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Coding as a greybeard
395 points by jamesofthedrum 56 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 339 comments
Interviewed Erik van Eykelen of releasewise.com, a (then) 51-year-old programmer and founder who had some interesting things to say about growing older in tech.

"I'm 51 and I've been active in this industry since I was 14. I watched it grow from computers with 4k of memory to having a supercomputer in my pocket. I was learning in the age of Apple II and the Commodore PET. When I realized that I could create an explosion of data with just a few lines of code, I was hooked forever. It was such a magical thing. I found some other guys in my high school that were also into computers and we started meeting regularly on Fridays and Saturdays to... Well, to do some things that were, perhaps, not allowed. Since then, I've started three companies, and I don't think I could have found the same satisfaction in any other industry. I am mindful, these days, that I'm 51 because I know ageism is a thing in tech. There's a moment when you walk into a room and people think, 'Oh, he's a greybeard.' I don't have a beard, but you know what I mean. But when I start to talk about things and find solutions, that disappears. I can't change my age but I am in full control over what I do and what I read and how much time I carve out to write code. I can still see myself doing this when I'm 60, 70 years old. Even older. Because I want to keep doing meaningful things."




I'm a 50+ greybeard (literally) and here's my story: I once figured I could improve my chances of getting a job if I shave my beard. I knew I looked much younger without it, people would get my age wrong by some 10-15 years. And so my 6 months-long search for a job that time ended in success on the first interview after I shaved it. The first one! I remember the faces of the guys who hired me when they saw my personal data on some tax form that I filled later, after the contract was signed.

Ageism in this industry is real. I think the root cause of it is investors, it's where the origins of this phenomenon are. They prefer younger entrepreneurs who in turn hire people like themselves, and so it propagates down the hierarchy as the company grows. It's transitive. In fact this is true for all types of discrimination.

I switched to entrepreneurship and feel the same effects here. Good luck raising money or even finding a co-founder. It's tough. Not going to shave my beard though.

I have no idea what could be done here other than for the aging tech people to unite and form their own companies, investment funds. Just like the other discriminated groups do - women, then racial and other minorities.

Edit: I should add, I was talking about a hands-on engineering job, not management. I love coding and not going to quit it because of ageism or pay or other circumstances.


I have more or less the same perception. My beard is grey, I'm getting bald (shaving keeps my hair below 1cm). People are still surprised when I say I'm 54. I wear geeky t-shirts and jeans. Ageism is real and some of the younglings treat me as someone whose knowledge is obsolete, only to be proven wrong. It's true I still remember my way around an Apple II and know what a 3278 was (and how they looked like) and some. One advantage we, The Elders, have is that we know not only how things got (and get, and will get) built, but we also know how they fail. Our current jobs were science fiction when we started, and we know the jobs of the younglings will be science fiction when they grow up. We seldom need more than five minutes to point out organizational issues that can cause a project to fail, and barely five more to list a couple actions to be taken to avert disaster - we don't have to figure it out - we just need to remember what we did.

My long and colorful history is a feature, not a bug.


> [...] we don't have to figure it out - we just need to remember what we did. > > My long and colorful history is a feature, not a bug.

Kids these days... No respect for their elders!

But yeah, spot on. That's exactly the specific issue I have with tech ageism, at least from the corporation's perspective.

I'm not saying that it's good to discriminate (on age or anything else), but from the dehumanizing RoI-oriented perspective of the corporation, it's just the dumb move to push the aging and the elderly on the side.

Why would you spend so many resources to bring a person to the top of the game, and then right when they start becoming really clever and useful, you start minding the color of their beard and render them obsolete?

It's like waiting for a green banana to become edible, and when it's at the perfect balance the one that's just right for you, you just pluck it and chuck it in the bin. WTF?

In any team I've worked, the guy with the gray temples has always been the most relaxed and significant contributor to any discussion - precisely thanks to the experience they developed over the past three and sometimes four decades.

Conversely, young upstarting devs who think they're interfacing with dinosaurs tend to not fare well.

That's probably because they lack the acumen to recognize golden egg-laying geese when they encounter them, and profit from the experience.


> One advantage we, The Elders, have is that we know not only how things got (and get, and will get) built, but we also know how they fail... We seldom need more than five minutes to point out organizational issues that can cause a project to fail,

Yep. 59yo here. I've seen so many failed projects over the years that it's just second nature now to know early on when one is going to fail and why - both on the organizational and the technical side. The problem with all of this experience with failure, though, is that it gets harder and harder to get motivated. It's difficult to maintain a positive attitude about all of this because you know human nature and you remember that your younger self didn't exactly listen to your elders when they tried to help you avoid failure either.


We just deployed another SIEM. The 8th of my career. The 7th will be decommed when the logs TTL.

The other 6 SIEMS no longer exist, I'm sure of it.

It gets harder to drum up the enthusiasm for Yet Another Security Appliance. They all have accounts, and roles, and reporting, and a little black box that does the magic trick...and they're all largely the same.


Just got out of a project failed on both the organizational and technical side. Opportunity loss for everyone.

Keep my hope up though, there are smart kids out there, it is also human nature.


as someone who is becoming an elder, I can't help but feel a touch of Schadenfreude when I see youngsters run face-first into stuff that I've predicted will happen, secure in their knowledge that I'm a dinosaur and can't possibly know what I'm talking about any more.

It's like a spectator sport.


It is, but I’ve watched companies who were doing well start hiring younger, cheaper -10x developers and people losing their incomes, pensions etc. because they listened to the ’cheap’ and trendy-seeming who were eager to people-please and ignorant of their ignorance.

The reverse is true, of course. ‘Expert beginners’ and those just looking to avoid any hard work or responsibility until they retire are equally as dangerous.

If you’re a non-technical business owner, manager or anyone else who relies on tech and the people who build and run it, it is completely impossible to choose wisely, as you simply don’t know who to believe.

I’ve got myself to positions of high trust in companies and then found my advice ignored both when I warn against:

1. Hiring those I can see are not just bad value but going to destroy tech and teams through arrogance and being given more responsibility than they should have (yet).

2. Leaving the dangerously incompetent ‘seniors’ and workshy in positions where they are either preventing any kind of growth or, worse, accelerating a death spiral which ends in either zero ability to compete or a tech disaster of some kind (lost or corrupted data, breach, etc.)

If you’re trusted, that doesn’t mean that your advice to spend some time building smaller teams of actually competent people - or whatever your proposal is, will be heeded. The smell of money over a short term (or lack of it) are usually going to win.


I like the phrase "-10x developers"... whose work has a net negative value 10 times the value added by an average developer (haven't heard it before, but surely such people exist!)


what's wild is that several YC companies that have frequently-featured job posts on HN explicitly state they want 10x engineers. Kable is one: https://www.ycombinator.com/companies/kable/jobs/h3wKq6F-fou...

> You are a 10x engineer, capable of getting more done than others and in a fraction of the time.


You are a mind capable of bridging space and time, but have only three years of experience, and don’t have a job at FAANG already, and will value 0.5% of common stock as fifty percent of your total compensation. Because your code is bulletproof and so is our coffee!


> as someone who is becoming an elder, I can't help but feel a touch of Schadenfreude when I see youngsters run face-first into stuff that I've predicted will happen

I've learned some tact in my old age and no longer laugh when datetime formatting issues cause problems. I now act with empathy and gentle guidance.


ISO-8601 for thew win. Accept no substitutes.

But yes, "act with empathy and gentle guidance" is The Way.

Also, never name you previous versions foo.new and foo.old or you will end up with foo.old.old.no-really-old, and foo.new2


> ISO-8601 for thew win. Accept no substitutes.

Preach on!


Your role is not to prevent that from happening. Your role is to do your job and set an example, which the younglings will remember years down the road. Those are two different things.


Not only that, but I predicted how things would go badly and they did. Now I struggle to find motivation in a world that made the opposite choice of what I recommended, nearly every step of the way, so all of the things that I wanted to do feel harder to achieve than ever before.

I've come to realize that Winston Churchill's joke "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else" applies to everything, not just democracy and capitalism. In tech, you either find the right solution and get ahead of the pack long enough to make some money, or you watch helplessly as the pack applies brute force to whatever problem you were trying to solve and succeeds the hard way. Stuff like video cards and DALL-E 2 come to mind. Visionary ideas bordering on magic succeed (delayed by decades) not due to the current "state of the art" in tech, but despite it. And that work is important, because exhaustively eliminating every other potential solution in the problem space represents the real work of solving problems. That's what an economy is (churn).

So I've been learning to let go, practice nonattachment, drop expectation in all forms, and just be grateful as we head towards the Singularity around 2040 and the decline of the natural world between 2050 and 2100 if people and AI working together can't save the planet. Being clever doesn't matter anymore, effort doesn't matter anymore, because someone somewhere will invent whatever idea you're working on, yesterday, and keep all of the money for themselves.

The greatest failure of our time is that tech not only can't deliver its own end-goal (UBI, freedom from forced labor, self-actualization for all people), it actively stands in its way by fostering wealth inequality. The only winning move is not to play.


It's only a spectator sport if you're not downstream from those changes though.

I also think ageism is only part of the problem, it's stubbornness in general. Even if you're younger, it's difficult to translate hard-earned experience into respect because many engineers are infatuated with their own designs and algorithms. I've had people reject my advice even though I literally worked 2 years on app dedicated to solving that specific problem we were having. Of course they had egg on their face at the first demo. And they're still using that broken code.


> I also think ageism is only part of the problem

A big part of ageism is our complete devaluation of "soft skills." And we treat anything beyond the limits of cranking out code as soft skills.


As someone not in the software field who finds themself with people imparting wisdom frequently. I find that personally many times it's better to learn by trying even if someone who knows better than you says otherwise.

As for those of you who don't feel heard in work or life let me just say that that's no excuse not to try. Especially if it's of great importance. Even if you have to stick your neck out under a guillotine in order to say it. I imagine if that guy at NASA who discovered the fatal flaw in Challenger didn't stop at telling the NASA heads but maybe the news, the astronauts and even their families it could have been prevented.


Re>> "Ageism is real and some of the younglings treat me as someone whose knowledge is obsolete"

I know that you are correct, that many younglings treat greybeards as people whose knowledge is obsolete.

I'm closing in on 40. I was first mesmerized by computers in 1993 when a shareware copy of Doom was popped into my 486 based PC. "What is this witchcraft!? I must uncover the secrets to how this works!". I've been hooked ever since. When I first started playing with friends over a dial up modem, I was intimidated by all the technical options, prompting me to select my baud rate etc... What does all these even mean? I felt like the people who were working on these computers were wizards full of deep deep knowledge and I was drinking from a fire hose, just trying desperately to catch up. 30 years later, I still feel like I'm trying to catch up!!! Many younglings might think greybeard knowledge is obsolete, but I don't and I still feel like I'm behind the curve, trying to catch up. I know this is probably tangential to imposter syndrome, but man.... I still admire and look up to the greybeards. Edit: Continuing to learn about the old, the origins, and the history is like exploring an abandoned mine shaft still filled with gold and jewels, and I still feel that childlike wonder with technology.

Note: Fabien Sanglard's Black Books are great technical deep dives.

[Edit: Spelling. Though, I liked the term "greybears"]


"Ageism is real and some of the younglings treat me as someone whose knowledge is obsolete, only to be proven wrong."

This meme is slowly dying, but let me do my part here to kick it along to death faster.

Nothing here is intended to offend per se, because I consider everything I say here to be the natural order of things, and there's nothing wrong with it. Still, it's the truth.

I'm in my mid-40s now. I've hired a lot of juniors over the years. Never once have I hired someone new and gone "Oh my god, they know so much, my job is at risk and I'm going obsolete!"

No, what happen when I hire junior is that I look at where they are now, and where they need to be to be a fully functional member of the team, and kind of sigh and make a plan to try to get them there as quickly as possible, plotting a minimal path through the thicket of things necessary to be a functioning software engineer nowadays. Six months is generally a bare minimum time line for this. Sometimes it's more.

And that's just to get to functional. A well-rounded engineer that I can plausibly just pass a project to and see them largely get it done correctly and without blowing their own or my foot off? Years. Years. And I just mean that from a technical perspective... it's yet more before I feel comfortable inserting them into the political layers.

Again, not intended to be offensive. Everyone has to pass through this phase. Every mature programmer should expect to be mentoring like this; if you're in your 40s and haven't had to do this at all, take a careful look at your career, something's probably wrong. (I don't mean management; I mean mentorship.)

There was one intern a few years ago who turned my head in that he had parity with me on a couple of interesting and unusual skills, but still... it was parity at best, not amazingly better than me. And while he had some amazing building skills for an intern I could see the skillset was still very, very lopsided and he needed a lot of work on the question of what to do, rather than just the doing of things. It's OK. That's normal. I'm not even sure how to hypothesize someone coming out of college with amazing skills in knowing exactly what to do. From what I see even when 20-year-old startup founders get this right it's a combination of mentorship from investors and sheer luck. I despair of even imagining how to teach this skill from anything other than experience, beyond simply sensitizing a student to the fact that it is something they should be looking at as they grow as an engineer.

There was a brief window in the 1990s where the industry underwent a technological convulsion and switched away from expensive mainframes to commodity computers and the internet/web. In that brief window, which I was lucky enough to capture and ride, a fresh young whelpling who had spent the last couple of months fiddling with this newfound "web" thing could do some things that the mainframe folks couldn't. There were still plenty of lessons that could have been learned from the mainframe folks, but for whatever reason, be in the internet just not being there yet, an unbridgeable cultural gap between the hacker mindset and the IBM mindset, whatever reason, the communication and wisdom transfer just didn't happen. That hasn't happened since then and I see no prospect of it happening in the next 10 years, not because the next 10 years won't see change but because the people like me of that era have already ridden any number of waves since then and adapted and I don't see that sort of convulsive surprise happening again.

The idea that someone in their 50s just has to be old and out of date is not just silly but downright ludicrous. Getting to "well rounded" in 2022 is something that will require you until your mid-30s minimum anymore.

I think a lot of the ageism that still lives in the industry are people who are unskilled and unaware. They can't even perceive what it is they are missing, so they are incapable of recognizing the skill gap. Since a lot of the ageism probably resides in people who aren't even engineers, managers, recruiters, people who are for any number of reasons good and bad simply incapable of interacting with engineers and being able to assess their skill levels, it's a plausible guess.


One thing I find with young and exuberant people and their assumptions about old greybeards such as myself is that they are somewhat immodest about their knowledge. I’ll readily own up to not being an expert on some new tech and they will act as though they possess all the new hotness until we get into the thick of a project and we discover that my “cursory” grasp of the new tech actually goes significantly deeper than theirs. Sure, you’ve done a few projects with technology X, but I’ve actually bothered to find out how it really works under the covers. Both are valuable, but I’m getting you out of a jam because I’m willing to walk up and down the stack and debug problems at any level, whereas you’re stuck in the hot abstraction of the day. You’re welcome.


I'm 55 in the middle of the US and I am like "where are all the junior devs that are coming for my job?". Where I am, there is not enough of them.

I have one kid in college an another going into her senior year of high school. Seems like very few their peers are going into computer science. I know it is not for every body, but it is surprising how unpopular it is.


I'm 39 and have been doing things in this realm since my teens. C64 was my first computer and I still know how to POKE my way around them.

There's a lot of great programmers coming up, but I often find their depth of knowledge to be limited. They can get to elegant solutions, but when it comes to how it fits into a larger distributed system architecture, security, scalability or long term maintainability they seem to start falling short. I've watched a lot of less experienced engineers want to just hit the "reset" button nonstop during an AWS outage, for hopes that resetting the system will clear up the problem and not intuiting the likely causes and consequences.

They simply need more time to expand out their layers of knowledge and experience. It will happen over time! I do feel that I was born of an era when many of the layers were more obvious to interact with and less abstracted. It is easy for a developer to get many years into their career and never interact with assembly these days - such was far less likely in the early 80's unless you wanted to only run slow BASIC programs forever.


If you're in the middle of the US, there's a good chance that there aren't that many local tech jobs, requiring moving to a big city (which many don't want). It's also possible that they can make similar money in a trade as they can at the local tech jobs. If they do pay the same, I'd probably recommend a trade over IT. I know I won't be pushing my kid to be a dev based on my own dissatisfaction with the industry.


IT may be annoying but it doesn’t destroy your body like many trades. Maybe gives ya a gut, haha.


Stress will kill you no matter what your profession. Physical exercise can save your life. I nearly died on one IT job, and nearly killed myself on another. I became an investor to escape the pressure to undertake such positions, and now only do things I enjoy. Enough action for flow, not enough for excessive stress - and do physically challenging recreations.


I live in medium size metropolitan area (big enough to have a MLB and a NHL franchise). There are plenty of tech jobs.


Why become a dev when you will be downsized between 45 and 55?

It only pays off when you win the startup lottery and can cash out.


> I see no prospect of it happening in the next 10 years

It's happening right now: the field is being flooded by data-kids who reason in different terms. They are statisticians first and programmers later. Their models can do stuff that bit-pushers like me will always struggle with. 10-15 years from now they'll run everything, and you won't be able to code a helloworld without specifying a ML model.


I'm dabbling in that world right now. Along with the fact that, well, I'm dabbling in that world right now... no. They're doing different thing. You won't have ML models creating UI code (and I mean, actual UI code to draw widgets, not just assembling UIs) or any number of other tasks. They're doing new things. And we have plenty of time to learn, just like I haven't been left behind by any number of other things. It won't be like the web.

(In fact I've been generally unimpressed by the people I've seen so far. The ML math is complicated, but there's a whole lot of "just fire this at that without understanding why" in the actual practitioners. I've found I have a better understanding of what is and is not possible and why than they seem to rather often. This comes back to my extended education background, though; my training is old but less obsolete than you may think, a lot of modern ML stuff isn't some totally new thing just invented yesterday, but a couple of slight tweaks to established stuff that worked really well combined with finally having the CPU firepower to use it.)


That has to be said again. Basically all of deep learning, which is what people mainly mean today when they say "ML", is at least 20 years old. Other data science techniques? Even older. The big spurt seen recently is mainly the result of a) faster hardware and b) larger datasets [1]. At some point the "low-hanging fruit" achievable by scaling up and crunching down MOAR DATA will be all taken and then soemone will need to do all the hard work of figuring out new techniques, or at least building bigger computers. Who's going to do that? All the people who are "passionate about machine learning" and are experts in Tensorflow and PyTorch? I wouldn't bet my money on that. Thirty years from now the people leading the field will be people with thirty years of experience in thinking real hard about real hard problems. As they usually are [2].

__________________

[1] My standard reference for this is a guy called Geoff Hinton. Some people in machine learning may have heard the name. Quoting:

AMT: Ok, so you have been working on neural networks for decades but it has only exploded in its application potential in the last few years, why is that?

Geoffrey Hinton: I think it’s mainly because of the amount of computation and the amount of data now around but it’s also partly because there have been some technical improvements in the algorithms. Particularly in the algorithms for doing unsupervised learning where you’re not told what the right answer is but the main thing is the computation and the amount of data.

http://techjaw.com/2015/06/07/geoffrey-hinton-deep-learning-...

[2] Check out the birth dates of the current generation of deep learning luminaries. Geoff Hinton: 1947. Yoshua Bengio: 1964. Yann LeCun: 1960. Jurgen Schmidhuber: 1963. It goes on. Go ahead and tell those guys they're greybeards who don't get what the kids today are doing.


Anyone who has gone through the extreme pixel-level iteration process of honing a UI at a company that really cares about UX knows we are very, very far off from letting AI do it.


> you won't be able to code a helloworld without specifying a ML model.

I think the current ML world will have an overfitting reckoning. ML can optimize situations that are very normative, but struggles to create good solutions to situations in which the best outcomes are fairly distribute (but still specific best actions in certain scenarios).

ML cannot tell you what data or choices even matter in life, it can only help optimize those things once we've decided that. This is where age comes in as there's a correlation to, perhaps causal by, age on wisdom.


> I think the current ML world will have an overfitting reckoning.

It seems like current ML (at least large-language models and transformers) will actually run out of publicly-accessible data to train on - the current models have scraped the majority of the useful text and image data on the public Internet, and it's not clear that we'll gain access to orders of magnitude more data, which according to the Chinchilla paper is the bottleneck on transformer performance: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32321522


In my experience many of those "statisticians first and programmers later" "data-kids" aren't great at programming. Yes, they can build models, but when they need to build code around that model it's often pretty awful in my experience having worked with some of them. They still need us oldsters to help them out of the messes they make.


That is not a good thing. Nor do I think it’s completely true anyway. I have the advantage of a strong analytical background (PhD physics) and over a decade of experience in software development. The “data kids” struggle with the parts that actually make their jobs possible (engineering) and that part is not undergoing any kind of paradigm shift at this time.


For one of the young guys, you seem to have a pretty good perspective on this.

;-)

(I'm 60. And you're right.)


> Ageism is real and some of the younglings treat me as someone whose knowledge is obsolete, only to be proven wrong.

It's possible you are assigning this sentiment yourself. I've always noticed a great deal of cultish nonsense in this industry. People promoting tools and techniques that have no reasoned basis and are often downright harmful. Where age comes into this is that as you become older you become more confident at identifying this BS and better at dismissing it. Played out in the context of a range of aged coworkers, this _looks_ like they think you are clueless because you are old. But a wise young person would have exactly the same attitude as you have. It's not that these folks are young, it's that they are unaware they're in a cult.


> we don't have to figure it out - we just need to remember what we did

That's a great line.


I believe ageism is real. But I would blunt it a bit: I think engineers hire people "like them". That explains the ageism, sexism, racism....

I say that blunts it a bit because I think I don't blame engineers to look for someone like them — it comes easy, it is probably easier to judge someone who you feel shares your own life experiences.

But yeah, some years back we interviewed a guy for the team who was about my age (early 50's at that time). I thought he was top notch. But a younger engineer on the team pushed hard to reject him for the role. Why? "I think he's a bad fit for the team." That was the only reason we could get for his rejection.

Sure, just an anecdote. I see red flags now though when someone says "not a good fit" (whatever that means).


Comments like this make me wonder if other posters are living in an alternate universe from me.

The engineers I've known and worked with were more likely to judge someone as being "like them" for their usage of Emacs vs Vim than their race, and everyone is always trying to recruit more women.

The ageism is more tied to actual technology things. The young engineer thinks the latest blog post they read about how to do async programming or manage deployments is the greatest thing in the world and only wants to hire people who think the same. The elder engineer recognizes it all as slight tweaks and rehashes on older ideas, frameworks and systems and is more ambivalent and not as excited to dive into learning their hundredth new way to accomplish the same task.

If management cares about business outcomes, the elder engineer is great. If management cares about vanity metrics and using the latest, coolest frameworks, the younger engineer is great.


> The engineers I've known and worked with were more likely to judge someone as being "like them" for their usage of Emacs vs Vim than their race

There's such a thing as conscious and unconscious bias. People don't sit in the interviewing room and think to themselves "well this person is white, like me, so I like the idea of hiring them more", but the thought is still there at the back of their mind (and before someone jumps down my throat, no, I'm not saying everyone has this bias, I'm not accusing you personally of being a racist, I'm saying that this kind of unconscious bias is prevalent throughout society)

Emacs vs Vim is a far more conscious bias.


Unconscious bias is not a well supported psychological construct. The Implicit Association Test, upon which the theory of unconscious bias is based, has a poor track record for consistency and does not predict actual discriminatory behavior.

Some of the scientists who originated this work have since distanced themselves from it, because people have run with the concept far beyond what the science supports.



Here are my sources:

- https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...

- https://qz.com/1144504/the-world-is-relying-on-a-flawed-psyc...

- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rabble-rouser/201712...

- https://psyarxiv.com/dv8tu/

Edit: your contrary sources do not discredit the thesis of the national review article. They conflate the many different (often legitimate) heuristics or subconscious influences on cognition with Unconscious Bias, which is specifically the idea that people can be racist/sexist/whatever without even knowing it, and that the presence of this latent bigotry can be measured with an Implicit Association Test.

The latter, stronger claim is complete BS and is not supported by the science. This is a classic motte-and-bailey tactic.


Nope. Not emacs vs vim. The biggest thing is what kind of music. Also, what kind of slang. I know this because I was young once, too. When I got a coworker who was twenty years older than me, it made me uncomfortable. Weird 'dad' jokes. Musical references that were completely out of it. Stories about the past. I like people and I liked them but, it was also, always a little uncomfortable. We were peers but they, well, nobody is a true peer with a twenty year gap. Uncomfortable.

Today, hiring authorities are more likely to be young. They also feel uncomfortable with someone who has a huge amount more experience.

Ageism is real.


> nobody is a true peer with a twenty year gap.

I don't think that is necessarily true. It really helps if the older peer is comfortable showing weakness at times.


Something I learned from my father when I was really young. When you don't know something, say "I don't know" first, then "We can probably figure it out".

Always, always, lead with "I don't know"

I am 65, and there are still things I don't know.


What I've seen is that most people dumb enough (I say this about myself) to join startups are young, privileged, and foolish. So even if you have hiring initiatives and strategies to make a diverse company (in age, identity, whatever) the pool of people that will even reply to your recruiters is pretty homogeneous.

So I don't think it's just management and business outcomes, the pool of people that you can even hire for the smaller/riskier businesses is just very different than at big tech (or even non-tech businesses with sizeable software and GIS teams).

Don't get me wrong, I love working for startups. But if I were twenty years older I might care a lot more about the bad 401k matching and progressively longer time/lower outcomes for liquidity in startup equity.


Once they see salary expectations, cheaper wins almost every time. Most business doesn’t care much for quality.


I usually find when people discuss fit, it's helpful to ask specifically what behaviors indicated which personality traits that the co-worker is trying to filter out. Asking for precision also shifts the discussion from something general like fit to specific things like which traits is this company trying to select for, and whether or not the other interviewers agree that a behavior indicated a specific personality trait.

I don't have studies to back this up, but I find personally it helps give an avenue for co-workers to argue against bigotry without accusing anyone of behaving in a bigoted away.


"Not a good fit" is a perfectly good reason not to hire someone, but not if you can't, or are unwilling, to define what you mean by it.


Exactly. Managers should insist that peer-reviewers give specific attributes or behaviors.

Also, "cultural fit" questions can be casually ageist as hell. I was asked once (at 40 or so), "We like to skateboard around the office for fun. What do you like to do?" I sincerely believe it was (for the 20-something interviewer) an innocent, almost routine interview question. I diffused the question by saying that sounded like a blast but I prefer Nerf Blaster wars or pranking people by hijacking their wireless mouse or whatever. I got the job offer but I've been on other interviews where I aced the manager's and technical interviews but got shut down by a barely college graduate who clearly didn't think they'd have to work with "their Dad." Not much you can do about that.


By saying 'not a good fit' requires additional details to be valid you are actually acknowledging that 'not a good fit' is not a valid reason to not hire someone, those additional details are the valid reason to not hire someone.


When people say "not a good fit" they mean "cultural fit" ie, not related to technical skill, which is what the context of the parent post was implying. Maybe that's not so ubiquitous, but I've come across a technical person not be able to point out exactly what they don't like about another technical person's skills.


Ageism is very real. I worked with a guy at a startup who literally said about a candidate, "He's too old to work here." Meaning he wouldn't be able to fit in and relate to his coworkers regardless of his technical ability.

Sidenote, he also voted to reject a candidate because, "we have too many white guys." (He himself was a white man)

Now the guy who said that was one of the few people in my career that I truly disliked working with but I'm sure for every guy like him who says those things out loud there are 10 thinking it to themselves.

One solution I've found is to increase the frequency of interview shadowing. That way you at least have two people in the room, hearing and seeing the same things, and able to catch and call out biases.


Don't underestimate the fact that many companies also like younger workers because it is easier to pressure them to work more hours than they should. Less chances of kids or a family they need to attend to, and higher chances of falling for the "office perks" which is a ruse to keep you in the office as much as possible.


So? The young kids will work more hours; I'll get more done.

I'll get more done because I won't create the bad architectures that they will. I won't write the bugs that they do. I won't head down the dead ends that they do. (Yes, I'll still do a few. They'll do enough more that I'll still finish ahead of them, even with working fewer hours.)


That's not the way senior management sees it, though. They want asses on seats, they want to see people plugging through the night on the CEO's latest darling concept so that they feel important. They also don't give that much of a shit about bad architectures, they want something online tomorrow they can show investors and sell quickly.


That exists, but is not universal. Current position is otherwise for example.


Easy answer (to get the job offer, anyway) when asked "We sometimes work long hours. Are you OK with that?" I answer, "I've pulled 80-90 hour weeks (just last year) & luckily my kids are old enough that they don't need much attention on weekdays or weekends. Also, (to emphasize my "partying days are over" advantage), my friends don't drag me into as much nonsense as they used to."

Once you get the job (although, I highly recommend you avoid taking a job if you get a death march software plantation vibe), you manage high demands by nailing management on requirements and milestones and then out-plan and out-deliver your work so you have an answer for "hey, why are you leaving when we're all working overtime?" If you put in overtime at the start, assist other people and show you can deliver, then they can't give you much grief later.


All that work just to get what you want in a toxic environment you could have easily avoided.


correct. the real reason is they can push young people.


> I believe ageism is real.

I agree, but I would also like to point out a different form of the ageism that I see all the time in my line of work. I'm in tech retail sales. My stores customer base is a bit older, trending more over retired. There is a certain mindset among this age group that goes back a number of years that computers and technology was the playground of the young, so they think because they are older they can get away with not knowing what's going on in technology. I remember the jokes where some older person (in this case around 30-40) would have serious trouble understanding some technology, be it a computer or VCR, and having to call some teenager to their rescue. Too many older people decided that these newfangled toys are just for the kids, and that stuck. So now I have older seniors looking to buy a computer or printer and not understanding how it works because "I'm an older person, I don't know these things like you younger people."

It feels like the old jokes have pervaded our minds and now the younger see the greybeards as some senior citizen who's out of touch on technology. This shouldn't be the case.


I'm an engineer, and I genuinely try to eliminate bias from my hiring process. It's well, a grey area between engineers hiring people "like them" or engineers hiring people that are good engineers and good team members. I've interviewed many people that were one or the other but not both.


One of the things we've done is to conduct our first screening interview as a phone, rather than video, call. We found this helps eliminate some minor levels of bias related to physical appearance when forming that initial opinion, particularly because that first contact should be all about whether the base criteria is met.


I had something similar happen. Rejected by two people in the loop for unspecified "culture fit."


I was having trouble finding a job. I dyed my beard back to my original hair color and had 4 offers within 2 weeks.

Dyeing your beard feels disingenuous and smells a little funny at first, but it really works. People remarked that I: - Had lost weight - Looked less tired - Must be feeling better - You must be under so much less stress now - You look younger

I look forward to retiring and letting it go gray again. For now I think I need to keep it at least partially colored instead of looking like santa claus.


If you have a particularly stressful time at work you can stop dying it to visibly display your displeasure.


Lol, like a mimic octopus or cuttlefish!


> I dyed my beard back to my original hair color and had 4 offers within 2 weeks.

Well done! Good opening for a Tell HN post!


Also a literal greybeard (mid 50s) and I haven't seen ageism. Not sure if it's because I'm on the east coast and it's different here or I'm just not aware of it. I've sort of been expecting to hit it, but instead I feel as though I get a lot of respect from younger developers and they often seek out my opinion on things. Maybe it's just luck, but there are a couple of things I try to do that may play a role.

One is that I never try to pull rank on anyone or dismiss anyone's ideas or concerns. Respecting others' abilities and experiences makes it easy for them to return that respect as they are not feeling defensive.

Another is I try not to be dismissive of whatever new tech or fads they may be invested in, but rather acknowledge that they are attempts to solve real problems and I can understand what they are trying to do, even if I think there are better solutions. I take a sort of exaggeratedly open-minded attitude in order to head off any assumption that I don't like their ideas because they are new.

Finally, I'm quick to share my experience. Everybody likes war stories and if you always have a war story for every situation people will start to understand the value of experience. Of course humility is important in that. I share my mistakes more than my successes so as to avoid coming across as a pompous windbag.

That's my experience anyway. Who knows, may just be that I've gotten lucky.


I'm also a literal greybeard (early 60s) on the east coast, and I haven't found this ageism to be a problem. Young companies are about "what can you do for me" and 40 years of experience gives me the intuition about architecture and implementation that you don't get without having lived through lots of failed projects!

Also, with a long career, you probably have a number of significant successes under your belt, and, while past success does not guarantee future success, it appears that past failure is a strong indicator of future failure. New teams want people with a track record of success.


100% this. Ageism manifests as dismissiveness or intimidation. Keeping skills current & showing accomplishments negates the first and humility and being personable helps mitigate the second.

Sometimes in an interview when I suspect the interviewer is uncomfortable with assessing "their Dad", I throw a lot of curiosity at them about their skills & career & ask their advice about the company or tech stack they use. That helps breakdown the "too old to learn & won't listen to me" stereotypes.


Same story. At about 40 I shaved my epic beard, took graduation dates off my resume and limited it to about the last 10 years of work. Fresh shave and haircut for any f2f interview. So far so good.

Now I'm 51 and lucky enough to be able to seriously consider not taking another job after the current one runs its course (which may be a long time, I don't know). But if I do go out after another job I may invest in a few months of facials and spa treatments to get that maximally youthful look :)


Younger than you but already affected by ageism due to long career, and I hate hate hate removing old, relevant experience but it seems necessary. Omitting a decade of serious experience while only in your 30s sucks.

On the plus side they perceive you as Talent with Potential, or something. On the downside it means you get treated like a junior by some jackass Uncle Bob fan who has just a handful of years of real experience. It levels the playing field in a crappy way.


Writing a good resume is very much a skill. You always want to keep the length limited and focus on the most relevant parts of the most relevant experience. Anyone with a decently solid career probably has far too much experience to put it all on a resume that any hiring manager would actually read.

I often like to write up for myself a "full" resume with plenty of details about everything, making it way too long, then tailor it as needed for any specific job I want to apply for by cutting out stuff less relevant for that specific position until it's short enough, like 2 pages max.


Add an Other Skills & Experience section at the end of your resume with relevant experience minus the dates. It'll be picked up by the keyword bots & maybe trigger curiosity from hiring managers who will bring you in just to ask about it. When asked, say "a few years ago I worked on ..." instead of giving dates. An employer hungry for those skills will likely not care that there isn't a date attached.


I took the opposite path: after years of concealing my age as much as possible I grew out my beard, which is very much gray. I got positive results pretty quickly, though not how I expected.

People were attracted to what they imagined was the depth of my experience. Not that this imagined depth isn't real, but they didn't usually investigate far enough to know whether it was real. The gray beard was all they needed.


I've had some grey hair since 17 - visibly noticeable by... 19 or 20. My dad was basically gray/white hair by early 40s, and I inherited that trait. It was certainly noticeable by my mid 20s, and probably both helped and hurt along the way in various business/job/work contexts.

Never could grow a beard, so 'graybeard' has never been a literal issue for me. :)

In my mid 30s, I could, at a distance, pass for late 40s or 50. As I've moved towards that milestone, I don't think there's been much of a change. That's not just me thinking that - I get told that now and then.


I've always had a baby face and didn't grow out my beard until into my mid 30s. Overnight change. Although not gray, I was no longer treated like a new hire by groups in the large corporation I worked in.


Are you in the east coast by chance?


> they prefer young entrepreneurs

I am not a grey beard yet but I am getting there quickly. My time in the industry is they value youth because it is exploitable not because they're like-minded. A young person with few responsibilities, no kids, no house, perhaps not even a significant other is easier to get to stick to exploitative pager duty schedules, long nights, etc for little pay and a party once in a while. Older people tend to be more concerned with raw numbers such as salary and total comp which presents a problem for this kind of grifter.

That being said despite having literal grey in my beard I have never had an issue getting a job. I keep my skills loosely up to date (I still don't follow the latest language trends) and know which industries I can move in. Most people age out into management and older ICs are hard to find beyond late 30s and early 40s.


Underrated analysis.


Ageism in tech is super real.

I was sitting at lunch the other day at my large tech company office when I overheard a wonderful conversation from the table behind me about the "kinds" of managers a team might have that included this snippet:

"I mean, you could get someone midcareer, say age 25 or so, and they'll be really fiery and excited, but they won't know everything yet. But it means that you can figure it out. Or, I mean you could get someone super senior like 35, and then they'll be the expert but they'll be old and slow"

Not only did this go entirely unchallenged, but everyone seemed fully in agreement.

This is one example, but conversations like this that assume that by 35 or at most 40 you're all worn out and washed up are fairly common.

Having started this job during COVID, I didn't realize how young everyone in my company is, but after this conversation, I realized that I only know one engineer over 40 here.

(I know some managers that are over 40, but none that I know are yet 50.)


Another literal 50+ greybeard here. I'll offer a counter example: In the Fortune 500 company I work for, we are absolutely FILLED with greybeards. I's say that the average age is pushing 40 and the average tenure with the company is 10+ with a significant percentage being 20+ y.o.e. (including me).


> we are absolutely FILLED with greybeards. I's say that the average age is pushing 40 and the average tenure with the company is 10+

Taking your observation in isolation, there are two implications:

1. that those 40+ years old were, in average, hired when they were in their 30s, when they weren't grey beards;

2. a possible factor that causes their long tenure is that they now struggle to find other jobs.


Also people have to work somewhere.


Do you think different companies at different stages have different biases? mojuba's comment that age discrimination is initially investor driven might no longer apply at a fortune 500 company. Or perhaps other cultural factors (e.g. about the industry/domain) pull in a different direction?


I came from a big bank with lots of graybeards to a small startup were I'm 10 years older than the oldest person (who's the cto). It's been fine here though a little awkward at times with contexts I don't know about. Not a big deal though. Now as I continue to get older, I do worry I'll have to go back to those mega companies when it's time to move on and I start to really look the age.


Most Fortune 500 software jobs are poorly compensated line-of-business app building. Decent work for a certain sort (not speaking of intellect or ability, but personality and similar other factors), but hardly challenging or technically sophisticated for the most part


"Greybeard" scratches my ear as sexist.


I see, but it can be explained by the aging management (middle or high or both) at your company. Correct?


No.


There is ageism for sure. That said, I've probably isolated myself from a lot of it because if a company boasts (as often happens at "work at a startup", etc type events) "we work hard, we play hard", "we are a family" - no. Tell me about what you are building, what you intend to deliver and how you are doing it. What one does in their private life is up to them and should not be tied to corporate culture. If the team isn't experienced and has to work more to achieve commitments - that is a management / hiring issue.

I will certainly expand contributions as needed to help make things successful, but I will not give up my own life to backfill for poor management or hires - did that multiple times and doesn't gain you anything.

That said, making sure junior members are set up for success and get help and mentoring and guidance needed is part of being a senior member. For me, that is part of my calculation when determining timelines and deliverables.


That’s funny, I believe I experienced ageism but on the other end of the age spectrum. I couldn’t figure out why I was making it so far in interviews but not getting the job. This happened for months. Then one day I decided to grow out my beard to look older. I’m 25. With my beard I rarely get carded, without it I always get carded. Same story as you, the first round of interviews came and my beard saved the day. Now once I reach a year 6 months at this company I’ll shave it ;)


Glad to meet someone else with this problem. People would talk to me as if I was not old enough to be taken seriously, even though I had been working professionally in the field since my 18th birthday. One time, I was told that I should be at the company for at least 6 months before offering an opinion. It's understandable when someone is just inexperienced, but by rendering a judgment on someone's expertise based on perceived age, I can't help but call it reverse ageism.

Now closing in on 50 with my share of life experience (good and bad) and some gray hairs setting in, it has gotten better, although people often mistake me for being 10-15 years younger than I actually am.


57M here and still love coding. Ageism is very real - but so is the tech shortage. So it's a good time to be a greybeard. I was at a Google event a few years back. A colleague (53M) expressed to a Google PM his interest in coming to work for Google. The PM said bluntly "Google doesn't hire people over 50".

The employee average cost-benefit curve inverts at 40. At least that's what the beancounters will say.


Considering that Google has lost (OK, settled) some high-profile age discrimination lawsuits over the years, that may not be an inaccurate statement, but it’s a pretty stupid move to say that to a prospective employee.


Google is also the corporate manifestation of peterpan syndrome so i'm not surprised


Ageism in tech is like throwing a kick blind and seeing someone getting kicked and figuring that's the guy you kicked. Then 20 years later you get a kick in the butt and realise that was who you kicked.


I'm not quite a graybeard yet – even though the first shades are starting to appear – but I have been working for about 24 years now. Frankly, lots of my middle-aged colleagues have been sitting on a chair doing the same thing for 20 years and have not kept up to date. Experience is important, as is being able to predict what approaches will get a project in the weeds. It's not necessary to chase the latest shiny thing, but some serious effort is required to stay up to date instead of immediately assuming ageism. Experience would be so much more valuable if you have something worthwhile to add to discussions about the merits and challenges of newer technologies of the last 5-10 years like for example Javascript frameworks or Kubernetes and other cloud and hybrid strategies.


One thing I’ve always thought would be interesting is that age discrimination laws only protect people older than 40.

That means you can legally discriminate against young people.

If ageism is truly a thing it means that there exist old people that are undervalued by the market.

Starting a company or having roles that are specifically 40+ only could be an interesting hiring advantage if that’s true. Especially if mentorship is part of the role.

Also - from friends that teach at university, lots of young people don’t know what a file system is and can’t navigate basic files/folders or hierarchies. They’re confused by files opening in applications (these are CS freshman). A bit unrelated but a lot of the “old” knowledge remains extremely relevant especially when kids exposure to only ios abstracts relevant bits away.


Slowly approaching 50, I would say dyeing the hair also helps during the interview process.

After the contract is signed, then whatever.


Approaching 61. Got two offers this year. The current hot market seems to (temporarily) make ageism slightly less of a thing than it used to be. Probably losing the white pony tail a couple years ago helped too. Dying my hair is out of the question, the only thing that isn't gray on my head are my eyebrows.

I did take my ID badge for my current job with blue hair, however.


I am approaching that age where I worry people are going to discriminate against me because of age -- I am lucky that I do look younger than I am (even with beard).

But I'm wondering if I should edit my resume to make my age less apparent from it -- remove the earliest part of my career from my resume? I have the academic degrees I've earned on my resume -- remove the dates of them too?


There's definitely a school of thought that you should remove dates and trim older jobs. When I last switched jobs a number of years back a good friend of mine strongly advised doing so and I did. Though I ended up getting a job through a personal connection so I doubt anyone did much more than glance at my resume anyway. (And the company had quite a few relatively senior--as in older--people.


>Ageism in this industry is real. I think the root cause of it is investors, it's where the origins of this phenomenon are.

It's a simple but profound statement. Ageism (and many other 'isms') would not exist if older people did not discriminate against other older people. Investors would typically be older people.


Where I work plenty of the developers here are what you would call 'greybeards'. I've always enjoyed talking to them and they have interesting stories to tell.

It seems you run into ageism less when you look outside of VC ran companies, but that's based on anecdotes I've heard from others and just my observation.


> I once figured I could improve my chances of getting a job if I shave my beard.

When I was an SDE 2, I kept contributing (what I felt were) consistent, marked improvements to my team and our products, but I didn't get a promo. Then I let my beard grow out and I appeared a good deal older. Shortly thereafter, I got my senior promotion.

Of course, there's no counterfactual. Maybe I just needed more time under my belt for my promo, or maybe other people were getting their well-deserved promotions before I got mine. But it felt like shedding that babyface helped me out back then. Maybe in a few years (I'm in my 40s now), I'll want to shave again to stay in the sweet spot appearance-wise.


Sorry to hear of these experiences, it should be that you get recognition when you devote a lifetime to a field.

But I wonder if this is mostly a US-centric phenomenon. Or maybe it is a tribal mentality, I wonder if web devs of 20 years ago face the same problem with younger web devs today. Or a large amount of web devs considering everything and everyone who doesn't work in the browser to be stoneage.

As an anecdote, I once worked with a gentleman twice my age who cut his teeth writing assembly for an obscure HP platform, and I had huge respect for him. And it was obvious that even though we were developing a modern full stack webapp in Python and React, he had an excellent mind for the tough engineering questions.


It was in Europe, and no I'm not a web dev. About 6-7 years ago I switched from systems programming in C/C++ to iOS, Android and some backend, but mostly iOS which is my favorite platform now. I did some web development years ago but never really liked or enjoyed it honestly.

Web development is probably more fluid compared to other areas. Browsers evolve like crazy and make frameworks and other tech obsolete pretty fast. So keeping up here might be quite challenging for all ages I imagine.


I’m also 50+ and I wonder how reliable it is to just “present younger” (which I do) because the hiring manager may be the gatekeeper of prejudice, and s/he knows your age.

Is it really the “culture fit” i.e. do people feel like you’re their dad, or will it be a factor when they review your CV and see you are not only overqualified, but don’t know React?

I agree with your suggestion and it’s one reason why I’m starting a consulting company. I figure when the chips are down, the bosses need the work done, and the Olds get that. We’ll see, I’m just starting, but I’d love to end up with a stable of 65-year-olds helping startups actually ship.


This is really dumb, the best engineer i ever worked with were at least 40, and the best was 55+.

I think software is a place where a selection occur whit ageing: if you're not that good and can't improve, you will get increasingly frustrated and either leave or get to a management post. If you are "good", you will at least stay at your level, but mostl likely improve with age. Average people like me stagnate and i can see myself decline if i don't do anything to retain my skills.


Is there data to support the claim that more ageism occurs in this industry than others? I think it is probably true, but I'm wondering if there's any hard evidence. I suppose it's going to be pretty hard to get reliable data on this. We can get statistics on mean age vs other industries, but those numbers alone don't prove age discrimination.


what is the next thing to do? wear fluo color clothing and have some piercings and wear bracelets with lucky charms, and end every sentence with “far out bro”?

like you say, we need to come together as a community and industry and oppose these and other forms of stealth discrimination.

i’m wondering if the coding interviews are organized to facilitate discrimination by age.


What about your college degree on your resume? Don't you have to list the year you graduated? Even job portals that make everyone fill the damn web forms manually, it generally always asks when one graduated.

From that they can deduce your age?


> I think the root cause of it is investors

I am not sure if its just investors though. If you are hiring someone to do run of the mill crud/etl type jobs then a younger person is a better hire. I've noticed a marked drop in my energy levels as I've gotten older into my 40s.

Weather is unethical or not is prbly an different issue but reasoning behind it makes perfect sense to me.


After this post I think I'll paint my hair next time I search for a job.


Look into worker co-ops.


I know agism is rampant in this industry, but it still shocks me. I'm 23 and relatively junior at ~1YOE. The "grey beards" I've worked with have all been incredibly technically proficient and a joy to work with.

The skill and ability and depth of experience held by my older coworkers makes me grateful to have the opportunity to work with and learn from them.

To any older individuals here still working in tech, please don't feel unwanted. Your experience is needed and appreciated, especially by the juniors who get to work with you.


Agism can cut both ways so i'll add that i'm 46 and have been continually impressed with the younger people on my teams. Smart, hardworking, and dedicated.

I've learned as much from recent college grads as I have taught them so it's definitely a two way street.


I'm 64 and still coding strong (UK NHS) and I'm planning to delay retirement (officially next year) for another couple of years. I've been a full time professional in computing since 1996.

I've only experienced a bit of age related 'you old fart' stick from a younger colleague once but on the whole, like you say, I've been impressed with my younger cohort.

Love to see, learn and be around that energy. And it's great to be able to bring something to the table based on my experience.

A respectful and egalitarian attitude goes a long way.


I think the main problem are people who have this weird (to me) take that you can't be at eye level or form friendships with a huge age gap. Maybe it has helped that I've had friends a lot older than myself when I was ~20 (and not just my 50y old parents as the only reference point of older adults), but also at work. If people with 20 years of experience explain why they are correct and not "because I say so" it's a good experience, same as with people fresh off university - some are eager to listen when you tell them why it will fail and some will just believe you're the old grumpy neckbeard.


I have been involved in a Fellowship that allows me to have a pretty vast array of friends (and frienemies). I have friends that are 40 years younger than me, and 20 years older than me. I'm quite used to getting some great wisdom and support from folks that differ from me, in many ways (age is actually one of the least important differentiators).

> To any older individuals here still working in tech, please don't feel unwanted.

Sadly, in my case, it is too late for that. The message was delivered at 100 decibels, and was received, five-by-five.

The ones most aggressively delivering the message were recruiters, but I was greeted with almost naked hostility, even after "getting in the door."

It was made quite clear, that I am not welcome, and it had nothing at all to do with my technical merits, as the interviews almost never even got that far.

But it all turned out OK, in the long run. Some companies missed out on me, but I am quite sure they aren't regretting it one bit. It's quite likely that the people that interviewed me, aren't even with their companies, anymore.


ya.. friendships with huge age gap was weird to me until i hit 30 and realized we're all just people and i should probably stop thinking about older folks like "parents" or "proper adults" and maybe we can legit be friends. now i see young folks and wonder how they think about me. don't know where i fit anymore


> I've learned as much from recent college grads as I have taught them so it's definitely a two way street.

Can you talk more about what you learned ?


You're still too young. Wait til you've worked five years and you know everything. ;-)

That's what I've seen. Young folks learn latest language/framework/tool/etc and decide the old stuff the grey beards use is antiquated. Then you get real old and realize there is nothing new under the sun (usually) and there was a reason the gray beards were doing it the way they were.


I have had the great joy of working with younger peers over the last two decades. Still working, but at a small company, and the youngest coworker is in their 50s. I miss having recent college grads around. We did have an intern prior to COVID, a really bright young man (Hi Josh, if your see this), that returned after graduation, but he found a more suitable job within a year.

I have been happy about how technically proficient some of my young coworkers have been over the years.

One thing I do try to bring to the table, particularly with new hires, is explaining how much money they are earning compared to their age peers, how learning to live within your pay, day one, while saving a little every month, will make a huge difference in your life, not just when you are really old, but even after just ten years.

It is the one life experience that older workers can share, that will make a lifetime of change for incoming hires, particularly those fresh out of college.


I’ve worked with both. Almost 50/50 between “I have so much to learn from you” and “it hurts to watch you flail around every week.”

It’s frustrating because I want more of the former in my career.


Exactly the same experience - coming from school where it's almost all PhD students and postdocs (a few years older than me) the industry where some of my most valuable teammates are the greybeards, it was a bit of a shock - but now I understand how valuable experience really is.


My thoughts: It keeps getting better and better.

You stop reinventing wheels. You know where most of the holes are and can laugh when the kids fall in them. You know the hype cycles and can spot the fads and fashions. With 10 or 20 languages behind you, code becomes separate and 'above' languages, so you can think in structures and abstract algorithms. Enjoy standing up for principles, you're the man now, and there's not much left to "look up to" (especially in this morally declining business). Not having something to prove means you can know your limits, like when to quit trying to fix someone's "poor little thing with a broken wing" that ain't ever gonna fly. You've time to read all four volumes of Knuth and really (almost) understand. Also, you're not going to win that Turing award now, so enjoy not having to try.

Things to watch out for.

Look after your eyesight and posture. Spend more time thinking about code while out walking. Shout at clouds less because you realise that dumb ideas will die of their own accord in good time. Enjoy the new toys the kids make, even if they aren't "production ready serious" - they will mature in time.


> Look after your eyesight and posture.

And your hands (including wrists). Carpal tunnel is no fun. Arthritis in your fingers is very much no fun. You don't think of programmers as people who work with their hands, but if you think about the actual mechanics of the job, our hands are critical.


> With 10 or 20 languages behind you, code becomes separate and 'above' languages

This one is so true

I don't understand why younger programmers are so obsessed with which language is "best"

To me the algorithm/logic in the abstract is the interesting part

I would much rather work on an interesting project/problem in a "bad" language than work on a boring project in a "good" language


I am at near 30 years in tech and let me told you one of the first commercial customer I had about 25 years ago.

This customer had a factory where it sorted potatoes. They had a huge weight scale where they would weight truck coming in, full and then going out, empty. The difference was the weight of the potatoes.

The problem was that scale was mechanical and calibrated by officials, which means nobody was allowed to tinker with it. You could read the weight on a big VFD 7segment display, that was it.

They wanted to automate the reading of the weight. Everybody told them it was impossible because of the calibration. But I had an idea. I took a webcam (which could only take photo at the time, no video, I think it was photo man or something, serial based) and I put a colored filter in front of it which would only let red pass and did OCR on the result. It worked for 6years before they got a digital scale.

I've been doing this kind of weird thing my whole life. I find solutions.

Now I have more and more grey hair in my beard and I start to feel a bit "out of the loop" with all those new things (docker, kubernethingy, JS zillion of packages...).

I am a bit scare, I fear the moment where I will just be a relic.


There's a great quote by a character in last week's episode of "For all Mankind" that pretty much summarizes my career in a nutshell. No matter my age I plan on living my life by it.

> “These are engineering problems, and we are engineers. Shall we begin?”


Fantastic quote indeed! I let out a laugh and smiled when I hear that, and looked at Dev in a slightly better light.


But, but....she sold her soul!


As someone who works in machine vision and a sister division of my company likely made the scale you are referring to, I am both impressed and saddened by your story.


The world is so small! I tried to find the reference of the scale but it too old. I asked the company and the current system is from mettler and toledo but not sure of the old one.


I'm not a greybeard yet, but they're my favorite type of colleague to work with, they KNOW THINGS, they have experience, they have war-stories, they're generally not impressed by every new bloatware that comes along.

All things equal, I'd hire the greybeard, actual beard a plus.

In the future, I can only imagine ageism being a thing too, but flipped around, when it's realized that older and more experienced people are needed.


> they're generally not impressed by every new bloatware that comes along.

The problem is when this attitude backfires into immobilism. Sometimes there are solid reasons why the new hot shit is hot, and just saying "we can do the same already with X" can be reductive (and leading to technical debt down the line).

But yeah, now I'm 43, I see the difference in attitude that I bring when faced with wide-eyed youngsters, even just because they often "drink the kool-aid" a bit too uncritically.


That's true, there's a difference between being conservative and immobile. I've actually not experienced any of that behavior, the people I've worked with have been interested in new stuff, they've just been good at identifying what's relevant and not.


I can teach you the secret to this. Anytime you feel yourself saying "Wow, Y is so much better than X because of A, B, and C" then X is what will make it big.


they're my favorite type of colleague to work with, they KNOW THINGS, they have experience, they have war-stories

They can be. And when they're great they're GREAT! However I've also worked with people who can tell fantastic stories about punch cards and LISP machines, but also haven't picked up any new skills since the late 90s and have no idea what has happened in the industry in the past 10 years.


>> And when they're great they're GREAT! However I've also worked with people who can tell fantastic stories about punch cards and LISP machines, but also haven't picked up any new skills since the late 90s and have no idea what has happened in the industry in the past 10 years.

I guess I'm a greybeard now even if it's only got a little grey, and I can tell you I've been annoyed at stories of punch cards for 20 years now. They were cute stories in the 1990s, but now I cringe if someone tries to relate "the punch card story". And I mean "the" punch card story because I think they're all lying. Every one of them dropped a box of punch cards they spent a lot of time getting right and had to sort that mess out. I think it's just a meme and old people tell it like it actually happened to them because it used to be a good story. Sorry, it's not. It's more tired than me ;-)

When I was your age, we used to have these older guys telling us about the punch-card days... Shit.


The youngest punch card person should be at least sixty by now to be working in ~1980 when that stuff was on its last legs. Should be very few of them left as the industry was an order or two smaller at the time.


Sure, and to be honest it's probably a decade ago since I last heard a punch card story from a colleague.

Now I guess "the punch card story" has been replaced by people like me saying things like "I remember when hard drives where measured in megabytes" and "You know when I first installed Linux on my computer at home I needed a stack of 30 floppy disks (and you won't believe what happened when it turned out disk 22 was corrupted)" :)

And soon it will be replaced by "when I was young we had to do web development using nothing but JavaScript and JQuery, we didn't even have an import statement"

Followed a few years later "back in my day we had these things called 'docker containers', and let me tell you deploying them on AWS was no walk in the park..."


We have soooooo many war stories. I always like to think they are entertaining for my colleagues so it's good to hear that I'm not totally off-base.


I have so many war stories, I stop myself from telling them because I feel like it's just a game of one-upmanship.


Can you send one our way?


I once presided over a DB2 to Oracle migration for reasons that had nothing to do with technological considerations and everything to do with politics. The hardest thing to get right was the different interpretations of what was 'null' in a given column. It was a never ending stream of in DB2 it's null but in oracle it's not. Or vice versa. You wouldn't think you'd have so much of that to sort though but I would bet at least 40-50% of the issues we ran into were purely around what one database counted as null and another did not. The empty string in one database would null in another as an example.


The closing talk at FOSDEM 2019[1] was so enthralling that when maddog (the greybeard speaker) ran out of time (around the 45:30 mark), the audience cheered for it to keep going and the organisers went with it.

At FOSDEM 2020, the final talk[2] was outright called “maddog continues to pontificate”.

Ageism may be real in the industry, but there is definitely a sizeable number of programmers who recognise the value of experience and enjoy the “war stories”.

[1]: https://archive.fosdem.org/2019/schedule/event/keynote_fifty...

[2]: https://archive.fosdem.org/2020/schedule/event/fossh/


I watched [1] in parent comment (really about the 49 minute mark fwiw), that was heartwarming.

Ageism needs to be kicked from this industry. Yes, defeated, static, close-minded people of all ages exist, but don't tar everyone with that brush just because their hair is grey!


> around the 45:30 mark

Correction: I meant 49:30.


60 year old here, still writing code for a company that provides Cloud services, today I'm hacking away on some Scala. My role model and hero is Roger Faulkner, the creator of /proc who died at 76 "with his boots on". An elder statesman who took no shit from anybody, and a true gentleman to boot.

https://thenewstack.io/remembering-roger-faulkner/


54 here - got my last job 2 years ago, middle of covid, no issues with my age. That was with a smallish cloud services/architecture firm and had no issues with my age. We were just acquired by a F500, and again - my age doesn't seem to be a factor at all.


50+ no beard, starting to gray, here.

Been coding professionally since the mid-80's. I still sit in front of 3 computers (win10, mac, linux) every day writing code for various projects. Mostly embedded on NXP/Renesas for ODMs (lots of security and ML these days), but also device drivers on Linux/Windows, native windows tools, and as a bonus SPA dashboards for IoT/cloud (Vue/Node). I use python+excel extensively for behind the scenes analysis.

To stay current, I read multiple newsletters because HN tends to skew to the web and misses large parts of the industry. It is rather myopic that way.

People talk about tech leaving grayhairs in the dust, but that discussion always seems to be related to web front-end, which is like a fraction of the industry. Sure there will always be a need for a fast flashy website that scales to billions of users, but optimizing C in embedded space, or debugging a Windows bulk USB endpoint, or customizing UDP for multicast, etc. will always be necessary, too.

Realize as you older that you are going to be charging a premium for experience, so you have to build breadth while you are young to compete when you are old. If you just stick with one tech your whole life you won't be able to leave it.

And you can only get that kind of breadth from decades of experience.

There's literally no short-cut to age.


Me also, still rolling code for custom embedded hardware at 65. Started in the mid 1980s, in embedded, running proprietary RTOS, then later, commercial RTOS (pSOS, vxWorks, ThreadX, QNX), then NetBSD, and now Linux.

The amount of Python code I have written in the last three years, when I really only learned Python six years ago....


My current mentor is 67 and pretty much knows everything. His coding style is shit, and he's slow as molasses, but he has an insane memory that can recall obsolete architecture ISAs, compiler quirks (for dozens of compilers), and tribal knowledge for just about every kind of trick and technique. That's probably why he is so slow: if I had to navigate 5 decades of lossless knowledge I probably wouldn't be able to walk.


I am interested in knowing which newsletters you are subscribed to if you're willing to share ?


Sure. These are the top level sites but each one has a variety of different newsletter (these are free);

https://www.techonline.com/

https://www.electronicdesign.com/

https://www.edn.com/

https://www.eetimes.com/

Pay newsletters:

https://www.techinsights.com/

https://ojoyoshidareport.com/


What are the specs of your development machines?

By embedded, do you mean FPGA development or something else?


I don't know my machine's specs: it doesn't really matter anything off-the-shelf from Circuit City or Best Buy is fast enough for what I do.

I have a windows desktop machine from 5 years ago that I run Visual Studio and dozens of embedded IDEs on.

All my networking / cloud dev is done on three different linux laptops (all Dells that were repurposed): Qubes, Ubuntu, and FreeBSD. (FreeBSD has a few other images on it with Grub including Win10.)

And then I have two macbook pros, an x86 and an M1 that I remote desktop/VNC to the other machines.

I prefer laptops because they take up less space and are portable.

By embedded I mean products based on Arm Cortex-M and -R, Renesas RZ/RL/RX, TI 430, Synopsys ARC, PIC, Atmel, etc...


I now stay away from hiring below 30s.

Tons of effort to train them. I feel like raising children for a long time. Also, higher incidence of behavioral problems: they can be immature and bring drama, feeling entitled, they may lack sufficient social experience (it takes some time until they learn how to properly respond in a given situation, play well in a team, etc), don’t know well how the industry in which we work operates etc.

I get better bang for the buck with more experienced folks. Much less headache.

I think hiring young people is partly a cultural convention.


Isn't this just blatant ageism too? Especially the part about "behavioral problems"?


No. We are talking about the selection or rejection of people with or without justified reasons.

Ageism refers to discrimination without a justified reason. For example, someone’s beard is grey, he is not considered, or gets negative points.

If a valid reason is provided to the person, young or old, pertaining to the performance in the job, that’s fine. The person can perhaps work on it and improve.

At the end, the person who better performs a job and delivers should get that job, irrespective of gender, age, religion, etc.


If you provide the true reason specific to the person why you didn't hire them, and it's an actual job issue they can improve other than "wait until you're 30", that's one thing.

On the other hand, you said "I now stay away from hiring below 30s." You may have had all kinds of bad experiences after hiring younger folks, but none of those are the fault of the person sitting across the table from you when you interview the next person. You're stereotyping. It's ageism.


100% reverse ageism. Lol. I am 44 by the way but clearly this is a similar type of ridiculous superficial bias.


30-40 is the sweetspot for devs but they are also distracted by new family members in that time period.


Ageism in tech is strange to me, like, we think old scientists, doctors and writers as better than their younger counterparts, but for some reason it's different in programming.


Young people are generally more willing to work long hours and long shifts, and generally are less skilled at negotiating their salary. Companies see more value in someone who may be less skilled overall, but is more willing to devote themselves to the cause, so to speak. Older programmers tend to have families and other interesting hobbies, as well as more experience at the salary negotiation stage, so companies would oftentimes rather not bother with them.


I remember listening to an interview with PG many years ago. The one thing that still stands out, because it irked me no end, was PG and the interviewer laughing over the reason you hired younglings for the companies you invest in. Sure, the younglings weren't as good as elders, but they were naive enough to work longer hours for less pay and put up with more crap.

Lost a lot of respect that day.


I wonder how much ageism in tech would vanish if the overtime exemption was removed.


Also some young people who are in tech seem to be both hypersensitive while also suffering from know-it-all syndrome. They don't like moments when their personal curtain is pulled back by people with experience. Well, that has been my experience with the few juniors I have worked with anyway.


These are all stereotypes themselves.

Many people have children in their 20s. Maybe they even met their spouse in school. And younger people can be quite savvy in negotiating salary, even fresh college grads if they've received advice from more experienced folks. I'm astounded by the offers some of them receive.

I personally never had children, and I naturally sleep fewer hours per day now than when I was younger, so I have plenty of time to work.

Every individual is different.


Exceptions don't invalidate the generalities, and I specifically said "generally".


Do you have any evidence for these generalities?

The average age of first child has been increasing but is still relatively low at 26 for women and 31 for men. How many over 50 people have young children at home? Maybe they had children, but at a certain point those children leave the home. And even while at home, teenagers need much less supervision than babies. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2020/05/01/new-stud...

If children are the reason, it would be really strange and anti-empirical to discriminate against 50+ developers instead of discriminating against 30something developers. Statistically, the 30s are the prime child-having years.


> The average age of first child has been increasing but is still relatively low at 26 for women and 31 for men.

That's for the US as a whole. It seems to be higher in the cities one usually associates with tech.

The average age of first child for women in San Francisco and New York is 31-32 [1] [2].

I couldn't find the average for Seattle, but I did find that 57% of first time mothers in Seattle's county are 30+ in 2016, compared to around 33% nationwide. In San Francisco 76% of first time mothers are 30+. Boston, DC, Portland, and Denver also had majority 30+ first time mothers. [3]

Age of first time mothers tends to correlate well with education and wealth, which also tend to correlate well where tech companies are located. Women with college degrees on average are 7 years old than those without when they have their first child.

[1] https://www.sfgate.com/mommyfiles/article/women-sf-children-...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/04/upshot/up-bir...

[3] https://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/northwest/waiting-to-hav...


I suspect the high cost of living in those cities plays a role too. Try buying a house in SF to raise kids. :-)

But raising the average 5-7 years doesn't really substantially change the argument when we're talking about discriminating against people in their 50s and 60s, who mostly don't have babies or young children at all. It just makes no sense.

If anything, employers should be seeking out employees in their 50s and 60s, who are least likely of the age groups to have young children at home. If a primary reason for age discrimination is "having children", that is. But I don't believe this is true, and the whole having children thing is just an ex post facto excuse for discriminating against older people. An irrational prejudice can't be explained rationally.


Yeah I mentioned that younger people are less likely to have children, so they have more time to be devoted to work. I'm not sure why you are taking so much issue with what I said. Perhaps you misunderstood what I wrote.


> I mentioned that younger people are less likely to have children, so they have more time to be devoted to work. I'm not sure why you are taking so much issue with what I said.

Because it's false?

This submission is about so-called "greybeards", i.e., people over 50. They are more likely to have had children at some point in their lives (perhaps 20 years earlier!) but actually less likely to have young children at home that would interfere with work time.

A 25 year old developer is much more likely to have a baby than a 55 year old developer, correct?


They may not have younger children at home, but they still have children/families (I live in an area where extended families tend to stay together, so that might be what's causing the confusion here), and they are more likely to have other family commitments than younger people. I also included other reasons why tech companies tend to hire younger people, because I don't think children are the only reason. It's mainly because younger people are generally more willing to work longer hours for less pay, for a multitude of reasons which include less familial responsibilities and less leverage for salary and workload negotiations.


> I live in an area where extended families tend to stay together

That's nice, but I'm guessing it's not the San Francisco bay area or other areas where tech jobs are concentrated.

Anyway, doesn't an "extended" family include everyone of every age — by definition — and not just people over 50?

> so that might be what's causing the confusion here

Well, I for one am not confused.


That and the vision of the almighty hip tech startup with booch on tap, free GrubHub, a slide, nerf guns, and a stripper pole (to be ironic) doesn't include an old person in it.


Fresh young folks work more for less and have less “distractions” outside of work. Less opinions, more likely to fall in line. When you need bodies ageism makes perfect sense.


When you need something done quickly and properly first time, hiring someone who has seen same the same half-assed ideas "reinvented" over and over for the last 30+ years and who won't try to sell them to you as the New Shiny makes much more sense. Unless you are into square wheels, of course.

Most of the time experience and healthy cynicism is the cheapest option.


Absolutely agree. There’s an aspect of technology investments that you can’t really see payoff with less than a decade of experience. I know early in my career I didn’t really understand how technology choices were really investments


If you only care to "move fast and break things" with the sole goal of getting acquired, none of that matters.


> Fresh young folks work more for less

I've actually found that not always true. In order to acquire talent, the very large corporation I work for has been hiring younger developers at higher wage levels to compete.


We responded along the same lines, but your response was much pithier. Thank you for reminding me to edit my jabbering.


On the other hand mathematicians are generally thought to peak early with their best work in their 20s and 30s (although like programmers there are certainly many cases that go against this "rule"). I think the idea is that mathematics and programming are supposed to benefit from creative vision uninfluenced by previous works whereas science and medicine are supposed to benefit more from experience.


If you don't see the massive structural difference between the practice of pure mathematics and the practice of software, that means you misunderstand both software development and mathematics.


Programming and mathematics are many things. Sure, it might be hard to see how maintaining a web site has has do with mathematics, but if you need to design a novel algorithm it is worth actually working out the proofs to show that it works (and if you want to publish it in a journal that is often essential).


Computer science is a branch of math, but programming is not. People frequently confuse the two. The difference between using mathematical constructs to inform your engineering and discovering new mathematical constructs is fundamental and the practices do not intersect much at all.


Among mathematicians this is widely regarded as an old wives’ tale, there are ample examples of older mathematicians doing their best work outside that age range.


We also expect these people to wear format outfits, lab coats, etc., while we "expect" techies to show up at the office wearing a graphic t-shirt and khaki shorts while juggling a latte and the latest laptop.

I wonder if the uniform might be an important variable in blurring the age-gap.

There's also the fact that standards are changing so quickly, new hires often bring useful information to companies while existing employees are often (stereotypically) set in their ways. In fields such as medicine, new hires are almost a liability.


It might be because in tech your knowledge of tools becomes worthless as soon as a new tools and ecosystems become fashionable, which happens quite a lot.


I think that may be true if you focus on breadth rather than depth.

I work mostly on Windows, so maybe my case is special, but I'm still using knowledge about 8086 machine language I learned 40 years ago when I'm looking at a memory dump from a crash report today.

I occasionally dip into web-based stuff and although the top layers are different, underneath is usually HTTP / TCP / UDP / IP. What I learned with Ethereal in 1998 is still pretty useful today.

Truly new stuff doesn't come around that often. Maybe it's the difference between thinking about fashion and clothing.


I think the timeless skills you mentioned are much more useful for debugging, troubleshooting, and maybe overall architecture though. I couldn't for the live of me create a React app (because I stopped doing frontend long ago) but I can absolutely help with any of the networking, HTTP, or lower level stuff even if I'm just involved with the backend.


Yes, and if only 5% of work is architecture and advanced troubleshooting, while 95% of the work is plumbing in the language-du-jour then you see where the problem is.


The greybeard reaction to this is to pick a specialty, stack, and domain with less churn than the messier ones. Constantly treading water to stay afloat is exhausting and a waste.


Yup! Perl has kept me gainfully employed for 35 years and I'm still working - about to retire though (to spend some time dog and side-projects).


Perl is getting to be like COBOL - lots of lines out there still doing useful things but they aren't cranking out new Perl programmers like they used to. Lucrative if you can find the gig.

That said, I met a millennial COBOL programmer a couple years ago.


If you don't expect to be learning new stuff every day throughout your entire career, you are in the wrong line of business.


But it's not new stuff, mostly. It's just the same old stuff in a new package.


Yes, indeed that's true. But they get upset if you tell them that their genius new idea is just an old idea they didn't know about ;-)


That's precisely why it's not really that big a deal to learn the new stuff. If you know the fundamentals, learning the new tech is fine. It can be a little daunting at first but once you familiarise yourself with the new jargon and what value the practical differences bring you can apply your knowlege very productively.


No. Learning a new ecosystem is far more work and takes far more time than (so to speak) learning a few keywords of a new language.


Aren't you contradicting yourself?


Why? It takes time to master new ecosystems, even if what they offer is a complete duplicate of what already existed.


Not worthless... you can typically judge when a new tool has useful features, things to verify carefully before using or things that are likely a bad idea.

Tool advocates/salesmen may not like you though.


For scientists there absolutely is ageism. A 40 year old postdoc is going to raise a lot of flags. Old scientists are expected to be in professorship positions, where most of the work is management and big picture rather than boots on the ground.

The analogy for ageism in programming is that after a while, one is expected to go beyond writing code and into more high level strategy, design, and mentorship.


there was an article that stated that almost all software is written by jr professionals because as you improve your skills you just working more with people that writing programs, so I suppose that the reasoning of this is that companies knows this and unless you are in the small set of really tech oriented companies it doesn't really matter whats your skill level is.


Do we, like I don't think so. math you peak at 20 most likely he same in programming and science.


The best guy I ever employed was someone I kept from retirement for the last 5-10 years of his career. He never once under-delivered in 20 years for me, either when we worked together at one of the “Internet giants” or afterwards at a couple of startups. I once asked him what was the best decision he made in his career. He told me it was choosing digital computers over analogue. I’m still not sure if he was joking or not.


I'm another one of those guys who literally has a gray beard. Recently spent a long time looking for a new job. When I interviewed at my current company (for about 6 weeks now) my wife went to the website, looked over the pictures of the leadership team and said, "Look! They're not all children. Maybe they'll hire you!" And so they did. Great company. Fantastic job.

I didn't used to believe in ageism. Then I got a little older. What I've found is that a lot of the problem is cultural.

The hiring managers often make pop cultural references that I don't get (and don't want to). At times, I don't think we're even talking the same language. This is much less obvious when talking to actual technical folks. We all understand the language of tech and we all get Star Wars references. It's fine.

But management sometimes seems to see me as some sort of alien species. They can't judge my technical skills and are offended that I'm not impressed by their new fad diet or corporate social media campaign. No, I'm not going to "like" your newest Tik Tok video. I would have to sign up for an account first and why would I do that?

Little things like this create friction with a lot of younger people who haven't yet figured out how little it matters. And by younger people, I also unfortunately mean some in their forties, who think youth is the future.

Anyway, that's some of what I've seen.


> No, I'm not going to "like" your newest Tik Tok video. I would have to sign up for an account first and why would I do that?

According to this site it is a national security risk. Maybe this answer would leave them off-balance and possibly think about larger consequences for a second.


It's early and I haven't had my coffee yet, but anyone have a source link for this interview? I'd like to listen/read it (with proper paragraphs), it sounds really interesting to me (a literal gray beard).

Edit: paragraphs.

"I'm 51 and I've been active in this industry since I was 14. I watched it grow from computers with 4k of memory to having a supercomputer in my pocket. I was learning in the age of Apple II and the Commodore PET.

When I realized that I could create an explosion of data with just a few lines of code, I was hooked forever. It was such a magical thing. I found some other guys in my high school that were also into computers and we started meeting regularly on Fridays and Saturdays to... Well, to do some things that were, perhaps, not allowed.

Since then, I've started three companies, and I don't think I could have found the same satisfaction in any other industry. I am mindful, these days, that I'm 51 because I know ageism is a thing in tech. There's a moment when you walk into a room and people think, 'Oh, he's a greybeard.' I don't have a beard, but you know what I mean.

But when I start to talk about things and find solutions, that disappears. I can't change my age but I am in full control over what I do and what I read and how much time I carve out to write code. I can still see myself doing this when I'm 60, 70 years old. Even older. Because I want to keep doing meaningful things."


Hmm. I assumed it was the direct speech of jamesofthedrum.

Also here: https://www.hazumi.news/posts/32317441


Thank you!


I'm almost 40. The aging process has certainly begun, and here's what I have to say about it.

Bodily health is important. Do everything you can to stay in shape. You don't have to have bulging muscles or a six-pack, but don't let yourself go. Some of it, of course, is out of your control. Your brain is a part of your body, so do what you can to take care of both.

Intelligence-wise, some people get smarter in their 30s, 40s, 50s, likely beyond that... and some people get dumber. I'm smarter than I was at 22, but an upward trajectory isn't a guarantee. You can actually predict which way people will go: the ones who buy into corporate and accept the notion of an employer having authority are the ones who turn dumb as rocks. If you sit in meetings with people who talk about "synergizing" "at the end of the day" after a "drill down session" where we'll "boil the ocean" and "jump on" calls, you become one of them. If you spend 10 years doing work with no career value, you lose your skills. The ones who never bought in are the ones who keep getting smarter.

Which explains what ageism is really about. Bosses know that not everyone turns into an idiot in middle age. Plenty of us don't. However, the people who buy into corporate do get dumber, and the ones who preserve or improve their intelligence and skills in middle age are exactly the anti-authoritarian types who don't make the best subordinates. With a 20-year-old, you don't know which way he's going to go, and it'll be a decade from now; with someone like me in his late 30s, you know which they've gone.


Since ageism is very real in the tech industry, why in this era of 'Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity' don't we hear all kinds of tech companies telling us why they need to focus on the under-represented greybeard group?

I have been to a few tech conferences that have multiple seminars on why we need to hire more women or minority or LGBTQ++ people; but I haven't heard a single one who talked about catering to greybeards.


Agism is real, but probably unintentional. By definition, most people hire subordinates, and in their mind they picture someone some number of years their junior. When an older person applies, they just don't fit the image they have created in their mind (assuming they don't feel outright threatened).

It might even be that agism has the opposite effect once you are established in an organization. If you are qualified, experienced and engaged, you might be first in line for promotions because then you fit the image.

The best advice to fight agism is probably to use your network. If you've been around the industry for many years and made friends along the way, that might level the playing field.


My current boss (I'm guessing I'm 7 years her senior, not going to ask her age) later told me that she was nervous hiring a subordinate older than her. I'm grateful for her open mind. This is a fantastic job and she is a terrific boss. So yeah, there is probably some unintentional aspect to ageism. Not saying all of it is unintentional though.


Greybeard here. Whenever a younger colleague is picking on code that I wrote ages ago (and which is not up to modern standards, never mind that it worked for 15+ years without complaints) I reply: "listen buddy, I have bugs that are older than you." In some cases it it not even untrue. Self-deprecating sarcasm is one of the prerogatives of a greybeard.


I recently worked with a 21 year old and I once told her that "I've been releasing bugs since you were in diapers!"


I also started encountering something like ageism, but more careerism. If you're old and you haven't climbed the corporate ladder, they think something's wrong with you. Why haven't you gotten Senior yet? Principal? Staff? Management? Director? It's not enough to say you don't care about money or title, they assume you're just not very good. Even though the Peter Principle shows the worst often floats to the top. So now I work for promotions just so the resume doesn't look bad. But it sucks because I don't want more responsibility, I want to just put in 40 hours of code and go home.


Hopefully with wellness and life outside work being in trend this will lessen


50 year old greybeard (in winter) here. I worked with a lot of smart female engineers over the last nearly 30 years. I'm wondering what they call themselves now (and I'm wondering if we can get a better name in general)?


"Greyhairs", I guess?

Though many men go bald, so "baldy" -- but (AIUI) a lot fewer women do, so that won't work as a gender-neutral moniker.


It's funny to me that the future generation of greybeards (maybe greymanes as a less gender biased word, or greypubes? heh), will be like: "I started with a iPad when I was a toddler, and my dad who was a web developer taught me to use JavaScript" --- and then that will seem old skool. Hah.


Our grandkids will dread helping us use the holosuites.


I'll be 59 at the end of this year. Unlike most of the commenters here, I've been self-employed for the last 20+ years, working on my own open source project, and so I have not had to interact with interviewers or companies that might or might not want to hire me during that time. The folks I do collaborate with are generally fairly anonymous unless they stick around the project for a long time, at which point nobody really cares much about anyone's identity or age.

My experience of coding-while-aging has mostly been centered on just a few things independent of industry ageism:

1. smaller working set size: I am fairly sure that I just cannot retain as much design and/or code in my memory at this point as I could, say, 10 years ago. It's a little hard to tell, because the scale and scope of the project itself has grown. But I remember when I could relatively easily think about the entire codebase, or when I knew the answer to any question about the codebase without having to look at it. Those days are over. Interestingly, my main collaborator is about 10 years younger than me, and to a large extent he can still do those things, which reinforces my belief that memory limitations are what is driving it.

2. FOMO: not money, but technology. I look out on the landscape of "the new" and wonder if it is possible that it actually contains anything that would make my work or my project better, easier etc. So far, the answer is a fairly solid "no" - realtime audio software has so little connection to web-centric application development that it's not that hard to be fairly confident about this. But things like Rust still make me wonder if it could potentially do a better job of providing memory safety than the somewhat ad-hoc solutions the project has adopted (in C++) over 20 years. And a couple of weeks ago, someone built VCV Rack with emscripten and thus got it running in the browser, which seems right on the doorstep of what I do. Should I be thinking more about that, or is it a diversion? Hard to know, and only time will tell.

3. Work/life balance: working for yourself on your own project is hard to beat, but finding the boundaries between work and the rest of life can be harder still. Getting older, with a spouse that entertains some ideas about how that means a (slow) shift in priorities, makes that challenge seem even more important. I was lucky that I got to be a stay-at-home parent when my kids were young, but now that I'm closing in on 60, the question about what work means, what work is for, how much I could actually live on, what I actually want to do with my time have gained increasing significance and weight. The answers, alas, are as elusive as ever.


I'm 60 (no beard). I did have to adjust to the way that I'm perceived. I don't like it, but it's just the way things are, and I need to accept it, and work around it.

I seem to get done what needs doing. I'm no slouch, in the areas I work at.

Basically, folks are free to ignore me. I won't ignore them.

I will step up (politely), when I'm being downright insulted, and will usually remove myself, if possible, from situations where that happens.

A lot of times, when I see some of the Jurassic-scale clusterf**ks that happen, I wonder "Did anyone over 40 review this plan?"


I have worked for many startups and I can say for a fact founders below 30 in leadership are useless and will make a mess of things, especially when they dont have any prior experience. In contrast when the leadership is more than 30 and have prior experience they make decisions which are sound in multiple dimensions, both in terms of people, fiscally, in terms of technical capabilities and so on.

I have vowed to never work in a company where the CEO/directors are less than 30.


I’m looking forward to being useless so I can become not useless :)


I'm 45+ and headed into the 50s was so scary, I am headed off to get an MBA to future proof my income a little before I die off in coding because of cognitive ability escapes me on remembering more than 3,945 places of pi.

The one thing that's tough working at a start-up is trying to convince those who (of the same age) that you can indeed lead more than your co-developers in something more than a dev/project meeting. I saw literally 3 promotions pass me by, most likely because of the perception that at my age if I hadn't started my own company/become a corporate C-suite leader/done it by now I couldn't.

Thing is, I can feel I can do everything UP to the CTO level of work - naturally, given the chance. At least I got them to give me a raise to equate to the level of paying for my education I'm taking on at my age.

Regardless, at least now I can have the chops, the cohort network, and hopefully if we exit - the money to have the last laugh.

Revenge is only bitter sweet if you can execute on it by being a better shark in the water that knows a few tricks the young lads (and lasses) don't have.


I'm 66, nearly 67, and my main problem is that I'm widely regarded as being a bit too avant garde.


62 here, and I know the feeling. I feel like a fresh out of school 22 year old when I have to explain current best practices to people a decade or even a generation younger (who insist on using Windows 7, or won't upgrade to supported 64 bit versions of IDEs, etc. etc.).


> avant garde

I just have to ask: In what way? Any examples?


No need to either excuse ageism or let it stop you. It's real. So is the personal freedom of movement that lets you find ways around it.


Closer to 60 than 50, gray hair, white beard(which is why I'm beardless most of the time) been developing since I was 13 starting on TRS-80 Model 1.

Currently a technical manager so I still get to develop 40%-50% of my time, but as a manager I also get to have a broader impact with my experience.

I still program in my free time to maintain my knowledge and learn from/play with. I think we of a more senior vintage can still demonstrate our value by explaining not just how to build complex components but also how to tie these pieces together into a complex system. So many of the junior and mid-level developers I work with can solve a targeted problem definition but fail to see the bigger picture. The value of the greybeards in the room truly is the wisdom and experience of their years, it's important that we use that knowledge to help these newer developers become the next generation of greybeards.


Fifty-one. Ha. I am 62, with salt and pepper hair that just crossed about the 50-50 line, and beard that's about 75% gray.

My current job started in September 2001, and because of the grounded airspace that month I was offered remote status, and there I remain after 21 years. One good thing about the company is we rarely use cameras on calls. We did try it briefly at the start of COVID lockdown did we try, but everyone found it distracting. (I was shocked how young my manager looked, and he probably felt the same way in revers). But teleconferencing among dispersed and remote staff has been a thing here for decades (could say we invented it, actually), so voice-only calls with screen sharing fortunately are the norm.

One thing I noticed in hearing myself on recorded calls is though I may look like I'm in my 7th decade, I don't sound it. In fact I'm the guy constantly pressuring younger people in my team to stop using tools that are out of date or no longer available, to adopt current practices (trade fragile 20 year old Excel macros for Postgres, trade CMD scripts for Powershell, move apps to the cloud, etc.).

That's key: people forget your age if you bring sharp chops to the table and stay current with the tech stack. It helps to use an ID picture that looks younger, something that's been easier now that we take our own badge pictures rather than go to a corporate DMV-style photo booth.

Some of the people I work with peripherally, I suspect, would be shocked to meet me in person (and that includes some in my chain of managers). I have no illusion or desires around climbing that chain, I just want to be paid a competitive salary to develop solutions. I try not to date myself in conversation unless I feel safe confirming my sexagenarian status (that's an age range, people).

Like the OP, I look forward to doing this until I'm ready to stop (or forced to by real aging issues), not because my birth date in an HR database.


Good takeaways here:

1. The less time you spend on-camera, the less your appearance dates you. Go voice-only when possible.

2. Stay on the leading edge of tech whenever possible


I'm 62. I started out by coding basic and machine code on a ZX-81 I won in a competition when I was on the dole in the early 1980's.

These days I earn a handsome salary as a front end developer - mostly React, but other frameworks as and when required. I pull in very good side income as a freelancer too. Over the last 15 years I have had absolutely no problem getting a job at any stage, usually winding up with a number of offers within a few days of leaving my previous job.

I imagine I've come across ageism from time to time, but honestly it has made little difference to me or to my prospects. I'm told I look quite young for my age, but I dye no hairs.

Take heart oldies, if I can do it, so can you.


I was learning on an Amiga 500 in the late 80s. I dropped out of high-school to take my first programming job (it was the 90s and I went back to finish). Before I had an email address we used Fidonet. When I had my first email address the Internet wasn't commercially available. I've been there since and watched it grow.

What I find weird about it all is seeing how the same things get discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered: and how all that froth forms some of the weirdest trends and opinions.

I've done the management thing for a couple of years and while I was good at it I wasn't enjoying it. I intend to stay on as a developer for the rest of my career. I like programming.


I'm 55+ and left the field ages ago, but I experienced this in my late 30s and 40s since the field was and apparently still is mostly dominated by people in their 20s, which from an overall point of view can also be a good thing. It's not their fault however; workers in the IT field are often regarded as numbers, exchangeable commodities that can be moved around at will by HR. "I know a team of smart guys very prolific in C++" becomes "I have 5 C++ resources", so treating them as machines where the newest one is always a better version of the older one is just a matter of time.


Ageism is real and you either adapt or fade away. The tech is like the porn industry: youth is coveted and the elderly are not. Zuckerberg stated: “Young people are just smarter.” https://ricochet.com/1274812/zuckerberg-stated-older-people-.... and many believe dementia begins at 40. I'm 56 and in my 4th year of a CS PhD program. Was lucky enough to be able to afford to temporarily retire to school with the hope of becoming the old guy with a fresh degree and the niche expertise necessary for another decade of work. Some of my age peers are beginning to experience difficulties with managers who are young enough to be their children. Many are now getting as many certifications as possible to prove their worth and are becoming frightened. I am unsure of the solution but hair dye is not it. One person wrote: "One advantage we, The Elders, have is that we know not only how things got (and get, and will get) built, but we also know how they fail... We seldom need more than five minutes to point out organizational issues that can cause a project to fail" You will be mercilessly "cancelled" unless you deliver the message in an amenable manner. The generation gap has made many youth unaccepting of contrarian ideas as the hubris of youth can be difficult to tenor for a wizened programmer.


"temporarily retire to school with the hope of becoming the old guy with a fresh degree and the niche expertise necessary": that's a smart strategy. How big did you go on this? What was the degree and how long did you take off?


Like porn? That's a bit of a stretch.


I am still doing this and I am 65. Started in this industry at the tender age of 27, this being my third career choice.

I have taken a minor step back after turning 62, for a few simple reasons:

A) I am not 'building my career' at this point, so leave that opportunity open to the young. (this is the key point) B) I just want to do technical work, I don't have any reason to be the team lead any longer. C) I don't want to spend multiple hours in planning meetings every week. Particularly making plans for products five years down the road, and having someone else be responsible for those decisions. (likewise, I would like to see the average age of our representatives come down, for the same reason)

I still enjoy the work. I particularly enjoy working with young people. I still learn something new every month.

The people I work with all know me, some have known me for twenty years, so that helps. Maintain your network, people! Your network matters.

I find far more ageism now, outside of work, than at work.

This is the truth.

I have learned to politely tolerate young people, outside of work, trying to explain to me how to use my technology. Hint: If you visit my home, I hand you a photo with a QR code of the guest network, and I expect you know how that works. But when I go to restaurants, I have to tolerate an overly cheerful hostess explaining to me how QR code menus work.


54. Understand that your target market may change. Think legacy. My father at 72 was contacted about a system he was an intern on in 1967 because he was the only one left alive from when the system was built.

Plenty of legacy stuff from the 4gl craze of the 90s and 00s is aging out rapidly. Power Builder, Cold Fusion, Dbase/Clipper, Delphi, Java apps and many more will need to be updated or migrated to newer tech stacks in the coming decades.


Think legacy.

But not too legacy. A friend of the family got his first programming gig (in the early 80s) working on some old in house main frame system at a fortune50 company and spent the next 20 years doing that. When they retired that system in the early 2000s they fired him and he ended up having to take a job at a gas station, since no one was interested in hiring someone who had spent their entire career working on some main frame system that no one had ever heard of.


I'm not talking about a first gig, I'm talking about skills and skillsets where you aren't competing with new devs and the .js flavour of the month. Sorry to hear about your friend, but my friends in the mainframe priesthood tell me - "it's not about knowing COBOL so much as it is the CICS/JCL and other legacy stuff that keeps that COBOL alive they are really paying for". The kind of things that unless you lived it you can't possibly know because it never made it into google.


I am 47 and have a beard. I work in a company that only has consultants. We all have beards. I just shaved mine because I want my skin to tan equally. Next week the beard is back. I read some of the comments about ageism and I have to say that I do not believe I will have issues with getting a new job or contract to work for a client. Maybe it is also related to where I live (Netherlands) or cultural. I started off with a VIC 20. Been hooked ever since. I have a few nice stories and worked on a lot of interesting stuff in the past so I do not have issues getting jobs/contracts now. Nowadays I do not talk about tech but on communication, documentation and other non-tech stuff. My CV is large and filled with a huge spectrum of technologies. People sometimes still ask about certain tech stuff but then I reply, yeah that looks like x and that is not to difficult to use. I am now working on AWS for the first time. And to be honest; I'm not impressed. Cloud really is someone else his computer.


Curious which computers had 4k of memory. I started with 1k, jumped to 16k a few months later (wobbly ram pack) and 48k a year after that.


I started with 2K, (the "minimal" Acorn Atom).

I expanded the memory 1K at a time to the maximum of 12K of RAM.

Two chips for each 1K. I can still remember which ones: code "2114", 300ns static RAM chips, 4 bits x 1024 (hence needing two chips per K).


I suspect my early trajectory is similar (and my parents couldn’t afford the pre-built version of the ZX81, so I learnt soldering at 11), except my jump was not to the Spectrum, but to the Atari XL because Dixons had a sell-off-the-stock deal where you got a floppy-disk drive + the computer for £100. So I went to 64k after 16 :)

These days I live in Sunny CA, I’m almost as senior engineer as I can be at Apple (and I’ve got a good chance of getting rid of the “almost” over the next couple of years), and I’m going to retire early as soon as the kid goes to college. Not bad for a docker’s brat from ‘pool.

Can’t say I’ve noticed much Ageism here at the fruit company. I know people who’ve been here for 30 years (I’m coming up on 20) and my direct boss used to work at NeXT.


I bricked my zx81 just plugging in the ram pack (dixons were good enough to replace it) so soldering probably wouldn't have gone well.

I'm working for a startup in Canada and I'm the oldest person in the company by a fairly wide margin. It's a bit weird when your bosses are young enough to be your children but apart from that I haven't experienced any ageism. I can't say whether or not I would've got the job if I didn't know someone here though.


My first computer was a TRS-80 MC-10: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRS-80_MC-10 A less expensive version of the TRS-80 Color Computer. The worst part wasn't the 4k of RAM, but that I had no storage device for it so would spend entire days writing programs only to have to turn it off and lose it all.

Thankful, less then a year later I went the Commodore route starting with a VIC-20 with a cassette drive, then C64 with a floppy drive, then an Amiga with a hard drive before fulling moving into Wintel PCs in the 486 era.


Some of the early 2001 PETs had them IIRC. I dont know what it was, but when I took computers in highschool there were still a few of the old ones in the class that had 4K and crappy keyboards and I think and there was something that didnt run on them. Hence it was a rush to reserve the fancy new 4xxx series.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_PET

Ooooh, the nostalgia looking at those pics.


My first computer was a TRS-80 Model III, which had 48k of RAM. That's an embarrassment of riches compared to 4k. High-res graphics mode was 128 X 60 (black and white only) and no sound. I remember typing in a BASIC version of Conway's Game of Life, and each generation on that size of grid took about 20-30 seconds to update. Good times!


The Vic-20 had about that much, what a glorious beast it was.


5k, 3.5k free! Difference taken by the MS Basic interpreter I believe.


My Casio PB-700 still has 4K of RAM. Got me through college.


For me, the TRS-80 Model I (4k). I later "graduated" to the TI-99/4A (16k) and Commodore VIC-20 (5k).


In a slightly different situation, mid-40s, but even though I grew up with Commodore computers, programming in BASIC, Pascal, etc. I didn't spend my 20s in tech (yah, I know, missed opportunity). Anyways, back in it now, but instead of 25 years of experience in my mid-40s, it's 15ish.

I have not had it negatively affect me in hiring yet, but I do things like just eliminate the non-relevant jobs from my resume so they don't age me up, and emphasize that I'm able to learn things (I think fairly quickly), but also that I have a wealth of non-tech but important skills I learned during those years that give me a different perspective sometimes.

I do think ageism will (and is) slowly getting better as the first few generations pave the way. I don't know if I'll run into it in my career, but if so, I'll look for a company that values my age rather than views it as a negative.


I've always considered being graybeard a positive thing in the field of programming. Maybe that's just me as I have my personal reasons; I look up to many such men with respect and when I hear someone has been coding for decades and has that beard that is turning gray I just think how good of a coder he probably is. He probably knows C and stuff, is what I think. Also I haven't been involved in many interviews and still work at my first developer job, so I haven't been exposed to much of this.

If I had to guess a field in programming where gray beard has negative connotation, that would be a field that has evolved the most rapidly in recent years and is the most volatile still. As a hint the field in question largely revolves around a language that used to be very domain specific and was initially developed quickly, in just 10 days, the legend has it.


Ageism is, for sure, a very real thing. I work with a guy who started his programming career on UNIVAC and he’s doing cloud stuff now. He’s still quite sharp and capable. Another gentleman is middle aged, as I am, and there’s one younger developer on the team. My older colleague is probably our best asset. He knows when we do something stupid and has no fear of telling us.

I work for a non-profit though, and I’ve become management. Other companies I worked at in the past didn’t treat older people well at all. Always bugged me.

We may add more layers of abstraction to things but logic and math do not change. The things that worked in the past will still work, you may just need a different language, framework, or whatever else… and it’s probably easier than what we all started with, let alone what someone who’s 60+ started with.


I'm 56, still actively coding everyday but also using accumulated ME & EE Domain knowledge.

What's most striking to me is that all my bosses three or four levels up are same age or younger than me. That affords me some level of respect so far no sign of ageism.


Considerations: - put some effort into healthy lifestyle to roll back the years and appear younger : Age discrimination laws means they cant actually ask you age - just say "old enough, but not too old" - after 20 years in the trenches, you should have enough accumulated wisdom to move up the ladder to an architect / team lead position. The alternative is arguing technical trajectories with peers / managers who know less than you, which can be frustrating - market your broad and deep experience and insights built up over the years when you interview


I believe, if you can maintain a genuine interest in certain, contemporary topics than you will probably have an easier time to stay relevant.

Today, depending on your interest, I'd probably would go deep into the "devops" field, since that's quite technical, fast moving but with lots of stable parts (like operating systems) and there's demand and will be for some more time.

There's also always a way to stay relevant by just being very good at a very particular thing - even if there are only a few jobs. I remember mainframe people advertising that if you know your way around z/OS you'll never have to search for a job again.


I'm 58 and feel like I still have a lot to offer. But my focus in these days is to help my team (most of whom are easily half my age) be successful. I find that their success gives me a lot more of a buzz than coding something I've probably written more times than I remember.

I do step and code from time to time but only when it's clear that it will have some kind of multiplier effect for my team.

[Edit] I just wanted to thank the poster for starting this discussion. It takes more than a bit of courage, I think, to write something like that.


Greybeard is but a stage. Coding wisdom is accrued, powers tested. I have transformed to the next stage -- whitebeard! Now I wield power openly and code with ease ignoring the stares and doubts of younger coders :)


They sent you back!


Saruman :)


The greybeard in this case appears to be, not an employee, but an owner. Maybe he's acting as a consultant, or maybe he's supporting the product his company makes.

What about greybeards trying to interview for coding (not management) jobs at FANGMAN and others? In the US you don't include a photo with your resume or include your age like in some countries. But a graduation year in the last century and an employment history a mile long is a clue. What are the prospects?


I guess I should consider myself lucky that if I shave my facial hair (in 30's) I knock off about 15 years. Just getting a haircut alone I always get told I have a youthful looking face. All my colleagues have always guessed I was younger than them.

For aging, I have heard great things about creatine supplementation for cognitive benefits (lots of research backs this supplement and it's relatively safe)


I interviewed at age 42 with an early-stage startup composed of a handful of twentysomethings. They asked me on three separate calls if I was concerned about how young they all were—which in retrospect seems like a veiled form of ageism. They ultimately told me that their company was not yet ready for someone with my "level of experience". I wonder if I should have sued them.


58, started when I was 12. I never really felt ageism until the last few years but now it’s very evident (and dumb; I still help and mentor much younger people a lot and am regularly reminded by this that I still am highly competent). No intention of ever stopping coding, if it’s not my job it’s my hobby.


Big thanks to you greybeards out there. My ages 23-29 were spent under your close tutelage and I learned so so much, often via direct lecture on a whiteboard.

Now I work at a place that burns out young folks and I literally have no one to learn from. It's frustrating, I'm probably going to leave because of it.


A developer who professionally survives into their 30s or so needs to make peace that they have statistically exhausted their pool of mentors. If you enjoy mastery of basically anything, you should consider whether it's the time to invert yourself and become the mentor for the next person down the line.


Yea that's fair. I do mentor quite naturally. I just miss the arms-length access to 20 years of experience which I was lucky to have at a previous work place.

There's as much to learn when you are absent of mentors though. Self-sufficiency in the face of ambiguity is a critical skill.


Im my opinion, creative work, like writing, painting, architecture or coding can be done efficiently almost until the last breath.

Old writers and architects are not uncommon.

I think we'll see many of us working until at least 80.

I am 45 btw, and I am still actively learning new stuff and improving my art, I don't feel diminished at all.


51! LOL I'm 50 and I came into this article expecting greybeard to be someone much older then just a year older than I am! Fortunately I don't grow my beard out (my wife won't even kiss me unless I am as smooth as a baby's butt), so I'm not sure if it is grey or not.


I retired from software 9 years ago and what really bothered me about the 26 year old senior software engineer tech lead was that they used "social proof"/hype as their justification for every decision.

RubyMotion, Chef, Meteor, Riak, it's current best practices!


Having younguns pounding out code 12-16 hours a day reminds me ofInflexible Logic" by Russell Maloney Fadiman story of a roomful of chimpanzees on typewriters churning out Shakespeare. Today it would be the latest version of Windows.


Agism is probably somewhat overestimated because there are a lot more young people entering the industry than there were 30 years ago. So it looks like a lot of old people were pushed out, but they were never there to begin with.


will this continue into the 2030s? 2040s? at some point, won't a large swathe of the industry be in their 50s/60s? A couple decades ago tech/programming was niche, but now there is a huge % of people going into it


People that graduated in late 80's/early 90's are now hitting 50+. This is the big bubble, there aren't that many people older, but there's a big group now that we're in our 50's. There are workplaces now that have a big group of these people, which didn't exist before.


... blonde beard? checking in. I just wanted to highlight that most (probably all) of the most important programming lessons I've learned from others have been delivered by people significantly older than me.


57 year old here.

One thing that's changed: I've started to volunteer for mentoring assignments. I really enjoy talking with people new to the industry and hope some of my career advice is helpful.


I'm 59. I dye my beard. ("Just For Men" brand, #45)


Guess I am a young buck grey beard, only 47, but coding since i was 11, and I won't stop until the AI takes it all over and we can't write it anymore ;)


I started coloring my beard five years ago to avoid this.


I find there is general agism, but hard won experience is still really valued on the teams and the places that I want to work.


Hi, I am Erik van Eykelen, not the OP but indeed the subject of this post. Long time HN reader. AMA!


> I am mindful, these days, that I'm 51 because I know ageism is a thing in tech.

I hear this a lot, but that hasn't been my experience. The demand for me far exceeds the supply of me.

> ...when I start to talk about things and find solutions, that disappears.

Exactly. If you can prove within the first 30 minutes why you belong in the room, they aren't going to want you to leave.


Most people don't even get in the room because their resume was thrown out, most of the rest don't get in the room because they can't pass the codepen hazing.

Not all of us have fantastic networks.


That's where you're wrong, kiddo.

I have no network and never passed a Codepen test.

I'm smart and do excellent work. I have decades of experience that speaks for itself. Maybe you need to recalibrate everything you think is true because from where I sit, you couldn't be more wrong.


(Ah, the "I never experienced it => doesn't exist" argument.)

Neither have I (passed test, good network), and was unemployed for year and a half a few years ago as a result. Had to move to a different but one of the few related industries that does not consider itself leet. Might tone down the arrogance+provincialism bit.


That's beautiful, he's basically meditating on code at this point i guess


i don’t think we should be portraying ageism as something cool or acceptable. it is a huge problem in our industry that this discrimination exists. i’ve started to experience this stealth discrimination when i turned 40.


I remember the year 2000 crunch and huge demand for golden age COBOL programmers.


Some years ago I also had a grey beard. No it's white ;-) And still coding.


How uninviting our industry must be to women when our term for someone that's been in it a long time is greybeard


The only place I ever hear this term is in the every-3-months thread on Hacker News like this one. IRL I never hear it.


Same. So maybe not the industry then, but HN text threads


One easy trick to keep your skills relevant: Just try to predict ahead of time how long-lived a technology will remain prior to learning it. If you do this throughout your career and are moderately successful, you will end up knowing a bunch of skills that will rust very slowly.

The question then is how to successfully predict the future lifespan of a technology? Obviously you'll get some right and some wrong, but with a little thought you can at least get a good batting average. The easiest trick, which actually works, is to estimate the future remaining lifespan of a technology as being equal to its lifespan so far.[1] If it's been around for a long time, it's likely to keep staying around. By contrast, most new languages, databases, etc invented in the last couple years probably won't last more than another couple years.

Some concrete recommendations this simple heuristic would have made in the recent past, just by way of example:

* If you're working in front end, just get good enough at React to get by. Instead focus your extra efforts on mastering CSS.

* If you're working in back end, just get good enough at novel NoSQL databases to get by. Instead focus your extra efforts on mastering SQL and the relational model.

* If you're in "devops" just get good enough at Ansible, Salt, Puppet, or whatever the flavor of the week is to get by. Instead focus your extra efforts on mastering fundamental UNIX/Linux systems concepts and the basics of internet protocols, etc

* If you have to get stuck on either a ruby or perl legacy project, pick the perl one.

* Learning the basics of C will likely turn out to remain useful forever (even if C itself becomes obsolete)

* Git has been around for a while and will be around for a while longer, so investing in knowing it well is probably worthwhile considering how intimately you work with version control. But the really important and long-lived skill you should master, that was applicable (if more challenging) before git and will remain applicable under whatever replaces git, is being good at resolving merge conflicts.

Etc.

Obviously use your own judgment in concert with this heuristic. Your judgment about this can get better if you practice it a lot, thinking about why some technologies live long and others live short, and what factors allow a new technology to outcompete an old one. But even if you don't get very good at it, the "It will live as long as it already has" heuristic will work pretty well.

[1] This works because it follows from the assumptions that in the absence of any other information, a technology must be estimated as currently being 50% through its total lifespan. It works for estimating the lifetime of anything else that does not decay with time, ie it is just as likely to die early as late other things being equal. So it works great for things like organizations, fashions, human languages and cultures, technologies. (Obviously it would not work for an animal, which gets closer to death as it gets older)


> ageism is a thing in tech

Managers are looking for people they can control, because companies and CEO and founders are looking for those, who they can control.

The thing is that folks who are 40-50+ are more smart when it comes to politics. It's almost impossible to screw them over with deadlines, dragging multiple times across the org. They know the law, and it's expensive to set unrealistic goals and paying with engineers' health for that. But this trick works with younger folks.

Managers can do all sorts of weird stuff to younger folks, and CEOs tolerate that:

- Work on weekends (I remember my manager was yelling at me when I didn't reply to him on Sunday, while I was working all day long on Saturday lol).

- Switch you, your team, and your folks to a totally different tech stack without a way to switch back, and see what happens (happened to me in Atlassian).

- Fire you when you sick - happened to me in Atlassian. Yes, it's illegal, but sometimes it is legal. You're getting back from being sick, and once they realize you gonna take more sick days, boom!

For example, once Atlassian found my wife has cancer, they tried to find ways to fire me. It happened September 2021. They know I gonna take extended medical leave to take care of her, and I'm eligible to do that every year. But no.

1 year after terminating my employment, my wife is still on treatment. Tomorrow is her 20th chemo.

I reached out to Mike Cannon Brookes and Scott Farquhar multiple times (Atlassian founders), it didn't help.

No reply, CEO and founders in tech tolerate ageism, and looking for ways to screw over younger folks because they can hire, and fire, and intimidate in a multitude ways.

The bottom line is that younger folks are more disposable, you can put more toll on their physical/mental health, and that's why there is a hire preference.


Thanks for naming names. I wish I had known about this before we subscribed to their service, I wouldn't have done it. Companies who do things like this deserve to die and the investors deserve to lose their money. It's got to be horrible for morale of the people there, and eventually horrible for their product as a result. There's just some companies you shouldn't do business with if you can help it.


Ah yes, the Shitlassian story. Read up on it here if you don't know about it: https://shitlassian.com/


It's funny in a thread about ageism, the blatant sexism of the term greybeard has yet to be discussed... just sayin'


35 years ago MIT was less than 20% women and significantly more unbalanced in software classes (and it was actually a huge accomplishment that the number was that high given the low numbers of women who even applied in those days). Of the badass women who were writing code in the mid 80's, most were pushed into people management early in their career due to heavy implicit bias around people skills. There were vanishingly few women who entered the top of the funnel with the potential to become 35 year hands on coders 35 years ago, and the pressure they were under to jump out of that funnel during those 35 years was far higher than it was on men (and there are hardly any men who stayed in the funnel to reach that 35 year mark). We're probably talking at most 2 orders of magnitude fewer 35 year women coders than men at this point, probably less, given a handwaving calculation.

Eventually, hopefully, we'll have significant numbers of them and need a new term, but it's hard to go back 35 years to fix the top of funnel and funnel leakage problems that existed then.

At risk of not being overly defeatist here, every programmer who follows the SOLID principle should know Barbara Liskov (the L in SOLID) who definitely stayed hands on long enough to be a conceptual graybeard.

I've been fortunate to know a number of women who stayed in extremely technical engineering management to the 35 year point, but the longest lasting hands on woman coder I know is probably 20 years in the code every day, and even her title is a management title now (though she stays hands on in the code) so that's going to get progressively harder for her to sustain, just as it is for guys who take management titles. Like 35 year graybeards, she's a total badass, but she still has quite a few years to go before her hair starts to gray.

Yes, we'll one day need a new term for 35 year hands on coders, but let's not let virtue signaling blind us to the problems of the past.



Don't you find it exhausting being offended by everything all at once? Pace yourself, young one.


This reply is so surreal. Pointing out blatant sexism is "being offended by everything all at once", but old men being discriminated against isn't? Not to mention the amount of condescension that just proves the original point.


> Pointing out blatant sexism is "being offended by everything all at once", but old men being discriminated against isn't?

A more charitable reading is ~ "This discussion is about one problem; let's not drag another one into it".

I just recently saw the same thing on LinkedIn[1]: a Finnish guy complaining about how, in another thread he had started on how his dark-skinned wife had been racially abused in Poland, some (Finns, apparently) had whatabaouted the discussion into "there's racism in Finland too!", and when he'd tried to explain that "Sure, but this thread isn't about that", he was accused of "derailing the discussion". No, he wasn't: they were.

And so, IMO, are you here.

___

[1]: That really has become much more "typical social media" recently, hasn't it? Can't recall seeing such general -- i.e. not directly work-related -- discussions there even a year or two ago.


Asking for a discussion to be focused on one particular problem is fine in my opinion. But I think we can both agree that "Don't you find it exhausting being offended by everything all at once?" isn't exactly the best way to say that, to put it mildly, without even taking into consideration the condescending and infantilizing comment that came right after.


> But I think we can both agree that [...] isn't exactly the best way to say that

That's why it takes some charity to read it that way. :-)


You're surreal. The history of computing is mostly men. This isn't a moral judgment or denigration of women, it's history. Even today, women don't pursue tech to the extent that men do, even with aggressive efforts to curtail this. I imagine you see any discrepancy anywhere as proof of some oppresive -ism, and I imagine you want nature to conform to your Lysenkoist utopian ideals. You're a drag.


We read different history books.

In the 40s, the 6 people hired to program the ENIAC were all female. google "ENIAC girls". _Cosmopolitan_ ran articles about how programming was one of the few professional fields open to women. Managers thought that programming was basically just typing, so they hired women.

But then people started to realize it was more than just typing. So as the field started to get prestige in the mid 60s, companies started to look for things like college degrees and "personality tests", both of which were biased towards men.


“Systems analyst” and “programmer” used to be separate jobs. The former worked on paper, the latter typed what they were told to into a keypunch (not a terminal, because computer time was expensive). Eventually the “programmer” job became obsolete when we could afford to let analysts run their own text editors and compilers.


Almost correct.

Systems analyst was the person writing up an extremely detailed specification of what a program was supposed to do, which a programmer then implemented in a particular language.

The two merged at some point, when the demarcation line between the two of them became vaguer and overlapped more. This more or less coincided with more powerful 'frameworks' (if the name even applies) and libraries becoming available, as well as a massive increase in computing power which allowed for a near real-time edit-compile-test cycle which made programmers so much more productive that they suddenly weren't the bottle-neck in the process any more.

Another factor was that plenty of 'hobby' programmers found their way into professional IT jobs and they'd been doing this 'programmer/analyst' hybrid thing all along so for them it was a natural to continue to do so.

This happened somewhere in the mid 80's.

Then the web happened and the analyst job eventually became much more high level, nowadays we'd call a person that does work related to what an analyst used to do product owner or similar.

All of these definitions have meant different things at different points in time.


WWII did significantly boost the number of women in the workplace for obvious reasons. "Top Secret Rosies" is a good doc about this era.

Some permanently some temporarily, but the boost was mostly gone in computing by the 80s... the cohort we're talking about here.


What an odd rebuttal. "This field isn't sexist, it's just so toxic towards women that none of them want to be a part of it."

The gender gap isn't inherent, both India and China have a nearly equal percentage of men and women in computer science. The gap seems to be a mostly western phenomenon.


How do you know a 50/50 split is correct?

Given the genetic differences between sexes a 50/50 split seems very unnatural and forced to me.

To put it another way, why don’t we have an issue with the number of men and women in the NFL?


There sure is a lot of imagining going on here, that's for sure.


I'm actually pretty middle of the road. So, no, not exhausted.

What is exhausting is reading about all these people trying to get more women into CS, but then not realizing how many subtle signals there are saying "you don't belong." If you don't think that has an effect on people (women, in this case), well, you haven't spoken to a person affected by such things...


>"Ageism is a thing in tech"

Strongly disagree.

I happen to be in the same general category as the author (older actually), and I've never experienced that.

Quite the contrary as a matter of fact: the grey beard factor often gives you an authority that's very often not deserved and can be annoying in meetings were free flow of information (as much as that ever exists) is important.


It feels like ageism is more pronounced at startups and tech companies - at least, that is my perception based on real world and online discussions.

I'm 50, work at a large, established manufacturing/distribution company and haven't experienced any ageism that I know of. I also work with a lot of engineers from external vendors and don't see a lot of people much younger than me (except as junior roles at contractors).


For me, the “ageism” trope hasn’t aged well. When I was in my 20s, the idea that I’d still be an engineer in my 40s seemed unlikely — with how fast things were changing. But the pace of change has slowed, and now 40-something engineers with 20+ years experience are highly sought after and paid very well.

Another point is that most people top out or tap out. If you’re a graybeard who has mastered a deep topic or two (e.g. OS, compilers, networks), you’re living in rarefied air and writing your own checks.


Cast of Characters:

- Ezekiel as the Old Man with the Grey Beard

- Assorted youths off the street, aged 16-25, as the Whippersnappers

[Old Man, bent over and walking with a cane, enters stage right and starts pointing around in a somewhat accusing manner]

Old Man: Why I may not look it, but all of these young Whippersnappers have nothing on me! I declare that I wake up before the crows every morning and eat my oatmeal and more vitamins than you can possibly imagine. Then I sit down in a straight-backed oak chair to do my calisthenics, followed by a vigorous 10-minute walk in the park outside of my condo. All before the crack o' dawn, I tell ya!!


Do you have a point? If so, make it.




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