People who share complaints here, on Reddit or on more or less similar places, do indeed keep up in general and always have personal interest in tech. But that isn't a magic bullet. They'd have better chances if they had stuck with COBOL, for example.
Go tell that to a recruiter... most don't care about what you toy with; they generally don't even have the slightest idea of what it may be. They just care about what you've been doing at your previous company, if it sounds like the position they have to fill, if the title of the gigs looks good, if the company name looks good or if at least they've heard its name before, and that's all. You are not given a chance to explain the interests you have and side skills you may have developed, it would be all Greek to them anyway and they do not value non-professional experience. Admittedly, I am not talking about California here.
I'm really interested in hearing more of your story.