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Can Older Software Developers Still Learn New Tricks?

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the old-school dept.

Businesses 365

An anonymous reader writes "There's a persistent bias against older programmers in the software development industry, but do the claims against older developers' hold up? A new paper looks at reputation on StackOverflow, and finds that reputation grows as developers get older. Older developers know about a wider variety of technologies. All ages seem to be equally knowledgeable about most recent programming technologies. Two exceptions: older developers have the edge when it comes to iOS and Windows Phone."

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Betteridge's law of headlines? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585143)

No. (You decide which question I'm answering).

Of course not (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585145)

They're old farts, only know Cobol and Ada. It's impossible.

Re:Of course not (5, Insightful)

Emperor Shaddam IV (199709) | about a year ago | (#43585279)

Yeah, this old fart knows Cobol, Assembly, C, C++, Java, a little C# and several other languages. I enjoy when you younger guys come to me for help because you can't read a log file, resolve a memory leak, write a test plan up, or optimize your SQL. :)

Re:Of course not (2)

chfriley (160627) | about a year ago | (#43585431)

Don't forget to add things like LISP, snobol, prolog, Pascal, Modula-2, SML, APL etc. :-)

Re:Of course not (1)

Bomarc (306716) | about a year ago | (#43585531)

Or SPL, BASIC, Batch (DOS), Fortran...

Re:Of course not (2)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about a year ago | (#43585723)

Most of the 3GLs and a fair number of 2GLs, the entire lineage of databases and indexed file systems.

The whole experience of learning new languages came to a stop when I found I couldn't learn Hindi.

Re:Of course not (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585449)

I don't consider myself to be an old fart, yet I know how to do most of the things you mention there.

I know a tiny bit of COBOL; just enough to hate it. I could muddle through assembly if I had to. (True story: In college, my Intro to Computers instructor forced us to read and write System/360 machine code by hand.) C and C++: I'm rusty, but not incompetent. Java, C#, and SQL (any dialect) are my bitch. Log files don't terrify me; grep was made for a reason. Memory leaks are a pain, but not insurmountable. Test plans are for people who actually test (just kidding!).

Age: 33. (Not old, dammit!)

Re:Of course not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585475)

As a younger guy, I'd have no shame coming to you.

Re:Of course not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585501)

Like you I've coded in a lot of different languages over my career. The ability to learn and use new languages gives us a natural "agile" skill set that only comes with experience. Sometimes you don't have enough time or resources and you're still expected to get it done right and on time. Not knocking the younger crowd as they'll get there too.

Re:Of course not (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43585569)

The question is whether young software developers can learn old stuff that has been ignored for decades [] and rediscovered only recently.

Re:Of course not (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#43585617)

I'm of average,(almost), intelligence; but what doesn't get old is when junior,(a Stanford Grad no less), comes up to me and says, "the manual says it does this, but the same code in my project doesn't do what the manual says it should." Fun times, fun times. Then the horror in their eyes when I say, "oh? just do this then" They plead, "that's not written anywhere!" And the abject anger that occurs when I suggest she/he should go back to school and ask for their money back.

I'm sorry kids, my mind wondered; it won't happen again.

One of two things. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585159)

Older developers are always one of two things. They are invaluable wizards who have tons of experience, adaptability and know all the new technologies, or they are completely burnt out and useless. There is almost no middle ground. There is also a strong correlation between interest and hobbies - if they are doing techie things for fun, they will usually be in the wizard category. If they have just been doing the same old job for decades, and do few tech projects for fun, they will be burnt out.

Re:One of two things. (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43585235)

If my grandma can learn how to use an iPad at the age of 85, never having used a computer in all her life, then a 50 year old developer should have no problem picking up 'new tricks.'

Re:One of two things. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585407)

If my grandma can learn how to use an iPad at the age of 85, never having used a computer in all her life, then a 50 year old developer should have no problem picking up 'new tricks.'

If one grandma can learn an iPad, then there exists one old developer that can learn. If every grandma can learn an iPad, then all old developers can learn. Noticed the difference?

is it really the same? (3, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | about a year ago | (#43585481)

Learning functional programming or asynchronous server development is not really on the same level as learning how to tap the right sequence of icons to get to the iPad games.

Re:is it really the same? (2)

mevets (322601) | about a year ago | (#43585585)

Do you have any recent technologies to cite as examples? Fp and async were both codified and well established in the 70s.
Admittedly, learning the new names for the same old shit, gets old faster than I do...

Re:is it really the same? (3, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#43585637)

Sure—XML. No programmer born before January 19, 2038 can adapt to it.

Re:is it really the same? (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43585859)

Learning functional programming or asynchronous server development is not really on the same level as learning how to tap the right sequence of icons to get to the iPad games.

Try giving an ipad to an 80 year old woman and you'll see how many interface ideas we take for granted right now.

For example, if you look at the list of emails on the ipad, the unread emails have a blue dot when they haven't been read yet. Reasonable enough, but it looks like a button that you can push to open the email. But if you push it, then the email doesn't open, the dot just disappears. Then the list of mailboxes keeps disappearing randomly.

Actually using the ipad for adult things is different than a kid clicking the "Where's My Water" app and then touching stuff.

Re:One of two things. (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#43585647)

Developers! According to supply and demand, programmer salaries are too low. Get a raise today!

Better yet, reprogram the aircraft to land in India. And sit back and smile as the pilot says, "But the ILS says we're landing at LAX!!!"

Re:One of two things. (1)

hsmith (818216) | about a year ago | (#43585251)

Plus, those that aren't into the programming aspect of it, move into management of some type. Those that enjoy the programming aspect, will keep their skills honed.

Re:One of two things. (3, Insightful)

buddyglass (925859) | about a year ago | (#43585275)

How about "I know how to write quality code, but I'm no longer interested in spending the necessary cycles to learn every new faddish tech. that comes down the pipe"?

Re:One of two things. (4, Insightful)

Medievalist (16032) | about a year ago | (#43585353)

It's one of the benefits of experience that you know what to skip... although it's not always the same things for everybody.

Re:One of two things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585817)

Sorry, I have to disagree with this one. I've been programming for far longer than is reasonable, and I have had stints in pre-sales etc to get away from it for a while. The majority of the "faddish techs" you talk about make my life as a programmer easier, better and more fun. As an enterprise developer, one of the thing you spend a lot of time doing is integrating disperate systems with each other. Every five to ten years there was a new technology that would "solve" the issue, and each and every one of them improved on things a bit.

In the 1990s it was CORBA that was going to do it. Problem was, if you could get two ORBs to talk together you were a fucking genius. In the late 1990s I was trying to integrate some C++ Corba software with some Java software. We got a C++ ORB and a Java ORB from Iona. The "fun" thing was that it was rarely possible to make the two talk. Most of the time we had to hand-edit the generated code on either side since their stuff usually got it wrong. The basics worked fine, but there was always problems. Once you added other companies ORBs into the mix you were basically fucked.

Then came SOAP and the world got just a little bit brighter, however, SOAP does suffer from a lot of the same problems as CORBA did, and CXF can be a nightmare at times. I can't remember all the times I have used CXF to generate some code from a complex WSDL only to find that the SOAP package that is generated is rejected by the CXF stack it self, and never sent to the client. Nightmare.

Now things are moving to REST, ODATA etc. Things are now a lot better than with SOAP and miles from where CORBA ended (yeah, it's dead). These B2B and B2C interfaces are very new, but they have exploded in usage. There is probably more new REST based stuff coming online every day now than there have ever been built applications publishing a CORBA interface. Things are a lot easier.

So, no, these new-fangled things are not fads, they are improvements.

Re:One of two things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585869)

So, no, these new-fangled things are not fads, they are improvements.

A blanket statement like that is wrong almost by definition.

Re:One of two things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585877)

How about "I know how to write quality code, but I'm no longer interested in spending the necessary cycles to learn every new faddish tech. that comes down the pipe"?

Bingo! That's about it. The longer you've been in this business the more fads you have seen come and go. With experience comes the ability to know what to invest your time in and what to ignore.

Burn out speaking here. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585375)

I fall into the burn out catagory - I guess.

I spent over a decade working on applications and OSes. Then to keep up with tech, I would go home and program some more - and I was ruthless about trying to incorprate any new tech into my job so that I could have paid experience on my resume. I was working what comes to 80 - 100 hours a week programming.

I can't stand to program - let alone for fun, now.

I'll do it to solve a problem and even enjoy it - the solving the problem. But to program for the sake of programming? NFW.

I'm pushing 50, btw.

Of course, I'd LOVE to do something else, but trying to move out of development or anything IT is proving to be difficult for many reasons. One of them is that people insist on pidgeonholing you.

Re:Burn out speaking here. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585461)

This is why I specifically choose not to make my hobbies the same as my vocation. Doing the same things all the time can be a *serious* burn out issue.

Re:One of two things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585419)

Older developers are always one of two things. They are invaluable wizards who have tons of experience, adaptability and know all the new technologies, or they are completely burnt out and useless. There is almost no middle ground. There is also a strong correlation between interest and hobbies - if they are doing techie things for fun, they will usually be in the wizard category. If they have just been doing the same old job for decades, and do few tech projects for fun, they will be burnt out.

I guess I'm one of the moldy oldies. I started on punch cards and am still going strong (from my perspective anyway..) but I don't make it a habit of doing much programming outside of work. While I do enjoy the programming work, I find that I'm much more effective if I give it a rest and find something else to do when I'm not working.

I have a number of hobbies that are decidedly NOT programming related and I suggest you young guns cultivate leisure activities that are not what you do at work. How do you avoid becoming the crusty old guy that nobody likes to work with? Do something different now and then! Who knows, you might find something you like to do better than software and get to change careers. As a minimum you will have something to fall back on when they finally write the last piece of software ever needed (or the place you are working goes belly up, like happened to me three times thus far.)

So, it's not about if you do programming in your free time, it's that you are mentally active and challenged in your free time as well as work. Keep learning or fall behind!

Re:One of two things. (5, Insightful)

pspahn (1175617) | about a year ago | (#43585521)

There is also a strong correlation between interest and hobbies - if they are doing techie things for fun, they will usually be in the wizard category.

I can't really disagree here, but I wouldn't say that the correlation be restricted to what is considered a 'tech hobby'.

I have known a number of men in their upper years that I would classify in the 'wizard' category, yet their hobbies included things like fly fishing, baseball statistics, flying small planes, etc. I would really consider any of these a 'tech hobby', but I would consider them hobbies that require a great deal of technical aptitude to also be a wizard in.

Keeping the mind sharp is the key. If you do that by observing local caddis fly species, tying your own imitations, nailing the presentation to the fish (including time of day, weather conditions, season, physical stealth), and ultimately landing a 22 inch trout on 7x tippet, I imagine that keeps you just as sharp in the day job than simply doing more day job like things in your free time.

Hobbies are meant to be hobbies for a reason. If you are an aspiring musician gigging at the local clubs to make your cash and you then spend your free time doing more of the same, but "just for fun", your musical career is probably not going to take you where you'd like it to.

Completely detaching from concepts related to your occupation/career during your "me time" is absolutely essential to having a long enough career to ever become one of those "wizards". If you're a programmer, and you spend your free time programming for fun, you'll certainly become a solid developer, but there are very few people who love code enough to be able to sustain that for 20 or more years.

TL;DR - going fishing is better than having a 'tech hobby'.

Re:One of two things. (4, Interesting)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year ago | (#43585833)

or maybe "Wizard" means "the guy who just quietly knows what to do and gets it done", no fuss, no drama, no "ooh we must do a total rewrite in Silverlight".

When you get to this status, you are a bit burned out - but only by playing office politics with ambitious morons, and playing chase-the-latest-tech-fashion. When you get to this stage you're more interested in making things work instead of just playing with the cool tech toys.

I know, I used to be a tech guy who did it all in the evenings, and wanted a job where I was just a techie doing pretty much the same... today, I don't give a fig about tech for its own sake, I just care about making the solutions to peoples problems.

Re:One of two things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585541)

Pretty much this, for the most part.
If you ever find a middle-ground for this, you deserve some sort of award for finding the not-so-holy-grail.

The same thing is going to happen to all of the current "programmers", aka the kids playing with their wizards connecting up DBs or whatever other nonsense it is kids these days do.
They have basically 0 skill in programming, and if they do, it is basic at best. (how to wrap things around a wizards code, quite literally, or PHP... I just mini-sicked at the thought of that, I don't even consider PHP users human, even Visual Basic is good next to it, what a terrible waste of effort, everything that can go wrong with an open source project AS an open source project!)

I've been programming from 9, more-or-less, from an old-ass VTech laptop with BASIC on it. I've loved it ever since.
If you don't get in to programming early on, you can rarely get a love and passion for it. If you decide to just pick up programming in your 20s or something, it just isn't the same, very rarely that is.

Worse are those who get in to things like game development or software development because they think it is going to be all fun and games.
Then they see all the manual work, all the paper work. So many people leave these classes because of this, spaces wasted.
I remember my class had like 30 people. At the end of the 2nd year, it had 12.
The hilarious thing is I may have caused a bunch of people to leave when 1 month in I ended up in hospital because Crohns. I felt bad when I came back and like 7 people had left. Oops.
This is also one reason why I am so happy that schools are thinking of teaching basic programming skills at earlier ages, because if kids get the same introduction I did at an even earlier age, they will be opened up to a world of wonder, a world where you can create anything if you put your mind to it.
That just makes me smile inside, outside and some other side that probably exists.
Sure, someone could take it up in later ages, but they'll likely not have the love for it as people who were introduced to it in the younger stages.
Brains are pretty modifiable, even in to very late ages, but it gets much harder as more pruning stages happen we are finding out these days.

Re:One of two things. (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about a year ago | (#43585747)

Or a third -- they become software salesmen. I've never met an enterprise-level software salesman who didn't mention that he used to write in Assembler once.

NeXTStep Programming (2)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year ago | (#43585161)

All that programming on NeXT finally becomes useful.

No (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585169)

If you could, you wouldn't be asking this question every three months on any site desperate enough for clicks. Advice: hang up you keyboard when you get found out, because if you know what you're doing, this is a moot question.

Where's this bias? (1)

seebs (15766) | about a year ago | (#43585173)

I don't recall actually encountering it, not when I was younger, not now. (I'm starting to be on the older end of the spectrum, I think.)

Re:Where's this bias? (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year ago | (#43585209)

In the headline.

Yes (5, Funny)

cunniff (264218) | about a year ago | (#43585187)

Now get off my lawn

how could your reputation start from high and go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585203)

how could your reputation start from high and go low as you get older on stackoverflow?

I would argue that most reputations on stackoverflow get higher as time goes by, since once your reputation goes bad, you're unable to do most things on the site so those accounts get abandoned. of course very few people would have the persistence to consistently give bad answers on stackoverflow in the first place. a right answer gets upvoted for years, while a bad bad answer gets downvoted just few times as well.

now, has he done the same thing with slashdot karma??

the underlying premise that coders would get worse as they get older is of course bullshit. with some people you might notice it better once they get older though, but those are very unlikely to be answering anything on stackoverflow.

stackoverflow isn't right (2)

OrangeTide (124937) | about a year ago | (#43585493)

Indeed, I suspect stackoverflow may not be able to measure the information we want to know.

Re:stackoverflow isn't right (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#43585709)

Then maybe ask the question?

Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585211)

That is all.

Old Dogs and New Tricks (5, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43585219)

If your old dog can't learn any new tricks, the chances are he couldn't learn any tricks when he was young as well.

Re:Old Dogs and New Tricks (1)

avandesande (143899) | about a year ago | (#43585299)

Or maybe it's because you have a cat?

Re:Old Dogs and New Tricks (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#43585675)

Yes, chances are the old dogs have already had to learn new trick a number of times, while the young'ns have so far only learned one way. GUI's, the web, and the like each have disrupted the development methods that came before them. Usually, some things are true improvements but other good ideas are lost - at least for a time.

The only problem I've ever had is when I know that a current technology is moving down the wrong path towards a dead-end. In this case it's difficult continue along the same path waiting for everyone else to figure it out (which won't happen until the next revolution).

Older workers cost more. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585223)

They can command higher incomes based on their experience. They are harder to exploit, again because of their experience. Their health insurance costs more (more a product of poorly managed health care policies that are often beyond the employers control).

Any other excuse for not hiring them is a smokescreen, or worse, an attempt to stigmatize them to drive down the price that their experience can command.

Re:Older workers cost more. (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43585529)

They can command higher incomes based on their experience.

This calls the question that needs to be asked whenever this kind of discussion comes up. It is not so much can an old dog learn new tricks, but can new dogs learn the old tricks?

Put that in whatever terms you want. Will a new programmer know "this works well for this kind of problem", compared to "I can find a library that does this but I don't know/care how it works (and it really sucks at speed)".

Re:Older workers cost more. (2, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43585739)

Any other excuse for not hiring them is a smokescreen

Here's my excuse: Any old fart is going to have a deep network of contacts. If they have a good reputation, then they can use these contacts to quickly find new employment. So any old fart trying to find a job by replying to web ads is almost certainly a turd. I have hired plenty of old farts that I knew professionally, or were referred by people I trust, and have mostly been happy with them. I have never interviewed an old fart random responder that I wanted to hire.

Re:Older workers cost more. (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#43585749)

"Commanding a salary" means that employers *must* pay you your commanded salary because if they don't you will just work for someone who will, due the high demand for your unique skill.

If employers are able to lower demand for your unique skill, simply by spreading vague rumors, then I would say your command of your salary is weak.

Re:Older workers cost more. (4, Interesting)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#43585751)

This is a crappy argument (or at least, it's only half the picture), but it is the one used often by HR types or those doing the selection. The real question isn't "what does this guy cost", but "what cost/benefit ratio is there". The older, more experienced guy may cost more, but his experience often makes up for that, and if he is capable of coaching your junior devs well, then you got a sweet deal on your hands.

Perhaps a more important difference between young and old guys: if an old guy does turn out to be sucky, there's little chance of turning him around. With younger guys your chances of turning a mishire into a success are far greater.

That's a stupid question! (1)

sirgoran (221190) | about a year ago | (#43585225)

I learn something new nearly everyday. I learn more and more my boss is a clueless asshat, and if I didn't stay current with programming and technology I wouldn't be able to continue to work. Being flexible, knowing what I know, always willing to learn more keeps me employed. Because sooner or later when the "IT Director" is found out for the ignorant fool that he is I'll be in a position to take over his job. That or I'll find a new job and sit back and watch the company implode.

Trygve would like a word with you... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585229) developed MVC when he was 49, and DCI when he was 78.

These older developers **read StackOverflow** (2)

e4liberty (537089) | about a year ago | (#43585231)

There are two selection criteria: these developers are older, and they participate at StackOverflow. So, they're the guys who sick with programming, not management or retirement, and who "get" social media, at least SO, and are developer community oriented. This is a select group of individuals!

Re:These older developers **read StackOverflow** (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585553)

They don't. Stackoverflow makes up stories to bring in "debate" and "what do you think?" comments. Many online sites use this ploy, misleading readers into thinking questions are genuine, and it's been going on for many years.

Just Shut the Fuck Up (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585239)

Yes, there are a lot of excellent older developers who have built up a good reputation and have a network of contacts that allows them to work whenever they want to work.

And there are a lot of really crappy developers who were given a a chance when they were young by managers who hoped they were diamonds in the rough, but it turned out they were just crappy developers. Once those developers got old, managers pass them over for younger prospects who may still potentially show some talent someday.

If you can't find work as a developer right now, it's time to think about a new career.

Repeat Post? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585241)

Is it me, or does an article like this seem to find it's way ontol slashdot on an almost monthly basis?

Re:Repeat Post? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585323)

Slashdot is a shitty site for disgruntled script kiddies who are upset that their 1337 skills at installing linux haven't gotten them a job since 2001.

Articles like this tell all those losers that the problem isn't with them or their skills, the problem is with a world that doesn't appreciate them enough. Of course Slashdot is going to keep posting articles like this forever.

Nothing to do with age (4, Interesting)

WillKemp (1338605) | about a year ago | (#43585249)

That depends on the individual. I've known people in their 20s who were already set in their ways, and people in their 70s who were still open to new ideas. It's got nothing to do with age as such - it's entirely a state of mind. If you keep using your brain to learn new things, there's no reason you shouldn't be as capable of it at 80 as you were at 18 really.

I'm 55 and i'm studying science at university. I'm having less difficulty than some of my 20-something uni mates. I taught myself PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, a few years ago, so i could work as a web developer for a while. I taught myself Java in the uni break last year so i could play with developing Android apps.

If you use it, you don't lose it!

Re:Nothing to do with age (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585545)

They ask you your age when you take an IQ test because if they didn't give a bonus to people older than about 20 or so, your IQ would decrease with age. If you use it, and keep fit, you don't lose as much. Interestingly, that means you can increase your IQ by working out more than average for your age, since IQ is on an age-corrected curve. You also increasingly know what's up too, thankfully, making up for a lot of it. You can still be smarter than a 20-year old at 55, but then you would have been even smarter when you were 20.

Re:Nothing to do with age (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585703)

>there's no reason you shouldn't be as capable of it at 80 as you were at 18 really.

I don't understand. The slightest googling of "brain aging" shows a tremendous amount of research in the inevitable shrinking of the brain, loss of neurons, and general decay of cognitive abilities. How can you say that . .

>I'm 55 and i'm studying science at university . . .

Oh. Well then. I'm sure that research doesn't apply to YOU of course.

As a 38 year old software developer (5, Funny)

composer777 (175489) | about a year ago | (#43585259)

I can say... wait, what was the question?

Re:As a 38 year old software developer (5, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year ago | (#43585415)

We were discussing whether or not you approve of my presence on your lawn.

older!!! (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | about a year ago | (#43585265)

The question is wrong. The real question should be:
Is this guy/gal a developer or not?
No, really, what is wrong with the world today? Why are you trying to connect "age" with "skills"? And just for the record, the wine becomes better with the age...

old people have higher Health Care and don't 80+ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585273)

old people have higher Health Care and don't like pulling 80+ weeks.

Re:old people have higher Health Care and don't 80 (5, Insightful)

Tough Love (215404) | about a year ago | (#43585845)

old people have higher Health Care and don't like pulling 80+ weeks.

Or even 40+ weeks. And don't need to because they tend to do their work more efficiently as opposed to galloping odf enthusiastically in all directions. Ultimately producing stronger, more maintainable code. By way of substantiation, note that the typical European worker at ~37 hours/week is typically as productive as an American or Asian worker supposedly putting in way more hours. The equalizer is, Europeans tend to plan better and waste less time.

BTW, note that being an older programmer does not obviate the possibility of having a young lover. Far from it. In work or love it's about keeping your stamina up: take care of your eyes and your body. Treasure your enthusiasm for life. Keep your mind active and never stop learning. The rest just falls into place.

DO Older Developers Still WANT TO Learn New Tricks (1)

elloGov (1217998) | about a year ago | (#43585283)

Although, massive grouping of all old programmers to a stereotype is unfair, my experience is that It's a matter of desire/passion. Technically, I think the old programmer has a good grasp of the underlying foundation of logic. It's a matter or putting in the time to learn the new recipe and syntax. Often, their experience will get them up and running far quicker than a young buck.
Can a old programmer learn new tricks? Absolutely. Does he/she want to? Well.
  1. Is he/she burnt out
  2. Can he/she sacrifice the time required without neglecting his/her established lifestyle and family
  3. Is he/she still passionate or is he/she disenfranchised by his/her negative experience in the field?
  4. Does he/she have the guts to be a noob and feel stupid again? I know many who take pride in their area of expertise and rightfully do not want to dilute their worth by becoming less good in other sometimes newer areas.

Re:DO Older Developers Still WANT TO Learn New Tri (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585435)

Does he/she know something you don't but you are too young and naive to realize yet?

Re:DO Older Developers Still WANT TO Learn New Tri (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585495)

Does he want to maintain gains in worth by upgrading skills?

Why do I still visit this site? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585301)

More agist bullshit. More glorifying the ability to learn new information.

Am I Too Old to Remember Answering This Question? (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#43585309)

No [] . No I am not [] . For reference see:

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

They should have a lot of the bland "buck up" responses alongside the "outta my way I know everything" youngsters.

Also, to more quickly expedite this process, I prefer your story submissions in the form of "Ask Slashdot: Am I Too Old To <X>?"

Re:Am I Too Old to Remember Answering This Questio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585865)

Am I too old to stay up all night with a 20 something lover?

You can't discriminate based on age in the U.S. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585317)

Employers can't use a correlation even if there is one, so stop worrying about it. If learning new tricks is important for them they can ask for recent examples during the interview or test the ability directly with a question.

Re:You can't discriminate based on age in the U.S. (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43585385)

Employers can't use a correlation even if there is one, so stop worrying about it. If learning new tricks is important for them they can ask for recent examples during the interview or test the ability directly with a question.

Don't worry. There isn't a shred of discoverable evidence that your age had any bearing on our decision to choose somebody who seemed like a better fit for the FooCorp team.

Everybody can... (3, Interesting)

hugortega (721079) | about a year ago | (#43585327)

I know 20 years old guys who can learn nothing new, like lazy teenagers. The question is biased. Of course, there is a biological neural decay with age, but like any other muscle, the brain need exercise, and that don't depends on age but on attitude about life. If you like and enjoy to learn new things, you will enjoy that the whole life, that's a fact.

Never trust anyone over 30 (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#43585343)

you heard it here first

Can young developers learn old tricks? (2)

Vingborg (141225) | about a year ago | (#43585347)

I mean, them young whippersnappers seem like drooling retards when I break out my trusty old soldering iron. You know, for debugging like back when bugs actually stung ...

Unable or Unwilling or Unmotivated ? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about a year ago | (#43585361)

It seems to me there are 3 types of programmers ...

  1. Unable,
  2. Unwilling,
  3. Unmotivated, or
... with respect to learning.

As you grow older there are more calcium deposits in your brain which is where the term "fossilized thinking" comes from. You can't help those unable to learn or unwilling. These are where the stereotypes come from.

Now as to the last group ...

They say the mind is like a muscle -- to keep it in top shape you need to exercise it. If old programmers are not motivated to learn then I have to ask why?? Have they mastered THAT much of programming that they have exhausted all the interested topics?? I would argue that there are SO MANY interesting topics in computing that any programmer worth his salt should _easily_ be able to find enough interesting problems to solve as they get older. That's one of the benefits to comp. sci. -- there is always something neat to learn. Nay, the human condition -- you will NEVER stop learning (unless you become close minded.) Everything from bit-twiddling tricks to optimizing multi-threaded-multi-core programming with "Big Data" should keep any reasonable programmer motivated to learn. If not, they they are probably either burnt-out or crappy programmers.

The advantages older programmers have is that they have a much wider experience to draw upon so they don't make the same dumb mistakes over-and-over as the youth. i.e. When you have badly designed languages like Javascript that do NO type-checking on misspelt variables you use better tools to prevent the mistakes from the 80's Basic.

Another advantage is that older programmers don't have to focus on the tediousness of syntax and can focus on the higher level algorithms.

Re:Unable or Unwilling or Unmotivated ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585491)

Speaking strictly for myself, at 45 I'm unmotivated because the social impacts of new technology are unappealing to me. Mobile devices have caused people to cocoon in public places. The previous incarnations of the Internet helped bring us together. The new incarnations draw us apart and help us spy on eachother. That, and it's all what I call "surveillatizing", (surveillance+advertising). Too many things are a game designed to get us to feed personal data to some corporation. Fuck that.

It seemed like every few years, technology got boring and/or stupid to me. The Win 3.x "memory extender" era that came between 8-bit and 32-bit was such an era. I did as little 16-bit dev as possible.

This time though, it seems like the "winter" of my technological discontent is lasting longer. I first noticed this when I saw an iPhone for the first time. We were in Big Sur, and this woman was looking down at her stupid new phone instead of the flowers and hills.

Re:Unable or Unwilling or Unmotivated ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585631)

You are almost complely retarded, you should know this, along with your toothy brain.

Re:Unable or Unwilling or Unmotivated ? (2)

dinther (738910) | about a year ago | (#43585643)

I was in the unwilling category. Being a highly skilled and comfortable Delphi programmer feeling at home with the win32 API I resented the idea of having to give up my comfortable tools and in discussions I'd use any argument to win. Eventually, everyone around me had moved. Mostly to dot net. Although I resent dot net now as much as I did then, I did realize that I needed to move to new technologies or become irrelevant.

That was over 5 years ago. Since then I embraced most technologies and love them for the same reasons as I used to hate them. I still think today's tools are backwards compared to the highly integrated IDE's we used to have. Especially for web applications but I am having fun again and now I am more open to new ideas and technologies.

But having said that, I probably don't run as fast to the next shiny thing as young developers do.

I know people in their nineties that are still sharp. If you manage to remain in the technology current and open your mind as a software engineer, you can perform your craft till you die.

New Tricks? (3, Insightful)

AlreadyStarted (523251) | about a year ago | (#43585365)

I think a better question would be, how often does something genuinely new come along?

Re:New Tricks? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585597)

+1. I can sit down with just about anyone, using just about any language and help them debug a program because I know about the turtles. The trick is understanding the basic principles and applying them.

Of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585371)

Maybe your mom doesn't know as much tech as your younger sister. But since a programmers job is to keep up with technology, they'll do it. And there is nothing that prevents them from being able to.

Face it, a lot of companies just don't want to pay the salaries. A lot of young programmers are intimidated by the experience and abilities of an older programmer.

what tricks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585383)

Give an example of a "trick". What are you talking about? Why do obvious non programmers write stupid posts?
Its common knowledge that the most experienced you are, the more capable you are.
Work that out you genius.

follow the money (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585451)

As usual, follow the money. The "knock" on older programmers and engineers isn't about capability, it's about cost. Experienced engineers want to be paid commensurate with their experience. Corps don't want to do that.

Corps find themselves faced with a choice. Would they rather do something right the first time (by using experienced engineers), or would they rather file to fit and paint to match (by using inexperienced engineers)? Corps overwhelmingly prefer the latter, at least in the USA. Thus the constant lies in the press about the lack of engineers in the USA (when what they mean is, the lack of *cheap* engineers), and the constant attempts to get cheap engineers from overseas using H1B visas. All while experienced engineers in the USA see continued high unemployment.

Follow the money people. Follow the money.

Torllolollol (0)

Zadaz (950521) | about a year ago | (#43585509)

Trolling question is trolling.

Is your chip flashing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585519)

It is rare to be an all-in developer for over a decade and to not be self-employed and/or retired. We all have the superpower to create products that can be magically replicated an infinite number of times. If you know how to check if your chip is flashing, maybe you'd better start your own business.

Same old argument... (2)

irbishop (1662375) | about a year ago | (#43585537)

I'm still relatively new/young in the world of software development - late 20's, 5 years of experience, but I've seen this argument come up regularly and the simple fact of the matter is that there is no difference between older/experience software developers and any other career. You have to: migrate, mutate, adapt or die in any career. If you get set in your ways in any profession and don't adapt with what comes your way you're going to fall behind and become useless or dead weight. I talk to the older/more experienced developers I know all the time because they've had experiences and insights that I haven't.

Well crap (1)

neminem (561346) | about a year ago | (#43585573)

Betteridge's Law is wrong for once.

That said, I would argue, while ageism is *mostly* an aversion to spending money hiring pros who know what they're doing when they could hire novices for cheaper, coupled with an unassailable feeling (perhaps justified, perhaps not) that those older, more experienced people would be so offended at making less than ridiculous money that they would rather be unemployed than making less than what they did last time they had a job... it is also unarguably true that just because something is "new", doesn't always make it "better".

Sometimes it *does* make it better, granted, at least for certain things (managed languages are fantastic, for instance - I never want to go back to c++ if I don't have to - but I am aware that if I ever want to program a chip with a tiny sliver of memory, or do anything that requires to-the-wire speed, or write a compiler or an OS or a driver, a managed language is not the right tool.) But sometimes there's just no point in a new technology at all except to be buzzword-compliant. So why would people learn them, unless they're bedazzled by buzzwords? Probably less experienced people doing that, as far as programmers go (pointy haired bosses will do it at any age. :p)

It's not about age. (4, Interesting)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#43585581)

The problem is that programming was a rapidly changing field up until a few decades ago.

It simply wasn't possible to be a good programmer (by today's standards) in the 1970's. You could be a good programmer for the time. Many of those people have kept current with new design methodologies and many haven't. The ones that haven't kept up, continue to think of themselves as badass programmers who know everything, when in reality the world has just passed them by.

It is not that old people are bad programmers. It is that people who learned how to program before the field of programming really matured tended to have "stone age" tools and didn't always keep up to date. As time passes, the "old programmers" are changing. I am 33. People considered "old" are not even that much older than me. They had a much different experience learning to program. They didn't learn to program in "the wild west" like some of the really old programmers. Many received formal training at universities where they learned a lot of the theory of computing. They also benefited for learning in a time when more was known about how to program in a way that minimizes mistakes and increases scalability, maintainability, etc.

Define "old" (1)

X10 (186866) | about a year ago | (#43585605)

What is old? Is it over thirty? Over forty? Over sixty even?

Can newer developers learn new tricks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585663)

Most of the kids fresh out of school know one or two languages and they think they're the end all. I've met people who don't know what design patterns are. Seriously, I think there's like one graduate from each university that knows what they are doing. The rest cheated off that guy.

teaching young dogs old tricks (1)

one_who_uses_unix (68992) | about a year ago | (#43585679)

Based on my experience (26 years in the software development industry), I am unconvinced that "old" programmers are any less likely to change - I have seen plenty of young programmers unwilling to adapt to new technologies. I think the more important answer lies with the attitude and disposition of the programmer than their age.

I am ready to admit that I might be biased since I fall into the old category a lot more easily than the young category - but I am comfortable with my own subjective conclusion on this issue ;)

Tried and True has become relevant to me (1)

thinktech (1278026) | about a year ago | (#43585699)

I've been a programmer for over 30 years. Starting with desktop applications and slowly migrating to web applications over the decades. And although I've slowly moved up into management (now at the VP level), I keep my skills honed and sharp to the point where I still help directly drive development projects all the way down to the code level which is still my passion. The one thing I've noticed over the years is that I no longer learn new tricks just because they're new. I don't have the cycles to learn fads. But I constantly watch new emerging technologies and dive head-first into new tech that looks promising and really makes sense to me. I'm much more skeptical about new things. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong, but when I'm wrong I get the play catch-up instead of wasting my time.

Greater Than 35 Is "older" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585735)

It has been for a long time, which is a riot, because I'm seeing a lot of folks that used to sneer at old farts losing hair, buying Boxters and hanging out at raves.

[url=]I love the ad at the end[/url].

30+ Years of Coding (1)

ToxicBanjo (905105) | about a year ago | (#43585745)

I fall into the old fart 'get off my lawn!' camp. I'm in my 40s and have been doing dev since I started 6502 Assembler on my C-64 way way back in the day.

To be honest I find the opposite of this article to be true... this old dog has no problem learning new tricks. I'm writing my best code now, and every day I get better. I can draw on decades of experience and use that to quickly assimilate new languages, data formats, communication protocols... bring it on! I feel quite confident in my ability to learn most new languages in relatively short time because I've seen the same functionality done so many times in other languages I know how the code should flow. That to me is a tremendous asset.

two words: hobby code (or projects) (1)

flandre (1278778) | about a year ago | (#43585769)

absolutely! i'm a young adult, myself, and worry about losing my ability to learn as much as i want to in life. some good advice i've been told: at work, you push the limits of what you are what you're good at, and at home or on your off time, you keep yourself engaged and iron out what you have a hard time with, through your various hobby code and projects

Tricks aren't just programming languages (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585787)

This question usually becomes whether you can learn new languages as you get older - but it's missing the experience that older programmers have in already solving the problem. It's more useful understanding why a user wants to do something and being able to offer alternatives than rushing off and writing the wrong program.

From a Systems person... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585847)

I'm not a developer per se. I fall into the new DevOps (god, I hate that lingo) area, which is a combination of systems administration and tools developer. We write a lot of code these days, but it's all for automation, thus, it's all over the board. I also do Release Engineering, which gets one a lot closer to the coders.

The biggest thing I see that might feed this perception of Old = Unwilling to Learn is that the older I (and my peer friends) get, the more resistant we become to "fads". After almost 20 years in this business, I have one of the larger breadths of technical knowledge than anyone I know (I'm a generalist, not a specialist). I've seen and used a vast variety of tools and languages, and am still picking up new things which pass a cost/benefit analysis.

The key here is that large chunks of Programming is cyclical fads of "hot" tools, languages, and frameworks. The problem is, from a systems standpoint, that these fads last 5 years of so, and then something else comes up. Which leaves me with a massive headache because of all the different languages and tools people wanted to use at that particular moment in time.

I'm going to pick on Ruby right now as an example. It's the hot systems (admin) programming language, with several major tools both written in it, and using it as the DSL. There's also a major push to use it for much of the automation code. The problem is, Ruby sucks for IT people. It's very unlikely that they know it, and it's quite a bit different than any other commonly known IT scripting language. And, the killer thing is that it doesn't solve any of the typical problems for systems folks better than Python or Perl. Yet, it's being pushed on us all over the place, because it's what's hot right now.

Things like that actually hurt my job performance, because it adds another language that I have to commonly use in my daily workload. And that is a recipe for problems, because, I don't care how hotshot a programmer you think you are, major context switching in the human mind is difficult and error-prone. Anyone is far more likely to make mistakes if they are forced to simultaneously code in 2-3 languages at once, or try to look at things that are written as such. I my case, that would mean I have to try to debug Chef recipes (written in Ruby), with Linux bash and Windows Powershell scripts being called, and using a perl or python (or lord knows, a Grails setup) all at the same time. It's a nightmare to write good code in, let alone debug.

The root I'm getting at here is that resistance to new things from experienced people is usually well-justified, because we've already come up with solid, maintainable, and efficient ways to do what the "fad" claims to do. In most cases, the fad does work well, it just doesn't work any better than what we have now (or, at best, only marginally better), and certainly isn't mature enough to satisfy all the other requirements that programmers forget about when choosing languages/frameworks.

It just boils down to experienced folks are very familiar with the "standard toolchest" of what really works, and there's a high barrier to entry for new things to be considered worth-while to learn. For me, the aforementioned Chef passed that barrier. I can't stand Ruby, but the Chef system works well enough (and significantly better than) the prior existing configuration systems, so I learned it, and I'm better for it. Capistrano, however, didn't make the cut, because it's also in Ruby and isn't really any improvement at all over existing deployment setups.

Systems people are just more conservative than development when it comes to tools and language uptake, because we have to be. Our requirements are fundamentally different than programming, which means that we tend to look dimly on the "popular-at-the-moment" things, which can be seen as a reluctance to learn. It's not; it's wisdom, and something that I find annoyingly lacking in both management and development.


It's not an overnight change (2)

tftp (111690) | about a year ago | (#43585883)

Older developers have plenty of time to look at new technologies and decide if they want to have anything to do with them. They also have enough weight in the company to pick and choose jobs that they take. Many young developers, raised on Python and Perl, are not even capable of doing those jobs - such as writing the assembly code for a small 8-bit MCU. The rift between that code, and code that implements some Web 3.0 JS thingy (that is all the rage, of course!) is huge. I do not do web programming, and I do not expect to ever do it - simply because it doesn't interest me, and I don't like how it works anyway.

If an old developer is unwilling to change, there is still plenty of work for him left. I work with hardware and low level software; these methods haven't changed for a long time (since 8080 stepped into the game.) But I'm using WPF for all my GUI needs these days, instead of (historically) OWL, MFC, Qt, and such. I gladly went with that change because I liked the result.

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