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Ask Slashdot: Am I Too Old To Learn New Programming Languages?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the sorry-i-will-get-off-your-lawn dept.

Programming 772

ProgramadorPerdido writes "I have been a developer for 25 years. I learned Basic, VB, C, FoxPro, Cobol, and Assembler, but the languages I used the most were Pascal and Delphi. I then concentrated on a now-non-mainstream language for 11 years, as it was used at work. One day I had the chance to move into Project Management and so I did for the last 2 years. Now, at almost 40 years old, I'm at a crossroad. On one side I realized developing is the thing I like best, while on the other side, the languages I'm most proficient with are not that hot on the market. So I came here looking for any advice on how to advance my career. Should I try to learn web development (html, xhtml, css, php, python, ruby)? Should I learn Java and/or C#? Or am I too old to learn and work a new language? Should I go back to PM work even if I do not like it that much? Any similar experiences?"

cancel ×

772 comments

ASM (0, Troll)

zget (2395308) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068320)

I learned Basic, VB, C, FoxPro, Cobol, and Assembler, but the languages I used the most were Pascal and Delphi.

The language is called Assembly, not Assembler. Assembler is used to compile ASM code.

Re:ASM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068402)

jerk

Re:ASM (1)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068526)

Properly, it could be "assembly language" or you could also say, "I got my start on 8086 Assembler," which in my case would be true. But there's nothing wrong or incorrect with calling it "assembler." Frankly, I've never heard it called "Assembly" without the qualifier "Assembly Language." Harrumph.

Re:ASM (3, Informative)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068546)

nope, even IBM still calls it "assembler" at times

for example http://publibfp.boulder.ibm.com/cgi-bin/bookmgr/download/asmr1020.pdf [ibm.com] or http://publib.boulder.ibm.com/infocenter/wmqv7/v7r0/index.jsp?topic=/com.ibm.mq.csqzal.doc/fg19060_.htm [ibm.com]

you diaper wearing puppies can go off and make up your own rules if you want, but don't be surprised if we older and wiser suddenly beat you with our ear horn

Re:ASM (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068682)

irregardless, I could care less.

feast on that for a while.

Re:ASM (1)

hellkyng (1920978) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068762)

That word... it doesn't work that way.

Stay Put (5, Insightful)

Number6.2 (71553) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068336)

I'm 55, a programmer, and I've been out of work for two years. I've had plenty of interviews, but no job offers. Here's my take on all of this: I'm too old to be a programmer. I'll put my "management hat" on and tell you why:

1. I'm old. One 5 hour energy drink revvs up your basic 20 year old code monkey all day. I need a saline drip with caffeine in it all day to keep going.
2. I'm expensive. I have 30 years of experience in the 'biz and a masters degree in CS. I'm not cheap. You could hire two 25 year olds for what I'm asking.
3. (and what I consider to be my greatest failing in the corporate world) I've seen all the tricks. I've been exposed to every nasty little mindgame management has at it's disposal. And sometimes I have the bad manners to call people on it. This is called "having a bad attitude".

So when I compete against 20-somethings in the worst economy since 1929 (I hesitate to say the worst economy ever), I lose. I should have made the leap to management when I had the chance, not because I would have loved management (I would have had to manage assholes like me, after all ;), but because at 40 you have TWENTY YEARS LEFT. The years go by really, really fast. You should really start thinking about a soft place to land when you're 60 now, because if you aren't in line to be a VP or a Director you ain't gonna make it at this point.

The suggestion to "Follow Your Bliss" only works in an economy that's not run by sociopaths. Hell, it only works in a country that's not run by sociopaths. Strike one strike two. Tighten your belt, put as much money away as you can, and make sure you keep your health up. Because the era of "company loyalty" is over, COBRA for a family costs as much as your mortgage, and finding a new job is going to be a real challenge.

Other than that, have a nice day! :D

Re:Stay Put (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068434)

One of the best posts I have read on Slashdot.
Thanks !
(28.5 years old)

Re:Stay Put (5, Insightful)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068436)

Despite the fact that I am now horribly depressed, I would mod you up if I had the points to confer upon you.

Re:Stay Put (3, Funny)

Number6.2 (71553) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068604)

Heh. Don't worry about me. I'm actually in O.K. shape, thanks to contributing to an (>>>ROTH) IRA when I could. The point here is, follow your bliss when you're young, then screw your ass down and prostitute yourself when your old because teh Conservatiods want to give all your tax dollar to Haliburton and all your social security to Wall Street (did you forget that little maneuver during the Bush Years) and you can go live under an expressway ramp when you're 70. Unless that virus that only kills liberals and people over 60 finally gets approved (KIDDING! KIDDING!).

Bitter? Me? Nah. I'm just a cranky old man...

Re:Stay Put (1)

Custard Horse (1527495) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068642)

Look on the bright side - there's always Y3K to look forward to...

Re:Stay Put (5, Insightful)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068482)

because if you aren't in line to be a VP or a Director you ain't gonna make it at this point.

Which means, most of us will end up on the street if we want to stay developers or system engineers.

I'm nearly 35, and I'm started to feel it. Like you, I have years of development under my belt and a nice amount of system engineering. I have a nice job, but management has changed and I see the first signs of decline. I've been looking around and ... basically, everywhere where I show up, I'm told I'm too expensive.

I have another 5 years left in the field and I'm aware of it.... I have no idea what I'll have to do after that. Project Management? I don't think I could do it, I'll be rooting for the devs all the time because I understand them better than the users. I can't do it...

I wonder what will happen if all a whole generation of IT people are out of work because they are "too expensive". Keep in mind that the age I'm in, means I'm basically starting my "life"... Married, mortgage, kids (or thinking of kids). The prospect of being out of a job in 5 years frightens me to no end.

However, for the original question: If you could program one language, you can program in any language. It's inherent on the Turing-completeness of programming languages. It's all just a matter of syntax. Sure, mastering a language takes time, but you've probably see already much things and that means you can easily apply what you know to the knew languages.

Web development, Classic development, or "App" development. Doesn't matter, pick your poison. In the end, you always end up writing to fuzzy customer specs and management that wants a Ferrari for the price of a Yugo.

Re:Stay Put (5, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068608)

It's inherent on the Turing-completeness of programming languages. It's all just a matter of syntax. Sure, mastering a language takes time, but you've probably see already much things and that means you can easily apply what you know to the knew languages.

I don't really know how much longer this will remain true.

Yes, the fundementals are the same.. but programming is becoming more and more about gluing higher level components together. Knowing what these components are and how they behave is becoming the marker of being experienced in a language. This experience is of course largely non-transferable. As we move more towards this, I suspect jumping from one language to another will become harder. It's already kinda like that with Java. A c++ guy can learn java's syntax pretty quick.. but learning how all the defacto tools and libraries around it work (hibernate, jboss, spring..) takes time and experience specific to Java.

Lower your expectations the older you get (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068660)

I'm nigh on 58 and still a developer. I am content to keep writing code.
I tried being a PM and it amlost drove me into an early grave. It is not for me.
So I went back to developing.
The company where I worked went belly up two years ago. Sure it took me a while to get another job. Not for the reasons stated but many companies couldn't hack the 'I don't want to be a Manager' answer to the where do you see yourself in 5 years question.
Finally I got a job where they were happy with that answer.. sure I could earn a load more if I were willing to commute for 3hrs a day but those days are behind me.
In three or so years I'll call it a day and retire. I will be able to afford to do that because I saved loads in my 20's, 30's & 40's.

to the OP,
  Stay with it. There will be a job somewhere for you. Somewhere that will appreciate your experience and honesty.

Good luck

Re:Stay Put (1)

EvilIdler (21087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068544)

I'm sure you have another disadvantage too: You'll finish a task faster than the youngsters, meaning fewer billable hours for your employer!

Re:Stay Put (1)

ginbot462 (626023) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068764)

Good thing I read slashdot...

Lets form a club (1)

sap.de (557490) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068556)

Trying to bridge the gap between developer and manager for the last years didn't work, you get pulled in too many conflicting directions
Reality of coding versus the imaginary world of management, snr management.

I have a new position (switched companies) where I can leverage my technical knowledge but manage an application, employ other skills too.

Every Java book I have started..I stall at around page 51 - partly just because you need a tutor who can answer all those dumb questions.

Re:Stay Put (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068584)

> 2. I'm expensive. I have 30 years of experience in the 'biz and a masters degree in CS. I'm not cheap. You could hire two 25 year olds for what I'm asking.
So: Are you twice as productive as two average 25 year olds?

bye, Paul.

Re:Stay Put (4, Interesting)

Lord Grey (463613) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068740)

So: Are you twice as productive as two average 25 year olds?

By the time any decent-sized project ends, why yes, he is probably twice as productive. He has also created half as many problems for everyone else, gone down dead-end paths much less often, and is the one person the QA department likes.

I wish I had mod points. I've been writing software for over 30 years and completely understand where Number6.2 is coming from. Plus, I'm in kind of the same boat, facing many of the same decisions. I opted to jump to mobile development, which is new/great/fun, but the company I'm working for is getting cold feet. Makes one wonder about the future.

Re:Stay Put (1)

C A S S I E L (16009) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068616)

Age: 50. Current status: learning OpenGL and Clojure.

I very much doubt I'd get good shot at a commercial programming gig, but I'm really not interested in that game any more, and yes, 25-year-olds have much more enthusiasm for the agencies' screening questions than I do. (So, I also have the "bad attitude.")

My advice is to both specialise and diversify. Identify particular skills that set you apart from the crowd, but also identify as many of those skills as you can. I'm holding down gigs as composer/sound artist, workshop tutor, media artist and writer: the OpenGL is for large-scale outdoor video artworks while the Clojure is for thread-safe audio/visual performance systems in MaxMSP.

Start your own (2)

Moblaster (521614) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068644)

You could always start your own company. Use that opportunity to learn hot skills. Like mobile platform programming such as iOS and Android. Start as a consultant so you can keep your day job.

Advantages

1. you keep an income as you develop your career
2. you create your own management position
3. you develop advanced, in-demand skill sets that are only getter hotter
4. if your day job disappears, you can build your moonlighting career
5. if your moonlighting career fails, you have the skills to seek another job

Disadvantages:

1. You gotta be brave and disciplined.

Re:Stay Put (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068688)

I am also a 55 year old developer. A few things keep me working:

1. I know systems that are old, almost obsolete, certainly obscure. I often joke that obsolescence is what keeps food on my table. When is the last time IBM's 4690/OS got mentioned in schools, let alone taught? But there are still a fair number of 4690 based systems out there. Ditto for IBM's old Point Of Sales software (written in CBasic). And there are at least 25 of us left that know how this stuff works and can still make code mod's.

2. I keep learning. Recently built a very heavily AJAX based system for a client (Java, Struts2, Dojo, Javascript).

3. I have a strong background in retail/wholesale plus degrees in accounting (bba/ms) and was a CPA in a past life.

4. I am damn good at what I do, and have a much better work ethic than a lot of the younger set I deal with. My clients know I am available 24/7 and will beat myself half to death to solve their problems in a timely manner. They know I will answer the phone even if I'm on vacation.

Re:Stay Put (5, Insightful)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068702)

2. I'm expensive. I have 30 years of experience in the 'biz and a masters degree in CS. I'm not cheap. You could hire two 25 year olds for what I'm asking.

So it's better for your personal situation to stay unemployed than to lower your salary requirements?

The suggestion to "Follow Your Bliss" only works in an economy that's not run by sociopaths

But it works remarkably well in an economy run by hedonists!

Re:Stay Put (4, Funny)

ShadyG (197269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068766)

Maybe it will make you feel better, maybe not, but even with the bad economy, today's market for software engineers is like INFINITELY better than it was in 1929.

Re:Stay Put (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068794)

Maybe not. I'm 56, but I've found that a reasonable number of companies filled with 20- something's know that the kids lack perspective. The war stories make for good lessons. I may not have the energy for a 16 hour day, but my sleeves are rolled up and I learn a new technology (language, APai...) at least every week. I may crank out less code, but it's less likely to be broken, so it evens out. I'm in the trenches having a good time. If you can find an enlightened hiring manager, you'll do well. And it's good for the kids to know that evolving into a PHB isn't inevitable.

Middle ground maybe? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068340)

Maybe go into something that is part leadership, part technical. Like design or software architecture or system engineering. Use your experience working with software to do high/mid level design work. As you probably know, there are things that never change regardless of what tool stack you are using. Your knowledge in these areas is probably much more valuable than your knowledge of a specific language.

You’ve probably seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail... and probably know what areas of a system need to be more flexible or more reliable and what approaches will lead to pain. Don’t take for granted that feeling of your hair standing on end when you look at a design... knowing it will be a nightmare to maintain. It takes years to develop that, and it’s valuable.

Be the guy at the end of the chain who reviews the lower level designs and provides the “overall picture”. The guy who reviews the code and makes decisions on what third party tools to use. Let the children play with the actual code/nuts and bolts.

You probably can learn a new language and go back into programming but I would suspect your experience will actually work against you. You know too much to become a newbie again.

It's never too late (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068348)

I work with a guy who's over 60 and is just now learning Java. He's being paid to do it, to support a scientific instrument.

Re:It's never too late (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068684)

Is he an IT person? I ask this, because I can see people with "other" skills being more valuable as developers. A doctor, biologist or $profession with years of experience getting into development brings an "extra", namely their extensive field-expertise. That's what many developers miss and I'm well aware of that because I have been a developer in many fields (mainly banking, but I did other fields) and the reasons for doing something some specific way often was totally opaque to me.

Re:It's never too late (1)

rjune (123157) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068706)

SAS -- I started with SAS at age 50. It has a very steep learning curve. After a couple of years, I crossed the line to where it increased my productivity and efficiency. I was told by my old boss that I didn't need to do it, but that absolutely defied any common sense. I have a lot of skills, most of which are obsolete. (Celestial Navigation anyone?) You have to keep picking up new skills. You are only too old to learn something new if you think you are. Hats off to your coworker who is willing to take on a new challenge.

Re:It's never too late (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068712)

WTF?

I'm 40. Started on Java last year. Took my first foray in to C++ a few years ago. I'm also learning a lot about plumbing and carpentry hacking around my house. You're never too old to learn.

At the same time....

WTF?

How many developers, network & server folks, etc. are the stage in their careers where they are training their "off shore" replacements and putting themselves out of a job? Programming as a professional move? You might as well open a buggy whip business.

And that has nothing to do with age. I wouldn't recommend a 25-yr old build a career on developing software and more than I would recommend it to a 40-yr old contemporary.

Too old (2, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068352)

Yeah sorry, at 40 your brain basically fossilizes, and becomes a FIFO stack.
If you learn a new programming language, you WILL forget the old ones.

Re:Too old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068398)

Who do you think you are besides a troll with that answer?

Re:Too old (2)

paimin (656338) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068618)

I'm pretty sure he's going for a Funny mod. Hey, I laughed. And I'm over 40 :-D

Re:Too old (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068630)

You only forget something you never use.

Re:Too old (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068656)

...becomes a FIFO stack. If you learn a new programming language, you WILL forget the old ones.

Aw crap I'm already at that point and I'm still in my 20s :-( But at least I can still quickly re-learn the stuff that gets pushed out so maybe the fossilization part hasn't set in yet.

Re:Too old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068678)

well almost 40 here,
At 38, I learned PHP, it was a breeze, (but I'm coming from a Java background). I still think if you've learned a few programming languages, then any new one is rather easy to pick up, its usually just a matter of syntax, the IDEs and certain best practices and frameworks. But yeah you do start forgetting the previous languages you've learned, but who doesn't? it happens to the twenty somethings also.
But I don't know why it makes sense in our career path to move into project management. Us code monkeys aren't known for having the best people skills. Ideally if I could finish my career as programmer that would be fine with me, but I don't know how feasible that is.

Re:Too old (1)

Custard Horse (1527495) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068732)

But at least with all of the experience he has a *choice* of what to forget. That's what employers pay for...

SAP (3, Interesting)

vbraga (228124) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068374)

If you're still proficient with COBOL you can give ABAP [wikipedia.org] a try since it's similar. There's a lot of SAP work around and, at least in my experience, the big corporate environment is willing to hire experienced developers.

Re:SAP (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068774)

ABAP is only similar to C0807 if you're incompetent at at least one of them.

You are never too old... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068384)

... its just many of the more experienced developers don't want to learn.

Dude, you're just too old to pick up new stuff (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068386)

Leave that to the young folks who haven't turned 98 yet.

BTW this site has gone way downhill.

IfyouåreinterestedinJava (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068388)

Iwouldsuggesttryingoutprocessing

http://processing.org/

itisbuiltaroundbasicsoyoushouldhavenoroublepickingitup

Re:IfyouåreinterestedinJava (1)

what2123 (1116571) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068560)

Is your space key completely broken? Or do you just hate doing as everyone does.

Just do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068400)

Umm, forty isn't too old for anything, man. lol

You know, all those Russian mathematicians and physicists who escaped communism during the 80s, their average age was well over 40, but they mostly retooled as programmers when they weren't even programmers before. A Russian mathematicians is probably a hell of a lot smarter than you, but still.

p.s. C# wtf?!?

Re:Just do it. (1)

newprint (1807922) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068588)

Being Russian, and knowing all those "converts", I can tell you - they are good !!!!!!!!!

Never too old... till you stop (5, Insightful)

notbob (73229) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068408)

I firmly believe you're too old to learn the day you stop learning.

Never ever quite learning the latest and greatest in programming, to do any less is condemning ones own career path.

Having recently joined the ranks of older programmers I still find that I can completely crush the new kids by leveraging that vast experience I already have.

Dust off the learning hat and get back into the fight man, 40 isn't a time to lay down and die... last I heard 30 was the new 20 and 40 was the new 30... and we're all going to be broke in this economy so who cares in the end?

Re:Never too old... till you stop (3, Insightful)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068726)

I firmly believe you're too old to learn the day you stop learning

,,, and this guy is in the danger zone by even asking.

Learned Python at 57 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068414)

I learned Python at age 57. I'm 62 now and use it all the time (what a productivity booster). Go for it...

Just harder (4, Informative)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068422)

I'm about your age. My impression is that new learning is still possible, but it requires more time and effort. So I'd say it partially depends on how motivated you are.

IMHO, no (2)

jaymz666 (34050) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068440)

The concepts are what are hard to learn, the syntax is the easy part. So many similar languages may trip you up at time, but if you can work through the syntax differences and keep hacking at it it's not too difficult to learn.

MY ADVICE !! TAKE UP FURNITURE CRAFTING !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068444)

Make some nice chests (not the fake kind). You will have a lot more fun, with projects that can be easily estimated, and once done, THEY ARE FUCKING DONE !! Seriously, doing it for so long I want to kill, Kill, KILL !!

Your never too old (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068456)

I owned a mortgage company during the last decade and had to shut things down when it all went south. Given that a mortgage broker has such a 'wide range of skills', I found myself with 0 prospects and a hungry family. I had always been interested in programming but never took a single course or had any idea about any language.

During the last 3 years I started learning html/css, then javascript, and now C# and PHP. It's been a battle but now I have found myself a new set of skills and have started getting regular work in my small town. I don't think I'll be programming the next social media platform but my local customers like my work and sleep much better at night.

I turn 42 next month.

Yes (1)

skelf (24005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068460)

Sorry but the question is too inane to take seriously. Best of luck.

You're Not Too Old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068470)

I'm 38 and 'still' a programmer, constantly learning new stuff and taking on those hard tasks. I tried management and I didn't like it, so I went back into development and don't ever want to change. As for what to learn, I'd say look at Java and Android (and I say that spending my day on iOS development). The tools are decent and free, and you'll see results pretty quickly.

I dunno (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068474)

Can you remember your name and not constantly pissing yourself? then your not too old to learn anything

Re:I dunno (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068742)

So it's too late, then?

What do you WANT to do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068484)

Simply put, do you want to write software for the rest of your life? You'll constantly have to learn new skills and update and are in danger becoming old hat (languages that are abandoned). You become very specialized and that's dangerous. I personally plan to move toward management at some point. The BEST managers are those that coded for years, know the difference between good logic and bad and can translate this to executives.

That's my goal at least. I'm 35, a senior developer and eventually plan to take a role in management. I have no desire to become an executive, but love directing large projects and making a noticeable difference.

What do you want to do?

It's simple (3, Insightful)

whoda (569082) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068492)

If you think you might be too old, then you are.

You're Never Too Old (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068500)

Ask Slashdot: Am I Too Old To Learn New Programming Languages?

Barring extreme physical exertion and danger, you're never too old for anything. If you're too old to learn something new, you might as well lay down in your grave and wait for death on the grounds that adopting a fatalistic attitude toward new experiences basically ensures you're done with life. That's my opinion anyway. Seriously, if you can't do something new, what exactly are you looking forward to?

I do have an important question though: how did you come to begin programming? I am unfamiliar with what would have been available paths back in those days. Did you get a degree via courses in logic and mathematics? Trade school? Taught yourself? Mentored?

I believe Pascal is closest to a procedural language and Delphi is the object oriented equivalent? So that's a somewhat diverse start. Are you familiar with concepts like (but not limited to): closures, sets, Big O Notation and understand the difference between a framework and a library? These are things that I might not use daily coding Ruby and Java but I remember from school and I feel better prepare me for learning any new (or old) language. If you aren't familiar with these things, it might pay to consider taking refresher courses at a nearby college to brush up on them. I don't know how viable this suggestion is but on the grounds of learning new languages, it has proved invaluable to me in understanding why language creators made the choices they did.

Should I try to learn web development (html, xhtml, css, php, python, ruby)? Should I learn Java and/or C#?

Personally I would suggest Ruby on Rails with CSS for a solid UI. You're going to need to know concepts like RESTful interfaces and it might take some getting used to letting the Rails automagic do things for you but the resources are plentiful and free [railstutorial.org] . It sounds like it will be totally out of your comfort zone and that's probably a good thing if you're up to the challenge.

Should I go back to PM work even if I do not like it that much?

In today's economy? Why not make two resumes: PM and Programmer. If PM skills pay the bills, hop on it and work on programming as a side hobby. If the right Programmer position comes up and the pay is good, consider it but don't set yourself up for failure or take too large a risk if your home/dependents/nestegg are at stake.

yes. it is just like taking viagra (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068508)

learning a new programming language is awesome.

however, if swelling persists for more than 4 hours...

Do both (1)

bhlowe (1803290) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068516)

Come up with a product idea, find the best language to write it in that you are interested in learning.. then hire one or more cheap programmers on odesk.com to write the software. You follow along, adding code when able, or just work on the user experience and PM.... Ideally you'll have customers in mind before you even start that can help test and refine the product. Roll it out as soon as possible and start charging money for it. (Yes, I've done this.. it works.. and your budget can be very small.)

Never too old to learn (1)

brunogirin (783691) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068520)

You're never too old to learn. I'm in a similar situation to you: I learned a number of computer language and now, being almost 40, I don't do any programming at work anymore, I just do fancy diagrams. That doesn't prevent me from maintaining my programming skills in my spare time and learning new stuff. In the past couple of years, I've dabbled in Vala http://live.gnome.org/Vala [gnome.org] , Python (to create scripts and desktop apps rather than web apps), re-acquainted myself with ANTLR and played with a number of other languages. If you want to have a go at an interesting variety, get yourself a copy of "Seven Languages in Seven Weeks" by Bruce Tate: http://pragprog.com/book/btlang/seven-languages-in-seven-weeks [pragprog.com] .

Stick to project management. (4, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068522)

You like coding and want to do coding. But you are likely to be far more productive using your skills to make sure more people benefit by your experience. And it would be more rewarding to you financially too.

In WW-II Japanese air force promoted their combat aces to ranks so high they out ranked their base commanders. They kept assigning themselves most dangerous and glorious combat missions, eventually all of them died. But Japanese did have a few aces notching up dozens of kills. US, on the other hand, does not have any reaching even 10 kills. The moment a combat pilot notches up 5 and qualifies to be an ace, he is transferred to the training command and is made to teach those skills to a new crop of young pilots. Some of them eventually transferred to NASA test missions and flew research aircraft.

So though you love coding, switch to project management. I am speaking from experience. I loved coding, and stayed in programming for far too long. I am doing project management now. You can always code in your spare time, doing what you like.

If you're good and can prove it, it doesn't matter (1)

unimacs (597299) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068540)

I'm 47 and I split my time between management and software development. Though I strive to always improve, the management aspect of my work is not something I particularly enjoy. My personal view is that my skills as a manager are easy to find in other people. My technical skills not so much. Given that, I feel that letting my technical skills atrophy would be a huge mistake.

Yes, become proficient with web technologies. Learn HTML 5 and how to create rich applications for mobile devices. Create an app for the App Store or Android Marketplace. Get involved with an open source project.

Oh, and grow your hair out. Once you hit 40 you need long hair to be taken seriously as a developer.

Depends but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068548)

I switched from a management role back to a developer/team lead role at 46yo. It has gone well. I work at a company that appreciates me, and I'm doing good work that I enjoy. I also have a couple of other possibilities for jobs, should this one go south. Here are the languages I've learned, at at what age:
16 - Basic
19 - Fortran
20 - Pascal
29 - C
31 - C++
39 - Java, JavaScript, HTML
46 - C#
I think I'm actually a better programmer now, probably because I can focus better than when I was younger (maybe was ADD-ish).
Also, a mentor of mine is 70+ with quad bypass surgery over a decade ago. He's learned C, C++, C#, and now GPU programming, all past 60yo.
OTOH, if you enjoy PM and are good at it, there's nothing wrong with it. Establish a track record of doing good work and having good relationships with coworkers and managers. You can always take less money, if the alternative is no money. ;-)

Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068572)

I've been coding for 40+ years (I'm in my 50's).

New language intake is a little slower than usual, because the print in the manuals is smaller these days :-)

Seriously, I you can dedicate the same level of time, energy, and curiosity to learning this language as you did when you were younger, you'll do fine.

You'll still need the same intense, distraction-free environment, so you may need to camp out for a week or two.

Whatever the case, it's unlikely this will cause you to forget FoxPro, even if you want to :-)

legacy systems (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068574)

If you dont mind maintaining legacy code or systems then those skills will always be needed. If you insist on new project development then yeah it's time to either learn what is current or get off the pot.

Either way, good luck

No you can still learn (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068578)

I don't think it is a matter of being able learning a new programming language. An good example would by father-in-law has recently taken up writing programs to generate art [john-art.com] . He is 71 and had some programming experience, but was an EE by trade. He learned java, c, and c++ as well as post script. Now as others have mentioned the real problem come with management, the body count, and corporate culture. Why would they want to have you as a programmer when they could have 2 college grads for the same price since according to management people are interchangeable and experience doesn't matter. When I tell management what I think at my job it is usually welcomed as I won't BS them and blow smoke up their ass like a lot of people do. At another company I got fired for "not being a team player" for doing the same thing.

Learning (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068590)

It depends on what sort of mental model you built to learn your first languages. If you started with one or two and stuck with them up 'till now, you might be stuck thinking in terms of those syntax/vocabulary models. On the other hand, if you managed to develop a lower (higher?) level mental model with which to contain your acquisitions up to now, learning more languages will be simpler.

I'd say: Give a new language a try. You might be surprised at how easy it is.

And remember: Writing software is like having sex. Make just one mistake and you've got to provide support for a lifetime.

New Languages (1)

Nishi-no-wan (146508) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068592)

I started learning XQuery (for native XML databases) before turning 40, but it was after turning 40 that the whole beauty of the language overtook me.

There still aren't that many XQuery programmers out there, and their demand is on the rise. So learning a new language with a lot of potential and very little current competition may be what you need. Your functional programming skills will be very helpful with XQuery.

For starters, the Open Source eXist DB [exist-db.org] project is great for getting up and running with a native XML database and using XQuery. There are a lot of tutorials, deep documentation, and a very responsive mailing list.

Were you good at it? (1)

timle (890873) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068598)

Really be honest. Were you really good at it? I've worked with far too many people that weren't that good at programming. When they left to do something else it was good for them and everyone. So if you became a project manager because you weren't great a programming I would stay away. If you were really good at it, picking up a new language shouldn't be a problem.

No one's too old (3, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068612)

Being "too old to learn" is mostly an excuse. Unless you have a brain injury of some description, or a brain disease, you're never too old to learn anything. It might take slightly longer, then again - it might not.

Nearing 40, I'm learning Verilog which is not merely another language, it's a hardware description language and although the syntax looks familiar to a language you write software with, how you use it is radically different. This has certain challenges, but there is no problem with actually *learning* it, nor some of the very big differences that "writing hardware" so to speak has compared with writing software. Also, while we had a slack period at work I made a start at learning Erlang, which looked like it had some useful applications for what we do, and had no particular problems learning it despite it being a functional language whereas everything I've done to date has been an imperative language.

In fact to learn a new language within the same family (for instance, if I were to learn Python) today I find it much easier and much faster than I did 20 years ago because depth of experience can help avoid the dead-ends, and we have much better tools which can also help us to learn faster.

This, by the way, applies to human languages. "I'm too old to learn a foreign language" is an excuse. "English speakers are bad at learning foreign languages" is an excuse. I started learning Spanish 3 years ago. Today, I'm at an advanced level and have even stood up in public and given talks in Spanish. I can think in Spanish and conduct my entire daily life in that language. I can even laugh at humorous programmes on Spanish TV, which proves that I'm getting to grip with it pretty well. Until 3 years ago I was monolingual so it's not that I'm getting a handy lift-up by knowing some other foreign language.

If you believe you're too old to learn it'll become a self-fulfilling prophecy and your brain will wither away.

Ruby On Rails or Net MVC3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068620)

There are solid OO languages behind both.

Both have a web orientation that is current to future leaning.

And both will force you to learn common design patterns of said OO languages.

Best one-stop shopping for an old timer.

Too Old to learn a programmign language at 40? (3, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068624)

Hogwash. I didn't start working as a software developer until I was 50. I learned Java, Perl and PHP in a year or so. I already knew C and FORTRAN at that time. Since then I've taught myself Python, Javascript, Scala and Ruby. I've recently started Erlang.

A year later I taught my father C; he was in his mid 70's and wanted to right some software to do some statistical analysis of stock data.

Don't let these whippersnappers tell you you can't do it. The fact is that is they know it, it's easy. The stuff that is actually hard is the math, and since you went to school more 20-30 years ago you have a far better education in the fundamentals that count than they do.

NOW GET OFF MY LAWN.

Re:Too Old to learn a programmign language at 40? (1, Interesting)

raddan (519638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068780)

Get your dad on R [r-project.org] for statistical analysis. Even if you love to program (and I do), doing it in C can be a grind. R, like Perl and Ruby, has a HUGE library [r-project.org] which is dead simple to use (just about as easy to use as RubyGems), and very high quality. Plots are easy to do and look beautiful (especially if you use Hadley Wickham's ggplot2 [had.co.nz] library). We use it in our department [umass.edu] because when it comes time to do the analysis, we want to be focusing on the math, not whether we have some null pointer dereference hiding somewhere. If you taught yourself Scala and Erlang, then R will be a piece of cake.

It's like you've made it a goal to not learn (1)

DetriusXii (632162) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068626)

What mythical force prevents you from reading and spending time on a new subject? It's like an obese person asking if they're too fat to lose weight. Having said that, C# and Java can be similar to C but they can also be different in large ways. C# has delegates. They're anonymous functions that can be passed around. Java has anonymous classes. They're classes that are defined at runtime that can be passed around. They both make use of generics. You'll need to know about polymorphism to understand that you can pass subclasses as arguments to functions and that you can return the subclass when the function had the return type of the parent class. They both borrow from the functional style and it may be alien from your perspective. But Ruby, Javascript, Python, and Scala are all functional and Python is becoming a fan favourite. The functional style makes for less lines of code to accomplish the same task as the procedural style.

Money or Love (3, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068634)

I've been in the biz a long time. My observation is that you probably have to choose between doing what you like and money. If you like money more than personal work satisfaction, pick the management route. It's the better choice for us geezers finance-wise. But if you truly prefer coding, and money is secondary, then go for it. You may have to dumb-down your coding resume a bit, for "experience" works against you, and keep your asking price mellow. Only briefly mention your distant experience on your resume, they don't know or care what a DEC is.

Re:Money or Love (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068736)

I do what I like and make money. I'm not sure why you buy into the false dichotomy.

Re:Money or Love (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068788)

There are always exceptions to every rule.

If you have to ask--- (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068636)

Just saying.

I'm 51. I'm a C/C++/Java developer. I just learned Python. Well, I'll be really learning Python for a while to come yet, but it didn't take long to find my way around. In years past I've done Assembler, Basic, and Pascal.

And sorry to the 55 year old guy who's been out of work for two years and anyone else who's out of work, but I've only been unemployed for longer than a month one time in my 25+ year career, and that was only because of a dick move by a "friend." Needless to say he's not a friend any more.

Don't be silly, it's just code (1)

sammyo (166904) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068654)

Getting proficient in anything is hard work, but age is only one factor. If you need to make a choice look at all the factors. Research areas you have domain knowledge, what open source applications are used in that area and what languages are those apps written? Leverage everything. What's the dominate languages in your geographic area, python, c#?

Software development is language independant (1)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068668)

I see this a lot with developers who have worked in one language for a long time (while others are invented/evolved around them).

My Father-in-law was a UNIX C developer for 24 years before being laid off and facing a very soft marketplace. He asked me (a java programmer of about 8 years at the time) if I could give him some pointers on getting started on a more marketable skill.

I said "I can't give you any pointers, but I can pass on a good reference or two" *rimshot*

In all seriousness after about a week he was like "I don't know what I was so afraid of."

Just remember a language does not make you write bad code or good code, the language is just a way to express the concepts that you have down, the conceptualizition of the process is the actual hard part.

You're just a boy (4, Insightful)

CaptainOfSpray (1229754) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068670)

I'm 66. In the last few years I've learned enough Python and PHP to do useful work, and learned Linux enough to get an LPI cert. Considering all these things are free to download, there's no barrier preventing you learning, except your own false belief that you are too old.

Learning past 40 (1)

grimmjeeper (2301232) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068674)

I'm an over 40 software engineer. I've found that a diversity of skills makes you more flexible in the marketplace. I learn at least one new language a year to stay current. Sometimes I learn more than one. When I change jobs, I try to go to new industries to broaden my exposure. When the economy is good, you can really take advantage of diverse skills to work your way into the up-and-coming industries. In a down economy, your diversity of skills means you've got more options than the one trick pony.

Personally, I never want to move above team leadership. My only alternative is to stay relevant on the technical side. The only way I do that is by constantly learning and being able to show that I constantly learn. I've worked hard at remaining employable and relevant as I age and it's paid off. After getting laid off from a company hemorrhaging money a couple of years ago I have been able to pick my new place of employment from a number of offers.

The only person who can make sure you stay employable is you. The only way you can do that is by staying relevant in the constantly changing marketplace. The only way to make that happen is to keep learning every day.

It's hard getting back into tech (1)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068692)

While experience counts for a lot, managers and employers rarely see it that way. They will see your out-of-date skills and hire that 25-year-old who has all the modern languages on his/her resume.

Want to keep your hand in? A couple of suggestions:

- Even as a PM, you may be able to find an excuse for the odd proof-of-concept or prototype.

- Program in your spare time. If you don't have a family, you have the spare time. If you have a family, take the excuse to learn Scratch, or Python, or some other kid-friendly language - teach your kids to program!

- Teach an evening course in programming.

There is nothing mysterious about the newer languages, but you have to *use* them. Work your way up from simple stuff, Google for answers to the inevitable "stupid questions". Learning a new language, and sometimes a new way of thinking takes time. If it makes you happy, you'll find the time - but likely no longer as part of your career choice.

No (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068694)

In fact you would probably be better at learning a new language.

Fundamentals (2)

LS (57954) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068698)

As a 37 year old that has programmed 100s of k lines of code in several languages for the last 15 years, I've found that understanding fundamentals is more important. With a language reference handy I can write functional code in a new language immediately, and optimized code that accounts for language peculiarities in a couple months. Mind you I've really only been working with imperative languages mostly, so a different class of language may take more time. Anyway the point is that if you really understand the basic control and data constructs that most languages share, you'll get by fine with a new language. But as others older than I have pointed out, you may want to look at the bigger picture and longer timeframe re: your career. So far I've been getting away with ignoring my age as a numeral and just forging forward to the best of my ability, but life is limited and that strategy probably won't last until the end. In any case, age is just a number, and it has a strong placebo effect, so go with what youve got instead of what you are supposed to have at your age.

LS

If you have a base (1)

revjtanton (1179893) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068700)

If you have a base its better than starting from 0. Now for my sales pitch:

Check out my site WiBit.net [wibit.net] . We offer video computer programming tutorials in a linear and fun way. We break apart everything into 5 minute videos that are focused and comedy infused. You can skip right to things you want to learn, and skip over things you already know. We made it so you can learn if you have no experience, or skip right to what you're trying to figure out if you're experienced.

We have C,C++, and Obj-C for now. Java and C# are coming soon! Out content is free! We only ask that you sign up to download labs material!

End of sales pitch. Thank you for your time and for tolerating my excessive use of exclamation points.

keep the day job, expand your skills (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068708)

for my employer, on any job I might be project manager, systems architect, developer, sometimes even racker of hardware and cable puller. I still learn a new language now and then, and now and again actually use them at a client.

Have you had much object oriented exposure? if not, get that way of thinking into your skill set with a widely versatile language that is used for command line, web, daemon and applications. I'd suggest Python, learn the basics, then do some web development, then go into a web framework (take your pick) and also learn to call C libraries with python.

http://docs.python.org/index.html [python.org]

49 and learning all the time (1)

boristdog (133725) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068728)

Pfft. I learned in the 70's on BASIC, Pascal and other procedural languages that ruined me for years. Fortran on punch cards? Did it.

Now I have to learn new languages for nearly every new project. It's not so hard. If you have good basic logic skills all languages are pretty easy to learn.

Tip: Become a consultant/contractor when you are old and wise.

I'm at the same crossroads (1)

ThinkDifferently (853608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068738)

Normally, I'd say do what you like the best, but in this case, do what the market wants. At 41, I'm expensive and falling behind in technical skills. I've gone from being a Systems Engineer back to a Systems Administrator with more server room and virtualization experience, and my salary has not changed for the past 4 years. I'm now also a small business owner and a consultant. I'm boning up on my corporate and management skills a lot more than my old technical skills. I'm learning how to attract and land contracts, manage employees and so forth. If I stay strictly technical, my salary and skills will plateau (they already have). No one wants to employ an expensive SysAdmin. They do want to employ cheaper employees on a contract that I manage. So, my strategy is to learn how to get those contracts and then hire the employees myself, earning my company revenue (and thus me, a higher salary).

My advice: learn what the market wants at the price you want to get paid. Go to salary.com or some other service and find out what the average and range of salary are for the job you want to do. If your salary expectations are higher than that job, consider switching to another set of skills that will pay your salary.

In my opinion (1)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068744)

...no, you are not too old. Unless your brain is malfunctioning due to age, you should be as able as when you were a kid. It just requires more patience, from what I noticed.

I recommend you pick C# over Java. (I am a Linux user, and yes, I find annoying I can't use WINE to run those, but that's not the point). C# is less portable but is faster. Java is slower, but portable. (And both have a lot of code references).
Also seems there are concerns about Java's future (which I happen to see more realistic than the C# FUD about it being replaced with HTML5+JS, fat chance), which makes me, personally, wary of it.

Basically, if you don't care about annoying Linux users, go with C#. If you are using less common OSs and speed is not a concern, go with Java.

Also just for fun I'd learn Lua or Python. Lua is extremely easy to learn, and a seasoned programmer would master it in seconds. Python is just useful to know IMO.

Although since you list C skills, I'd personally stick to C until the very end. Super fast, super portable, time-proven and still in use (can be a pain to code but I find it way worth it).

40 years old, still hasn't learned? (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068754)

At 40 I would have expected the OP to realize that once you learn how to program, everything else in syntax. It sounds like the OP has a robust background in coding, I can't help but wonder why s|he is expressing trepidation on this topic.

try to do what you do best! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068758)

Teaching is a good option. Too many new developers lack a good comprehension of the basics. At the very least it's something worth a try. It'll use the core skills you've learn and the language you are familiar with.

If you really want to do development you can try to learn a new language. It's relatively easy but you'll be up against newer younger models who will be more proficient at it. You can also try to find some one with legacy systems running on the language you are familiar with. They're fairly common in big old business.

Don't do it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068770)

Don't. Number6.2 has given you all the good reasons. We all have the same disease, we love coding, but doing it for money is something that is entirely different.
I've been chasing the type of positions which satisfy me intellectually for 10 years now, and I'm almost done with it. It is a very expensive thing to do. With a family to feed, one ends up choosing the position which is slightly or significantly more boring, but pays better.

Once I'm done with the PhD, I'll probably chase an MBA if I can afford it (quite unlikely, since it is very expensive in UK, especially if you're not an EU citizen). Work + PhD is killing me now, but it is kinda my insurance. I'll explain it in a moment. If I've done sales in the last 10 years, I'd be in a much better position in terms of savings and quality of life. IMHO 35 is when you need to start looking for management seats. 40 is latest. Some very lucky people end up in great combinations, where they write very critical code, regardless of age, and they have minions to do the rest of the work. They are the minority.

If you want to do what you're doing to stop your brain from dying, try academia. Enroll to a master's programme or a PhD. That is your intellectual playground, which won't leave you unemployed if you choose to do it. Sure, it'll be hard to find the time, but that is a much lower price to pay. With this economy, unless you can specialize to the extreme in a topic that is hot (financial computing, machine learning etc) you'll just ruin your life by attempting to do what you're thinking about. You'll be too generic at the age of 40.

I'm almost 35, and once I'm done with the PhD, I'll start looking into management positions. If I can get a teaching position in academia, that is also quite good: mental playground with all the fun things, without competition from 20 year olds. But in that case I'd still need a second job, because academia does not pay enough to make a living for a family. Still, safer options than trying to compete with the 20 year old who is hungry and willing to work 12 hours or more, for much less then you and I would demand.

A coding team is like a baseball team (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068776)

Can you learn a new language - sure. As another poster pointed out - is it worth it? Unless you want to compete in price with a bunch of newbies; probably not.

A development team or shop is like a baseball team

There is the rare superstar that gets top dollar because they can do things nobody else can' which is why they are rare and expensive.

There are a few solid players who have decent careers because they have a good skill set and can be depended on to deliver. they make a decent wage but no where near the superstars. They stick around.

The biggest group is the journeymen players - they hang around a few years but there is always a crop of younger, cheaper players coming up to replace them. they never get serious money. They get churned to control costs.

Then there are the managers and coaches. They are valued for their experience; they know the game, seen all the tricks and can guide a team to victory. The may not make superstar money but they are paid well and they have longevity (as long as they perform) and options to move if they do well. They stay up on the game but don't try to play. Plus they decide who gets to play, where they play and who stays and who leaves.

As others have pointed out, there's always someone whose cheaper or wiling to work for less when it's a pretty generic skill set. I'd use your experiences to move to a place where your knowledge and experience is what is valued; rather than try to build a new skill set. Learn new languages to be able to identify good vs. bad programming; but base your value on being able to identify problems before they hurt you or solve them as they come up.

I can't code a line (unless it is Fortran) but I can manage a team and clients to get the job done on schedule and budget. It can even be fun -I've never believed you need to be a jerk to be a manager.

This and... (1)

swarleyman (2436226) | more than 2 years ago | (#37068786)

I can't pretend to know enough about this to have any valuable input, but I do have a suggestion. A few years back I worked on a project, and one of the guys on the team with me was in his 40s as well. He knew the language we were using (C#), but he didn't know modern programming theory. Unfortunely, the team lead didn't get a chance to look at his code before he left (he was a contractor), so we ended up having to throw out almost all of his code because none of it was object oriented. All that being said, if you go back to learn a new language, pick up some new programming theory as well. On a closing note, good luck with your decision. Career path decisions are almost never easy (I'm in the process of that right now myself). Best of luck!

Age and learning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068790)

Well if you compare it to language learning the old brain apparently can still learn some new tricks:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128224.000-age-no-excuse-for-failing-to-learn-a-new-language.html

HR wants to have at least a PHD + 2-3 years and (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37068798)

HR wants to have at least a PHD + 2-3 years and after 3-5 years then they will can you.

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