining why it's bad, and why a different approach would be better. Because apparently nothing supports their point quite as well as waving away technical limitations with "you're young, you can't possible understand." The former group tends to explain their proposals in such a way that it is immediately obvious why their approach is a technically superior alternative, instead of being condescending pricks to everybody with less experience.

"Old enough to be my parent" is a secondhand appeal to authority - a) you're not my parent; b) if that's the only reason I should be listening to you, you probably aren't as good at your job as you've judged yourself. People old enough to be my parents earn my respect when I see that they are genuine authorities in the subject matter, they don't automatically get it by virtue of the fact that they've been sitting around the office longer than me. Just as I don't expect someone to assume I'm correct simply because "my college training is more recent than yours" - if I'm correct, then it doesn't matter if I'm young or old; if I'm incorrect, the same applies.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (4, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416632)

"Old enough to be my parent" is a secondhand appeal to authority - a) you're not my parent; b) if that's the only reason I should be listening to you, you probably aren't as good at your job as you've judged yourself.

No one asked for your respect or even for you to listen. I believe I said "don't discount our skills just because we're old enough to be your parents." It has nothing to do with appealing to authority ... had I said "you should listen to us because we're old enough to be your parents" I could see you point. But in this case you're simply off the mark.

At 35 you're not young, especially in IT. Your touchy response leads me to believe you may end up in the second group of people who are 15 - 25 years older than you are.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (4, Funny)

saider (177166) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416466)

According to H.R. - If you don't have 5 years of experience coding in HTML5, I'm afraid we don't have a position for you.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416602)

Yes, you must have a MINIMUM of HTML5 and Oracle 11g, but TODAY if you have over 12 years of that particular HTML5 and Oracle 11g experience, you are FIRED for being too old :)

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1, Informative)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416184)

These days we have Battlestar Galactica and Futurama posters you old foggie you.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (2, Funny)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416562)

These days we have Battlestar Galactica

We had them back in the day too, only when we had them we could tell who the good guys and the bad guys were and we didn't freak out every time we heard Jimi Hendrix.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416584)

The original BSG came out in 1978, 6 years before I was born and apparently 4 years before eviljohn. If you thought the remake was a new show, then that just proves the article's point about chucking experience and ending up making the same mistakes. Futurama kicks ass though.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (0)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416206)

> my generation is bringing in a new original and fresh way of computing where worker
> threads and local storage give us the ability to distribute ...

You can't be fucking serious. If you are, you make this guy's point for him: if you actually believe that worker threads and local storage are new concepts in CS, you're a clueless moron.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1)

FreakyGreenLeaky (1536953) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416280)

You can't be fucking serious. If you are, you make this guy's point for him: if you actually believe that worker threads and local storage are new concepts in CS, you're a young clueless moron.

Don't worry, I hate the young fucker as well.

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416326)

Whoosh!

Re:Typical Dinosaur Mentality (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416364)

Further, if he thinks it's "his generation" that "brought" these things, he is delusional. He should take a look at the ages of the people in the W3C and other standards bodies, for example.

Typical youth-tard response... (1)

bjk002 (757977) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416286)

Who exactly do you think originated concepts such as worker threads and local storage?

*sigh*

Re:Typical youth-tard response... (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416302)

The same guys who lost their sense of humor to old age.

Sorry... (1)

bjk002 (757977) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416578)

I get the Futurama reference, but I'm afraid I don't see the "joke".

Have you worked with the younger generation? Some of them actually spew this nonsense and mean it!

"Out code"? (5, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416136)

What is that? When I was younger I could code more, but I wouldn't say I coded better. Now I take my time and produce efficent, well documented, fully tested code - which functions 1000x better than my 'mass produced' code. Any *good* programmer programs well - not in volume.

Any 50+ year old programmer should be able to keep up with 25yo programmers, knowing how to program isn't just knowing the ins and outs of the hottest language - it is knowing HOW to program so that you can swap languages efficently. (Yes, there is time to learn differences in languages, etc) But anyone worth their salt can jump where needed and go.

Being said, if your first language was cold fusion and it is all you have done for the last 12 years, you may have a difficult time switching to C!

Re:"Out code"? (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416174)

Being said, if your first language was cold fusion and it is all you have done for the last 12 years, you may have a difficult time switching to C!

'course, if that's the case, you have bigger problems, not the least of which being uncontrollable, homicidal tendencies...

Re:"Out code"? (3, Interesting)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416216)

Yup... I'm the oldest on my team and the young pups can spit out more code, but when the rubber hits the road it's the old farts like me that deliver quality, stability and scalability. (Sort of a symbiotic relationship, they spit out tons of schlock then we fix it.)

Re:"Out code"? (1)

mpeskett (1221084) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416598)

I would take "out-code" to be equivalent to "out-compete" - produce something better, quantity not necessarily a factor.

Unless the task ahead really does just require a large amount of code that isn't too difficult to write... in which case you'd probably be better off out-sourcing it to somewhere cheap.

Re:"Out code"? (5, Informative)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416600)

Not to mention the experienced programmer can sometimes avoid months of wasted effort just by having enough experience to see things are going in the wrong direction.

If we were in any other field... (5, Interesting)

sapgau (413511) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416152)

Ditching experience would be unheard of in medicine, engineering, law, carpentry, pluming, construction, etc, etc, etc....
But only us have the balls to say that youth trumps experience, I wasn't aware kids were born with all computer science concepts from the get go.

How is it that a senior programmer ends up in sales?

Maybe we are not taken seriously because our professional low self esteem.

Re:If we were in any other field... (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416258)

I agree. The difference is that in those other fields, electricians/plumbers/carpenters they don't revolutionize how pipes/toilets/light fixtures/wiring is installed. However, in computers we put on our job postings that we want 10years of XYZ experience. The hiring companies don't care if you have 15years of mainframe administration if you don't have 5years of VMWare experience. MSFT comes out with a new language every few years, so nobody is caring if you are an expert in VBA if you don't have 5years of whatever MSFT's current language is (.NET?)

Or you could just move into storage :) SCSI is still around, it's just that we run it over fibre optics, and then we'll encapsulate it in Ethernet, but it's still SCSI commands :)

Re:If we were in any other field... (2, Informative)

happy_place (632005) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416334)

Programming skills aren't what they used to be. They're often based upon the latest language--most often here they're C#. It's interesting to watch programmers who've been trained in such high level languages adopt low level languages. I work with fresh graduates day in and day out, and while they are energetic, they're also completely unaware of the basics. I have had lengthy discussions of concepts like double-buffering, and queues, and static/dynamic memory allocation, pointers, and such. These are concepts that newbies assume can be handled by an API, or automatically garbage-collected... Sure they've heard of garbage collection but they don't understand the limitations and constraints under which it is useful or hits performance.

Further all programmers want to stick with the tools they learned once--while to stick with programming over time, you have to be used to constantly changing. I think that sometimes older programmers (though I've seen it in newbs too) learned something really well, and want to solve all problems with that toolset alone, because the newer versions just aren't worth the headache of upgrading and potentially breaking something. However if you don't upgrade continually eventually the features that make it worth changing come along and shifting to the new language is a whole new experience.

Re:If we were in any other field... (4, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416530)

are concepts that newbies assume can be handled by an API, or automatically garbage-collected...

To be fair, for all practical purposes on many (not all) projects, they not only can be, but probably should be. Your primary focus is on the business or application logic and not on optimization or memory management -- unless it matters, and often it doesn't. For example, I have a sense of how to design a project and write code that supports a high degree of scalability and high availability of services -- but that's been relevant on only a small fraction of the projects I've worked. Wasting time building heavy scalability (for example) into a piece of software that would for certain only ever be used by one person or a handful of people at a time would not be the hallmark of a good programmer.

(Though I agree you can get into trouble if you don't have any sense of when it isn't true that you can let these things slide.)

Re:If we were in any other field... (2, Insightful)

sammyF70 (1154563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416398)

The "alternatives" toward which a programmer is supposed to steer according to TFA are plain stupid and slightly offending by assuming that becoming a manager or a Sales ~person~ is a move "UP". How the fuck is your programmer background going to help with those? Not withstanding the fact that most good programmers I know don't have the skills needed for those jobs.

It's like telling restaurant cooks to jump ship and become kitchen appliance salesman, or graphic artists that to move UP they need to open and run an art gallery full of stuff they didn't do themselves

Re:If we were in any other field... (4, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416616)

I agree with you that most good programmers don't make good managers or salespeople. However:

The "alternatives" toward which a programmer is supposed to steer according to TFA are plain stupid and slightly offending by assuming that becoming a manager or a Sales ~person~ is a move "UP". How the fuck is your programmer background going to help with those?

A manager or sales person who both is legitimately suited for their job and is technical is a godsend, because they tend to be much less likely to promise their superiors and/or clients the impossible or impractical. They also tend to be better at "selling" the decisions that the development team has made and their tradeoffs.

Re:If we were in any other field... (5, Insightful)

dward90 (1813520) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416450)

The difference between the computing industry and the other industries you mentioned is that computing is hundreds of years younger, and thus changing orders of magnitude faster.
Medicine comes the closest because of continuous research, so doctors are required to stay current with continuing education (they have to do this to maintain certification).

Businesses dump older programmers in favor of newer ones because it's cheaper to hire a out-of-college kid for an entry-level salary than it is to pay a career-programmer his substantially higher salary to learn whatever the newest, hippest, programming style is.

Note: this is a bad thing. It's bad for body of work that is our code-base in every language, and it's bad for the intelligent design of large systems (which requires vast experience). However, it will take a large shift in the rate at which the tools we use in the industry change. If the entire field doesn't change hugely over the course of 2 decades, then someone who has spent the last 2 decades writing code becomes exponentially more valuable.

Re:If we were in any other field... (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416526)

It's because hiring managers are afraid to hire people with more experience than they have.

I'm not even a software dev, but .... (3, Insightful)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416558)

What I've observed as an I.T. guy who often worked along-side developers is, management often decides a certain technology is the way forward for a given project. At that point, the experienced developers are sometimes left out in the cold, because although they may have, say, 6 years of good experience coding in Java, they didn't spend time on the latest Microsoft technologies. The "new kid on the block", by contrast, may have claimed experience in that area, so to management, he's the "better bet".

Most likely, the REAL problem here is that management doesn't buy into or grasp the idea that the development language used is rather immaterial. If you've got someone with many years of experience coding in a specific language, it'd probably yield the best results to let them continue doing that. Ask them to produce product X or Y with whichever tools they're most versed in using!

Instead though, there's an overall sense that programming languages get "stale" after a while, and a new product needs to be designed with a new language.

I'd say I only have a few personal anecdotal stories to back this belief up, so it could be way off base ... except how much demand is there today for developers with experience in COBOL or Fortran or BASIC, or Pascal, or Forth? I've always worked in a "Support Specialist" or "Network Management" role, but I've observed all these programming languages come and go -- and it seems like such a bad deal for a developer. He/she has to put in so much effort to learn and subsequently master one, only to find it fading into obscurity.

Simple... (2, Interesting)

denzacar (181829) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416648)

Seen many "Be a surgeon in 21 days!" or "Criminal Law for Dummies" books lately?
How about a plumber doing all his work with a single screwdriver and no other tools, equipment or material?

A nine-year-old with a "PC" can be a programmer since.. well... decades now.
And while surgeon's/plumber's/lawyer's etc. hands on experience accumulates only in him/her and can't be transplanted into another human with a click of a mouse - that nine-year-old copy/pasting someone else's code is actively using all the accumulated experience in the world that he can google-out.

And that is not even going into how you can hire someone from India to do the coding you need for a fraction of what you would have to pay that nine-year-old.

Ageism is more than just gray (1)

TheMidnight (1055796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416156)

I'm just 26 and I feel old at my company...they hired me at 20 fresh out of college and have more than doubled in size since I was hired--most all of them fresh out of college. So in the five years I've been with the company, more early-20s employees have come on. I sometimes wonder how long they keep people around over 30!

Re:Ageism is more than just gray (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416442)

It's probably pretty hard to tell, since the vast majority of software companies are less than 10 years old.

Actually, it's all about the benjamins (5, Insightful)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416158)

If managers could pay people in their 50's what they people in their 20's, it wouldn't be an issue. As always, the bottom line is the only thing that really matters.

Re:Actually, it's all about the benjamins (4, Interesting)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416358)

Programmer w/ 2 yrs xp looking for a job. no offers.

In fact, by saying I have 2 yrs experience, apparently I get lumped into a very large group of programmers. I keep getting sent offers for jobs that want someone with at least 7 years experience.
So apparently employers classify potential programmers into:
fresh blood out of college ( less than 2 yrs xp)
worthless trash (2 to 7 years experience)
Gods walking amongst mere mortals (over 7 years experience and guaranteed to be able to do anything you desire)

Re:Actually, it's all about the benjamins (1)

librarybob (1043806) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416464)

It's in the "up front" defined-by-the-HR-department benjamins. They don't have to care about actual product costs, where long memories and experience count. They just have to worry about the average worker cost compared to a mythical industry standard.

Re:Actually, it's all about the benjamins (2, Insightful)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416504)

Maybe I'll be making $20 per hour until I'm 45 and unemployed thereafter, but at least I won't be like those damn factory workers getting paid $70k per year with a full pension!!

Re:Actually, it's all about the benjamins (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416506)

Not only is there no money for an experienced programmer, the management typically does not have the wisdom to hire well. The programmer has to buy into the cult mentality at most startups with management that aren't particularly good managers.

How do you get the inexperienced management intentionally working at rock-bottom prices with rock-bottom-minded, inexperienced management to connect with an experienced programmer? I don't see those interviews going well.

Who wants to be an old programmer? (1)

radix07 (1889888) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416236)

I am a young programmer/engineer, and while I love my job, I do not want to be in the trenches doing this when I am 50. I am 25 and already noticing it harder to keep up on new things sometimes either becuase I dont have the time or don't really care sometimes. But that's what management is for, use your knowledge of how the process works to guide others, rather than do it yourself. As much as I enjoy doing design type work it's exhausting sometimes and I would like to have a life someday...

Re:Who wants to be an old programmer? (1)

hibiki_r (649814) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416346)

Which strange world do you come from?

At 25 you shouldn't have hit your peak yet. What in the world are you doing to your life to have trouble keeping up.
Management typically doesn't do much actual guiding.
If your work doesn't let you have a life at 25, you need another one.
The people that should be doing design are typically not 25ers. Have you never worked with a decent software architect?
Even if management was the one way to go, not everyone would be able to go into management without ending up having a whole lot more managers than programmers, which is not exactly a good thing.

Re:Who wants to be an old programmer? (1)

radix07 (1889888) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416610)

Haven't hit my peak by far I am sure and never said I can't keep up. I just don't have time to branch out and learn new things outside of what I need to get done now as much as I would like to. Maybe I don't have the mindset that some do in the field. I enjoy programming and have plenty of projects at work that I handle, but I am not gonna go home and code for fun anymore after doing that all day at work. I work in a small company so I have to step up in certain areas a person my age might not typically, which is great experience and I enjoy the challenge. But I do know that I would like to move up the ladder along the way or branch into something new. Don't think there is anything wrong with that.

Hey, thing's are looking up! (1)

L4wNd4rt (1863080) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416244)

At least now "they" want you to drop dead when you're 50 and are considered of no value any longer. In the film "Logan's Run" you only got to 30 before they killed you off!!

I do not belive this statement (4, Interesting)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416274)

If you're going to stay in programming, realize that the deck is stacked against you, so be prepared to earn less as you gain experience.

In my experience at a company with 1,300 employees, young people are relegated to support calls. The older people (over 40 years), produce [quality] code at an exceptional rate.

Recently, we had to modify a java function for one of our clients whose client was dealing with money which was worth so little in dollar terms. i.e. 1 US dollar goes for about 2,500 in their money.

All young folks including myself were just fiddling around the code. This "old" man who had never looked at the code only needed about 12 minutes to solve the problem.

By the way, this code would 'translate' 1,234,567,890 to One billion, two hundred thirty four million, five hundred sixty seven thousand eight hundred ninety shillings only.

So I do not agree with that statement entirely. In fact this old man is paid about 2.5 times more than myself. I have 7 years java, VB and PHP experience.

What goes around... (5, Interesting)

__roo (86767) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416290)

A while back, a friend of mine -- a very experienced software development manager -- was running a development team, and was planning to hire a developer who was in his early 40s. One of the team members openly objected to the candidate because of his age, saying something like, "How could he possibly be up to date on current technology or keep up with the rest of the team? He's so old!" My friend eventually hired him anyway, and the "old" developer turned out to be a superstar, one of the best on the team.

That was about eight years ago. The guy who raised the objection is now about the same age as the candidate he had wanted to reject. I wonder if he's facing the same kind of age discrimination, now that he's "so old."

Be wary of young "experienced" folks (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416308)

Age brings experience, but there's plenty of energetic younger folks out there who are great at PRETENDING to have experience. Sure, they have no clue what they're talking about half the time, but they always impress the management.

*sigh*

The dumb thing is... (1)

DavidR1991 (1047748) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416338)

...most young programmers understand that experience is a massive factor in being productive. Assuming they're not complete morons, most would like to spend time / work along side an older more experienced programmer (assuming they're actually decent and not complete morons themselves) - a la a mentor of sorts.

Heck, for most types of software dev I would jump at that chance. Someone who already knows the 'does and don'ts' of a specific area etc. can save you a bundle of time hitting your head against a wall. Further than that, I think I'm only in this field in the first place because of a relative who basically became my computer idol/'mentor' of sorts. Sure, you eventually grow out of your original mentor, but they certainly put you on the right track to learn more. And I'm certain most 'old timers' would also jump at the chance to show the youngsters the ropes

who hasn't burned out? (4, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416378)

I would like to hear from programmers that have been at it for 10 or more years that aren't 'burned out'

Re:who hasn't burned out? (2, Interesting)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416642)

Good point, but I would say burn-out is kind-of similar to the experience of the man on the shirt button production line who's just made his 1000,000th button. It's more about the feeling of impotence with respect to raising yourself up, than it is about actually writing code. That is to say, in order to raise yourself up you need to change career. There's not much you can do as a producer of buttons otherwise. But this experience is not unique to developers. It's true pretty much across the board when you hit your late 30's or early 40's and your earning potential appears to have peaked or flat-lined. You no longer experience the vision of the light at the end of the tunnel as you did when you were an under-graduate or fresh out of college. For example, I earn around £40,000 per annum as a developer but lack the required knowledge to earn £100,000. That is even if I could convince someone I was worth £100,000, I wouldn't know where to go to meet him to explore the opportunity. I look at the job ads and they're all similar to my current employment. There seems to be no way up or out.

Re:who hasn't burned out? (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416646)

I'm about 10 years in (professionally) and still enjoying it.

Granted, I tend to have roles more now where I have some analysis or other non-pure-coding tasks mixed in. I still spend most of my time writing code, but it's not 100% as it was when I was fresh out of school.

Re:who hasn't burned out? (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416696)

I'm burned out over my current project, but not on programming in general.

Part of the trick was finding places to work where I'm *not* stuck on long, boring projects doing the same thing day in and day out.

I know someone who just does prototyping work -- get hired on at some new company, build a prototype, then get out before they make him refactor it, etc. He would *never* work at a CMMI certified place, as it's too much of a drain on his talent -- get in, maybe get a few stock options, and get out before it stops being interesting.

Exploit the youth (1)

cyberspittle (519754) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416380)

Tech companies have long exploited the younger worked who put in longer undocumented hours. with no tech labot unions, this is rampant in the industry. It has been until recentely that companies are being taken to court. Throw in H1-Bs and outsourcing and we have the perfect labor pool for companies. More younger employess also = more bugs. The relationship of bugs per code has already been statistically to the rise of the inexperienced and exploited H1-B labor market. To hold the sponsorship of an employees head is a powerful tool indeed.

programming is a craft (4, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416436)

as in, arts and crafts: in many ways, programming is an art form, not a science

and honestly, if you take exception to this description, i will go so far as to say you aren't a real programmer. you haven't pored over a piece of code, and, after cognitively digesting it, sat back and thought: "beautiful". that's an aesthetic description. because programming DOES have a genuine aesthetic component to it that really delineates the difference between a creative rock star and a code maintenance bureaucratic functionary

but what kind of art is it, cognitively speaking? and i would say: it is more like a being a movie director than being a musician

but people THINK of programmers like musicians, with a musician's career arc: you are a nobody, then you skyrocket to fame, then you fade and are a forgotten has-been doing greatest hits at the country fair: called in to adjust their COBOL from the 1980s

programmers should be thought of like movie directors, who can most certainly be a geniuses at a young age, like robert rodriguez, but don't really hit their prime until their 30s and 40s, like chris nolan, and are still valuable as greybeards making great stuff in their 60s and 70s, like martin scorsese. and the young hot shot movie directors might be glowing hot, flying by the seat of his pants with tiny production budgets and just his friends to help, like a young programmer fueled on soft drinks and potato chips at 3 am. but the older movie directors are sitting atop large multimillion dollar productions, with a giant staff of cinematographers and key grips and production assistants... more like commanding a battleship than a dinghy. in programmer terms: moving into management

so as for the prejudice of ageism in programming: maybe there is just something about a young supple mind that makes art that is exciting and electric. i mean i had to do a double take just now composing this comment: i described a good programmer as a rock star above. showing that even within my own way of thinking about programming, i am applying the false musician's metaphor for the artistry that is programming, when it is more like being a movie director

programmers are movie directors, not musicians. that's my metaphor and my message, even if i myself can't keep my story straight

If what they say is true, why not in engineering? (1)

Koreantoast (527520) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416470)

I understand the arguments they make about "old" coders, but I find it weird that we don't see this as much in other related fields such as electrical engineering. You don't see nearly the same rate of "jettisoning" of the elderly that you do in computer science despite the continuing advances in EE or other engineering disciplines. Is it because the field of computer science still lacks the maturity and stability compared to traditional engineering fields?

False Economy (5, Insightful)

strangeattraction (1058568) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416484)

I leave at 5PM because my experience has taught me how to avoid many of the problem new coders create for themselves. I get twice as much done in half the time compared to when I first started. Looking back at my first experiences as a programmer, I laugh at all the late nights spent working diligently to complete code only to find that I had checked in something inadvertently or forgotten to check something in that broke the build. This in turn wasted many other people time simple because I was too tired to think. The idea that technology has changed tremendously and older coders experience no longer applies is LOL. First the technology has primarily gotten smaller and faster. And coding techniques have improved in some ways but degraded in others. It all still ends up as binary in the end, something many of my younger colleagues don't deem to get which leads to some extremely sloppy techniques. These arguments are mainly bull similar to memes like out sourcing saves money (usually at the expense of time and quality).

screw management, go into consulting (3, Insightful)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416518)

There's no future in management, and geeks hate managing people anyway so wtf? I've been asked a few times and no, I won't do it. Thing is, I like writing code. I *enjoy* it. It's why I come to work and what I like to do. I don't *want* to referee the personalities in the office and I surely don't want to be the one who answers for everyone else's fuckups. Not to mention, excess management is usually the first to get cut when job reductions go around. who wants that? I'd rather be a hired hand for some consulting outfit. The benefits suck, and people think your dogsh#t, but if you can get over that it's a good application for experience and the change of scenery on projects is nice too.

Say what? (1)

macbeth66 (204889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416528)

Citing ex-Microsoft CTO David Vaskevitch's belief that younger workers have more energy and are sometimes more creative, Wadwha warns that reports of ageism's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Oh, ex-Microsoft. That explains everything.

I am 50+ and have yet to find a kid in their twenties that can keep up with me. I might take my daily fiber, but they need their Red Bull. They talk a good game until it comes time to actually build something that the 'old man' ( me ) doesn't have to fix for them. They have yet to have to fix something of mine. Way fewer 'Dude!, WTF's per minute when they look at my code.

But, sadly, ageism is in fact alive and well.

It will be decades before ageism dies (4, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416542)

The field expanded greatly in the 1990's. When I interview with a tech lead, that tech lead is usually younger than me. During the interview process, the tech lead sees from my resume that I have a lot of experience and knowledge, and then sees from his overly-targeted interview questions that I am not expert on the specific thing he happens to be working on day and night at the moment. Based on a "failed" interview, the tech lead is able to dismiss a potential leadership threat.

This will continue to go on until there is more age diversity in the field, which will take several decades for the dot-commers to mature. Meanwhile, since I started nearly a decade before dot-com, I more or less am limited to those businesses that have people older than me.

If you think they have it bad (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416544)

Federal law enforcement has it far worse. To be an agent after the age of 57, you have to kill a tree in paperwork to get through all of the waivers. At that age, you're too young to really retire and too old to credibly change your career. That's why they choose one of four options: move up, move out, go academic or go consultant.

Documentation, documentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33416618)

I think the "more experienced" coders have an advantage in that they tend to more often document their code and do a better job at documenting it.

Also, while creativity is a wonderful thing, if no one else can understand your "creative" implementation to a problem, there's likely going to be issues.

Communication skills are important even in programming, seldom does a serious project involve only one developer.

Lottsa problems there... (3, Interesting)

meburke (736645) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416680)

Well, first, Engineers shouldn't become programmers. They should know how to program, but otherwise it's a mismatch of talent.

Second, programmers who are still just crafting code after 45 years in the field should go somewhere and get a shot of ambition. Programming is a good place for younger folks to keep them out of trouble. Sooner or later the smart ones figure out that programming is more about creating solutions to problems rather than writing code. Figure out a solution and then pass it off the the young guys to do the drudge work. Those that don't figure this out will eventually give up and migrate to management, sales, Art or something more suited to their talents.

Third, problems don't solve themselves, but code can write itself. Writing programs that write programs frees up truly creative minds and you get the benefits of not having to hang around with a bunch of hotshot, know-it-alls who don't listen to their elders.

Hey, I've been programming for 45 years, and I know what I'm talking about...

Well I'm 50 (5, Interesting)

cruachan (113813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33416684)

I wrote this last year on Stackoverflow. Still holds true this year. Edited slightly to remove reference to another post there.

I'm 49 and I'm a programmer.

Well actually I'm a DBA, IT consultant and Business Analyst too. But in my heart I'm a coder - and I think I'm getting better with age. And I make a nice living at it, thank you - but I put a lot of effort into setting myself up that way.

There has always been ageism in IT. I entered commercial IT relatively late in my mid-20 after being a research scientist (biological - but writing scientific code for analysis). When I went to move jobs at 28 looking for an Analyst/Programmer job one recruitment company told me I was 'too old'.

Ha. Since then I've done a rollercoaster so far as coding is concerned - followed the big corporate trail up though systems analyst to project manager by my mid-30s before deciding I really missed coding. Went to a small organisation as senior developer then morphed into DBA for 7 years - but started writing code at home which grew contacts and income until I started running my own consultancy a little over 10 years ago. I purposely don't grow larger because I don't want to spend my time managing other people, but I do have a large network of other consultants in complementary fields (graphics, management consultancy etc) I can collaborate with.

My clients are nearly all in the SME sector, most I talk to the boss directly and they no or limited development support inhouse. Age in this case is an advantage as experience with systems in business means that people trust me as I can both deliver software, and deliver the right software for the business context. There is something awfully satisfying about being able to go to a client and say 'you need to spend $10k on this hardware and software development to support this' and the client does it because they trust your abilities and the experience you bring to recommend that decision. It helps I'm a complete neophile too and I replace my skillset every 5 or 6 years - I'm currently moving to Python and .Net (and raving about Ironpython for desktop apps)

So I spend about 50% of my time writing code, 25% doing 'business IT consultancy' and 25% general purpose IT to support that - for instance several of the systems I've developed for my clients are web based - and I run the web servers to host them.

And lastly it's a great job for fitting with family life and commitments. I have my office in the house (large room, lots of computers and screens) and I work probably 10 hours a day, but it fits with family. I've been at home when my kids were small and when they've come back from school as they've grown older. I don't even have to be in one place - last week I had to see a client on site at the same city when my son is a student, so I go in, see my client at lunchtime, sit in Starbucks all afternoon coding on my laptop, then take him out for dinner. Perfect mix :-)

So ageism - phah. Ageism is only a problem if you associate with people who are ageist - and as a society we're growing older and many of those older people who do have work going are not going to be comfortable with giving it to youngsters. There's plenty of opportunity for older developers, but you have to play to the strength of the experience you've accumulated and adapt. If you don't learn new technologies and stay excited by what's happening then that's your problem, not ageism.

Myself I see myself coding until I drop. I'm actually looking forward to being more flexible as I get older - when all the kids have left home we've plans to equip a camper-van with all the tech I need and wander around europe nomadically for a year or three working remotely as needed.

Coding is the best occupation ever invented. Who on earth would want to give it up?

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