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Old Folks Can Code, Too

Hemos posted more than 15 years ago | from the old-is-all-relative dept.

News 260

Ethelred Unraed writes "Wired News has a story about how "older" programmers and engineers--over 35--are having difficulties finding work, even though their skill level is as high or higher than the young guns out there. " We've heard this numerous times before, but it's still an interesting, albeit strange, phenomenon. I would say part of it has to do with the lack of lives that many of the younger folks have (I'm including myself). What do you folks think?

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35 is senior citizen? (1)

jocknerd (29758) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781572)

I'm worried now. I've got 3 years to change the world then I'm washed up?

several issues (4)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781575)

most older programmers are looked upon as "old weight" by management. I.E. we suck up more resources because we want a pension, insurance, dont want to work 90 hours a week, we actually take those vacation days... etc... It's as hemos said... we have a life and a family. and that isn't in the plan with the "company". at 30-40 you have only 20 more productive years left. then you will retire and become a burden on the company... they dont look at the fact that you gave your LIFE to them and they can give you a nice little reward, they look at it as that the company is doing you a favor by hiring you in the first place (they are not, you are doing them a favor) and that you should worship them...

It's all the new/old corperate management idiocy.. no brains all pocketbook.

I'm still picking up steam at 33 (1)

georgeha (43752) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781577)

Gee, I'm still learning everyday, though my employer has lots of older people, so I'm not too worried.

Of course, there's no way in heck I'd take a job involving more than 45+ hours a week either, something that younger folks seem to enjoy.


It's Money. (2)

BadlandZ (1725) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781580)

I am not suprized at all to hear that younger people are getting more work. And, I think it's in part due to corprate sterotypes, in a way diffrent than your thinking.

It's not the skill, it's the pay. Programmers are in high demand. Young talented programmers will often take thier first few jobs with a "wow, look how much they are going to pay me" attitude. The corporate world sits back and thinks "heh, they don't know how much were _were_ willing to pay to get this job done."

Of course it sounds all screwed up, but I think the older the potential employee is, the less likely a company is to think 1) here is someone we can exploit, 2) here is someone who doesn't know what we actually can offer them to work here.

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Althought I know a few programmers as friends and/or family, I am not one, I am a chemist, so, what do I know? :P

Strange (2)

schporto (20516) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781582)

In my department here there are 5 of us. I'm the youngest at 24, but the others are 27, 45, 51, 55. Me and the 27yr old could leave and there would be a burden on the others, but nothing that dramatic. Any of the older people leave and we're screwed. They know too much about how this place works (its a factory with a lot of automated stuff). My company would never knowingly get rid of them. I on the other hand....
As for hiring - the 51 yr old was hired 2 years ago.

My coding mum's over 50 (3)

ChrisRijk (1818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781586)

She's been coding most of the time since she was about 20. She gets paid quite a lot and deserves it too - she's very very good.

I've started programming a "mere" 15 years ago.

We used to live in South Africa, and in 1980 the company she worked for had a dedicated line built to our house (to connect a terminal to their mainframe), so she could work from home while raising us kids. First time this happened in the country I believe. That's how much they valued her. (such things are far cheaper these days of course...)

Re:several issues (1)

TheBeard (72582) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781588)

I stated programing in the vacuum tube era when a BIG IBM had 2000 words in the primary memory which was a drum (sort of a cylinder shiped disk) Worked 30 years for a big corporation and was downsized out the door when "we don't write software, we buy it."

I work under contract now and have the advantage that techincally I retired from the big corporation and have retiree health insurance and a fairly large retirement account for my eminent future.

No one wants to hire an old man in a traditional salaried job, but I guess they expect me to live long enough to finish a 6 month project.

Like the Sunscreen Song says: (3)

fable2112 (46114) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781589)

"Respect your elders."

A local friend of mine (via the SCA) is a software test engineer at a large local company. She's also old enough to be my mom.

She can also code the pants off of any of my local contemporaries. And while she is single (giving weight to the argument that she could do this because she has no life), she finds the time to: sing in her church choir, participate quite actively in the SCA, make most of her own clothes ("everything but underwear, jeans, T-shirts, and shoes," she claims -- I think shoes are next on her list), and work a good bit on her woodcutting/furniture-building hobby.

She recently got recognized for 25 years of service at a company that is continually "downsizing" its people out of their jobs. (Anyone from my neck of the woods knows which company, and possibly even the lady in question.)

As you can see, I have a heck of a lot of respect and admiration for this woman. So do most of my friends my age. And she seems to like having us around, since she has no children of her own and likes passing on knowledge about everything from computers to drop-spindles.

Should the fool company she works for be ungrateful enough to downsize her, any place else would be incredibly lucky to have her. But they'd take one look at her (since she does not exactly look young), or see her "25 years of service," and ignore her in favor of new blood.

Indeed, that will be a sad day. *knocks on wood that The Company leaves her job alone*

32 and counting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781592)

I am 32 and have not had any trouble finding work, but then again I am stil under 35. The key is to keep upgrading my skills (going back to school, or just learning the latest stuff). Also, I hope that being a consultant will help. Maybe if I start my own company, I won't have to worry about it!

Young people (2)

Andy (2990) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781651)

Young people have lots of energy but the majority lack breadth, education, and are rather stupid. Many are highschool drop outs with programming monomania and highly inflated egos. Older programmers tend to be better educated, have a deeper skill set, write technically better code. They make a lot less noise too. I see no problem in our market with experienced people in their 40's and 50's landing senior level programming jobs.

Declining skills (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781653)

Something that was mentioned in the Wired article which I found particularly interesting was the mentioned lack of "salient skills" in older programmers. It seems strange to me that a programmer wouldn't continue to upgrade their skills over time. I mean, if you're not interested in the management career track, then you must be coding because you *like* technology, right?

I think that this might be in part due to the "pigeonholing" of people based on skills. Once you're known as the C++ guy or the VB guy (no flames please!), IMHO it's hard to bridge over to another language and even harder to move to completely different technology.

here's why: (1)

JoostKooij (3508) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781655)

If I were a PHB, I'd much rather employ two kids whom I can bully around easily for the price of some older guy who not only has a lot of (authoritative) knowledge, but also knows it.

And what Real Manager cares if the kids can't get it done? They're easy to blame anyway. Try that with the vintage programmer guy.

Chemist or not, you're right (2)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781657)

I think you are bang-on. People who are still in programming at the age of thirty-five are either a waste of space or extremely expensive (sometimes both :) compared with young, eager, cheap types a few years out of school.

Young men with no lives (and I'll include myself in this :) make almost ideal employees in programming environments - they don't ask for much money (relatively) and they are prepared to work long(ish) hours.

Well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781660)

I still got a little bit more than half a decade to prepare for that day to come. Hopefully, I could get around that, otherwise, just open a small varity store around the corner ... still what I planned, just 25 years earier ... hmmm ... should I change my profession now?

Where is this the case? (2)

Syslevel (69599) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781663)

Here in the upper midwest at a Medical Device manufacturer, I am one of the younger people on my team, and I am 39. We're developing critical life-care embedded code (implanted devices.) I guess in more volatile fields where quality doesn't impact safety as much, maybe they can hire people right out of school. There seems to be a shortage of embedded-system techies, and I don't see that being addressed in schools. With the further 'mainstreaming' of Computer Science and programming curriculums, there just aren't as many people coming into the field of programming right down to the wire, on hardware platforms, as there are the more office types. I know there continues to be a real shortage of people who can sling embedded code, and I don't see much draw to get people into it, as opposed to higher level programming.

Now I'm worried (1)

hiroaki (31432) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781664)

I turn 35 if four years. My wife and I have one kid now, and hopefully two by then. I will truly be set apart from the young guns with no life, and refuse to put in more than 10 hours a day regularly.

But in the 8 productive hours I work a day, I can kick the tail off of anybody I work with, so where's that put me? Will I be wondering about a job then?

I doubt it. In my area (DC), there's a drastic talent shortage. Companies are downright obnoxious with their recruiting practices, and there's no shortage of jobs.

If people are having trouble finding work, maybe they should just move here!

Re:Strange -- nugget of knowlege (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781671)

Ahhh... there's the key
the older guy knows some things that he will never EVER tell you... you must hold information.. KEY information hostage from other workers and management at all costs! this keeps you valuable and will make management think before laying off the old guy. Never ever show a co-sorker anything in your bag of tricks, and if you have to teach teach only what is needed to get that job done and no more! A programmer is only as good as the inside information and secret mojo that he/she has with them. after that you'er a bag of flesh.

dont trust your boss or any co-worker... they are not looking out for your best interests by any means.

Economic (2)

Ripp (17047) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781673)

It probably doesn't have as much to do with their actual age...

it probably has more to do with the fact that older, more experienced programmers, because of their experience, will command a higher salary. In this world of a million and one high tech startups who don't want to/can't pay somebody like this what they're worth, that's the way the chips fall.

That doesn't mean it's right, though. If I had a chance I'd hire one of these "old" guys who could probably read a page of assembler and tell you what it was over some MIS/business school, point-n-click trained Windows weenie any day. These are the guys when faced with a command line go "uhhhh....Where's the Start button!!!???"

Kind of like the old guy who you take your car to, he'd listen to it for a second, and tell you exactly what's opposed to the kid who has to get out the scan tool and the meters and plug it in and look up all the codes in the book....yadda yadda.

They're *more* likely to have 'hacker-like tendencies' in my opinion. More likely to *not* be marketing controlled droids, and more likely to know more about the 'real world.' Hire 'Em!!!

99% of programmers suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781680)

Most "engineers" are only fit to screw up other people's code. If you're no good by age 35, you're never going to get better, and there isn't any point feeding you just so you can make crap. If you know what you're doing in IT, you can write your own ticket, and it doesn't matter what age you are.

no way dude... (1)

DjFilthyRich (72576) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781681)

it's because us young.cats got the mojo..

old.cats they just wanna make enuf money to fart at home...

what a generalist.. ;)

What A Load of BS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781682)

I'm 35 and when I went looking for a new job I had headhunters bugging me around the clock. I got to pick and choose who would have the honor of hiring me. Nobody gave a rats ass how old I was. Being stable and married was looked on as an asset. Of course I have several years PROGRESS 4GL and QAD MFG/PRO. There tends to be lots more demand than programmers.

I don't buy it. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781683)

(, can't remember my password - old age?)

I'm 33 and have been coding for over 20 years, 16 professionally. (strokes long grey beard and leans forward on staff) I learned to code in tight, fast assembly language, and spent years doing assembly/C hybrid work that these kids don't know anything about.

Judging by the slew of onsolicited offers I continually receive, I'm not sweating my job status at all. Department of Labor statistics show nothing but increasing demand for programmers through 2005. The schools aren't turning out enough programmers, and those that are coming out don't have the experience for tough, project-lead jobs.

The demand in the Northeast, at least, is for experienced programmers. And I believe that's nationwide. I'm getting better every day. I'll go up against any mid-20's hacker who thinks that HTML is "programming." I've got the love, baby!

35 and you're not retired? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781684)

You're a "highly trained and skilled" programmer
and you've made it to 35 without having enough
money to retire?

Re:It's Money. (1)

nevets (39138) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781685)

I also agree that you are right.

Also the older you are the more likely you have a family and less likely to work the long hours and travel. I was one of these people who would work the 90 hour week, but once I had some kids, I don't work much more than 45 hours. I'm lucky to have a manager that loves kids and gives me a break when it comes to time with the family. But this is not usually the case with other companies and managers. The one good thing is that, at the moment, the supply of programmers is less than the demand.

The value of experience (5)

jabber (13196) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781686)

Let me start off by saying that I'm 26.

Now... At a previous job (a jr. H.S.), I've worked with people half my age. It was their job to design a web site, and mine to channel them. They were eager, but knew less than necessary to be dangerous. And I was an old fogey to them.

At the current job, as a S.E. I work with people who have been with this company longer then I have been alive. Some have trenchmind and are severely threatened by younger workers who have new and in-demand skills. These folks are scared of being discarded, and rightly so. They've given their lives to a company that would drop them like a bad habit, if they see profit in doing so. After working your whole professional life in a niche, there's no where else to go, and retirement looms real large at 55+... Fortunatelly, the mentally hamstrung are a minority within the set of older developers.

Here's the point of the post, older developers (not 35+ but 45+ in my case) have so much domain knowledge, so much experience, and so much professional common sense that they are effectively priceless to the company. Even if the company doesn't see it that way. These guys (and gals) have decades of experience that can not be replaced with OOP, CASE, RAD or any other buzzword.

They serve as sages, mentors and wells of knowledge to us, the junior developers. They are responsible for system architectures, legacy system migration and evolution guidance and sanity checks for the rest of us.

They do not pull the 60+ hour weeks, nor should they have to. After I beat my head against a problem for a week, and can't account for some old quirk that makes no sense to me, all it often takes is a couple of questions to one of these guys, and the light dawns. They know where we came from, and they're better judges of where we're going then we are.

Older developers are invaluable to those of us who work in legacy and mixed environments. These systems were designed from a different perspective. Their implementations were limited by storage and performance, and we often can not even think in these terms.

Just try to do Y2K work knowing C++ and Java, without the aid of the COBOL guru who nursed the system from punch cards...

Dead wood (1)

Yama (38956) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781687)

I used to work with a couple of 40+ and while you've got to bow to the fact that they've been around for a bit. I did sometimes wonder how they managed to be around for that long. There's no escaping the fact that a guy who's been programming assembler for 35 must know a lot about assembler, but you can help feeling that someone who types with one finger and thinks that edlin is a really good tool is not really gonna aproach GUI development in an inovative way. When you have reviews of window layouts and you get comments like "Can't we make it look more like DOS" you've got to think that these are not people moving with the times.
I'm sure that there a re alot of older programmers who really can jam with the best of them, but I think that there are a lot who are in it not because they are good with computers but because they where around when they we're first taking off and knowone else was programming.

Oh no, 35 and I am dead (Logans Run?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781688)


Wow, 5 years and I am an old fart. heh, eventually the 20 year olds etc will be 35 and be faced with the same thing. Young ones think 35-60 is far far away, but in reality its not that far. Just think 150 years from now none of us reading this will be around -- or million years.

Just live life and enjoy it all you can. Code, party and grab a babe :) . You lady programmers can do the same, but grab a stud.

Just face it life down here is *very* short, some say a blink of an eye (versus a million years).

Re:Young people (1)

Capt_Troy (60831) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781689)

I agree. I am 22 and just entering the "real world." Working at IBM for the summer I realize that the "older" programmers know a LOT more than the young coders. I look to them as role models. Those "drop outs" mentioned some posts previous to this one think they know a lot more than they do I'm afraid. If I were management, I wouldn't hire someone without a degree (except for internships etc.)


As long as they don't want to run the team (3)

dmorin (25609) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781690)

My team is looking for senior full timers, and can't find any. One of the issues with looking at the "older" folks is that by the time you hit 35, you're likely to have had a fair amount of management experience. The team I'm on is run by a couple of 30yr olds (old in their own right!). There is sometimes an illusion that a 35yr old with 7 years of management experience will only want the job if he can run the place -- that he will have trouble taking direction from a young'un. Maybe that's not true, but it's a tough risk. We hired a consultant who had about 20 years industry experience, and although in the interview he said "I'll do whatever you need me to do", a few months in he basically demonstrated that he thought we were ridiculous, didn't listen to what we asked of him, and went off and did his own thing.

We're in a tough market right now. 80% of the resumes we get are for contract work. Of those, more than half are outrageously overpriced and underexperienced -- "I've got 2 years out of school! I read a book on servlets once! Pay me $120/hr!" When we find a fulltimer who doesn't look like he'll make a powerplay to take over the team, we usually jump all over that opportunity.

Advantages and disadvantages (4)

Salamander (33735) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781691)

Everything I say here is a generalization. There will be exceptions to every statement, but I hope we all know the difference between anecdotes and trends.

Older workers have several advantages over their younger peers. Foremost among these is that they generally have both a breadth and depth of experience that their younger peers. They're more likely to have seen something similar to the current problem, remember the tradeoffs and pitfalls of various solutions, etc. They often have better communication and interpersonal skills than younger folk. Lastly, there's nothing about coding that favors the young, unlike for example mountain-bike racing. It's a sedentary intellectual activity, and like any such activity people get better at it when they do it more, and older programmers have done it more.

There are also major downsides to older workers. They do tend to be more expensive. Depth of experience is of no (or even negative) value if it's in the wrong area. Single-machine FORTRAN or COBOL skills on an OS that hardly exists any more might not be all that valuable when programming is done in C++ or Java in a distributed environment using CORBA etc. With the rate of change in this industry it is essential for anyone to keep up with the latest technologies, even if it means that sometimes you'll "waste time" learning a technology that drops off everyone's radar screens when the next competing standard comes along. C'est la vie. Contrary to popular belief, old dogs can learn new tricks, but too many people both young and old don't make the effort; the only difference is that the young one's laziness hasn't caught up with them yet.

There's one area where I defy conventional wisdom: amount of work. Yes, younger people - especially single ones - are more likely to work longer hours. They're also more likely to spend half of those hours surfing the web, on IRC/MOO, playing Quake, etc. Older people are likely to work fewer hours because of family commitments and so on, more likely to take sick leave, probably have more vacation time, but in my experience they do have a better work ethic. 40 hours of "work" is 40 hours of work instead of 70 hours of "work" being evenly split between real work and play. Overall, I think the older folks I've worked with got more done on a per-week basis than the younger ones who put in longer hours. YMMV.

Overall, I think we need both. I've long since abandoned the "one size fits all" philosophy, and that applies to personnel too. I think the best projects combine the experience and discipline of a few older workers with the energy and exuberance of a few younger ones. I've worked at companies that were unbalanced in both directions, and both suck.

It's strange (1)

melissos (72608) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781692)

Hey, I'm 36 years old and have absolutely no problems to find a job as software developer! (even got 4 offers this year)

Have a look at one of the most famous software engineers in europe: Niklaus Wirth, the inventor of the programming language 'Pascal' is still developing complex software systems. He went on 65 years old.

Fogie Coders (1)

scotpurl (28825) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781693)

The problem with most older hackers and geeks is that they have willingly allowed themselves to become stale. Only yesterday, I had a greying geek, who was probably hot stuff in the mainframe days, come to my NT workstation, and have difficulty navigating to the floppy drive. A month before that, it was another senior ex-geek, and she got hung up in why she couldn't rename the CD that was in my drive. (Hey, it's a CD -- it's read only.)

These aren't examples -- they're the norm. They're the median experience and skill level for new technology (meaning there's a mouse involved) for all the grey geeks I've seen.

Me? I'm 32. Old enough to have been killed in "Logan's Run", and fast approaching the artificial geek horizon.

As if (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781694)

It's not the number of hours that you work, or the amount that you ask for your time that's important, it's the amount that it costs the client to get working code.

It takes time to learn what to write, time on the board (keyboard). Time to know what constitutes a good design that will work before you code it.

If you were born with it, congratulations! If your classes prepared you for the real world, double congratulations!! I'm willing to bet that this is not the case for the majority


--29 years and counting

Long ramble from an "old" guy (5)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781695)

As someone who is rapidily approaching old age (34), perhaps I can give some insight for the youn 'uns.

Maintaining a successful career as a programmer is not an easy thing. It is not like being a plumber, where you learn your trade and then perhaps do a little studying from time to time. You have to be careful and you have to be observant.

I found myself oh so close to trouble recently because while everyone else was moving towards Windows and the internet, I was spending my working time as an OS/2 programmer. Why? Well, they paid me gobs. It almost killed my career, though, as I found when I finally got fed up with that place. Recruiters looked not at my ten years experience, but at my relatively weak Windows experience. Fortunately, I was able to leverage what Windows I had and some application domain knowledge into a new job that, while is lower paying, will give me a killer resume.

The lesson? Money isn't everything. It is really easy to get sucked into high paying jobs that are death to your career. It is also very easy to become complacent, and say to yourself that you'll start looking for a new job in a few months.

Before the anti-Windows flames start, let me say that I am busy practicing my Linux programming at home. Which brings me to another problem. Off-time experience is no experience from the standpoint of most employers. You can be the biggest Linux expert in the world, but if you can't point to a job where your title was "Linux developer" or a test you passed with "Linux" in the title, many prospective employers won't want to hear from you.

(Actually, I suspect most Linux shops are better about this. My experience was with Windows, where I'd written much in my spare time only to be confronted with questions on my lack of Windows experience. However, as Linux grows in popularity, you'll find more "old-school" employers who think exactly like that.)

So even if you think you know technology "X", go take a class in "X". Sure, you'll be bored, but you'll have that all-important piece of paper saying you know it. Get any certifications you can, even if you think that tests are a poor indication of ability. Many employers don't, and that is what is important.

Another big cause of this problem is the way salaries top out for programmers. When I was younger, my salary grew with leaps and bounds. Now, I am pretty much near the top, which means most companies are loath to pay more. That can be hard psychologically if you've gotten used to the hefty raise every year. One way around it is to become a contractor, though that has its own pitfalls. (Biggest one: no one will pay to train you.)

Finally, don't wed yourself to a technology. Don't think of yourself as a linux programmer. Think of yourself as a programmer who is doing linux right now. Believe me, you'll be better off, regardless of how superior linux is, both because superiority is not a guarantee of survival and because something better may well come along. Lots of OS/2 programmers felt the same way. Stick your nose into lots of things, even Windows. (You'll need to hold it, believe me...) Take lots of classes. Try to get your employer to assign you a variety of tasks. And above all, keep a keen eye on those technological currents, even when you've settled down with a wife and a mortgage.

Re:Where is this the case? (1)

Xamot (924) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781696)

I live in the Central US and am one of the younger coders where I work and I'm 25. From people I work with and others I've talked to this is probably the region to be in if your an older programmer. I like it because I can actually enjoy my youth working between 40 and 50 hrs a week. No I probably don't get paid as much as some of you but I'm fine with that. And the cost of living here is pretty resonable.


Re:35 is senior citizen? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781697)

I am about to turn 35 in three years as well. That is why I encourage young programmers to drink alcohol and use drugs excessively. I believe that if more older programmers encourage our younger competitors to show off their intoxication abilities, we will be in good shape.

So script kiddies, whip out that 40 ounce and shoot up that heroin, I will still need a job once I am 35!

Re:35 is senior citizen? (1)

jguthrie (57467) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781698)

jocknerd wrote:
I'm worried now. I've got 3 years to change the world then I'm washed up?
Feel happy. I've got just about 5 months.

Actually, you've probably already learned about how it's stupid to work 80-hour weeks for months on end. That's a large part of why some companies won't hire older employees. (It's why I didn't get a job I applied for several years ago, anyway.)

One of the engineers that I've worked for and with for most of the last decade (and who graduated from high school the year I was born) tells me that successful companies make sure that their employees have lives outside of the company. It helps bring innovation and creativity to the business. People think better when they have other interests.

Now, I currently work for someone else and also own my own company. And, once again, I'm the youngest person working either place. We used to hire younger people at my business (it's an ISP) but we found that we got a lot more accomplished for a little more money from older (40-50 yo) folks.

Ideally, you have enough of a personnel budget to hire people with a range of ages and experience levels. Failing that, I think I'd rather pay for experience.

Resume "un-padding?" (1)

Maledictus (52013) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781699)

Does this mean that us ancient over-35s will have to start lying on our resumes? But lying the "other way..."

Instead of cramming 10 years of IT experience and a degree and continuing education onto paper or into an email, I just need to pare it back to "just graduated" and "worked at Happy Burger last summer between my junior and senior year?"

And there are more and more jobs popping up in the IT biz than weeds in my lawn. Weird.

I have to admit, this is something that has not hit me (Just turned 36. Gettin' false teeth next week!) But that's because I have chosen to stick with a particular type of manufacturing and it's particular IT management needs. I have specialized in one sense, and kept my skills updated and diverse in another. In any industry, change is a constant. And frankly, unlike some of my peers in this particular manufacturing biz, I have kept up with the change.

But I see others who are my age and older who balk at change, even though they are in technology management and implementation positions. It's a study in inconsistencies, I know. But it's one of many reasons why we "older" folks are not hired.

That and yeah, you know what, I got two pre-coders to put through school and a mortgage and car payments and I'm more aware of benefits like retirement plans and health care than your average 25-year old. (Even though at 25, I had been married 5 years and already had aforementioned mortgage!) I don't come cheap and I ask employers harder questions -- hell, the fact that I ask questions at all probably puts off many employers.

Perhaps because I am not umemployed, I can sit on my perch and spout platitudes...but it'll all work out. This reminds me of the 80s when defense contractors laid off engineers by the hundreds, then tried to hire again. Engineers out of college avoided certain contractors like the plague because of the employer's reputation for lay-offs. And the defense industry sat and scratched their collective heads and wondered why they couldn't get new blood. After a few years, the defense industry got on a more even keel (or we all got used to rumors of layoffs and ignored them) and they were able to hire talented people.

Employers will get what they pay for. If they pay for inexperience, they'll get and they'll reap the results. If they're willing to pay for experience and stability, they'll get that as well. It's up to them.

Re:Young people (1)

Jonny Royale (62364) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781700)

The young'uns are not stupid, they're just ignorant. There's a difference there.

Re:It's Money. (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781701)

One the other hand, you young turks have never had the experience of having to fit real functionality in 140k, and that often shows. About ten years ago, the industry was flooded with extremely competent immigrant Russian programmers. They were so competent because they had to deal with crappy, slow equipment with little memory.

I don't know how many times I've come across code that was woefully inefficient and only ran because of the fast processors that were thrown at it. What both companies and young programmers don't always understand is that talent only takes you so far. You need experience to go the distance.

(Your post did bring back memories, though. When I came out of college, I immediately went to work at the current "hot technology" (TSR programming, for those who still know what that is.) and was screwed, salarywise, but a shady operator for about a year before I got smart.)

Re:Strange (1)

Zombie_Magick (71703) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781702)

Companies are going for a more decentralised system anyway. You have someone who has all the knowledge make demands and you either cave or suffer. Its so much easier to hire a new guy every so often so he doens't have a chance to make himself indispensible. Most of the time you can even get the old guy to train the new one without him knowing that he's training his own replacement. Just wait a couple of months and make up some lame excuse like an industry slow down and bye-bye old guy.

Re:several issues (1)

Numeric (22250) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781703)

We have to first exam the company...

At my company, the software team is divided about 50%/50% in age (above 35 / below 35) and only two of us "kids" are not married. Of course the two of us don't have any long-term future plans at the company either. The more settled "folks" want to work for the company probably for the rest of their lives and the company will keep them.

If a Internet startup wants a staff, I agree that they would most likely hire "kids" because we really don't have much responsiblities besides playing StarCraft on and beta testing Quake3. However they still need some veteran leadership.

A company can benefit by uniting a staff of veterans and rookies like any sports team, both can learn from a symbiotic relationship. Of course, on my software team, one coder is constantly weary of me because I go home, write some code and introduce it at work. She doesn't have the time for that because she's a mother and is raising her children.

Why aren't they burnt-out yet? (1)

soybean (1120) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781704)

The sentiment around here is that if they aren't burnt-out by age 35-40 then they probably aren't any good.

Suprised? (1)

Kythe (4779) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781705)

Is anyone really suprised about this? While companies have been whining for the government to "do something" about the alleged tech worker shortage, they're ignoring the tech workers they have. As a writer I saw recently put it, "it's like complaining that there's a shortage of Porche's for $14,000, and screaming for the government to do something about it".

Pay what people are worth, treat them like you value them, and you'll have all the workers you could ask for. It constantly amazes me how this simple fact escapes brain-dead (or is it just plain greedy?) employers.

(Remove "x"'s from

Re:Strange -- nugget of knowlege (1)

Syslevel (69599) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781706)

That's a rather cynical attitude, and it clearly shows that you've not accumulated much knowledge or skill.

Valuable vocational skills are not little 'factoids' that can be passed around like little packages. It's the depth of experience that counts, and really matters in most workplaces. It's having seen it done before countless times, and knowing what did and didn't work in the past.

35? So what? (1)

DrDebug (10230) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781707)

Just because people exceed 35 doesn't mean they are dead. When I was in my 20's and 30's, I was a shit-hot assembly-language level systems programmer. Now I am just a few months short of 50 (oh gawd) and I make my living by being a corporate programming instructor. There are a LOT of people out there that want to learn, and I don't mind sharing my past experiences with them (for a fee, of course!).

Somehow, I feel that that is what the elders of the tribe need to do-- pass on the lessons of the past (and reasons why things were done that way at the time) so that the new people can learn from those lessons and improve from them.

Re:Declining skills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781708)

I agree with this completely. As a 36-year old software developer, I've been trying for the last four years to get OO analysis/design/programming work, and have only just got my foot in the door.

If you want to stay technical in this industry, and have no interest in escaping up the management ladder, you have to make a constant effort to hone your skills--and be careful not to let yourself get painted into a corner.

Re:Like the Sunscreen Song says: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781709)

she finds the time to [...] make most of her own clothes ("everything but underwear, jeans, T-shirts, and shoes,"

What else is there?

Smart Companies Hire Old Hands (1)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781710)

I used to work for a small company who employed almost exclusively older workers (35 and up; I was by far the youngest person in the company at 23), and paid them commensurate with their experience.

These programmers, technicians and engineers worked reasonable hours, and seemed to work at a relaxed pace. Yet our products were consistently two to three generations ahead of the competition, with a broader range of applications and a warranty twice as long. We also did custom engineering for large accounts, and consistently came in under-time and under-budget.

I talked with the general manager and CTO about this and they admitted that they will hire an older engineer over a younger one. Their edge over the competition was hiring staff who knew what they were doing: every shortcut, dirty trick and brilliant hack was discovered, exploited and perfected by experienced engineers early in their careers. Now, later in life, older engineers could produce more with less effort. The CTO drew a diagram (wish I had copied it down) that showed older engineers were worse than young ones in terms of lines of code produced, hours put in on a project, and turnaround time on prototypes. However, if you used total project time, quality of design and development budget requirements, older engineers consistently out performed younger ones by an order of magnitude.
Also, the General Manager said that the older engineers were less likely to pull up and move on after a couple of years, so hiring and retaining new staff wasn't as much of a problem as it was for their competitors.

Smart companies hire old engineers.
(But young sysadmins. B) )

SoupIsGood Food

Soilent Green (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781711)

... is made of people! People!

pre-coders (1)

Joseph Vigneau (514) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781712)

I got two pre-coders to put through school


What a load! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781713)

Your knowledge is only useful if you share it! This is something that I am frankly surprised to read here, where there is less sympathy for intellectual property in general.

If you know all the answers and will not share them with your co-workers, boss or client, in what way are you more valuable to the company than someone who doesn't know the answers at all? This is precisely the sort of attitude that will make it more desirable to force you out, young or old.

I have seen this attitude exhibited by both young and old programmers, and have always found a way to make these people irrelevant. And it was obvious to everyone around them. And these people were not the ones who received outlandish raises, nor where they the ones who seemed to be having fun.
The overwhelming trend is that employment is dependent on current usefullness, and you are counseling people to be less usefull. This does not seem to be a good recipe for success.

side skills helpful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781714)

If you only know generic business/web skills
you are going to compete against the hordes of
newbies and immigrants. If you know a side skill
or particular vertical market, e.g. medical,
you won't be in as generic a pool.

Sounds like outright agism to me (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781715)

I am 36. I believe that I am a better programmer than ever simply because I have made made the rookie mistakes. I know several programmers in my age bracket who I would trust on a bad day before I would trust others on a good day. WE need skilled experienced programmers simply becase we need someone to help the next generation develop their skills. Otherwise, each generation will end up making the same mistakes over and over again (which, when I look at some of the software I have seen, appears to be happening) and having to solve the same problems over and over again. It does not matter if the older programmer is a technical or just on the team, the knowledge will be shared.

Managers want to do things on the cheap, so they hire young and inexperienced programmers. This leads to quality problems which means that the company them spends an inordinate amount of time and money writing fixes and on customer support. So any money they may have saved is wasted in these areas. Inexperienced programmers also cause schedules to slip. And since most managers are trained in the factory model of management (which is inappropriate in a research and development environment like progamming) they flog the coders 60 to 70 or more hours a week to meet deadlines. This too is counter productive as tired programmers make mistakes.

So basically, anybody who tries to get programmers "on the cheap" is hurting the company in the long run. Remember: you *always* get what you pay for....

Old Times and Current Skillsets (1)

duaner (66898) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781716)

30 years old and apparently on the verge of obsolescence, or so WIRED! would have you believe. Didn't WIRED! also say that Push technology was going to kill the web?

Anyway, I've seen some older programmers get hustled out the door at previous jobs, but I don't believe it had anything to do with their age; it had everything to do with their attitude. These individuals seemed to have developed the opinion that the methods and tools that they had been using for the past five, ten, or twenty years were just fine, and that there was no reason for them to expand their skills ("This GUI stuff is a phase," one actually said to me. Two months later, he was gone.)

This is not to say that older programmers are not valuable. To the contrary, there are times when I'd give my left foot for a mentor/team leader who had a grasp of today's tools/methods combined with the wisdom and insight that veteran experience brings. That current knowledge is vital; today's developers (myself included) are not very likely to respect a manager who doesn't have a clue about what we do or how we do it.

I try to keep as current as I can on the technologies that I work with. In addition, whenever an opportunity to learn something new presents itself, I leap on it. I was recently asked if I'd like to serve as a backup administrator for my company's email servers. It's not something I'd want as a career, but why turn down the chance to add another skill to the ol' resume'? If anything, it helps to foster the perception that I'm willing to keep learning.

More Like Money... (0)

mholve (1101) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781717)

Hire two punks out of school for the price of one "old timer" who knows what he's doing? Hmmm, you decide, Moneypenny.

Re:Young people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781718)

I'm 25 and have been in the "real world" since I was 19. I initially left college because I was fed up with the inanity of campus life. Thankfully, someone with more thought than you hired me and paid me a rather generous sum of money. 6 years later and I'm making more than anyone I went to high school, I just started at a major teleco, have a family(wife and a daughter) and still don't have my degree.

Sometimes, the self-taught are more adaptive than the spoon-fed.

Steve(who's too lazy to create an account)

West Coast Thing? (1)

Eric E. Coe (2252) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781719)

I have been working in the New York area my entire professonal life (I am 40) and have never seen any indication of a lack of interest in my skills, which I keep sharp and up-to-date. I have worked for a variety of medium-to-large companies, only one start-up. I have never had any interest in mgmt. work, and I have always made that clear. My bosses don't expect me to work overtime - I do it sometimes because I want to. Maybe this is a west coast thing, in that hyper-start-up environment?

Re:99% of programmers suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781720)

Yeah, and 99% of managers are straight out of Dilbert and couldn't tell a good programmer from a bad one. Therefore, you can't write your own ticket, unless you know someone and they know you.

Over the hill and still growing (1)

phil (4362) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781721)

I am 35 and my experience is similar to those of you youngsters nearly my age. ;-) I am in great demand, see my salary increase every year, and do leading-edge system development. I do it by simply staying current with technology. As others have stated, I can approach a problem, regardless the domain, and find it similar to something I did 2, 5, or maybe 10 years ago.

Of course, I broke away from the traditional corporate employment to be a member of a small, in-demand consultancy.

People my age and older must keep one eye on what they are doing and one eye on what everyone else is doing. If they feel threatened, then they must take the initiative and learn something else. If they can't rely on their employers to look after their best interest, they must do it themselves.

That's how I freed myself from a dead-end coder job, and how I keep myself valuable today.

Re:Fogie Coders (2)

Salamander (33735) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781722)

>Only yesterday, I had a greying geek, who was probably hot stuff in the mainframe days, come to my NT workstation, and have difficulty navigating to the floppy drive.

While I generally agree with what you say, you do need to be careful about what evidence you use to conclude that someone else is clueless. Does not knowing a particular technique on a particular OS invalidate 20+ years of design experience? I know that's not what you're saying, but often what people think is based on very little more than that. It helps to remember that this guy might laugh at the way you stumble when you're in his favored environment.

There's a common tendency to assume that things we know are worth knowing, and things we don't know are just junk. It's an especially common tendency among young and technically-inclined people, which is why we see it constantly in the Windows vs. Linux flame-wars. The Windows zealots think you're an idiot if you don't know COM or config.sys, the Linux zealots think you're an idiot if you don't know CORBA or /etc/init.d, and those of us who've lived through a few rounds of such wars just roll our eyes.

The point is that the most valuable skills often turn out to be the ones that we ourselves do not have, that we might have considered obscure and useless until the very moment that we tripped over a situation where they were needed. Maybe someone else's skills really are useless and outdated, maybe that guy is a stuck-in-his-ways old relic, but we should be very hesitant lest we make that determination too quickly and have to eat our hats later.

Re:Economic (1)

qmrf (52837) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781723)

it probably has more to do with the fact that older, more experienced programmers, because of their experience, will command a higher salary

I think that's probably true, and I believe it's true for people other than just coders. Older teachers, for example, have a hard time getting jobs. My mother took about 15 years off of teaching to raise her kids. When she went back and tried to find a job (in her mid-40's), she found that she kept getting passed up for 22-year-old kids fresh out of college. Why? Because with her master's degree and beyond education, she's a lot more expensive than some kid who's barely done with her student teaching.

Of course, once she got hired (teaching computer applications and basic programming, no less), I think she gave the school district a pretty good deal for their money. She works 70-80 hour weeks (during the school year; only about 30-40 hour weeks during the summer), in addition to taking about 4 credits/semester at the local community college to keep her knowledge base up to date (after all, she learned to code on punch cards...), and is completely and totally devoted to her students.

It seems to me that this holds true in most occupations...In general, the older generation is more skilled, if only because of experience, and more devoted to their work, because they've had the time to figure out that this really is what they love. To make broad generalizations, older, more experienced workers tend to be more devoted to the project, while young punks (which I lump myself into, being a 19-year-old college student) tend to be more self-centric. I tell you, most of the people I've interacted with in my engineering classes are not people I'd trust my life to (in the case of bridges or buildings) or my data to (in the case of programmers). Of course, that appearance could just be due to the fact that the weak have been winnowed out of the older batch already. There could be just as much talent, devotion, and potential among the younger generation, but the signal is lost in the noise of, "yeah! computers! I'm gonna get rich! I'm 3133t!"

Okay, I'll quit rambling now...

Re:35 is senior citizen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781724)

Don't even worry about it. I may not be 35 yet, I am 31, but I have alot of friends in their 30's and 40's having no troble finding work. This is the same old BS cooked up by old Cobol programmers that don't know anything else and expect someone to train them. If you update your skills, you will have no problem. When I left college in 1992, I started with Cobol, since then I have switched over to Unix/c/c++/perl. It took a few job hops to switch, but I now I get calls all the time, and so do my friends. Its not how old you are, its what you know. In fact I know a 70 year old guy that is still contracting.

Re:What A Load of BS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781725)


never heard of it.

Re:The value of experience (1)

jslag (21657) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781726)

Sounds similar to my situation. I'm in my early 20s, working at a site with coders who average mid to late 30s. Some of them only know how to keep legacy mainframe applications wheezing away. Some of them use newer tools but still insist on bad olde coding practices, like littering their code with goto statements (like the guy sitting next to me).

But there are plenty who are really amazing - they've really been thinking about software design for 10-20 years, and they've run into most any problem that I can think of, and they know the needs of the businesses that buy our software.

People in the first category would have trouble finding work if they were laid off tomorrow (well, trouble finding good work). People in the second category should be able to write their own tickets.

Recent Batch of CS Grads (1)

Switchback (6988) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781727)

Has anybody noticed a recent trend in CS graduates lately? When I graduated (almost 4 years ago) most CS students were in that degree program because they truly enjoyed programming, solving problems, and all-round hacking. However, lately I've been seeing CS graduates without that inquisitive nature. A lot of students seem to be taking up the degree now because it is now a more mainstream job and there's 'lot's of money in it' to quote one student that I interviewed. There are still the 'hacker' types who simply love it, but there are more and more 'non-tech' people graduating. I see them all the time.

Also, it seems that students are emphasizing more and more on 'high level' topics and have very little concept and understanding of the lower level stuff. e.g. We're seeing more Java coders and, I love this, 'HTML programmers'. That's great that they are interested in these areas, but we're loosing a vast technical base of people that really understand what's going on under the covers. Very few people know assembler (not that it's used a whole hell of a lot, but if you understand assembler, you can track down compiler problems, JVM problems, etc. and you simply know how things work rather than guess at them.) Very few people can use a debugger proficiently and even more use the debugger as a last resort debugging tool. They would rather litter the code with output statements first because, as one new employee put it 'the debugger is a pain to use.' Hmmmmm. Has anybody else noticed this trend? Sorry for the wind.

Re:Young people (1)

lf0 (69676) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781728)

We are all self-taught.

Re:Young people (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781729)

I know quite a few younger people; they're not stupid but they are inexperienced. There's a vast field between knowing that you can do something and knowing whether doing it is a good idea and that's a field that takes time to cross. What I hate to see is the way the younger generation is getting the exploitation shaft. Even when I was 22 and coding furiously (mumble-mumble) years ago I knew that if I was routinely expected to put in 60-80 hour weeks, something was very wrong. How much of this so-called 'crisis' in finding computer professionals is caused by people burning out and taking up a profession where if you have to work 80 hour weeks, at least you'll get paid for it?

BTW, I'm 42 with 21 years experiance and am current with the current 'hot' technology: C, C++, JAVA, SQL, Win/NT, Unix and Linux, etc. as well as with the older stuff (IBM AS/400, RPG, Cobol, etc.) Think I can find a coding job? Think again! Even when I get an interview they openly express astonishment that someone 'with my experience' wants to code and develop software, instead of joining the management ranks. Fools and poltroons... :)

Don't listen to the media... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781730)

I think that this is a debate that has been largely created by the media, and fueled by a small minority of programmers who are arrogant enough to think their way is the only way.

I am 21, and work at an internet startup. I am by far the youngest person there, with the average age being in the 30s and one over 50. We all go out for drinks together and have a good time. I am grateful that these guys are patient when I don't know something, and are willing to teach. The main reason people my age put in such long hours is that we have more to learn-I probably work less than the older guys because more than half my time is on the job education.

Who cares what age you are? It is a symbiotic relationship between the old and young. Any company worth working for is likely to realize that.

Re:Dead wood (2)

remande (31154) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781731)

I've seen both types of older programmers. On the one hand, I've had to deal with a FORTRAN-66 programmer who couldn't get the hang of either GUIs or the Internet. While I may have sympathy for this sort of fellow, it wouldn't extend to any payroll under my control.

OTOH, I've run into the guru who keeps up with the latest tech, and knows the old stuff. He doesn't have to write a line of code to increase our productivity; he earns his keep just by helping the rest of us with our programming issues. Having somebody who has been there and done that is invaluable.

The smart employer will see the difference, and discriminate accordingly. Having a guru on your team may be worth two or three newbies; the guru makes the newbies more effective.

It's all just numbers... (1)

Kreep (71627) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781732)

I think a few people have touched on one of the major issues in all this, and what I think is a failing in the article.

You hear all the time about the shortage of programmers in the industry, and how we are nowhere near saturation. Therefore it doesn't make sense that a part of the workforce is under-utilized.

But the difficulty with those numbers is this: They assess the quantity rather than the quantity of the available positions. I have yet to see any full analysis of exactly what kind of jobs are most in demand (and I don't think the article even tried to address that). Then we can understand who is going to be hired for those jobs.

There exist jobs out there, and many of them, which can be done as well by an 18-year-old as a 48-year-old. So people who are over 35 may find themselves over-qualified for many positions.

I am a co-op student in Canada (Americans read: intern) and I never have trouble finding positions with good companies. But I'm not exactly getting thrown into management level jobs here. But for what I'm doing, I can do it just as well as a far more experienced developer, and my salary is considerably lower. This is the premise that allows co-ops/interns to get jobs in the first place.

I would find the article much more informative if it could relate what jobs the older people are failing to get. Giving preference to younger, lower wage people for, say, basic software testing positions is hardly any surprise. Just like you wouldn't hire a veteran sales rep to stand in the street selling newspapers.

Food for thought..... (1)

fastcard (56384) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781733)

Certainly something to think about. All the companies I come into contact with a very keen to hire young programmers and pay them huge amounts of money, precisely for the fact that they are willing to work a 70 hour week.

What the young programmers don't realise is that they're paying a 35 year old programmer the same money for a 40 hour week. My advise to young kids about to jump into the big money job. Check out what someone older at the company with the same skill set is getting for a regular weeks work. Probably the same as what you're getting for those long hours. Don't get caught out.

I learned quickly not to go WOW!! at the money I was being offered and look between the lines.

It took some people by surprise when I said, "Yeah, I'll work a 70 hour week, but you'll damn well pay me properly for it!!".

Still being offered silly money at 19 is kind of nice!!

Re:Long ramble from an "old" guy (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781734)


Like any of them would have...

Your lucky to get interviewed by a technical person at most companies, much less have a chance to present code.

(I did help hire a guy after seeing his source once, though.)

Bull (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781735)

In this case, I think young people should simply tell management idiots that they are tired of taking it in the ass so that companies can pay for very cheap labor and hire as few techs as possible. I hate management. It is so incredibly typical that the least driven and often least intelligent end up managing everything. What else can they do? If you lack the ability to do other things.. become a manager. I really do not mean to attack anyone who actually cares about managing, and is good at what they do. However, there seems to be a lot of run-off in the management pool. These are exactly the kinds of people that should NOT be running the show. I object to this, and I will NEVER work my ass off just because I am a "TEAM PLAYER" or some other bullcrap. The "business world" with all of it's "oh I am so important, I am a big time manager" people can SUCK it.

Re:Advantages and disadvantages (4)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781736)

40 hours of "work" is 40 hours of work instead of 70 hours of "work" being evenly split between real work and play.

I'd also suggest that if you know how to do the job right the first time, you don't have to stay until 2:00 am debugging it. I've been on both sides of this. Of course, the boss sees the guy working when he leaves and still there when he comes back the next morning and thinks "what dedication!" Then he sees the guy who is strictly 9-5 and thinks "Here for the paycheck..." Never mind the fact that the all-nighter barely gets working code in by the deadline while the 9-5er codes, tests, debugs, is done with the days work by noon, and spends the rest of the day telling the all-nighter what he did wrong the night before.

Of course, there are those who know what they're doing, have been doing it since they were nine, and STILL stay until 5:00 am. Double these peoples' salary and make them take off two weeks three times a year. Get them any training they want, and find projects for them that will challenge them. Whatever you do, don't let them get away...

Timing... (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781737)

Oh, boy. Just the story I needed to read on my 39th birthday.

Re:Young people (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781738)

Talent -> Good programmer
Talent + Experience -> Great programmer

Re:35 is senior citizen? (1)

AppyPappy (64817) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781739)

I'm 40. Guess I should go shopping for a walker.

Re:32 and counting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781740)

> Also, I hope that being a consultant will help.

I think it helps a lot. The more experience/longer resume you have, the more your company can charge its clients for your time, so the fact that an older employee is more expensive works in your employer's favor. After my last promotion, I got a salary increase, but my bill rate went up even more.

PS: I'm 38 now, started here at 37. Job search took 2 weeks. Nobody mentioned my age.

Over the hill at 40 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781741)

I am 42. I am working as a contractor now, by choice. I am designing Internet systems; previously I mainly worked in VB but now I am writing Perl, Javascript, C etc.

It has been my experience that many developers are kinda weird by comparison with mainstream humanity. Old, weird developers are a particular problem as they get bolshie about all kinds of issues like how big their cube area is and the finer points of pension plans. Senior management have learned how disruptive these people can be and choose younger, more politically naive cannon fodder.

Moral of story: 1. Keep your technical skills up to date 2. Stop criticizing management. Either do it (I have been an IS manager, btw) or keep out of the kitchen.

I believe more mature developers will be fine if they just stop pretending they are managers. In interview situations where the hiring manager is younger than they are, they have to learn to let that person establish a position of social dominance. This is not brown-nosing, its social engineering. You chose not to pursue the management path so the downside is that others are gonna tell you what they want done.

You really should aspire to more than a code-generating machine at this age. You should either be good at 'big picture' technology, or you should have good business analysis skills by now. Otherwise people wonder why you'd just grind out code all that time - don't you have any loftier goals.

People with good analytical skills are hard to find so if you are older, but shrewder, than capitalise on that.

Re:Young people (1)

tzanger (1575) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781742)

If I were management, I wouldn't hire someone without a degree (except for internships etc.)

excuse me.


Why, because YOU went through school to get this job you feel that anyone that gets hired and is young must do as you did? How do you think those old guys got into it to start? I'll bet you dollars to donuts it wasn't through school. Those guys were probably original hackers, people who were born and bred to do what they love doing. Just because someone is young doesn't make them egomaniacal self-apoointed code gods. Your stereotype is as bad as the "you're too old to be useful" one.

Re:Long ramble from an "old" guy (1)

richieb (3277) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781748)

Off-time experience is no experience from the standpoint of most employers. You can be the biggest Linux expert in the world, but if you can't point to a job where your title was "Linux developer" or a test you passed with "Linux" in the title, many prospective employers won't want to hear from you.

That's why you should contribute to Open Source projects. Let the future employer see your code.

...richie "43 and still coding everyday"

Over what hill (1)

bobm (53783) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781749)

OK, I'm old (43), problem is I didn't grow up till just a few years ago... I didn't have kids (singular at this point) till 1.5 yrs ago and glad I waited. (But my son is really, really cool, has his own laptop and everything). I know that soon I'll have problems since lots of other programmers my age and younger have given up on pushing the envelope.

Hell, I have somewhere around 10 systems at home, start dabbling on my stuff when the kid goes to sleep (which is thankfully at 8:00pm), read lots, still watch cartoons (Batman Beyond, etc) but have a life. I can crank out code when I have to and enjoy doing that.

It's not easy and I don't expect it to be, I spend a lot of time reading but not just SciFi and Tech stuff. I also have other hobbies that keep the brain going so I don't burnout on one area.

I can see doing this for the next 20yrs since the first 20 were so interesting, but I don't know if I'll find anyone who'll hire me when I'm 62.

I just don't fit into management and that's where people say to go. I can't, they wear shoes.

I guess I'll have to go into marketing.

Re:Advantages and disadvantages (2)

Salamander (33735) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781750)

>I'd also suggest that if you know how to do the job right the first time, you don't have to stay until 2:00 am debugging it...

I know we all hate "me too" posts, but...amen, brother! I could not agree more with your post.

Re:Declining skills (1)

mahlen (6997) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781751)

I agree with the notion that once you're known as good at something, it's hard to move on to something new. I had to leave my last company in order to get on with my career. They would have gladly let me keep doing C++ forever, when i wanted to see what was happening in Java and XML (and boy am i glad i did). On the one hand, the company has a large body of C++ code that was running well, so they are reluctant to give it up. On the other hand, the people who stay are in serious danger of getting stuck in a rut. So the only reasonable approach for ambitious employees is to switch companies every few years, sadly.

Favoring young people over older ones has been happening in many industries for quite some time. Young people demand less money, and money is at the root of all decisions in most corporations (as demanded by their shareholders).


Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.
--Sandra Carey

Re:What A Load of BS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781752)

Well, they don't tend to get a lot of attention. They are mainly used by Fortune 1000 companies. PROGRESS is a combination 4GL and DB system and MFG/PRO is a manufacturing/financial package that runs on top of it.

Re:Young people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781753)

You missed the point. This may sound wierd but: "While we're all self-taught, some are more self-taught than others."

What I mean is that some people aren't spoon fed things and learn by doing in real environments, as opposed to being taught theoritcally ways to do things in an artificial environment.

One method is more useful than the other.

Old & in the Way (1)

robins (63399) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781755)

In my company, we ancients are frequently overlooked because of social considerations: the 20 & 30-somethings socialize with each other after work and on weekends. When it comes time to help someone up the ladder, of course they're going to help their friends. It's only natural.

Unfortunately, this creates a work atmosphere which--while perhaps unintended--becomes de facto age discrimination. It gets awfully tiring to see someone with less experience, skill and time on the job get promoted while I've been in the same seat for 3 years.

Re:Chemist or not, you're right (1)

AppyPappy (64817) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781756)

The young grads generally do not come out of school understanding corporate logic, environment or politics. Us old timers do. Long hours for cheaper wages mean nothing to a corporation. That is just done to entertain a manager and make him feel important. They want applications that arrive on time and work and a staff willing to accept blame and fix whatever messes up....even if they weren't the guilty party. I found out a long time ago that long hours meant nothing in the long run. You need to be tall, have nice hair and act confident.
The reason most young programmers work long hours is because they are learning the systems and real-life coding techniques like standards. In the long run, the company only cares if you have created something. That something you created can be used to blackmail them into keeping and paying you.

What about experience? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781759)

Gee, would you go to 21-years-old doctor (do they exist?), would you hire 21-y-o lawyer to defend you in court, would you let 21-y-o 'programmer' to architect your DBMS engine?

Don't Let This Make You Crazy (1)

The Ancient Geek (67131) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781761)

I'm one of those over-the-hill guys, and yes--I have "domain experience" that is particularly useful. I've written for tech magazines for years, and I can spot a "plant" article a mile away.

Go back and read the article--this isn't investigative journalism. The guy with the "registry" of over-35 techies hired a PR firm who pitched the article to Wired. For balance the writer went out and got a couple of additional quotes. What you have is two or three anecdotes and a startup business with something to sell issuing a press release. It isn't the start of a trend.

That said, some older geeks do have trouble finding jobs. Generally, as your career progresses, you can specialize in technology or a specific industry or company. I work with a number of clients who have specialized with a particular company--they have bet their careers and their family's finances that the company will grow, thrive, and not get taken over.

Personally, I feel safer with technology. I may be older than you, but I'm confident that I'm at least as smart, and can learn at least as quickly. I recognize that technology changes, so I have to continually learn. Peers of mine who have not continued to upgrade their skills are the guys with problems finding a job. Back in 1974 COBOL was all you needed to know. In 1997 COBOL was *the* hottest ticket in New York. But now that the Y2K crisis is over you can't even find COBOL maintenance work--the language is just plain dead. Guys who never bothered to progress are now scratching their heads, wondering why they can't get jobs with all their "experience."

Re:35 and you're not retired? (1)

AppyPappy (64817) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781767)

No. I blew every dime when I was in my 20's. Had a good time too. Now I spend it on my kids.

Maybe I'm totally whacked... (1)

casmithva (3765) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781768)

...but I'd rather hire a programmer, sysadmin, datbase admin, etc. with some battle scars than someone fresh out of college. Maybe the universities in this area REALLY suck, or maybe our HR department really sucks, but the bulk of the young kids that've come through here in the last couple of years have been undisciplined (can't write efficient code in any language, are very susceptible to hype, etc.), can't read other developers' code, and don't really know, either through experience or at least classroom time, what it takes to build solid systems. So we end up having senior engineers mentor and supervise them closely, and while that might help the young engineers mature, it also takes valuable time away from the senior engineer's other responsibilities. In an organization in which the senior engineers are already overtasked, that can be even more costly. We've had some young kids come in who were mostly self-taught, and they've turned out to be speculator engineers. But they've been rare.

And as for the hyped 60, 70, or 80 hour workweeks... I used to do that, but one day (literally) I realized that it just wasn't worth it anymore. I was salaried -- no overtime -- and underpaid, and I was severely neglecting my personal life and interests. So I changed jobs, cut back to working between 40 and 50 hours a week, and made a real effort to spend more time with others, catch up on neglected interests, etc. And I think it made a real difference, both in my physical health and in my emotional well-being. Being able to step away from work for a while also helps to rejuvenate me; I seem to do some of my best brainstorming on the train home. Nowadays I try to encourage those who work for me to not put in the insane hours unless it's really necessary because friends, family, and health are hard to replace. I'm sure that 60, 70, or 80 hour work weeks will come back to haunt some folks in increased health problems later on. I'm now seeing some younger engineers who're working 60 - 80 hours a week burning out.

We have a lot of mid- to late-20's employees here, but we also have a healthy mixture of folks in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, and the older ones, even if their skills are a bit out of date, still have a lot to offer from their own experiences.

Notes From Over the Hill (1)

shaum (32770) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781769)

First of all, thanks to Wired for getting my day off to a depressing start. (I'm 36, and unaccustomed to thinking of myself as a "geezer"...)

Really, though, this should be a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to make a life of technology: don't sit still. Keep learning, keep acquiring new skills; don't be afraid to say goodbye to technologies you spent a long time mastering (I wrote some damned good FORTRAN code in the mid-1980s); and when job-hunting, look for employers that use mainstream tech, and avoid technological dead-ends (RPG-III, anyone?) as if they were ebola.

I started out writing FORTRAN on an NEC mainframe and a VAX 11/750; my current job is Web programming in a mix of Perl, HTML, and JavaScript. When it comes time to look for another job, I can prove that I can transition to new technologies because I have already done so several times before.

"I'm not dead yet ... I don't want to go on the cart ... I feel happy ..."

Hire Some H1-B immigrants! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781770)

They can't quit their jobs and won't complain! Yep, indentured servitude is the answer to high-tech labor problems!

Re:Declining skills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781771)

You'd be surprised to see how true the old addage "when you're good with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" really is. Just check out sometime and follow the perpetual "Screw Java, I can do everything anyone could want in RPG" thread. I was astounded when I first became exposed to as400 culture how much resistance there was in the as400 programmer community to new technology. But employers like buzzwords, and if they don't see Java on your resume -- or, worse yet, you tell them in your interview that Java sucks and you can do everything in RPG (regardless of whether or not you're right) -- you'll probably need to go to Kinko's and have a few more copies of your resume printed up.

Young or Old, it comes down to good ol' Experiance (1)

X-Usagi (71334) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781773)

Age on the part of the person shouldn't really make any difference. (Albeit a 2 year-old isn't going to know anything, and a 110 year-old probably isn't going to remember anything). However, it seems to me like it's the experiance behind the person. A 35 year-old who just picked up his first C book isn't going to know more than a 19 year yold who mastered C++ at the age of 15.

Also, an 18 year-old who is just entering college to study in "Computing" is going to be puny compared to a 50 year-old who has been software and hardware engineering for nearly 20 years. After all, we all get old, dont we? (Oh yeah, except for me of course, I'm Immortal ;-)

Re:Chemist or not, you're right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1781774)

One thing I can guarantee: unless you die young, some day you too will be 40! Better save all that money you are making now, because you will want to have a big enough nest egg to retire when you hit that milestone(~$2,000,000 will do). Unfortunately, unless you happen to get stock options in a hot IPO, retirement at 40 means a meager lifestyle, and forget having a family, kids, etc.

typical (1)

TedC (967) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781776)

From the article:

The recruiter asked, "Why would you at 39 still want to be a programmer? Shouldn't you be doing something else?"

This sort of thinking is common in IT. A lot of people view programming as something they have to do on their way to becoming a project manager. Needless to say, these people aren't very good programmers themselves, and they tend to view other programmers as "resources" instead of human beings, which means that there are vasts amounts of untapped skill in most IT shops. Anyway, thanks for reading, I'll step off my soapbox now...

BTW, I'm a 39 year old programmer, I don't do anything much other than Unix, C, and relational DBs, and I've never had problems finding work. I'm not sure where all these unemployed "older" programmers come from, but they're not from around here (MN).


Re:Young people (1)

Capt_Troy (60831) | more than 15 years ago | (#1781777)

Congratulations, but while there may be a rare exception (apparently you out of your entire high school) most people who leave college do not have the drive to teach themselves. That's why they dropped out. I know I hardly learned a thing from listening to professors all day, most of what I know came from books and experimentation. So I wouldn't really call that spoon feeding. So congratulations on your ability and your successes but I don't think that fortune is shared by most people who leave college.

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