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Ask HN: What careers outside technology as I get older?
51 points by hguhghuff 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments
I’m wondering if maybe I should leave the technology industry and do something else.

Older people I think find it harder to keep a dependable career and I’m not sure I want to continue in technology anyway.

But what else to do? I can’t imagine anything else that might be an effective way to make a living.

Any ideas?






Depending on what stage you are in life you could be a lot like me. I'm slowly but surely losing faith in a lot of things that I took for granted. I'm a computer security enthusiast and it really is depressing sometimes the direction things are going. So...I have deleted most of my online accounts and starting to work on being more independent. I lost my internet connection for two weekends in a row and it was a little surprising how much it effected how I live at home. Yes I could used my cell phone for the essentials like email but for everything else everything I had set up was useless. I would recommend trying to get a physical hobby where you could create something physical. It could be carpentry, blacksmithing, hunting/ fishing, etc. The point would be to get away from tech industry for short periods of time. I think the reason a lot of older people find it harder to keep a dependable career is because their values start to change. When you are young you are willing to burn the candle at both ends to build a career and get established. When you are older you sometimes don't want to spend your entire waking day working to keep up with the Jones' or maintaining your career.

Can I ask what you're losing faith in? I've just joined the infosec workforce but it's been a hobby of mine for awhile(22 y/o). I've already become jaded and bitter at this industry. I just see the industry being pillaged by profiteers at a detriment to the health of the industry.

I'm not the person you're replying to, but I'm 41 and understand the notion of losing faith in the security world. I'm not losing faith with the profiteers because, if I look back at my career with open, honest eyes, I can see points where I was a profiteer and a detriment to the industry as a whole.

Instead, I'm losing faith because it seems like the attacks keep getting more sophisticated, yet it's getting harder to operate as a white hat. I can't count how many times in the last year that I have suggested that researchers be incredibly careful about how they report bugs or if they should even report at all. Nor can I can count how many stories I've heard where white hats submit really juicy bugs, only to be screwed over on bounties, threatened with prosecution under the CFAA, or otherwise maligned.

I can't believe that I can truthfully say this, but I feel like we have reached a point where being a white hat is too much trouble for too few potential rewards.


To quote a tweet from Brian Krebs, "Being in infosec for so long takes its toll. I've come to the conclusion that if you give a data point to a company, they will eventually sell it, leak it, lose it or get hacked and relieved of it. There really don't seem to be any exceptions, and it gets depressing." [1]

Sometimes I feel like to only way to win is to not play the game. I believe that is another quote from the movie Wargames.

[1] https://twitter.com/briankrebs/status/1045091640480804864


Or perhaps we can change the rules of the game? It's noteworthy that he doesn't consider the possibility that a company delete/destroy the data.

As it stands now, its a no-brainer for companies to save as much information as they can about a person because there's almost no down side. The risk of a data breach to the individual(s) far exceeds the risk of a breach to the corporation. The incentives are massively misaligned. I'm cautiously optimistic that GDPR (with all of it's many flaws) could mark the beginning of slow a transition from corporate data hoarding to minimalism. You heard it here first: Corporate KonMari Consultant will be the trendy Gen Z career.


I doubt that Brian Krebs hasn't considered that. He works in information security and I would assume he is not on any corporate boards.

I would however agree that even though I am not normally in favor a regulations this would be a good place to have something similar to the GDPR. There should be a balance between data being an asset vs. a liability. Right now it is only viewed as an asset so there isn't enough emphasis on security.


Apologies for the confusion. I simply meant that particular quote hadn't contemplated destruction. And with good reason, there's virtually no incentive for businesses to destroy data they collect. I'm certain he has given quite a lot of thought to data destruction as it relates to data security. I was trying to point out that it was conspicuously absent in his tweet.

My problem with security is that attacks get more and more advanced but users are just as clueless as ever, so we’re headed towards doom.

I think it would be more accurate to say that users are fatigued and worn out. Password fatigue is a thing. The updated password guidelines from NIST are a good start.

Or the users are negligent rather than clueless. Look at the DNC hacks of Podesta.


Password fatigue is easily mitigated by password managers. The issue is that users are too stupid and don't care to spend the time/money to do things the right way, and instead keep on reusing the same password everywhere.

No, claiming password managers will solve everything is rather clueless.

Password manager don't work across multiple systems. How am I supposed to log into some website from my work computer when the password is on the password manager on my home computer? Or what about my cellphone? (And no, my IT department would not allow me to install a password manager that syncs.)

In a typical workday, I use 4 different computers, plus several VMs and other work accounts, all with their own passwords. Password managers aren't possible on my work computers and VMs. I reuse passwords as much possible.


> When you are older you sometimes don't want to spend your entire waking day working to keep up with the Jones' or maintaining your career.

And that is IMO the main reason for agism in our industry. Software jobs are incredibly demanding and draining in the long term, people (let's say) after 40 know that very well and, from what I've seen, they're often looking for a job that will let them coast at least a little bit. Also, they are already at the max of their earnings, so they have little reason to try harder. At the same time, people in their twenties are working super-hard to prove themselves and get the promotions that will get them into the top salary bracket. If I were running a business, I'd sure choose younger people over older ones.

What can people over 40 do? The best strategy is to show that you're not just interested in coasting - either learn the newest technologies, do some opensource etc. Anything to show that you're not burned out yet.


I agree. It may not be a perfect example but look at professional sports. Even boxing or MMA. A young fighter is hungry and doing everything they can to be on top. The older experienced fighter can fight just as hard but they could burn out or get injured. So they have to train and fight smarter and use their experience as an example. At some point the experienced fighter loses their edge and they lose the fight or they decide to retire and hang up their gloves.

The whole ageism thing is overblown.

I’m in my mid 40s and I have a circle of six friends who are still developers and hands on architects. The youngest is 40 and the oldest is in his late 50s. The oldest one is our former manager who hired all of us and self demoted to a developer after his kids graduated.

All of us are able to change jobs like we change shoes depending on how picky we are being.

We don’t live in SV or on the west coast. We live in a major metropolitan area. We all aggressively keep our skills up and are careful to not get left behind the current trends:

- all of us (except for me) are using the latest cool kids front end frameworks.

- we are all developing on top of either AWS or Azure and are actually using the technologies they provide and not just hosting a bunch of VMs.

- we can all do Devops in a pinch.

- all of us are using the latest .Net Core features or Node and most of us are using Docker.

- We are all using a combination of SQL and NoSQL databases.

Etc.

We all have corporate jobs and won’t go near any of the cool kids work 80 hours a week at below market wages with the promise of equity startups. We have grown people bills to pay and want to get home to our families.


>The whole ageism thing is overblown.

Or maybe you were just one of the lucky few.


How is it luck? I didn’t become aggressive about changing jobs and my careeer until I was in my mid 30s. I’ve changed jobs a few times since then.

It's not necessarily luck, you've built a network in an area with opportunity, either on purpose or by accident. That works for both young and old.

The problem is when you have to go in cold and pass a google-style interview just to get considered for any job, even at a greeting card company. The now ubiquitous position where "we only hire the top 1%."

With that much competition, being old puts you at a definite disadvantage. Especially when tech interviews focus on CS trivia rather than engineering design and experience, to the benefit of those fresh out of college.

Not every place is a startup of course, but the cargo-culting of interview "best practices" has spread far and wide as stodgy companies yearn to look cool.


Even after graduating from college over 20 years ago. I purposefully took a job as a computer operator in a larger city where I still live that was way below my skillset and the amount I could have made at in a smaller city closer to home as a junior Dev for the opportunity.

Over a decade later, when I really started taking my career seriously again, I made the same calculation. I had two choices, I could accept an offer that was paying more but using a technology that I didn’t see having a future or taking a job paying only little bit more but was clearly a better long term play technologically. I’m aggressive about keeping up and having a competitive resume.

I respond to every local recruiting company that reaches out to me. I keep them in the loop, I’ve met a few recruiters for lunch and I refer my favorite ones when I know someone is looking. I’ve also done hiring through recruiters.

The problem is when you have to go in cold and pass a google-style interview just to get considered for any job, even at a greeting card company. The now ubiquitous position where "we only hire the top 1%." With that much competition, being old puts you at a definite disadvantage. Especially when tech interviews focus on CS trivia rather than engineering design and experience, benefiting those fresh out of college.

I am still hands on. But, I had to elevate myself above being seen as “just a Developer”. I’ve been asked simple technical questions to determine whether I had basic competence, but all of my interviews over the past few years have been along the lines of “draw out an architecture” or “describe how you would solve these $hairy_problems we are having. I have never been asked a leetCode type question. The closest I’ve gotten was writing a merge sort on the board - I did, got an offer but I was so turned off by the entire process that I took another job instead.


Yes, you made some decisions that turned out to be good, twenty years ago. A lot of folks didn't. Personally I've got a mixed bag.

Trust me. I haven’t made a lot of bad decisions. But I made a few big ones between around 2002-2008 that I paid for for years.

Namely staying at one company too long, not keeping up with changes in technology, not building soft skills and having no network.


I think he means it could be survivorship bias.

I didn’t do anything special

All I’ve done is kept my skills current, lived in a place where there are a lot of corporations who need developers, learned how to interview well (not leetCode interviews just general interviewing) and kept a warm network.


Or maybe an outlier? Because ageism is a fact.

How much of it is ageism and how much of it people not aggressively keeping thier skill up? I’m no special snowflake. I just keep my skills current and take care of my network.

This is very much reflects my experience as well. Of course, my interest in what I recall as startup culture is not as interesting to me at this point in my life.

That's awesome.

What has been your strategy to "keep up"?

I ask this because I recently left a job I started in 2014 where the people were great but the technology was old, not modern at all.

In the time I was working there Docker, React, Vue, Serverless, GraphQL, Kubernetes, gRPC have all become a thing.

I didn't have a chance in my work life to use any of them and it was my first job, so I couldn't easily change (it's different now I suppose).

In my experience it takes between 300 ~ 500 hours of solving new problems and challenges before you're really proficient with a technology and have gained a certain mastery over it.

It also seems to be the case that a technology lasts about 5 years (roughly speaking).

So this then presents me with a scenario that I need to spend 40 hours working a job where the tech stack will most probably not contain all the new hotness. Then after family duties at home it's now 9pm and I'm free. If I were to get 8 hours sleep I want to sleep between 11pm and midnight. This leaves me a window of 2~hours a day. If I need to spend 300 ~ 500 hours to gain proficiency in a technology that's then I need to spend my two hours from 9pm to 11pm either learning two technologies to a reasonable level or one technology really deeply.

Surely that just isn't sustainable?

Now, obviously that's the brute Force strategy and it can be improved a great deal.

I'm very, very interested to hear what your strategies have been!

I want to able to do this without killing myself. I love tech, I aspire to be in a similar position as you. Good stable work, working with stuff that's fresh and being a high value, high level, hands on contributor.

Some optimizations that come to mind (and chime in with your thoughts on these, so I know if I'm on the right track!) are that I should choose my working environment carefully to optimize for working with the technologies that are going to matter so I can do a good deal of learning on the job. Second I should pick what I'm going to say no to and drop the mental load of having to care about those things. Three I could work 30 hours a week and study for 10 giving me a great balance of doing what I love by contributing to a team but also doing what I love by exploratory learning.

Anyway, very keen to hear your reply.


A few things.

- you nailed it. Pick jobs where you are learning new technology. Usually you can get a job where you can get your foot in the door based on the “must haves” that also have “nice to have” requirements. I’ll learn just enough about the nice to have technology once I get my foot in the door, and then volunteer for small items using the new to me technology and usually end up putting twice the amount of work in that someone who knew what they were doing.

- once you’ve been in technology long enough, there is nothing new under the sun. You don’t have to be an expert at everything just good enough to get through the door and you can usually figure things out.

- when I start talking about my professional experience and going for “architect” level positions, I can usually avoid the techno trivia type of interviews. I’m asked to speak about higher level architecture.

Once I start telling people that “first and foremost I am a life long geek. No matter what my titles were in companies. I started programming in 6th grade in assembly language and I’ve been interested in technology ever since”.

Even though I say ageism is not a big deal. Why would I take the chance? I remove the year graduated reference from my resume, I wear a bald head anyway so no one sees gray hair and before an interview I’m clean shaven.

My former manager said he thought I was no older than early thirties. (His words not mine). “That’s one thing Black guys have going for you. If you cut all your hair off it’s hard for us to tell how old you are”. Yeah it wasn’t PC but we had that kind of blunt conversation. I thought it was funny.


>Once I start telling people that “first and foremost I am a life long geek. No matter what my titles were in companies. I started programming in 6th grade in assembly language and I’ve been interested in technology ever since”.

Did you forget to finish this thought or can you expand on it? I'm guessing it softens people's view towards you?

>Usually you can get a job where you can get your foot in the door based on the “must haves” that also have “nice to have” requirements.

Sometimes those "nice to haves" feel like "must haves". I try and get projects out to demonstrate competency with a tool/platform/framework, but as the parent suggests it's an absolute time and effort sink (lately I've been trying to wrap my head around a specific k8s configuration I want on AWS). On occasion I'll mention what I'm learning in my first email if its relevant for their interests but I've never felt it mattered and it never gets brought up.

>I’ll learn just enough about the nice to have technology once I get my foot in the door

In this case is your foot in the door first getting into talks with the employer (so you're prepared to talk about it during e.g., negotiations) or is it landing the position? It sounds like the latter, but just making sure.

Thanks for all your posts in this thread. I've been trying to start my career and appreciate you sharing your experience.


Did you forget to finish this thought or can you expand on it? I'm guessing it softens people's view towards you?

Some people maybe weary of hiring an older dev because they think that either we really want to be managers and are just accepting a dev role or that we are old and stuck in our ways and not willing to learn the latest technology.

I try to come off as someone who is just computer nerd who isn’t trying to move up to management or who doesn’t think these “kids” are dumb.

On occasion I'll mention what I'm learning in my first email if its relevant for their interests but I've never felt it mattered and it never gets brought up.

I don’t send out blind emails or submit resumes blindly. I have a network of local recruiters I’ve cultivated over the years. They usually put my resume at the top of the pile and push for me. I’ve done so many interviews on both the hiring side and the employment side and have usually been successful, the recruiters think of me as easy money. The recruiters also know salary ranges, the interview process, what you need to focus on etc and they can tell you what other people interviewing struggled with.

In this case is your foot in the door first getting into talks with the employer (so you're prepared to talk about it during e.g., negotiations) or is it landing the position? It sounds like the latter, but just making sure.

My first job out of college was a computer operator based on an internship I did the year before. I got in, got lucky that they needed a fairly complicated data entry system written and I was the only one who could program. It was C.

Next job was through a recruiter based on my knowledge of C. I knew the C standard in an out, spent a lot of time on comp.lang.c (Usenet).

The next company I went to almost a decade later wanted my VB6 experience of all things and they were transistioning to C# (where I wanted to be).

Next job wanted a backend c# developer who had experience with c# and Windows Mobile (the “must have”) and front end Jquery experience and MVC, Entity Framewo and unit testing (“the nice to have”)

Next job wanted someone all of those skills and the nice to haves were Bootstrap and Angular.

I didn’t have any of the “nice to have skills” at any of the jobs when I started.

Finally, I got a job as a first time dev lead based on the accumulated experience and a lot of reading (Clean Code, Domain Driven Design, Enterprise Architect Patterns, Gang of Four Design Patterns, anything by Martin Fowler).

That’s where I discover AWS and that helped me get my next job. I knew .Net, had some knowledge about AWS but hadn’t used it extensively.

So now I’m starting down the road of being an “AWS Consultant” more focused on the software/Devops side than the networking side (they are a dime a dozen) and at the same time I have a chance to fill in some other gaps like being at least a competent front end developer and Linux.

Thanks for all your posts in this thread. I've been trying to start my career and appreciate you sharing your experience. No problem,

I try to bring a non SV viewpoint to software development. But one thing I don’t have any experience with is being a “junior developer”. My first job was designing a system that was used by an entire new line of business for a company.

Now I do have experience with being an “expert beginner”.

https://daedtech.com/how-developers-stop-learning-rise-of-th...


Wow. It's almost freaky what you describe as the path you have taken for your overall career... because I went and did a startup to scratch an itch and that didn't pan out so now I'm back to looking for work and in the process of zooming out and strategizing about how to get where I want to go I feel like the plan I've come up with is essentially a compressed version of that.

I really appreciate the responses here. Some very useful insights indeed!


Last piece of advise. Yeah make sure you “compress it”. Don’t make the mistake of getting comfortable like I did for a decade and not keeping up with technology. It’s really hard to get caught up once you do. Be aggressive about keeping up with technology.

I would like to think that if it ever came to it, I would always choose technology over money. Every month that you keep using older technology you’re accumulating technical debt in your own career.


Just curious, can you go into further detail about this bit?

"we are all developing on top of either AWS or Azure and are actually using the technologies they provide and not just hosting a bunch of VMs"


When I was a dev lead at a previous company, I was tasked with leading two initiatives. I had designed everything out, received approval, and then we merged with another company and decided to “move to the cloud”.

I didn’t know the first thing about AWS and neither did anyone else - including the infrastructure guys. So we hired some “consultants”. I did a PowerPoint slide of my architecture with the consultants for thier guidance for best practices.

Basically they just set up some VMs, security groups, a VPC etc and they treated AWS like an overpriced colo.

I spent the next few months designing and architecting everything like I would have done on prem:

- 7 servers for Hashicorp’s Consul (1 in Dev,QA, UAT, and a cluster in production). They were used for configuration, service discovery, internal load balancing (with Fabio), and health checks.

- 7 servers for Nomad (same as above) used for orchestration and to schedule jobs. Think Kubernetes but with the flexibility of using raw executables and not just Docker containers.

- 7 servers for Mongo (same as above)

- 12 always running app servers.

- 2 build servers orchestrated with Visual Studio Online and local build agents.

Of course all of these machines had Microsoft agents (?) on them for deployments, Consul agents, and the app servers had Nomad agents.

This would have all been perfectly well architected for an on prem environment. But anyone who knows anything about AWS (and I didn’t then) would know that’s a dumb, overpriced, hard to maintain design and we weren’t taking advantsge of AWS services.

If I were doing that now. I would:

- get rid of all of the Consul servers and use AWS’s Parameter Store for configuration. Use internal AWS application load balancers and route 53 for services along with autoscaling and health checks.

- instead of Nomad, I would have used CloudWatch Events and done a combination of lambda, step functions and Docker. That would have cut out 7 more servers.

- I would have used AWS CodeBuild that basically let’s you use either prebuilt Docker containers for builds or create your own. Cutting down on 2 more servers.

- Today, I would use AWS’s hosted ElasticSearch solution instead of Mongo. But given the needs of the project, I would have used Mlab’s (?) managed offerings.

Of course I would use CloudFormation to manage all of this including the configuration key/values instead of my own bespoked app to source control configuration changes.


he means that he's using stuff like Lambda, Cognito and other PaaS services provided by Azure and AWS - not considering the cloud as IaaS only providers.

Does that kind of stuff lock you in to a specific cloud platform?

I've been curious to learn some of this stuff.


The problem of “lock-in” is overblown. You’re either going to be locked in to your infrastructure choices or spend more money on both resources, maintenance and personnel trying to avoid lock in and you’re going to have a suboptimal solution that doesn’t take advantage of all the provider offers.

Even if you try to avoid lock-in. It’s usually not worth the risk of regressions and downtime to change your underlying infrastructure once you build on top of it.

The chances of AWS or Azure going out of business in the grand scheme of things is not worth the trade off.


I was faced with the same problem recently, and the imagined glory of being able to switch my entire stack from AWS to GCP (or Azure) with a config flag made me realize two things:

1. Being able to do this would mean lots of work to abstract and polyfill the discrepancies between providers.

2. If AWS or Azure goes down globally, everyone else would be too busy freaking out about their own problems than be worried about the downtime of your SaaS.


It helps if you have a hobby you can make a use of / that you are good at.

For example, carpentry, metalworking and electronics (and low-voltage electrician) are some things that interest me in my free time, and it looks like you can make a living off of them, at least in my country.


Have you considered technical work in academia? The culture's much more friendly to older people and you might prefer the type of work if you're a bit jaded by industry.

> But what else to do?

At the intersection of career and life purpose-- good interview here with Simon Sinek on Finding Your Why...

> https://www.jordanharbinger.com/simon-sinek-whats-your-why-a...


What are your interests? What do you mean by "effective" way to make a living?

Local economy always needs personal assistants, salesmen, customer service and carers.

Artist.

To make a living?!

Did you mean "to make a life?"

I don't know what you're trying to say. I meant what I said. The OP was asking for ways to make a living. (disclosure: artist/musician, distinctly not making a living from that)

The difference between what you wrote and what you wrote plus "right now" glommed on the end is the optimization function.

Again, I find it very hard to understand what you say. You write like you're making notes for yourself, but to communicate with other people, please be more explicit. Say what you mean. Both times, I've had to guess, because you didn't say. Only this time, I have no idea. (Or at least, it seems I don't have the knowledge you assumed I have.)

I recommend you to start your own business consulting firm as Consulting is a significant and growing business.

“Starting your own business” is not always the right answer. I agree with consulting but working for a consulting company. There is a lot to be said about being able to go to work everyday, do your job, and go home and not have to worry about chasing after clients, payments, etc. I like the idea of going to work every day, coming home and guaranteed money showing up in my account for the same amount twice a month.

The usual retort is you can be laid off from a job. That’s true. But if you keep your skills current and marketable, have a network of local recruiters, and live in a major metropolitan area anywhere in the US, finding a job in IT is not exactly hard in 2018.




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