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Aging, mediocre programmer seeks fellow technical-minded individuals
141 points by dennis_jeeves on Oct 29, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments
Very soon ageism will catch up with me and I'll be unemployed. ( I'm in my forties). I'm smart enough to do most business related software development but mediocre enough that I won't be hired by the likes of Google. As they say, most technical work or any work that requires deep focused thinking is generally a race to the bottom. I see great potential if programmers/technical/above average minded people are willing to put aside their overly individualist and reclusive tendencies, and start realistically co-operating. I'll like to get in touch with fellow technical minded individuals who have realized this, and who want to hash out ideas for any mutual co-operation. I have nothing concrete in mind yet, but I can be reasonably sure that I'm not looking for software related ideas. I am 100% sure that if I do not take any steps now I'm going to be a unemployed bum in a few years. ( besides being unemployed you will also be see as useless - if you are male. Make no mistake, society is harsh on men who are not racking in money.)

A starting point could be some online forum where ideas/views can be exchanged. It must me emphasized that this post is not a solicitation for money. Money might be involved but only at a significantly later stage. Email: dennis_jeeves-1((at))yahoo.com


p.s - I have had a few emails to my previous similar posts. In addition to emailing me I suggest that you also respond to my post here. It lets readers know that there are people in similar situations and that their problems (of ageism/jobs) are not unique.

I work as an IT consultant across a variety of industries, mostly doing server support for small/medium business, and get to see firsthand the number of business problems which have yet to be solved by a reasonably competent software developer. I can understand how it would be easy to watch the Silicon Valley/Google/"Uber for X" startup hype train in motion here on HN, and start to wonder if you might have trouble finding a job again. Please rest assured that there is work for you out there.

It might seem that if you don't take a crash course in machine learning and blockchain, that you'll be unemployable in a few years-- but in the past couple years I've personally seen dozens of business problems that could be solved by a decent programmer, and companies willing to pay for it, if only they had a way to connect. The problems just aren't where most people think the jobs are. Small manufacturing plants with funky regulatory requirements, construction companies, sausage factories. Not sexy, not glamorous. Just work that needs to be done.

I don't doubt that ageism is a thing, but depending on exactly how "aged" your particular skill set is, you might be more in-demand than you think. The last few jobs I've been involved with involving legacy hardware and software paid very well to the folks who still knew their way around 20+ year old systems.

To the original poster, I'm sorry if I misread your question by suggesting more places to look for software work. I see that you wrote that you are "reasonably sure that I'm not looking for software related ideas" which I interpreted as that you are not trying to solicit ideas for your own startup or something. Perhaps indicative that I am too much in the bubble myself!

If you're looking for completely non-computerized ideas, I can stay that I help run a small farming business in my spare time and would strongly suggest sticking to computers.

>and would strongly suggest sticking to computers.

I would agree with this. Almost any core non-software business will have some software related work, if the volumes are high enough.

You don't have contact information for your account, and the PHP install is broken for your website. Do you have a way people can contact you?

Sorry, I moved the farm and forgot to move the web hosting with it!

Updated email and web link in profile.

sent an email - the email bounced.

grow your own food, work remotely, have no debts.

>It might seem that if you don't take a crash course in machine learning and blockchain, that you'll be unemployable in a few years-- but in the past couple years I've personally seen dozens of business problems that could be solved by a decent programmer, and companies willing to pay for it, if only they had a way to connect. The problems just aren't where most people think the jobs are. Small manufacturing plants with funky regulatory requirements, construction companies, sausage factories. Not sexy, not glamorous. Just work that needs to be done.

I think you have hit upon one of the major problems in the industry. They don't seem to find the 'right' fit. But why are they being so damn picky ? Can any decent programmer not learn the new stuff?

Anecdote time: I'm see recruiters ask for Java 8 experience and presumably I'm not considered because I do not have experience in Java 8. Is Java 8 impossible to learn for someone who has spent a fair amount of time developing in the previous versions of Java? Now if Java 8 was the only missing skill I would have considered learning it ( In fact I sort of skimmed through it and have more than a fair idea of what it is) but the whole game it does not end up with one new buzzword, there are atleast 10 others. noone can possibly learn up all topics that the requirements allude to.

Well, the places I'm thinking of don't know the difference between Java 8, COBOL-85, and an Excel macro. They don't have Java problems, they have business problems. They aren't hiring Java jockeys, they're hiring someone who can help integrate their new modern ERP system with their aging assembly lines (which might require Java, but they don't know it!), for example- if not to personally code this stuff, to help implement such systems. They don't care what programming language you use, they just need to get the sausage made. These jobs are often found outside the purview of the "tech industry." You're going to find them by networking with the people in/around these other verticals. And there are many of these industries which have not yet been "disrupted."

If you are an experienced programmer who is confident on adapting to whatever, hustle your way through it.

Add the stuff they want to see to your existing resume. It's not complicated. It doesn't mean removing that C/C++ project you worked on for 5 years. It just means saying it was a C/C++/Java project. The hiring process is easy to hack once you start doing this. But you have to prep for the Java stuff.

This is what the Indian Bodyshopers have been doing for 15 years now. Please remember non of them started out as Java devs. They started out as "Y2K experts". And when that requirement evaporated they invented the concept of fudged resumes tailored to the requirements.

That's who you are competing with, if it is a run off the mill software job.

I expect the more "ordinary" jobs are with companies that don't hire tech recruiters either?

If so, the recruiters are giving you a biased idea of the market.

Perhaps not a great thing to admit but I was under the impression that if its something you can fake-it-till-you-make-it you just say "yeah, I can do that"

> Small manufacturing plants with funky regulatory requirements, construction companies, sausage factories.

There are lots of all of the above where I live (rural northeast). The problem is that nobody I've spoken to is willing to pay for the solutions to those problems, not when they can hire somebody at minimum wage to sort of solve the problem in a halfass manner. It gets them most of the way there and it's more cost effective.

It's always been tough to show small biz that IT doesn't need to be a cost center. The business needs to be at a certain maturity level to see that with the right investment they can actually use the computers to save or make them money! Without someone to show you, it's easy to forget that all this computing power is good for more than just sending email and creating documents.

Which business problems exactly? Can you be more specific?

Good luck. I am female and in my 60's and happily employed. However I've had scientist and engineer women friends who have become unemployed in their 50's or later and have great trouble finding work. It can take years. During that period contracting is an option. I think it is wise to find your next job right away if you think the current job is insecure because it is harder to find the job if you are unemployed. I notice you don't use the word union. It's still a dirty word, which is unfortunate. The balance between employee and employer is off and union decline is a reason. We suffer much more from globalization and outsourcing than we need to due to lack of workplace unions.

I think your mindset needs to change. Both of my parents (one is cisgender male, the other is cisgender female) have Computer Science degrees. My dad is 57 and still happily employed doing database adminstration. Like everyone that age he's been through his share of layoffs. We don't really talk much, but from what I can tell he generally kind of keeps a positive mindset with a focus on continual improvement (he's on his third masters degree now).

My mom (also 57) on the other hand has a pretty negative world view (it sounds a lot like your MRA-like perspective, except the gender roles are reversed). Everything bad that happens to her is because of her race (black) or gender, at least according to her. She's now frequently unemployed, and unable to keep a roof over her head without support from her children. She also hasn't invested in improving her tech skills.

My point here is that I think you need to have a mental model where you're in control of your life, not of one where you're a passive vessel being buffeted by a harsh, discriminatory capitalistic system.

One further point, that I hope you don't take offensively is that you talk to someone about these feelings. A few months back I was chatting with my CEO's executive coach, and it went off in my head that I really should start talking to a therapist (I'd long resisted this thinking I wasn't mentally ill enough for it to work). Talking to a third party has been very useful for getting a better perspective on your own life, a perspective that your significant other, friends or family can't provide.

Good luck!

> Very soon ageism will catch up with me and I'll be unemployed.

I guess if you've made up your mind that this is inevitable then it probably is. As a counterpoint I'm turning 57 this Thursday and I'm happily employed as an SRE for a small company. I'm well past "my forties" and have not found ageism to be a significant barrier. The OP did not request advice on how to remain technically relevant, so I won't offer any here, but if you're at the point where you're no longer interested in growing as an engineer then yeah, time to find something else to do.

I'm 53, no sign of "ageism" in the company I've worked at for 18 years. None of my friends has encountered it, either. Not to say it doesn't exist, but it's not the foregone conclusion OP makes it out to be. It's all about attitude and drive, and I have more of both now than I did as a young programmer.

I think ageism (in software) is largely a problem in startup culture. I've never seen a trace of it, but a few of my older friends with beaucoup experience have tried to join startups and told they weren't a "fit for the culture." Really sounds like code for "you can't hang with us old man."

> I think ageism (in software) is largely a problem in startup culture.

Yes and no. Larger companies don't like hiring older employees because they can get more bang for their buck by hiring young(er) people who are willing to stick with the company for life. Being an older programmer who has been at the same company for 30+ years isn't proof that the company doesn't engage in ageism. It also means they're unaware of the current state of the hiring market and how brutal it's become over the past 10 years.

I hate saying it, but that actually seems fair in a way. If I was interviewing for a company at 66, I could see why they wouldn't want to hire me. There's a solid chance I'd leave the next year when I get social security.

That being said, I have no idea how that problem should be addressed.

The fact that you’ve been there for that long suggests that you’re working for an ‘older’ (both as in the age of the company AND the average age of employees) company to begin with, which would likely NOT have that kind of culture.

As someone who’s worked for older companies and younger ones, I feel like it’s all a matter of where direct technical management is placing emphasis, not some kind of deep seeded collusion between hiring managers.

Companies that want to ‘move fast’ tend to hire younger because they connotate old ~= slow. Companies that want solid, stable, well engineered solutions seem to feel like young ~= junior.

My opinion is: they're both kind of right in the aggregate. By and large the older people I’ve worked with and employed were a fair bit slower to get to initial done. But they got there in a well engineered way that had less post launch defects, was easier to maintain, and in general showed the decades of corner cases they have etched into their soul from all their battles.

By and large the younger/less experienced the more eager they were to pick up and learn the new and shiny tech. Which is awesome when we have to take on a new piece of tech for whatever reason. I typically find them voracious when pointed at a problem that interests them, and they usually hammer out something a noticeable amount faster than the older crowd. However, in general, the post launch defects are atrocious when compared to the more experienced crowd, I often see spaghetti architecture, and there’s much less pragmatism when it comes to decision making.

Surprise! Experienced people lean on their experience and wisdom and young people utilize their appetite for knowledge and their (comparatively) vast amount of stamina. It’s almost like there’s a few millennia of stories around this topic...

A room full of 10 year olds may learn fine on their own. Stick a 30 year old teacher in the room with them and watch their minds expand. A room full of 30 year olds can be kind of boring. Stick some young’ins in there with them and watch them play.

Good teams should have both. Experienced pros have a lot to teach and people that think they can’t learn anything from them are, frankly, stupid. I also strongly believe that youthful exuberance is infectious and makes it more fun for everyone to come in to work.

> A room full of 30 year olds can be kind of boring. Stick some young’ins in there with them and watch them play.

The simple fact that you oppose "30 years olds" to "young" is telling enough...

30 years old are supposed to be in the first quarter of their career, and yet you already place them in the 'old' side. We can only imagine what the representation of 40 years old, let alone 50 or 60 years old, is in this industry. Something than range from decrepit to senile, I suppose.

I meant 30 year olds as the decade of 30-39, not specifically 30, and I was opposing the 30 year olds to the 10 year olds.

If we extrapolated that classroom analogy to the workplace I’d think it would be more akin to a mid to late 20s with mid-40s to early 50s. I think that 30ish year olds kind of fall in between depending on experience and aptitude.

My personal experience as a 35 year old is that my life has changed A LOT from 30-35 (no kids, Seattle to 3 kids, Portland suburbs) but my skill level has grown in harder to define ways.

At 26 I was an engineering lead and coaching a 23, 35, and 41 year old. At 30 I was managing a fairly large team that ranged from 20 to 67. All of my employees today are older than me.

I think it’s dumb to assume someone’s skill just based on their age, but I truly believe someone who’s had more years of experience and is good at their craft is going to bring years of experience that you just plain ol’ cannot get without time and repetition.

I think ageism is a real thing in our industry, I’ve seen my dad go through something that sure seemed like it, but I also think there are a ton of companies out there that are usually not worried so much about age, but are looking for cheaper salaries or people willing to kill themselves for ‘the opportunity’.

I think it's more that the priorities of older programmers are different. If you're in your 20's, you are less likely to have kids or other things that take you from work. If you're older, you have a family and other drains on your time.

You work for a small company. If that company goes bankrupt, are you 100% confident you'll get to work again full time?

There are not many things I am 100% confident of, but my confidence level is high in this area because it's happened plenty of times in 25 years. I like to work for small companies because I value the flexibility, autonomy, camaraderie, and absence of pyramidal power structures dominated by influence builders. I accept the fact that smaller companies are more vulnerable, and if I have to leave my current one for some reason I am not terribly worried about finding another.

What changes if the company is large and it downsizes instead of going bankrupt?

You're both right, size of company doesn't matter. Some companies hire the first engineer that goes to the interview (I actually know companies that do this.. God bless their mysql injections), but other companies: Do you think they value experience over knowledge of the latest framework/language/way of doing things?

Not to mention that at a large company, they often same-size (fake rounds of downsizing) and use it as an excuse to fire employees for various reasons. They might off-shore to reduce labor costs like IBM, or be doing it for union reasons like Tesla. That happens far more often than the actual downsizing of a large company.

The OP did not request advice on how to remain technically relevant, so I won't offer any here,

Not sure if OP is interested in your advice, but I am sure there are others who would be. Please do share any advice that you can! Specifically for those who don't want to (or can't) get into "management"

I think the short answer here, or the inverse of the answer :), is that you begin to become irrelevant when engineering stops being the thing you like to do. I don't think you can force yourself to remain a valuable engineer if you don't like what you're doing, and conversely if you do like what you're doing it's not at all hard to stay relevant. I know many people who have been doctors, lawyers, architects, civil engineers, etc., for their entire lives and retired with some measure of distinction and the respect of their younger colleagues. Nobody ever thought to ask them why they kept doctoring, architecting and lawyering and did not go into management. Programming and systems engineering were not jumping off points to my management career: this is my profession, and fortunately it's one that doesn't require great physical agility or stamina, so as long as I am able to avoid atrophy of the brain I hope to continue at it for some years yet.

To those who are commenting that they are happily employed at an older age - I'd say, good for you. But for god's sake stop judging those that are less fortunate than you. For example by saying that that are not learning new things. Nearly all older developer are capable and generally are willing to learn new things on a job, is my observation. They may just not be up to learning those 50 new buzzwordy things _before_ they get a job.

I mean the general tone of advice seems to be: learn new things, have a great attitude, be positive, keep trying etc. What's new may I ask?

Learn new things, sure. If you're a company willing to hire someone with aptitude to learn, might as well hire younger only because they're generally much cheaper. To you, and any experienced person I know, I say, jobs and opportunities come from your network - the who you know, not necessarily what you know. People who've worked with you in the past (assuming they liked what you did), are the best source of opportunities. Yes, it may entail doing things you may not like, like networking, coffee, etc, but the ROI is pretty decent compared to talking to recruiters who have no idea what Java8 is and how fast you could pick it up.

And this is the problem with ageism. People in your network age right along with you.

+1 to this. I'm in my fifties. I advance rapidly in the interview process...until the Skype or in-person encounter, when I'm revealed to be twice the age of the "senior" developer talking with me.

I weathered the dot-com bust; it's the current hiring regimen of proving competence in this month's buzzword that will drive me out of technology entirely.

And nothing is more maddening than hearing about a "developer shortage" or complaints about "how hard it is to hire."

Yes, the "developer shortage" is maddening. I've railed at a few recruiters when they come out with this one. Many companies I've come across would rather go without a hire for months than take a chance on anyone less than "senior". Tech hiring is more like a talent show than a real profession.

Another +1 to this! If anyone over 35, or (shiver) over 40 here has had to look for a job in tech after a period of unemployment due to this "culture fit" nonsense and faux downsizing, they would know that applying to and preparing for engineering interviews these days is a full time, olympic-level sporting event requiring generous reserves of money, perfect physical health and time. One doesn't doubt one's skill at white boarding, but getting invited to the on-site is the real trick after someone sees your face in a visual tech hangout that you nail to the wall with your updated skills and well-honed coding ability (showing a few smile lines). One can't keep in shape for these increasingly grueling, multiple white boarding inquisitions, apply to every opportunity one qualifies for, make side projects for zero pay, and learn every new technology that comes out while still having time and energy to eat and sleep and remain a sane human without the help of a cleaning staff (a parent?) or a private investor (another parent?). And think of those who are well-trained and looking for their first job in tech having come from another technical skill-valuing industry (higher education, the arts, the law, medicine) in which they have already distinguished themselves? The jobs in these fields are drying up, so people are leaving these sectors and taking that athletic step to reeducate themselves. These are not lazy oldsters, but brave folks who believe they can learn anything new and double-prove they can only to be turned away because of their age.

Then there is this "positivity" culture in tech that grinds anyone of any age. It's just that the older you get, the more you begin to recognize it for what it actually is: a method through which to enforce an outwardly happy compliance with an environment that is needlessly grueling and sometimes even abusive. It is designed to bully you into submission with conditions that are unhealthy. "If you can't remain positive, well, then you are out!" is the loud-and-clear on that one.

And when you do get to the on-site, you may be met with (as I have and few others I've known have and some on HN have mentioned) a junior interviewer who isn't prepared to understand that they don't understand the problem maybe or its optimal solution, and that they are making a coding error, not matter how generously/graciously you put it. And then you have to allow them to come back to you and apologize for their error (which is fine- everyone is always learning, and no one has to be perfect!) after which they proceed to not hire you and hire a younger, less experienced programmer for the job. So yeah, ageism.

+1 to both your well articulated comments.

Some of what I'm seeing isn't "try harder" but "look elsewhere." Youth may be prized at start-ups and white-hot companies like Google. But most computer jobs are at companies that aren't about computers: banks, hospitals, schools, etc.

There is no shortage of gray-haired people at my job. My sysadmin just retired. This was a sad day for me, which brings me to my other point: it's dumb to prefer youth over experience among programmers.

Programming is a design job, not grunt work, as Martin Fowler said (https://www.martinfowler.com/articles/newMethodology.html#Se...). Designers get better with age. Would you rather have Frank Lloyd Wright in his 20s or 60s?

This is the key point, "Would you rather have Frank Lloyd Wright in his 20s or 60s?". They aren't looking for designers/artists/masters. This is the big reveal you have hit upon. If they were, age would not matter or might even be prized. It isn't about skill or style or mastery or speed or experience-- it is about something else.

>Some of what I'm seeing isn't "try harder" but "look elsewhere."

Fair enough. But where?

>There is no shortage of gray-haired people at my job. My sysadmin just retired. This was a sad day for me, which brings me to my other point: it's dumb to prefer youth over experience among programmers.

List your company here. It might help somebody.

Yes, please do.

Maybe it would be best if you update your CV, LinkedIn, and StackOverflow page and turn on "not actively looking but interested in jobs" options. Not just "in case" but also to boost your own morale. There is only going to be more work to be done in the IT world, not less, and even if you aren't a Google-level employee, there are still thousands of jobs. I'm thinking you might be american since there seems to be a lot of 'oh no if I have no job I will die'-level of feelings in your post, so maybe (not for jobs) look at other countries how no-longer-inexperienced people look at job prospects. It might give you a refreshing perspective.

When you're losing sleep at night wondering how you're going to pay the bills and feed your family I don't think nationality comes into it.

It actually does. In many western countries there are systems in place to ensure you have a place to live and food for your family. I think the USA is one of the few modern western countries left that just puts people out on the street when they are incapable of providing for themselves.

I’m still in my twenties (barely) and confident enough to say that I’m not mediocre at a couple skills at least. I have worked in several jobs both supporting “legacy” business needs, and at a couple startups. Two things:

First, I think you’re being unreasonably pessimistic. I know programmers who just got started learning the craft in their forties, without any special aptitude for the work, and they’re doing fine. If I wasn’t hand-crafting custom stacks for my work now, and had less ability to do so, there would still be an enormous demand for just stitching together functional services for the rest of my career. Probably a lot of Microsoft tech would be involved, and this work is stigmatized as “boring” a bit too often, but ASP.NET and related tools are pretty solid these days and you can add enormous value to organizations in many industries just by integrating this kind of infrastructure with their existing processes.

Second, I like the idea of branching out and finding new projects, but why abandon the computer side of it? This century will continue to see amazing new ways of doing business that were never possible before. Commodification of computing continues and shows no sign of stopping in my lifetime. Why not learn a new domain and then bring what you already know about technology together with that knowledge? That is as close to a guaranteed recipe for success as anything I’ve ever heard of.

I get the impression that he may not have the academic background. Back when the web was mostly new to businesses and something a lot of seasoned programmers weren't willing to give up their cushy jobs as enterprise developers to do, it attracted a lot of people without the CS degrees. The problem I think is that most of those folks are finding it more difficult now to find similar jobs because the people entering the work force to be web developers already have the degrees and web development is what young people with the CS degrees want to get into now. So the bar is naturally higher because of that.

It's unfortunate to think probably an entire generation in their 30's were finding work easily without a ton of experience, so the market never reinforced the fact that they didn't know enough about what they were doing and were going to start having trouble finding work because of it in their 40's.

The transition from monolithic CRUD apps to SPA + CRUD API isn't that drastic so I don't see how last decade's monolithic CRUD app developers are now somehow obsolete.

As someone also in my 40s I can relate to this tendency. I am not an amazing developer by any standard and I tend to under value my skillset. Ive seen people who are 10x engineers and I can say for certain that I am not that. I do think, however that there are niches and bits and pieces of info that I understand well and the average or even above average engineer may not know these things. I recently had an experience at a client site where they had a pretty complex, very fragile system that was built over the course of decades and they had entrenched developers that understood it well. I struggled to catch up and made a few errors that looked bad at the surface, but honestly were not something that is unexpected when you have a fragile system with tons of dependencies. That said it shook my confidence quite a bit and made me re-evaluate where I was in my abilities. I wondered if I was "done" programming or that I was going to end up in a bunch of less well paying jobs and be marginalized. Then I went somewhere else where I had some success, and it made me realize, it wasn't me, it was them. I wasnt a fit there, and that is ok. It sounds to me that you may need to evaluate what your strengths are and see if you can find something closer to those strengths. Software is a very broad subject. There are a million ways to code and build applications. There will always be some place that needs your skillset, and it may not seem glamorous or fantastic, but you may actually be happy at the right shop. That said I would be happy to discuss what you know/want to do and exchange ideas. Email is in my profile...

Not only that, but an experienced programmer can be valuable in relatively coding-light roles that they may even enjoy doing more than the 25 year old rockstar working 70 hour weeks.

This is a great point.

Trying to start a company that's focused on hiring older engineers is just as ageist as starting one focused on hiring younger engineers.

I was a top engineer for 25-30 years everywhere I worked. In my 50's I clearly encountered significant age discrimination in interviewing. From sitting and pairing on teams where everyone is half my age and being told the team didn't think I'd 'fit in' to interviewing at companies started by 20-somethings where literally 90% of the entire company of 100 people were all under 35.

Age discrimination in engineering is real. Maybe not everyone has seen it because they haven't interviewed at companies where it exists, but there are many companies where it exists - especially smaller companies with highly homogenous employee bases.

My recommendation? Continue learning and stay on the cutting edge, make sure you keep up with current interview strategies (like knowing your algorithms and data structures cold), and continuing to work hard. You'll encounter discrimination at more and more companies, but you'll find some where your skills will keep you employed.

Software development is becoming the new blue collar job. Unlike most here, I 100% agree with you. For the guys here, who make their own 'stacks' and offer Windows support: maybe it will work in emerging markets, but be certain that it won't work for long in a world that has AWS, Shopify, Themeforest:) Also, I don't know if you can get by supporting a family with those skills (at least by working less than 10 hours/day).

Like you said, we know our craft good enough to know that we're not smart enough to be of interest for Google:) Maybe we're suffering a bit from the Dunning–Kruger effect, but still, the future is grim and it will take everyone by surprise. The next tech breakthrough won't take decades, but months and then you'll be obsolete. I don't think there's a point in investing to learn Quantum computing or AI, if u're not smart enough to understand.

That being said, under qualification never stopped anyone from deploying WP sites or otherwise really, really insecure PHP sites.. so...

> I don't think there's a point in investing to learn Quantum computing or AI, if u're not smart enough to understand

99% of the people employed doing AI work in the technology field broadly, will not be creating or directly working with difficult-to-understand AI tech. They'll be using tools that work with that tech. Many layers that ride on top, each with their own tools, will be created as AI gets more and more complex. It will ultimately employ a vast number of average engineers.

> It will ultimately employ a vast number of average engineers.

Just what I said: it will become the next blue collar job, but you're right, there always be enough tools for average engineers. I'm still not convinced if a new company would hire a 50 year old instead of a 25 year old 'average engineer'... though, I would... more experience beats more technical knowledge (for the latest buzz worthy framework/language) in my book, but maybe that's just me?

I am less than 2 percent from 60. and i have been feeling ageism for 15 years. CS degree, 25 years continuous employment with increasing responsibilities and adapted to new technologies. Suddenly I was a pariah at 44. To "experienced" , you will be bored, the boss thinks you will leave to exec level salary (said in hushed whisper by my inside contact), were some excuses.

The head hunter with the exec level salary job never contacted me.

  Got a second degree in accounting and found work but under employed compared to what I did before. 
Some of my contemporaries managed to stay employed continuously but most have periods of unemployment , job stagnation or retrenchment.

I have no way to know if my personal sample of job (or not) match the industry but if it does then ageism may be a factor.

After recruiting for 20 years on the US east coast and now a few years as a resume writer that also coaches hundreds of software engineers on career topics, I don't think your future is nearly as grim as you seem to think.

Ageism is definitely real, but in many cases it's simply relevancy or something else that is misdiagnosed as ageism.

Let's look at an example.

We have a developer in his early 40s who graduated college and went to work for an insurance company developing some accounting system in whatever language was popular at the time, and maybe in the 90s they converted that system to Java or .NET. This developer has been mostly maintaining this system and maybe building some other software for the company, but the job hasn't changed much. Also, this developer doesn't pay much attention to trends outside the industry - gets his entire tech 'diet' from work only.

Insurance company lays him off and he needs to find a new job. Nobody will touch him - or at least not the companies he wants to work for - and he thinks it's because he's "old" when in fact it's something else.

Some people judge him because he never left for more 'glamorous' work, or they wonder why he was never poached by another company. Today it's almost a given that devs move around much more frequently than they did 20 years ago. Not one of his former co-workers that left the company could lure him to join their firm?

Some judge him because he never picked up any new languages and knows nothing of the newer trends in development. I'm not saying this is a good thing, but if your tech diet at work isn't marketable it's your responsibility to keep your skills in demand.

Some judge him because he never got bored with his work, or at least never enough to leave. Anyone who was content doing the same thing for that long must not have much interest in learning.

Maybe his tenure at big insurance means he got a lot of raises and earned tons of PTO, and other companies can't match his comp. He's paid above market for his skill set.

Sometimes it is age itself that is probably at play, but I know plenty of 40-60 year old devs that never have a problem finding work. I can say none of them have stayed in one place for too long. That's the main trend I've noticed with successful older devs.

As someone who was in their late 40s when the dotcom bust started biting in 2001/2002 I have been down this road. I initially gave in to mid life crisis mode trying to switch to running my own business instead of working as a programmer. It was fun for a while but almost always ran just a few steps above the brink of disaster. Eventually I picked a new technology to learn and become expert in (ExtJS in my case) that got me first contract then full time employment around 2007. I'm never going to work for Google either, but there are still plenty of lower rungs on the programming ladder.

I'm not looking for software related ideas.

I am fifty-wonderful and hope my programming is just as mediocre if not more mundane than yours. Thank you. I think it is compliment to be mediocre because there are fewer surprises with mediocre -- it may surprise you. Putting aside my overly individualist and reclusive tendencies, we have ideas.

I don't know what we are looking for, but it probably isn't another job. Sharing ideas in a safe space with fellow programmers sounds like a good place to start.

There is a solution for this and it's Early Retirement Extreme. But it's not what you think. Ignore the "Retirement" word and think "Financial Independence" and ERE is a way to get there. The whole idea is you live well below your means and save like crazy. As much as you can percentage-wise. Eventually, you will have saved enough to be able to live off of your savings by at the safe withdrawal rate of 2.5-4% (depending on your conservative/optimistic bent).

The funny thing is the more you save, the better you become at living on less and therefore the less you need to be financially independent. There are all kinds of facets to it so go google.

It does require effort but in our industry, you can do it. Also there are loads of software dev jobs for older people in the midwest.

I'm doing ERE though so I can be financially independent enough to work on my own businesses (I'm bootstrapping one as a side project, already profitable but only 1/40 of way to replacing full time income). Partly due to fear of agism but also due to being sick of the VC startup world and working for big companies. A life of fear gets old. Why not take it by the reigns and exert some control?

I'm assuming you don't have mouths to feed or a wife with average female "requirements"?

I have a wife and a couple of kids. I'm maxing out the 401k and two Roth IRAs (one for me, one for wife) and saving $3k/month on top of that in post-tax.

I did relocate from the SF Bay Area to a more affordable place to live. That helped make it easier to save more. But even in the SF Bay Area it was possible to save. But it got harder with a family.

I did get lucky and married a spouse that does tend towards the frugal/less materialistic side. I do think a lot of people are open to change though if you can, over time, align your goals and try to show the big picture.

But to get back to the main point -- the thread poster feels like their back is up against the wall. I agree with the other posters that it isn't quite as dire as the picture painted. But I also agree it's good to hedge against it and if that is important, some sacrifices seem like a small price to pay to not be destitute.

Would you clarify, I am having trouble understanding what potential you're picturing via collaboration and cooperation but excluding software ideas?

Let me explain, since most of us are software developers, we would be inclined ( naturally) to do software projects. But in my opinion software is a relatively hit or miss - yes people do make it big, but many also fail. When it comes to software projects you are competing with smart people. Compare that to say farming, it is much less of a hit and miss, or so it appears to me.

Now I'm not entirely averse to software projects either and there could be a sweet spot - for example maintenance of legacy systems. But the point I was trying to make is that one must be willing to look outside of the software world.

So you’re looking for a group of software people to join together to form a farming commune and escape the oppression of smarter software people?

I think most people in this field respect someone with a strong foundation and accomplishments.

I think a strong kick that you might need would be to take interviews with firms in SF or NY. When I first started doing that I realized quickly just how little I could recite by rote that I should've been able to. The questions IMO are not difficult, but they dig deep into your fundamental understanding of programming.

In other words the questions don't require you to be a genius. They just reinforce just how high the standards are in these cities and set an appropriate bar for people who want to be programmers. Those things that are easy for you to lookup on MDN or your programming language's website? Your goal should be to become so familiar with those concepts and fundamental APIs / function calls that you no longer need to reference them each time you need to use them.

Could you provide examples "concepts and fundamental APIs / function calls" that you had to "recite by rote"?

There are things worth learning by heart, but there are also things better left in the manuals (esp. if the docs are searchable like most are nowadays).

Being asked about the former is usually a sign of a good employer and/or competent interviewer. Being asked about some obscure corner case in a function you only used twice in the last decade, on the other hand, is often a sign of the opposite.

Without a couple of examples, it's hard to say which kind of questions you were asked.

A great example would be to explain differences between bind, call, and apply in JS. Especially when talking about the difference between call and apply you might want to be familiar with the function signatures of each. Object.create. requestAnimationFrame. Promises. Knowing ES6 syntax vs traditional prototypal inheritance in JS.

Can't be said enough, you absolutely must understand scope in JS without the need to reference docs.

Another example, I once had to do a coding challenge in front of a camera recording my coding session where having intimate familiarity with sort, filter, map, etc was useful.

That's not the only language I've dealt with in interviews, but statistically probably the language you could associate w/ most readily.

Finally I'll mention that it's no joke these days when you're interviewing as a developer w/ experience in one of the modern JS frameworks. Especially in places like SF and NY. If you don't have experience in at least one you should start now. If you have "experience" but have never felt the need to dig a little deeper now would be a great time to do so.

>If you have "experience" but have never felt the need to dig a little deeper now would be a great time to do so.

Talk about getting priorities wrong!

How deep does one dig in? How long? Is it time well spent? With software it can be a rabbit hole and it is prudent only to dig deep enough to get the work done reasonably well. One can certainly debate how 'resonable' one should be, but that's besides the point.

Now if I were to dig in 'deep' into the chemical contaminants of the water or food that I drink - that in my opinion is time well spent, and takes enormous priority over digging up the innards of JS( one could go right up to the level of what's happening at the CPU level when a line of code executes.). JS - my foot!

Sorry to take a dig at you, but if indeed your priorities are digging deep into the things that matter - like the water you drink then I will take back my words and apologize.

> That's not the only language I've dealt with in interviews, but statistically probably the language you could associate w/ most readily.

I have been programming for two decades now and personally, I'm a PL nerd and a fan of polyglot programming, with more than a hundred languages surveyed, a few tens of languages known, and a dozen or so languages used in production. I have a blog (see my profile) on the topic and everything... In other words, you don't need to hold back if you have some more interesting examples just because they're in a "not in the first five on TIOBE" language :-)

> explain differences between bind, call, and apply in JS

You weren't joking saying the questions were about fundamentals. This is an incredibly basic knowledge to be asking about. I last touched JS probably more than 4 years ago, yet I have no trouble explaining this. How could any active JS developer not know this? Or are we talking about very junior positions?

> you might want to be familiar with the function signatures

Why should I bother? I know that one of the functions takes a list of values as a single argument and the other takes any number of arguments, just like they do in many other languages which have them both (for example Erlang has apply, but it doesn't have call, because it doesn't support variable arity functions). Let's assume for a moment that I don't remember which is which, and also don't remember the order of other args (obj first and arglist second or the opposite), and also don't remember if they are methods or standalone functions.

I can check all of these in 10 s on the web, but my editor displays a function signature while typing, so, in practice, it makes no difference if I remember this or not. In other words: why should I spam my memory with useless trivia? There are more interesting things to remember!

> Knowing ES6 syntax vs traditional prototypal inheritance in JS.

Again, the prototype inheritance is a fundamental property of JS. I have a side-project in Io lang and I know Lua quite well, not to mention I debugged more than enough CoffeeScript back when source maps weren't universally supported, so I believe I have a good grasp of prototypal inheritance.

The exact class declaration syntax, on the other hand, is just a tiny bit of info that I can check in 30 seconds.

> If you have "experience" but have never felt the need to dig a little deeper

Then you should change the occupation to something else than programming. If you don't have the curiosity to dig deeper, you most probably don't have a desire to learn and improve, which, in the industry where you need to run as fast as you can just to remain where you are, makes you a liability for any team you'd join.

I'm really not trying to make this about me. Just trying to help with some tips for someone who self-describes as being a "mediocre" programmer.

I am in my forties but I have a less bleak outlook; I feel I am only starting out in my career. I think I understand enough (and that's very little; our field is extremely complex) of software creation and people in general to scale up my influence. I also see companies and people struggle with the creation of software enough to know that we need more 'senior' people and not less.

You mention Google; why would you want to work there? There are millions of companies around the world that need programmers acutely and the larger ones of those need architects/experienced software engineers. That many of them cannot fill positions so settle for less because they have to.

I'm not sure, besides some FUD online, where you get your depressing future life outlook from? I am asking because I did read some articles about this online, but seems that you hear it everywhere...

> There are millions of companies around the world that need programmers acutely and the larger ones of those need architects/experienced software engineers

List them please.

Wants to hash out ideas for cooperation, but cooperation on what? There can be no co-operation without operation, which requires an opus or operand upon which to operate, ideally in your preferred modus operandi.

What I'm saying is, "cooperation" and all those words above contain the word work. The work defines the team, not the other way around. The work, essentially, does you. (And I'm not even in Soviet Russia.)

It's confusing that this is posted on HN where the default topic/theme is software, yet there is a fairly emphatic rejection of "software-related ideas." That leaves only one indication as to what the work is, namely that the people doing it should be "technical."

You're afraid of unemployment and loss of status, that's clear. Having met the ass-end of unemployment, eviction, arrest and jail myself, I'm not so worried about that. Some courage is called-for. Who knows, you might even find that unemployment turns out to be a blessing, and that it enables you to give up this shitty idea (about which I'm not supposed to make any mistake) that your status as a man depends on it. Oh I've made no mistake friend. Society is harsh on everybody in case you haven't noticed. Therefore "society" is probably a shitty place to look for messages about your worth.

Continuing. "Programmers" (psychologist recognizes this as projection, i.e. you yourself) could accomplish a lot by not being reclusive. That might be true, but it would inherently be accomplishment in a related but separate realm. I won't say it's like trying to milk a bull, because many people have both things in their nature. But I will say there are only finite hours in the day, and "technical" people need to think at some point, and by definition can't spend those thinking hours doing the social ramble, and vice versa. What are you interested in doing? Again the question comes back to, what is the work?

>What I'm saying is, "cooperation" and all those words above contain the word work.

Your observations are fair enough, if I understood you correctly. So there is indeed some kind of work involved. The work of talking, discussing, negotiating, risking some effort/money (not a lot though, that is a recipe for failure). In short start small, and then move on to bigger ventures.

I'm just saying it's very hard to proceed without some idea of what the work is, i.e. the task, the goal, the central thing you'll try to accomplish. It seems you're trying to build the team without knowing that yet, whereas I'm saying you might have to know it in order to build the team. Obviously it's a chicken-and-egg problem, and I also could be wrong, or even if right, it's not the only possible truth. But at the very least I can say that in my experience, once you know where you're headed, the team almost seems to build itself.

On the other hand throwing a team together and collaboratively seeing where it wants to go, can work too... so long as no one involved hangs onto any of their preconceived notions and can get behind the group's new common direction. And hey, deciding that (i.e. the direction) can be more of an exploratory/creative thing, which as you say, also involves some work, but can also be fun. Here's hoping you do find some fun in it, like it's a rebirth process rather than something with a crisis-avoidance flavor, which is the effect of thinking about age discrimination and poverty and the like! Anyway good luck!

I work in managed content. I develop AMS and CMS and intranet portals for companies that do web publishing. My specialties are workflows and middleware connectors (for fulfillment, payment processing, LDAP, etc.). I used to be a bare metal frontend Javascript wizard, in the days when people used terms like DHTML and then AJAX.

I've been doing this for the better part of twenty years, so the writing is on the wall for me. It will soon be cheaper to hire 2-3 recent CS grads, with their lack of personal responsibilities, ability to work long nights, and affinity for the latest fad technologies (of which I am increasingly wary), than it is to hire me.

But I am not spectacularly skilled, merely competent. My primary usefulness is in feature solicitation and requirements gathering, as I have the weight of experience when it comes to determining what should be focused on, and I know what works and what doesn't, from years of working on various iterations of sites in different business domains.

As I said, the writing is on the wall. I have no desire to manage anyone. I paid my dues and went freelance, just before things got unfavorable, with respect to U.S. health and professional insurance. I don't really have an entrepreneurial spirit except in as much as I would like to work on important (not the same as "hard") problems with amenable people. I am no longer able to just find a client or employer where the people are smarter, because I am nearly a graybeard. I have sowed my wild oats, and my "I am the CEO / principal consultant / technical founder" days are about a decade behind me.

I don't know what to do next. I just don't think I have more than another 7-10 years doing what I do. The President is essentially calling my domestic clients Lügenpresse. No one seems to care about words printed on paper or eInk, or anything on a screen that is longer than this post. The need for complicated features such as a wiki or extensive document management and versioning are going away, as the clientele become more technical and barely need anything beyond a git repo and markdown at the highest level. I feel myself becoming obsolete, and I am ready for the next thing.

I found some openminded people on rizon (irc) and especially on #/g/sicp .

I tend to escape from places where people are harsh.

I proposed an idea this afternoon on the chan. Some peoples had interesting proposals and I filled a paper with the insights.

It's a screencasting tool: https://github.com/mabynogy/screencast/blob/master/screencas...

Feel free to reach us. Everybody is welcome.

Have you considered looking for remote work?

I think remote jobs are a lot less fussy about age:


I suppose ageism is indeed a thing, but I don't it's specific to the inudstries people from HN work in. I'd love to see some numbers to back up claims about ageism in the tech industry. I wouldn't be surprised to see ageism be less a thing in tech than in other industries.

If your willing to move and work for cheap it's easy to find work post 40. IMO, the goal should be to minimize expenses and eliminate debt so you get flexibility. The added bonus is it makes the required nest egg for retirement vastly easier to obtain.

Please, I hope no one reads your comment and becomes discouraged by it, because it is absolute bollocks.

You have value past 40 and can continue to advance in your career. Take heart and don't listen to anyone that tells you to sell yourself short.

Don't take this the wrong way, a high salary is a good goal but not always an option. I know several people that had very long stretches of unemployment which did great harm to their finances and career. The core problem is your skills may not always be with what you made at your last job.

That does not mean you should avoid getting paid what your worth, just recognize some times a lower salary now can be very much worth it if you bridge from low demand but high pay skill X to the next high paying skill set.

A "race to/for the bottom" is an situation with spiraling deteriorating standards, framed, by a cynical observer, as competition in which worse wins. That is not an inevitable result of the focused thinking in technical work. Maybe sometimes.

My personal experience is that there is a huge need for competent experienced developers who know what they're doing. I would love to work with people who have been through stuff and instinctively know how to seperate the buzz words from the real deal.

Just remember that the top languages in the tech industry are all 20+ years old - Java, C, C++, Python, PHP, Ruby. That means there's probably more legacy code work than new startup work.

I can't believe you'll be unemployed. I'm pushing 40 and have recruiters calling me weekly and dont have Google tier experience. You sound depressed tbh this kind of feels negative..

Recruiters contacting you means nothing. Anyone who has put out their resumes on linkedin, job websites etc. will have recruiter spam. See if you can translate any of those into a better paid job than what you currently hold.

No. I assume you have never put a resume on linkedin with experience in a field that isn't in demand. In my previous career, while I was employed, i had zero messages from recruiters.

I've had multiple job offers all over the country and I only have a couple years of experience in web dev and a cs degree. Very generic credentials.

Exactly right, I created a linkedin profile with only one job experience with "devops programmer" in job title. I get tons of "recruiters calling me left and right" .

I've followed thru with recruiters and had multiple job offers and I have very generic credentials.

Agreed. I'm 47 and I get hit up every week for good positions. Today I make more than I ever have. When I was 27 I was working at a Big Corp that laid off a good portion of their 60+ year old COBOL programmers. The devs that couldn't retire were all snapped up by other companies as pretty highly paid contractors. The Valley isn't the whole industry. Ageism is a thing for sure, but I think it's much less prevalent outside of startups and will not keep you from earning a living after 40 or 50 or even 60.

I'm interested in hearing your suggestions for OP. What can he do for his situation? What about others who may have similar concerns?

Apply even if you think you're not qualified. Let them make the decision not you. You'd be surprised the inconsistency alot places have between the job posting and what they'll settle for,esp if you're passionate and willing to learn.

They may even create a new Junior developer position for you until you learn what you need to.

Tech talent is SO tight that alot of places will hire someone with passion and train them up.

If you get an interview sell them with your passion and excitement to learn. Maybe give yourself a week before the interview and research their tech stack and do a little project.

If they give you a tech assignment that you can do from home...just crush it. Dockerize it, make a fully functioning app out of it.etc etc. Make it wayyyy past their expectations.

Even if you don't get the position you have a project to add to your GitHub.

That's my best advice. Apply even if you're underqualified. And show extreme passion for the company and tech stack.

Also apply to tons and tons of jobs. Your new job if you're unemployed..is applying to jobs. Apply 8 hours a day using every resource you can. Be willing to move anywhere. It may take a month or two but you'll get a position. The US economy is trillions of dollars. The number of tech companies and business that use tech is in the hundreds of thousands. You're chances are way better than you realize.

> Apply even if you think you're not qualified. Let them make the decision not you.

Semi-recently I've come to this point of view. "Why say 'no' for them against yourself?" type of thinking.

To me age-ism is a concept wrapped in fear, uncertainty and doubt. The market rewards value and exponentially so for those who leverage their position and are willing to adapt.

Are new guys really more fit ? or just passionated and foolish ?

I think as long as you have a relevant skill that's in high demand, you'll be employable.

Easier said than done.

I think as long as you have relevant skills that are in high demand, you'll be employable.

Not entirely, I’ve seen companies in my city sit on open recs for a year waiting for a unicorn and/or culture fit. For example I have 20 years of experience doing the things Hulu has been advertising for a year but my resume gets denied on submission.

In that case I have a feeling it is more degree-ism than ageism, but hard to say for sure. Demand is apparently not enough.

at 62 not aging at all but seems if I don't start it myself a hired job in U.S. not appealing if would happen and never made money that mattered working for someone else so self start or bust

I'm interested to hear what you have in mind!

In the same boat but in my late twenties...

You are depressed.

While I won't offer firm action steps, the main thing you should working on right now is your own mental health.

I'm also getting up there in years (approaching 30 years of experience since I started programming when I was 12). It hit me the other day that since technology cycles last about 3 years, then I've seen 10 of them. Here, let's list them:


* Programming for small business with HyperCard

* Programming flowcharts in Visual Interactive Programming


* Programming in C/C++

* Programming in assembly language

* Programming in Scheme (Lisp)


* Programming in the shell

* Programming in PHP/MySQL

* Programming in Javascript

* Programming in Swift/Objective-C/Java

* Programming in MATLAB/Octave


* Wanting to program in Elixer/Clojure/F# etc

I could probably write a book on most of these. The last one is nebulous because functional programming languages tend to drop all the contextual familiarity of mainstream languages on the ground and force us to start over. I think that's why they haven't caught on yet.

So I'm in mourning about that, but also that cargo culting has gotten so big. I spend the majority of my time now working around the inherent flaws of whichever paradigm I'm using. So that might be reconstructing the call stack knee-deep in callback hell or learning the entirety of a framework in order to extend the one piece of functionality that it should have had to begin with. It wears on you.

If it takes 10 years to master something, then what's one to do after 20? 30? History begins to repeat itself and it's not fun the second time around. For example the rush to static types is sounding alarm bells but people don't know how bad it can get because they haven't been 10 levels down in template hell.

You sound depressed, but that's ok because depression is inevitable if we apply our problem solving skills to daily life. The real world is not a computer, it doesn't require that level of prognostication. Trying to create a life free of mistakes causes us to relive them over and over again, until all we remember is how we've failed.

Most of the anxiety felt by older programmers comes from the market takeover of computer science. Reading survivor bias articles all day gets more taxing the longer your ship hasn't come in yet. There should be a viable alternative like the undying lands of academia where older programmers can congregate and make the world a better place. But that's been under attack too and we would likely find the same sweatshops there. We're long overdue for a programmer's guild that funds open source projects whose unicorns make more than enough money to go around for everyone. An alternative to capital as a buy-in. I imagine a future where we earn a stipend to write languages and frameworks that don't suck, rather than toiling all the days of our lives away chasing money that never makes up for the lost time. That's what I would work towards, ideally.

I shouldn't have written all this but it's Sunday so what the heck. I definitely hear you. Email sent!

I was thinking exactly along the same lines. Something like http://assemblymade.com/ but without any investor backing. Basically a community of open source developers that gains a share on any future revenue generated by the code developed by them.

I've been suffering similar existential career dread recently. I'm 41 and it seems like the demands on me as a geo dev are getting ridiculous i.e. you must be a full stack developer in several stacks, know Windows and Linux, be an expert in Esri AND open source GIS and preferably have an earth-shattering Github profile and be able to consult, do marketing, etc. etc., and all for a salary that is probably 1/2 to 1/3 what someone would make at e.g. Google. And yet it's been hinted that my employer considers me expensive and apparently thinks they can replace us pricey oldsters with cheap grads >:(

Hoping to switch into a pure .NET role soon and leave the madness of being asked to work in a different framework month by month behind. That said I think the idea of working together on something altogether different from tech sounds interesting.

>and preferably have an earth-shattering Github profile and be able to consult.

As someone who is currently hiring programmer (onsite in Mexico mind you... that people don't get to excited), I loathe this trend of looking at someones public Github profile (I've seen it happen a lot in the industry).

So, what do you mean I am not elegible because I have been working in proprietary projects for 20 years for my different employees, giving 110% of my time (literally 100% of paid + the unpaid extra hours) and haven't dropped all the proprietary code in my public GitHub account.

that . I write code to get paid, I expect people that works for me to write good code to get good pay and to check that code into the company repos. If they do some open source coding outside job, good for them, but that does not represent what they have been doing during working hours.


Are you a markov chain?

Interesting bot account. I wonder how many people actively grow HN accounts, building enough karma to promote various agendas

> Interesting bot account.

Looking at their comments I really only see a lack of punctuation. Here's how I read the comment you're responding to:

> "Start a males-over-40 political party. Leverage computer knowledge to bring majority non-voters to vote—[as a] non-profit start up. Stop describing self a mediocre. That's real loser material."

Not so out of line for some HN comments. What tells indicate that it's a bot to you?

start males over 40 political party

There's a few of those already.

doesn't matter

total change best start now

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