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I'm not 54. I'm 22 with 32 years experience (linkedin.com)
137 points by mooreds 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

So I'm a relatively old guy dev/architect, and I've definitely been frustrated by the age issues.

But it really comes down to "good enough". Companies have some pre-determined pay scale for a new position, and more experienced applicants typically want more pay. Given two candidates, both who look like they might be able to do the job, companies may choose the less experienced (cheaper).

While the younger candidate may provide less overall to the company, the difference may be not only difficult to judge, but it may be impossible to test given that you cannot try both options.

And in terms of design, I would argue that humans are so varied that often even really horrid designs attract business. That's not to say that younger designers make worse designs, but that sometimes practically anything would work; it just might bring in a different audience. The result could be the same in terms of bottom line.

What I've decided at this point in my life is that we older people need to either go build our own companies/opportunities, or just roll with whatever job and find our personal satisfaction outside the office. Or just travel a lot to lower cost countries, work a lot less, and have a lot of fun :).

* s/manage/judge

I find getting by easier now that my kids are grown and out of the house and my wife works and has excellent health insurance for us. People often can get by just fine on less money the older they get. It is when you are young and have kids that you wish you had some sort of payday.

I am a middle aged dev, and I expect to become you. I expect that my skills will become less valuable over time, and that my age will limit my possibilities. To me, this isn't such a bad thing; it's something to prepare for. (saving up, diversifying my skill set, making and keeping long term friendships, etc.)

You always have the option of partnering with some Gen X'rs who have experience and integrity and building something, with them, that provides you all security.

Gen X were 20-something’s in the ‘90’s, that group is just hitting the ageism barrier themselves.

The problem is the massive influx of newcomers to the industry who have no experience and crow very loudly that experience doesn’t matter, or that their 6-week bootcamp is as good as a degree+decades of experience. Well the joke will be on them too one day, they are just too inexperienced to realise it.

It's tough to value the difference between a Python programmer with 5 years experience and 10 years experience.

The second is not worth 2x the first... but what's the delta?

Probably exponential. The programmer with 10 years of experience doesn't see twice as far into a problem as someone with 5 years, but more like 4 or 10 or 100 times as far.

The reason why is pretty straightforward but I don't hear it talked about much. Any human mind is pretty good at solving a problem, and two heads are better than one. But the bottleneck is the basic communication between people.

So the more contextual background (experience) one has in a problem, the faster one is able to explore the problem space and iterate before he or she begins writing the solution in the real world. That's not going to be replaced by Agile or any other workflow in the foreseeable future.

I saw this firsthand from my supervisor when I had a 1 year contract at hp in my mid 20s (he was in his 40s). I was used to dealing with C++, compilers, some scripting with PHP and Python, that sort of thing.

It took me about a day to complete a ticket like writing a method to, say, load some data and show it on the screen in C++ or HTML. Meanwhile he was swizzling data in spreadsheets, piping it around the shell and doing deep analysis on it in large single passes in a functional manner with the vector and matrix processing techniques of MATLAB. He'd go from unstructured data to a report in an hour or two. Stuff that would take me days, weeks, or not even be feasible with the techniques that I was used to.

I look back on that year as being as important to my education as all the years before that and college combined. My only regret is that I see so far now that it almost hurts to write the code where the money is. A deep reservoir of discipline and frankly stamina are needed to protect the mind from being drug down by the antipatterns surrounding us.

Probably exponential. The programmer with 10 years of experience doesn't see twice as far into a problem as someone with 5 years, but more like 4 or 10 or 100 times as far.

Even if that’s true, most companies are at most looking at the next fiscal year and VC backed funds are just looking to survive until their next funding round or to their exit.

So these Python programmers, do they have any domain expertise too? What value do you put on that?

I am actually a similar age to the OP. I am 49, not far off 54 in % terms. I have 19 years of Python experience.

I recently started a new job, my 3rd time in consumer finance.

Two months in, I already understand the business far better than the two year mark of those two previous roles. My direct productivity is at least 3x me ten years ago. My likely impact on the business is 10+ times more.

Plus I still work harder than virtually anyone else I know, regardless of age.

So what's the delta?

I was trying to keep it an apples to apples comparison. With 10+ more years the dev might have machine learning experience (or something else) which would qualify for more.

My point is, it is not an apples to apples comparison. Older workers are most valuable when they can leverage more from their broader and deeper experience of the business domain.

For instance, you would probably say I am only half as productive as the data scientists I manage. I only get to spend an hour or two a week doing hands-on modelling, so I just don't have the same familiarity with the techniques and tools.

But in terms of influencing output, I can have a five minute chat about the goals and context to their work and save them a week of fruitless effort. So in practical terms, my productivity is far higher.

I could easily spend a bit of time to improve my modelling skills a bit. But the law of comparative advantage suggests our junior engineers should build their skills while I coach, mentor and set strategic direction.

In fact, to give another very practical example, this weekend my company Oakam is hosting the European Pandas core developers (https://python-sprints.github.io/europandas2019/) in London. My own personal contribution to Pandas this weekend will be minor. But I am far more effective by being able to provide the venue and fund travel grants so 30 core developers can collaborate together.

It doesn't take 5 years to teach yourself Machine Learning. While it is definitely a skill, it is not black magic. With a 5 year delta you could easily have ML experience, and a lot more as well to differentiate yourself.

It doesn't take 5 years to teach yourself Machine Learning.

The low-hanging fruit in ML is absurdly low these days, the tools are very good and there is loads of sample code available. If you were already good with Python or R, and already had some nice clean data, you could be doing something useful with Keras in a day, no joke.

If you still work “harder” than everyone around you, you’re probably not as good as you think you are.

I work hard because I enjoy my job enormously, and because I can work 14+ hours a day on mathematical/analytical/programming work, day after day, without feeling the slightest bit tired. I have always worked like that since I was a kid.

> you’re probably not as good as you think you are

Here is one reference point for you... Check out the 1992 winners of the ACM Programming Competition here. I'm second from the right in the photo.


And what’s wrong with that? I’m definitely not young - I’m in my 40s. You don’t need a superstar,ninja, 10x developer do yet another software as a service CRUD app. Either you adjust your expenses so you can charge an amount competitive with the younger crowd or you go up market - management, consulting, etc.

I don’t really get the “older people are more expensive” argument for outright rejecting older people. Just offer them what you want to pay and if they accept, you got an experienced dev for a price you want to pay. if not, look for a less experienced one fo less pay.

This is one of the biggest concerns I have as an aging developer.

When I was younger, I could focus on the craft of software engineering, but as I age, I feel like I have to branch out my skill set as sort of a safety net to ensure that I'm still desirable.

My one comfort is that my network is vast compared to when I was a 20something, and now when I look for a new job, I just ask my network and the recommendation they give is usually strong enough to get me in the interview room.

"This is one of the biggest concerns I have as an aging developer."

As an aside, it is interesting how we sample a demographic at a point in time and then think that's the perpetual state. For instance when I was a teen, gaming was dominated by my age group. Being an adult that gamed was rare. As I aged the average age of gamers moved up with me. Now I drop in a game of pubg and almost everyone is late 20s to 40s.

The same thing has happened in software development. I was in a massive wave of the expansion of software development as a career, and at the time it was seen as a young person's game (and was naturally dominated by the very young being a new field largely with new positions). As the years passed the average age inexplicably moved higher. It trends down somewhat as new generations joined in, but being a developer in your 40s was incredibly rare 20 years ago. Now it's incredibly common.

But some of the stereotypes in both still hang around. In the same way that we chuckle about "old people" not understanding technology (e.g. "VCR blinking 12:00"), because many grew up before technology was so prevalent. But now I would make no premature assumptions about the knowledge or capabilities of a 50 year old or a 25 year old.

Well alternatively you could get a corporate job, stay there for a long time, and use your position of seniority to block anyone from using technology you haven't learned about ;)

This is why corporate standards in 2019 should address how systems integrate into the rest of the company, and not how they are implemented. The history of the past 2 decades bears this out.

As I age, I feel like I have to branch out my skill set as sort of a safety net to ensure that I'm still desirable.

Yeah, that's the thing: the compulsion to learn stuff not because it's good technology, has staying power or even helps you solve a particular problem... but because it helps you look like you're young and "with it", and ...

less of a dinosaur.

What’s the problem with that? One of my former manager is in his late 50s. He started developing in the mid 90s after leaving the military. He self demoted after his kids graduated and now he’s a full stack React developer working with Azure.

I’m in my mid 40s and I’m constantly looking at the jobs that are out there and making sure that I’m keeping up with the latest tech stack. It’s not like I could still get a job programming in my first language - 65C02 in the 80s or my first professional job writing C on DEC VAX and Stratus VOS mainframes.

I don't know. On the one hand branching out could be a good thing if you can use your experience as a positive. On the other you end up competing with people who have done nothing else through high school, university and thier first job.

I think being at the center of two skillsets (software + domain knowledge, development + sales, etc) is great because you're competing in a smaller pond (fewer folks have the combo than either skill alone). It also means you can apply knowledge from each area to the other.

Looking at some of the comments here, I'm surprised at the hubris on display, discounting experience. Of course, 20 years of experience will look like 20x 1 year of experience if all you look for is ability to whiteboard algorithms, or crank out lines of code in language/framework X. But that indicates more of a flaw in being unable to evaluate experience.

I wouldn't be surprised if it takes someone with N++ experience to reasonably evaluate the value brought by someone with N experience (cue: Blub paradox). So, yeah, a bunch of people without experience can easily be blind to the value being brought to the table by experience.

I would expect experienced folk to better understand people, have figured out how to work effectively in a team, strategically prioritize what needs to be done, nudge meetings/conversations in the right direction, and mentor younger team members and help them out with advice in tricky situations. If your mental model does not value that, of course you would not value experience. You need a critical mass of experience in an organization to do this effectively -- it can't just fall on the shoulders of one person in middle management with a few years of technical experience and an MBA.

If you step back and defocus, the above qualities look a lot like leadership pixie dust sprinkled liberally throughout the organization -- the lack of which correlates with several repeated failure modes one might see in young Silicon Valley companies today.

Addendum: I'm not fond of the headline as it stands; it robs the dignity off age/experience.

Problem is, people of age 50+ will complain about working on unethical stuff like keeping people hooked to a feed of stupid videos, or tracking them across the web. In contrast, 20-somethings will either think it's cool, or they simply need the money.

Finding a new job and living in austerity become harder as you age, particularly as you have less energy to deal with it and often more responsibilities. I think this explains why I've found that older workers tend to become more flexible with their workplace politics, not less.

Just anecdotal evidence, but I don't find this to be true at all. 20-somethings around me need less the money that older people (they are well paid, no kids, no mortgage, no old parents to support, no car...) and are more idealistic and critical of the system.

Oh 20-somethings need money; it just hasn't occurred to them.


> no mortgage

Downside: can't make down payment and perhaps never will.

> Oh 20-somethings need money; it just hasn't occurred to them.

Yes but software engineering pays enough that you don't need to go to Google or Facebook or other unethical ad companies to live decently. My salary is probably below market rate (which itself is way below google-level pay) and can still buy pretty much anything I want while having enough left at the end of the month to have near-0 concern about my future.

(Not living in the US, so not worried about a health problem bankrupting me or having to pay ~100k for my kids college)

Seeing that in the city where I live - a major metropolitan area with plenty of tech jobs - you can get a brand new 3000 foot house in the burbs, great school system for around $350K with an FHA loan and 3.5% down, a house is far from unaffordable for the average developer with 5-7 years of experience.

Representing $350k for a 3000 sq foot house as average is disingenuous. That simply isn't true in the places where the majority of tech jobs exist (major coastal metros).

In Seattle, 3000 sq ft homes go for a floor of about $750k, and that's in the extreme south end of town. In SF, try $1.5mil. $500k+ in the outer extremes of NYC. Average developers can't all move to whatever cheap metro you're describing; there simply aren't enough jobs there.

You really think that the only place you can find a tech job is on the west coast?

I must be imagining things that I’ve been doing pretty well for myself in Atlanta for 20+ years....

And posters on HN wonder why I always rail against the Silicon Valley/HN bubble.


NYC isn't on the west coast.

Do you think all the average west coast developers can move to Atlanta? No; there aren't the jobs. And if/when there are, housing prices rise correspondingly.

I'm glad ATL works well for you, but it isn't the average experience.

There are other cities in the US you know where software engineers work....

Why isn’t it the average experience?


agree totally. Millenials (in my experience) are much, much more likely to turn down a job because of the ethics of it. People my age (I'm over 50) are more jaded ;)

> ...no mortgage...

They rent instead.

Rents are usually higher than mortgages for the same kind of property...

more idealistic and critical of the system

Because they're 20, that's the point.

I'm guessing you've never been near a defense contractor

Unethical people come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Youth and idealism are often associated together for a reason.

You mean the entire exploitation of grey areas that is the source of most major commercial booms would be cut off at the 20-something enabling knees if older, and yes, wiser people were kept around.

Not so much the source, as the destination.

I'm sure there's no middle aged programmers working at defense contractors build unethical things.

thats not actually true. especially since the 50+ people are the "leaders". That have instructed everyone to do the unethical things. Actually in general, older people seem to be more racist, more homophobic, etc. So i'm not too sure they are magically more ethical.

Actually in general, older people seem to be more racist

I see a lot of young people making assertions based on race and other indelible characteristics, with the idea that doing so is somehow intellectually and morally worthy. Back in the day, someone proposed that people should be judged on the content of their character. I would urge young people to be wary of those who try to attach negatives to indelible characteristics, like age.

the comment i was responding to made a similar claim (except about young people). im just showing them how that thinking can be used

My takeaway, based on observations over the past few years, is that for many knowledge-work professions today, particular software engineering, there's a rather steep discount curve applied to one's experience. In many cases, your experience simply doesn't matter at all -- or, worst case, it counts against you. This obviously depends heavily on what 'segment' of the job market you're in -- nonprofits and the public sector come to mind as probably exceptions -- but I think it holds for a good portion of the software job market today.

for many knowledge-work professions today, particular software engineering, there's a rather steep discount curve applied to one's experience.

Software Development comes down to a whole lot of cost/benefit tradeoffs. A project can accumulate tens of thousands of those. The valuable sort of experience in software actually comes in the form of well generalized cost/benefit decision making heuristics. There are also poorly formulated cost/benefit heuristics which can prevent the creation of value. (The worst of these, being unfounded bias.)

I think a big part of the problem, is that those who don't have such experience aren't in a good position to evaluate how good or bad someone's heuristics are. There is a tendency in situations like that for people to fall back on their own biases.

Firstly, consider that the people in corporations who decide what other people are worth are usually very ill-equipped to judge technology candidates' values.

And secondly, they often just care about getting the thing done. Your potential value in other areas matters much less in the now, and unfortunately "the now" is primarily what modern companies are focused on.

Older developers can usually do in one day what takes a hotshot 20-something a week.

More importantly what we deliver costs significantly less to maintain.

For managers in for-profit [1] companies there's a clear argument for why you'd want to hire us:

a) There is a significant $$$ value that comes with a 5x increase in project throughput. [2]

b) Maintenance costs make up >= 60% of the TCO for your software. [3]


[1] I realise this excludes most of the companies represented by the folk who frequent HN these days.

[2] https://books.google.com/books?id=PPm4EkDnAx8C&pg=PA203

[3] https://stackoverflow.com/questions/3477706/development-cost...

> Older developers can usually do in one day what takes a hotshot 20-something a week.

That might be true above a certain level of complexity. But a majority of work is often mundane stuff that even the 20-somethings can do in their sleep. And they're just as fast at that.

Also, I've met some pretty slow 45-year-olds.

More importantly what we deliver costs significantly less to maintain.

Which management is often too inexperienced to appreciate the value of.

I would agree with that. I spent 43 years as a developer and I would say at the end I had 2 important insights: 1 - to always consider the person who had to pick up my work and fix it or change it. That is, making it easy for them, not impressing them with my brilliance. 2 - that apart from the above, only the end result is important. The language used, the framework, package, or methodology have no importance except in achieving the end result and point 1.

I would say that if that is how you work you are old, or old beyond your years.

The concern I always have with people with a lot of experience, and I’m in that category too, is that they’re not going to bring a wealth of refined wisdom as much as quirky opinions from years of subtle misunderstandings and past experiences that are irrelevant in the current context. If they were actually bring value that had been ratchet up, then that would be very valuable, but that’s rare.

You're not wrong - I have to watch myself to be sure I don't fall into that trap. I hope I succeed in bringing forward valuable lessons, but none of us are perfect. In addition, the advice I find myself giving most often to a variety of people is to stop saying, "This is what we did back when I worked at X". If you cannot abstract it into broader reasons why an action is applicable and helpful to the current situation, then having done it before is simply an anecdote.

> they’re not going to bring a wealth of refined wisdom as much as quirky opinions from years of subtle misunderstandings and past experiences that are irrelevant in the current context

Might be just me, but that sounds like an ego problem more than anything. And it can come from either direction, too:

* It might be that an experienced engineer is looking down on his (it's usually a he) younger peers on grounds that "look kid, I've been around a lot and know better".

* It might also be that the youngsters don't recognize, because of their lack of experience, that these past experiences actually are relevant in the current context.

I guess it's on older developers to get across what is refined wisdom versus what are merely quirky opinions from years of subtle misunderstandings.

For many years, the Smalltalk community tried to get a certain message out to the public, but it didn't get across to the mainstream programming community nearly as successfully as what Chris Granger managed to do with Light Table. I think the lesson there, is that the onus is on the people who have the hard won experience and the valuable contrarian view to explain it to everyone else.

It’s not based on age is what im getting at, there’s more opertunity to learn with age, but is by no means a guarantee that your insights are correct.

I worry about this. I have a well-developed gut (in all the ways) and it tells me things that I have learned to trust, but I cannot explain to others clearly.

Are my gut instincts still correct, or were they correct in the previous context, and now not so great? How do I develop a heuristic for telling the difference?

How do I develop a heuristic for telling the difference?

Perhaps this is why, "The unexamined life is not worth living?" One needs to constantly re-examine one's experiences with regards to first principles. This way, one can wrest generalized experience and rational decision making up out of the mire of gut instincts. Toyota's "Five Whys" is a good first step for that.

The method I use is to mentally list out everything I know about a topic so as to hold it in my mind at once, then throw it a way and consider everything I have not considered yet. Essentially forcing a new perspective and using the old knowledge as paths I’ve already been down. If they’re still correct I’ll just discover another angle they’re correct I hadn’t considered before or simply realize something new.

My wife makes this observation in Banking. If one goes through 20 years without examining their experiences properly, someone with 2 years might well know way more.

This is why I blog. It's not perfect (a journal would probably be better) but it does let me look across the years of my professional experience and contemplate them.

Sometimes that's very true. The problem is, it's usually some time into their employment before you know which side they fall on.

This reinforces my opinion that companies probably are better off on average by choosing younger (and cheaper) candidates. I'm not the younger/cheaper candidate, so I'm not being biased.

This is just the normal issue that it is hard to find good people. Having lots of experience doesn't change this as there are plenty of idiots out there at every experience level. It is just harder to come up with a FizzBuzz test for this.

I agree actually, but I think there could be more emphasis on how to improve and refine one’s insights too so people get better at it vs leaving it up to chance as they get older.

One person's "refined wisdom" is another person's "quirky opinions from years of subtle misunderstandings".

These are valid points but only to a degree. Disagreement in the value of experience is not the real problem.

The real and more serous issue is that discrimination is not rational. It is not about value or merit, it is an innate dislike, to varying degrees, regardless of merit, circumstances and value.

It has happened/is happening to other groups and the pattern is identical. It is probably a bit confusing because the group affected has generally never experienced it before. It may also be useful to a persons morale to convince themselves that if they only try harder, they can get any job. A pattern that might have actually worked when younger.

But even in this thread you have comments of the form "all people over 40 are X". And you have this in every thread on this topic and, because agism is generally acceptable, it includes language that, at least on this site, would unthinkable used against other groups.

To such people your abilities and price are irrelevant. While relevant skill is certainly a necessary condition to employment, it is in no way sufficient. Where bigotry is not overtly used, irrelevant conditions are piled on (such as randomly chosen college exam questions or culture fit) until the candidate can be plausibly dis missed.

So until the underlying irrational distrust and dislike is addressed, all the merit in the world will still only get you employed shrinking subset of organization.

I just have to say, if you are an "aging developer" and want to partner with someone with some integrity on some side ideas that could become main ideas... hit me up. I have 20+ years in recruiting/sales and we can tear shit up.

I may be interested, but I don't see any contact info in your profile.

Can I pay you like I'd pay 22 year olds? :)

Maybe yes

Something is better than nothing. Flexibility is the key. Think it is day 1. Helps to keep learning.

According to this site some new grads are making $200k in total compensation in sillycon valley. Would love to be making that.

I would never move to Silicon Valley at this stage in the game for only $250K. With the cost of housing that would be a serious downgrade in our lifestyle.

I'm paid exactly the same as everyone else. No more, no less.

Lol at mobile AI chatbot...

That ruined the entire article for me, might have as well said machine learning on the blockchain ...

Just don't be one of these: 54 with 1 year of experience, 32 times over again. :)

unfortunately 'age is a state of find' meaning you find out people think you are too young or old to perform given tasks. Rarely a good idea to focus on it when discussing your value IMO

You do not need to dress like a hipster to be 'creative'.

I don’t care for that style of dress and 19th cenury villian mustache, even on young folks.

How the guy dresses is irrelevant, unless he's looking for jobs with a dress code.

Every job has a dress code. Some just formalize it.

i think if you are in 50s and still looking to work for someone else then you are doing something wrong, no matter how great are your experiences

I work with an aging boomers who complains about ageism all the time. He wanted an outrage salary which our employer couldn't afford. He asks for help but then insults everyone who tries to explain what ever concept it is he isn't understanding. He talks down to everyone and gets upset the second someone suggests he does something in a way he hasn't done before, don't suggest he use a framework or library ever because he will rant about how he never uses them and doesn't need anything new. He makes fun of anyone who threatens him. Anything newer than C is is a waste. Maybe this is 10% of Boomers but this is the experience I remember when I think of older programmers.

This is the reverse of the "millennials are all snowflakes" style of thinking.

The guy's probably just an arse.

Am remembering the video about how millennials don’t do mornings, etc.

It's not even 1%. What you have there is an A grade, certified asshole. Age has nothing to do with it.

Exactly, I know 20 year olds who act the same.

"Older people" (whoever they are) must take half the blame for ageism :)

Not sure if it's statistically valid or what, but anecdotally the loudest "older people" are the kind who start and end every conversation with "Ugh, kids these days! Am I right?! Back in our day, bla, bla, bla..." I believe this sort of thing does make people think the geezers might be somewhat out of touch with the present.

Generally, this is just an attribute of traditionalist society. According to it, only older people can be president (for youngins don't have the requisite "wisdom"), women should choose family over career or the necessity for the older people to shit all over the "youngsters today".


Let me elaborate. My central point is that traditions rule in traditionalist society and generations dismissing each other is not unique to programming community. I did want to add that to change the status quo guys like the OP must outshout the more traditionalist voices, but I thought that was self-explanatory.

An example of the latter is Emile Ratelband [0] who argues he shouldn't be held back by traditionalist assumptions about his abilities due to his age. I support the man.

[0] https://www.npr.org/2018/11/08/665592537/69-year-old-dutch-m...

anecdotally the loudest "older people" are the kind who start and end every conversation with "Ugh, kids these days! Am I right?! Back in our day, bla, bla, bla..."

I'm curious that the information in this quote is characterized as "bla, bla, bla." When I see a politician mix up climate and weather, isn't it valuable for me to tell about how we had piles of compacted snow at the end of our driveway, we could literally tunnel rooms out of we could sit in? (Today, the same region is lucky if they have a white Christmas.) Why isn't that information useful and relevant?

When I see a programming community make the same mistakes other similar programming communities made in the past, isn't this useful information?

Your comment suggests that you have a bias, automatically assuming the experiences have no worth.

Well... hopefully we can all recognize there are some older people who are generally dismissive of younger people. And some who are not. Likewise, the other way around.

You can see the problem: If it's OK for one group to be dismissive of another group because some members of that group are dismissive of them, then it all immediately blows up. There just needs to be one jerk somewhere. And of course we are all part of multiple groups that don't necessarily overlap 100% with others around us so if you take this approach generally you end up being unable to get along with hardly anyone.

I'm hoping people can usually look beyond the most obvious outward physical characteristics of the people they interact with. It doesn't seem like it should be a lot to ask -- it's in everyone's own self-interest after all -- but it doesn't always work out.

Could you please stop with the one-off accounts? This is a community site, and community members have a persistent (even if pseudonymous) identity.

anecdotally, I've noticed younger people making oddly old-fashioned decisions compared to older people who've seen the older ways fail

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