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Ask HN: How many are 30+ years and still active programmers?
42 points by bootcat on May 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
How many of you out there are still active programmers contributing to open source and community, while being greater than 30 years ? How to you manage personal life, work and contributions ?

The myth that after 30 your career as a programmer is over, is really stupid and utterly false. In my experience, it only really started after 30. I'm 43 now and doing better than ever.

Experience counts for a lot.

I don't contribute a whole lot to open source projects (there's the occasional fix for an issue I run into), but that too has nothing to do with age.

It is true that in university, open source is a great way to get involved in something big and build up experience, and you've got a lot more time for it than when you get a life with kids, but plenty of big name open source developers are well over 30. It works best when you can work on it as part of your job.

I mis-read the question. I thought you were asking who has been programming for 30 years, not who was older than 30.

I'm 52 and have been at it professionally for 27 years. I still think it's the best job for me.

Advice to those without that many years: The temptation to go into management will periodically arise. Advice I got once: "In management, they nip at you from the top and they nip at you from the bottom." Meaning that in programming, you only have to please those above you on the ladder. When you're in management, you have to please those above you AND those below you.

That's some solid advice. Thanks for sharing it. :-)

Over 45 and still program for work, for fun, and for profit!

Started at 12yo too... I've written a lot of code, and will continue to add to the pile until they pry my keyboard from my dead, cold fingers!

I'm rapidly approaching 50 and I've never been more excited to write code. With things like cloud computing and the Rust language, everyday feels like an adventure. I hope I never have to retire. That said, I think I might enjoy working from the beach in my later years. :)

Heh, when I was 29 I felt different, I felt like I was getting to old to program.. So I made it a goal to "retire" by 35, because I didn't want to be 40+ coding.

In a little over 2 weeks I turn 32. I don't see or feel like retiring in 3 years.

Is it a cool keyboard though? :p

That's the spirit!

The fact that this is a relevant question in our industry scares me (I have similar concerns, not criticizing OP).

I question whether or not it is a relevant question. I haven't seen any evidence that there's anything particularly unique about being 30 or older. Certainly nothing changed for me when I turned 30, or 40 for that matter. And I have plenty of colleagues who are the same age, or older. As far as I can see, programming is programming and age is pretty much irrelevant.

you are continuously expected to deliver more bang for the buck as you age. After a certain age, I found it that, its hard to make exponential gains. I guess you could wage stagnate but then you get age discriminated during hiring.

I'm 38, work as a contractor and my long-term client pays 100% of my time to work on their open-source tech stack. All my contributions are public on Github, starting from early prototyping.

When I work on personal projects, I contribute to open-source when I find something to fix in the libraries I am using. But that's just a side effect, not a decision to do extra open-source work in my free time.

Might just be me, but thats a pretty odd question, do you expect programmers to retire after 30 ?

I hope not, but I'm 34 and feel ancient.

I got a late start in the field (studied physics in college and graduated in to the 2008 recession) and suspect if I'd been just a year or two later I'd have never made it happen.

Not really !! But it would personally motivate me to know how many people, older than me are still great at programming !

My view (as a still quite young engineer around 30) is that good engineers don't become worse with age, quite the opposite. If you as a young programmer think you're better/faster than those old farts, check back in 10 years or so and you'll probably realize how naive you were. Now, bad engineers might stagnate completely, and those people are probably what makes up the bulk of the "old people stuck in old technologies; can't code" meme. Along with the people who end up doing less technical stuff and then forced to interview for other/technical positions after a layoff.

I think if you try to be excellent at what you do and improve over time, there is no reason you should have to worry about this until your brain is actually withering away.

> Now, bad engineers might stagnate completely, and those people are probably what makes up the bulk of the "old people stuck in old technologies; can't code" meme.

> I think if you try to be excellent at what you do and improve over time, there is no reason you should have to worry about this until your brain is actually withering away.

It sounds like a pretty serious problem to me. Everybody knows the meme, so when they're hiring older people they're really going to try to rake them over the coals in the interview to make sure they don't hire one of those 'old people stuck in old technologies; can't code' devs. This makes it much harder for those who can still code to pass technical interviews.

The nice thing about programming is that it's not like Starcraft: your typing and mousing skills, which would be the first to degrade as you get older, matter the least. It's not like Doom, where your reaction times decide your success or failure.

It's more like Civilization, where you spend more time looking at the board and thinking of moves than you do actually entering moves. And the more times you play, the more problems you've encountered, and the more possible moves you see. The Huns are attempting to flank you? Been there, done that. Someone picked up a wonder? You can work around that. Playing against Ghandi? Look out for them nukes.

And if you decide to play co-op Civilization with a newbie, you have the opportunity to help them bypass some of that learning curve, by passing on the things you have learned over your years of play.

The advantage of having seen all of the problems, in business terms? You don't have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to solve them, and you won't make a lot of mistakes while solving them. You can get past these simple problems in no time flat, and move on to the problems you haven't seen before. This makes you fast at 90% of the tasks you face.

The downside of having seen all the problems? You have a solution that you know works for every problem, and might not see the benefit in trying other solutions. When the Huns flank you, you send 50 spearman units to break the flank. But what about 10 artillery units? Or 1 tank?

When you know a solution works, you have to consciously push yourself to try a new solution. For some people that's easy, for others, not so much. But if you really want to remain at the top of your game, you need to make that push.

Well, I'm 35 and my progression gained momentum after 30, before the 30s everything new took time to get into because i had this idea i had to know everything about everything to be good. But now its a lot easier as i've build up quite some experience on how to fail and succeed.

Programming wise and learning wise i've also grown wiser and know where to have my focus to be able to get better, faster and learn new technologies with my own mental algorithm. Though this most likely has nothing todo with being over 30, but maybe more with the time and experience gained over time. But as you get into the 30s, some people get kids and buy a house and what not. But that will also in time teach you how to manage the time you have available, and you will try to work more efficient and narrow your focus onto your goals and tasks in your everyday programming job or what you're doing, you learn to filter away all the noise and stay focused on the task at hand.

What do you mean "still great at programming"?

Are you afraid that programming skills deteriorate with age for some reason?

I'm just shy of 36, and have definitely found that my taste for non-work programming has dropped sharply in the past decade. The last time I would consider myself an active OSS contributor was when I was 28 (Xfce core maintainer for the 5 years prior).

I'm not really sure what changed. I'm unmarried (though not single), and have no kids, so family is not a consideration for me when it comes to allocating my time. While I certainly have several non-programming hobbies that take up my time, I wouldn't say I have enough such that they'd prohibit OSS contributions.

Perhaps at this point I just treat programming as a professional skill, something that I want to be paid for, and while I certainly make use of a ton of OSS, I feel I "paid that back" in my 20s much more than most OSS users ever do? Possibly.

> How to you manage personal life, work and contributions ?

I don't think this question is any different than a general time management question. Everyone has various priorities in their life, and the level of priority determines how much time you'll devote. If you're a professional programmer with a family and a social life, and believe making OSS contributions is higher on your priority list than doing other things, then you just end up making time for OSS contributions. Having family members who support you helps a lot (since I'd imagine in most cases they won't be directly involved in it).

I think a big component of regret is just wanting to do more things than we physically have time to do. So we prioritize, and some things get dropped. We feel bad about the things that get dropped, because that's human nature, but that's just something we have to learn to be ok with.

31, professionally since being 20. I think many people mistake that programming is a young man's job. Yet I found out that over time, as I aged, married and had a child - I got better in my work.

Many argue that programming is an art, while I'd say that begin professional is 99% of the job. And usually you get better with being professional with age. You tend to consider more factors, you start to understand the value of homework and managing work-life balance.

In my opinion getting older only grows your experience and in many cases grows you as a better person. Therefore, there really is use for old people in this business :)

> I got better in my work[...]And usually you get better with being professional with age. You tend to consider more factors, you start to understand the value of homework and managing work-life balance.

As a fellow 30-something y.o. I fully agree. However, I would be remiss not to mention a change of attitude towards tenacity/brute force programming. When I was younger, I could work an 8 hour day, come home, eat and put in 5 to 7 hours more on personal projects I found interesting, especially when I was stumped.

I am now better at managing my time, prioritize taking care of myself (getting enough sleep), and can resist the siren-call of solving challenging problems in one go. Instead, I now chew over the problem with pen and paper if necessary, away from the keyboard and over smaller chunks of time until I have a framework for a solution. I've also stopped updating libraries and dependencies to the latest versions during development, not pinning versions was a rookie mistake.

It's bothering me that this question even has to be asked in the first place. I'm 34. Some of my colleagues are 40+ and very effective hackers, getting things done on time, not getting lost in configuring webpack, pragmatic, but also getting quickly and deeply into the JS framework du jour.

I actively work with one or two new technologies every year, for real money, adding it up to the current stack of things we maintain. No time for side projects currently due to kids, but my work projects are interesting enough.


It's my 12s anniversary as a professional programmer. Did work on all kinds of projects: a hugely popular online game, a search engine, all kinds of smaller projects. Love programming more than ever.

Couple of noticeable age-related factors:

1. As a proud father I have to be very careful when planning my spare time. For example, I mostly do hobby projects early in the morning now.

2. Got my first serious RSI-related trauma recently. Younger programmers, please, start caring about your hands as early as possible!

> Younger programmers, please, start caring about your hands as early as possible!


Well... Of the top of my head: use a proper keyboard, use all of your 10 fingers, code in a proper body position. Hands should be in a natural position most of the time.

Standard laptop keyboards and mice are a crime against one's hands, it's generally better to replace 'em with something ergonomic.

I did boxing as a university sport. That was the worst choice possible: I developed early-stage osteoarthritis.

I recently picked up kickboxing. You think it's bad for RSI even with bandaged wrists?

My doctor said that everything involving wrist micro-traumas is bad: tennis, volleyball, *boxing, etc.

Tendon stretches a couple times a day [0] Whenever I start feeling pain in my hands/wrists, it's because I've been slacking on doing these stretches.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD8BGa3p1Ms

1. keyboard

2. Posture/ergonomics

3. Take frequent breaks while coding.

4. do minimal typing when you are not actively coding.

46, still in the game, though I admit the design portion holds much more fascination for me these days. To the OPs point, I do experience a great deal of pressure to head towards management every time I switch jobs. My rational is that when I get to the point where I can't absorb the minutiae, but can still see the big picture, maybe it's time for me to push the keyboard away and manage. Haven't gotten there yet (that I know of).

45 here. I tried management roles for a few years at the end of my 30s, early 40s. Found out the hard way, that I'm no good at it. These days I've switched to Contracting, and focusing on niche solutions for Identity Management as an Architect.

I'm much happier like this.

33. Front-end web developer. I haven't had full time work in 3 years. The market for my particular skills has been flooded for some time with cheap H1Bs and boot camp grads. Also, the fact that I take longer to complete the "same" work doesn't help me. In the front-end world, managers obsess over time to completion, no matter how many bugs it has. It's not like I'm extreme in this area, either. I don't spend 10x the time of my contemporaries for the ideal of "proper programming". It's closer to 1.5-2x and my code has considerably fewer bugs than most of my co-workers. But, the lack of bugs isn't valued by most companies, I've found.

I should really re-train in something that companies find useful (mobile, distributed backend computing, data learning, ???). I make ends meet by freelancing and contracting. A few weeks creating a POC here, a few weeks fixing somebody's wordpress install there. It's a living.

Perhaps your salary requirements are too high?

I find that very hard to believe, but you tell me. I'm billing out at $50/hr for most of my freelance work. I'd gladly take a remote job in the $60-80k range or $80-100k if I have to relocate. I live in the rural northeast USA. I'm open to relocating anywhere but California.

Does any of that seem out of line for a 33 year old programmer with 16 years of web development experience and 3 years of video game development experience?

I program for 33 years, do it five days a week and love it. There are so many areas and if you change one every five or so years it's not boring at all. I'm 56 if you're curious.

Oh good grief. At 30 you're just getting started. By that time you're able to separate the wheat from the chaff and spot bullshit a mile away.

As far as contributing to open source I contribute fixes and minor enhancements to the projects I actually use. I don't go looking for an opportunity to contribute I just use something and notice "that ain't quite right" and look into what the problem is and then contact the author. Sometimes the author requests my proposed fix, other times they don't as they have something else planned.

Anyway I recently turned fifty and I'm still going strong.

38, and it's pretty much the only thing I'm any good at. I work about 30 hours per week at the office, and do the rest at home or in the weekend. Some weeks that means I work only 30 hours, other weeks it can be 80+ hours. There's a huge amount of flexibility in this, which makes work-life balance a non-issue. Apart from the occasional pull-request, bug report, or comments on HN and Stack Overflow, there's not a lot of contributions I have the opportunity to do, but that has more to do with personal circumstances than with work or age.

I'm 44. When I'm not working on bootstrapping my own SaaS, I contract for other startups around town. It can be tough being a one-man-band sometimes.

I contribute to various small open source projects from time to time. I recently ported an ACL library from PHP to JavaScript:


39, Software Engineer and still actively programming. Having 2 children makes it hard to do any other contributions apart from being a Dad.

This smacks more of "I am married with kids, a full-time job and a severe lack of time".

If that is the case then you just need to grab time as and when you can. You will find you can find half an hour a day at least. The limited time will help you focus. I find I get up early or stay up late to make time for this.


I'm not a professional programmer (although I did start my career as one), but have released various bits of software over the years[1].

- It's harder to find time on any personal projects when you have small kids. Mine's now at Uni, so lots more free time for 'my stuff'. Wasn't so in my 30s though.

- My official job is as a Technical Architect. As such, I'm in front of a PC all day and I always insist on having Visual Studio installed, so I can 'test' stuff. In reality, I'm always working on little coding side projects whenever I need a change of 'brain-work' for an hour or so.


[1] The most recent being: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14206309

30, been in full time web development since finishing Uni 10 years ago. Worked from home for the last 4 years and currently have a sprog on the way. Minimal OS contributions but I do spend a few hours each week working on personal programming type projects.

At 30. Active, never contributed much having been burned several times early on.

For me programming is akin to a work of art, so i keep doing various projects for my own fun.

Not sure how one can become "inactive", barring a disabling accident.

I'm 35, and while my career has oscillated between dev and sysadmin, my hobby/passion has always been coding, specifically games. Most never see release due to time and having too many itchy ideas to scratch.

I've done a little open source but mostly shy away because I just want to code, not get into meta-arguments over style or whatnot. Not saying every project has that issue specifically, but I don't have time to sift through and find "compatible" communities to contribute to that are also doing projects I find interesting.

34, won't quit till i'm 60 (but as a business owner eventually)

54 years, programming professionally for 32 years, 100% open source. very happy with it still, but I did occasional other work also.

Balance is well, esp. as senior it's getting better and better.

39 and no idea what I would do if this was not my career. Having an active social life makes it hard to do much programming outside of work, but do manage occasionally. Submit code to open source projects as I use them at work, which might make me a fly-by committer, but may be better than nothing.

Get some nice chunks of free time by contracting and taking chunks of time inbetween, though I guess this could change once kids come into the story.

32 and writing more code than ever. I've gone gradually from very basic data analysis in excel at the start of my career, to today, utility scale power simulation, probabilistic modelling, and enterprise ETL stuff using a combination of python and clojure.

I also run weekly data analysis workshops with my staff, where I get to teach junior analysts and engineers how to think Bayesian, and how to replace Excel with Pandas.

Having the time of my life at work :)

I see the question is about developers over 30 years of age contributing to open source projects. I think some of the commenters missed that point.

I am over 30 and I don't contribute to open source projects because I just don't have the time. As you get older there are other responsibilities that you have to take care of that keep you from concentrating on development projects outside of work.

I wonder if there are any other professions, other than pro sports people, where this would be a reasonable question to ask.

In most professions experience is desired, in fact I'd go so far as to say you only start becoming decent at your profession at that age.

This sort of question really makes me want to rage at anyone who thinks it's unusual or shouldn't be the case!

I'm 35 and a much better programmer than I was at 11.

I don't think it's reasonable to ask it for this profession. The question is idiotic. Of course there are (many active professional programmers over the age of 30).

My last job, between 50-75% of the programmers were 30+, with the oldest being over 70. There are a lot of older programmers, especially in the suburbs. Some will chase the new things like React and NodeJS while others are happy to use older tools like PHP, Python, or Perl. And of course there may be one or two that love COBAL but everyone I've met is willing to learn new tech.

I was thinking about Donald Knuth the other day and his relevance to this class of question. So far as I know he's still working at 79.

45, and still going.

I'd ask an opposite sort of question: How many 30yo+ senior developers does your company employ? If none, then why not?

Wisdom is in ever shorter supply in technology. Frankly, having people with deep experience on hand is a source of competitive advantage.

I'm 32 and program mostly in my spare time. At work I've gravitated more towards more "senior" style of work, like technical leadership and program management. I feel I have more impact doing that, than being the one who actually do the programming.

31 years here, married, no kids. Still active, working full time as a dev (100% on FLOSS projects). Recently I got a tech lead position on a small team, which was a nice change that brought a plethora of new and interesting challenges.

I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.

36 still code occasionally in work but do a lot of future planning, technical direction and leadership work. Experience is a huge benefit and I love having experienced people on my teams. I do a lot of side projects and open source

I actually started professionally programming at 33. Doing fine 4 years later. Amazingly, I got my computer science degree at 25, but due to many factors, was not ready until I grew up a little.

I'm over 40 and where I work the average age of the developers have been over 40 for a fair while. Fortunately I work for a company supplying a vertical market where they value experience.

Does the rest of that market also value experience, or is your company an outlier? If the former, would you be comfortable sharing which vertical market?

For once I thought you meant 30+ of programming experience. I am 32 and still program on daily basis. I do not see any reason to quit or code less, infact given a chance I would like to code more.

You will be active programmer as long as you have passion doing that. Passion has no age limit! And there are many companies looking for passionate programmers...

I'm hitting 30 this year, and just had a kid.

Still going strong.

Over 40 and still active, whatever that means :D

37, just in the process of switching back to been a programmer for someone else (rather than working for myself).

Really looking forwards to it.

I was going to say that 30+ years of experience as a programmer isn't that uncommon. Then I've read comments...

i'm 37, I still code (for my side projects) but less than i was used to few years ago, i'm not married, i have no child / pets, but i live with my GF (since 3 years) i'm talking about coding in my free time, not on "work hour"

i think if you add child to the equation the code time drop rapidly to zero

Sadly I've still not retired, but I've a few years left until I am 40 and probably still programming :P

I'm 40. I write code 10-16 hours per day, 7 days a week. I don't have or want anything to balance.

At 36 Im in the prime of my career as a full stack dev

I'm 30. I'm the youngest person in my team.

Does 30+ sound 'old' to you...?

I am 27, have no kids but the code I write outside of work tends to be more focused on my private projects. Some is open source, but far from all of it.

Over 30, still active, not in OS though.

36 and still going strong!

34 and very active!

This is a joke.

37 and love it.

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