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Ask HN: Should I Downplay My Age?
84 points by mjones on Feb 7, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments
I've been programming for nearly 40 years and it is still my favorite thing to do. A while back I was reorganized out of the job I had been in for the previous eight years and found myself, for the first time in my career, without a job.

After taking a break and working on a non-technology passion project for several months I am now starting to get back into software development. I have read a bit here and there about alleged age discrimination and wonder if a) that's a real thing and b) if it is a real thing what can I do to minimize the adverse effect on my job search.

So, assuming the truth, more or less, of (b) I am trying to figure out how to present myself during the initial contact with potential employers. One one hand (hand one!) I'm tempted to try to avoid clues in my resume as to my age, but on the other hand I think that the right employer will see my age and experience as an asset.

Hand One might have the advantage of getting me in to a face-to-face interview where I believe I can show that I have desirable traits. But on the other hand I'm not sure I would want to work at a company where ageism is an issue.

Comments?

ps. I had more than one recruiter ask me for my birthdate: "Just Month and Day". I suppose they don't know that I know that it's obvious that my age could be easily determined (+- a bit) if armed with my Birthdate Month and Day, Name, and Location.




I've built a number of teams, and have repeatedly had the fortune of anchoring the back-end with a senior engineer over age 50. Experience matters, and it helps the entire team from a morale, design, and process perspective. You don't want to work for someone who doesn't recognize that anyway...

I wish I could be so lucky to attract senior candidates at my current gig; they're hard to come by at a trendy downtown-SF mobile commerce pre-series-A startup. Instead, I'm inundated with fresh code-bootcamp graduates. I'd be much more comfortable hiring those junior developers if I knew they would be able to sit next to a reliable senior teammate...

That said, if you're worried about being hired, start by building something on your own! You'll make yourself much more marketable if you show that you can pick up new technologies and actually release something.


Absolutely. I have had the pleasure of being the junior person sitting next to someone who was close to retirement. His perspective of, "Ok, what are we really trying to do here?" was invaluable. The best teams are always genuinely diverse and seek to really get to know what's special about each other.

One suggestion: don't worry about dating yourself by talking about old tech you once worked on. For some reason the older developers I've worked with take a while to getting around to telling you about the time they wrote LISP in Genera on a Symbolics 3640 for cutting edge CAD/CAM/simulation tools at Boeing in the mid 80s or whatever (such cred!).


100% agree.

Senior engineers with experience are hard as hell to come by. They offer perspective and focus: something that is often needed but hard to find.


Also, outside of SF, the ageism is much much milder

Agreed, it seems outside the cultural bubble of the Bay Area the entire technical workforce seems to be aging. I see fewer and fewer of the younger generations entering tech outside of a few markets like the Bay Area and Austin.

I have a theory, that it is due to the work force being more mobile, as well as the younger work force having less to tie them down. There was also, consolidation of the start-up markets and a lot of other markets lost ground while the Bay Area gained. I think this creates a natural draw for the younger portions of our workforce.

Most of the individuals I run across outside of a few specific markets are mid-30's to mid 50's and age seems to be a less relevant factor.


My theory is that having roommates only works when you're young. When you're married and/or have children, you need your own place. That makes it much harder to stay in the most expensive city in the U.S., rent wise.


I believe this is the case also. There is a Quora thread on the pros and cons on raising kids in the bay area[1].

[1] http://www.quora.com/Is-Silicon-Valley-a-good-place-to-raise...


Don't give out SSN or Birthdate information until after an on-site interview when you're at the offer stage. Someone dishonest can use that information for identity theft.

I'm already starting to be concerned about age discrimination, and I'm only 40 years old! It's very disturbing when you go on an interview and you're the oldest person there by 10+ years.

The only way out is to start your own business. Do you have enough savings? If you do, consider trying to bootstrap your own thing instead of going back to being an employee.


Thats 1) A bit depressing - you seem to be conveying that there is no other possibility 2) Starting a new business is not everyone's cup of tea. Even for a young person. Its loaded with risks.

I do face this as well. Age does slow down a person. But age also helps us make haste slowly. I've seen younger engineers scattering their energy around, and then coming to realize that the common sense option was the best. And older programmers (like me) might be too set in our ways.

Can an old dog be taught new tricks? I'd say to test that, make sure you learn a new programming language every year. Show it with non-trivial projects on your github or other profile. Thats proof that you're still sharp.

Edit : Also adopt a new editor every year. That shows you can step out of your comfort zone. (I need to kick that emacs habit).


I think one of the advantages of being older is that it gives one the wisdom to be more selective about tools. I'm an expert in the tools I use (C, C++ and Python, mostly, although I know a dozen-odd languages well enough to crash a program in them) and not hugely keen on learning new ones. I poke around at new languages now and then but quickly learn they are either a) so much like ones I know there's nothing special or b) Haskell or Erlang, which I've run at a couple of times hard enough to be convinced there is something interesting there but not hard enough to really have learned much.

So rather than learn a new language every year I aim to learn something about the languages I already spend most of my time in. Functional techniques in Python, the new features in C++14... things like that.

Nor do I see any value in learning a new editor. Really, editing is a solved problem and if you're familiar with vi, teco, emacs, VisualStudio, Eclipse and that other one whose name I don't remember that Microchip based MPLABX on you've covered enough ground that anything you encounter is going to look basically familiar.

I've met programmers young and old who won't leave their comfort zone that I acknowledge it's a real problem, but I don't think you need to spend too much time very far afield of your core expertise to keep current.


Why is being comfortable such a problem?

I'm fine with having bled the captains of big data and presentation (thereof) hysteria of enough resources to live the rest of my life on comfortably, and now enjoy embellishing whatever terminal window I'm inhabiting to suit my needs of the moment.

I'm happy in vi, wish I'd stuck with emacs, blah, blah. But when you can make things happen in a terminal window, does it really matter?

Personally, I'm finding a ton of joy in Lua. So clean and simple and fast and portable and easily extensible in venerable 'ole C. So much to love!


What you say is absolutely fine. But sometimes being comfortable can mean that we have not adapted to changes. In your case (and mine), technology seems to have circled back to what our preferences are - emacs/vi as the editor, terminal/tmux as a conduit into the work area. And a screwdriver, or a pair of pliers never went out of use.


The editor thing can be kind of important. People who stick with emacs or vim tend to be horrible with following coding standards and being able to review and navigate code efficiently. There's nothing like an editor from Jetbrains for tooling (Eclipse works too, but seriously the Jetbrains line is the best).

I have never used emacs, but vim is horribly limited in what it can truly do in terms of handling code. You can add all the nifty little plugins you want, but it just isn't efficient. The mistake people make moving to a full IDE is installing the vim plugin to add some familiarity. I've seen coworkers take literally 5 minutes to hammer out the vim keystrokes to refactor a block of code that can be done in 15-30 seconds with 2-3 native IDE keyboard shortcuts and a mouse click or two. It's important to know how to use vim or similar for remote command-line work. When developing though, the functionality and built-in tools provided by a full-fledged IDE are priceless.

There was a time I didn't judge new developers for using vim to edit code - and a long time ago I was one of them. I used to see these people as "true developers" for mastering an editor like vim. Now, after years of encountering developers with hampered productivity and ability to work on a team with coding standards, I see a vim/emacs person as someone who is stuck in their ways, refusing to even try to modernize their workflow.

Just a random example: in PHP projects, my teams use CodeSniffer for coding standards validation. The settings for common IDEs are committed to the VCS so they are automatically in place for new developers cloning the project. In any modern IDE, notices/warnings are instantly and unobtrusively made available as you type code. You can also run the inspection against the entire codebase or files you have modified since last VCS update to catch anything you missed.

What do Vim users do? They write code for hours or days at a time without validating what they are writing. When done, they either a) commit without running their code against CodeSniffer while egotistically proclaiming that their personal coding style is clean and doesn't need to match what the rest of the team abides by; or b) they spend hours running the command-line version manually, ridiculously trying to parse the output and hunt each problem down.

This is the real problem with vim/emacs users. Nearly none of them are capable of following the same coding practices as the rest of the team who are sharing a set of project settings in modern IDEs. The worst I've seen was a team that had once had amazing code quality completely abandon all forms of coding standards when two new senior developers were hired who both used vim. They refused to follow the standards because vim simply doesn't contain the necessary tooling. The entire codebase went from being beautifully clean to a complete mess, all because the new guys used vim. That was the job I walked away from so fast after fighting over the ridiculousness and then learning that both new developers were basically hired for the simple reason they went to the same university as the hiring manager.

tldr; Use vim/emacs if you want; but if you're not going to be as productive as, or match the code quality of, your teammates - that's a problem.


This is kind of ridiculous. You are indicting vim and emacs users for some alleged major catastrophe at your organization. You realize very large and well written software projects, probably my h larger than your's, have been built by people using vim and emacs and not having JetBrains did not hamper them.

Honestly, I have seen so many developers fumbling around with their "intellisense" and the kinda of things you are talking about, it makes me sleepy watching them. I feel like if only spent time learning how to program than their code completion and refactoring tools, they might produce better, more efficient work.


The linux kernal an GNU tools were built by emacs and vim users. That software is running the world from android phones to servers.

Python, Ruby, and Javascript were built by emacs users. All the modern goodies the new hip people rave about.

Web browsers were created by emacs users. The entire industry we make a living in came from the belly of emacs.

But 2 guys at some company refused to follow coding standards, so yeah...


I've tried a couple of syntax-highlighting editors. I'm starting to get annoyed at them.

The problem is when they don't do it right, and it's impossible to configure it to have the correct behavior.

For example, JetBeans, when you type a ", automatically inserts the matching ". I couldn't figure out how to disable this feature, and it leads to strings like "data"".

Syntax-highlighting editors only seem necessary for scripting languages where you don't get proper error messages. In C/C++, if you miss a " on a string, the compiler rules will ensure you an error message in the right place. If you miss a " in Javascript, the console error may be useless, so you need a syntax-highlighting editor to find your bug.


>> They write code for hours or days at a time without validating what they are writing.

In emacs we use flycheck to see errors and style warnings as we write in real time. For javascript there is js2-mode.

If you're a lisp programmer you take it a step further. Not only checking syntax in real time, but running the code in real time. Like a small talk developer! It's the tightest feedback loop you can get. Makes test driven development more enjoyable too. (skewer-mode allows this for javascript)

Don't judge text editor users based on your experience with a few people. Writing code for hours without style checks or execution is not a common workflow for an emacs user. I've met quite a few inept Eclipse and Visual Studio users but I know better than to correlate IDE's with traits.


> The editor thing can be kind of important. People who stick with emacs or vim [and went to the same university as the hiring manager --a3n] tend to be horrible with following coding standards and being able to review and navigate code efficiently.

Wow.


Sounds to me like the issue wasn't the editor they were using. They're just prima donnas doing what prima donnas do. Surely it's more than a little silly to blame the gun when someone gets hurt or dies? As always, whose hands are the tools in?

To me, Vim or Emacs are more like a violin, and software that enforces style more like a kazoo. While some might consider the sound of the latter music, those with ears to hear - and hands to play - know better.

I'll take a developer who can create consistently beautiful code in Vim or Emacs over someone who can't be as productive without style-enforcing crutches any day.


My daily stupidity dose, thanks!


There is some truth in what you say. Variations both good and bad will exist.


HAHAHA. I almost fell for the trolling.


Why do you want to stop using emacs?


I don't think I want to eliminate emacs from my work. 'editing' is a term loaded with lots of meanings - especially when it comes to emacs one is talking of a lot of (mostly good) consequences. I would think adopting an editor, such as vim, or maybe atom (or something else in the future) - would imply stepping into a slightly different ecosystem and culture.


My advice is to play up the experience, but play down some details of that experience. For instance, 40 years of COBOL and C++ has some signalling issues (not completely unreasonably, what with carpenters blaming shoddy tools). I'd probably not talk about the technical nature of the experience at all -- just say the industry it was for and what the tool was used for, and not name-dropping old technologies.

Also, outside of SF, the ageism is much much milder. I've had people who had the up/down control on me getting hired not know my age to within 15 years at the time they make that choice (and they consistently guessed _older_ than I am). But interviews in SF seem to bring this topic to the table almost immediately. YMMV.

In terms of being uniquely identifiable (and therefore having few secrets) in the job application process, this is essentially unavoidable. I wouldn't worry about it.


40 years of COBOL and C++ has some signalling issues

Today is the first time I've seen C++ mentioned alongside COBOL. Today is a dark day...


To respond to this and the sibling comment: That was meant to be 40 years split in a first-COBOL-then-C++ type of way. I wasn't attempting to draw any technical equivalency per se, merely a quazi-cultural one.


I doubt anyone has 40 years of C++ .... But that's part of the point here. I think a lot of what people are saying is junk. If you want to work as some hipster startup for low pay, there is a high probability that they are looking for you to talk about web framework du jour. However, there are plenty of adults working at companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and thousands of smaller companies that last longer than three years ...


44 year old programmer here -- I keep hoping that one day C++ won't matter, but I keep getting jobs (at startups) partly because I know it well.


Recruiter here. I would absolutely recommend you not include any obvious indicators of age on your resume, at least in many parts of the country. Graduation dates are not required, and perhaps your first few jobs can be eliminated from the resume. A resume doesn't have to be a complete biography.

With 40 years of programming (not sure how many were hobby vs paid), you are likely to raise questions as to how many more years you would need to work. You can trim the appearance of some years off to get in the door and avoid the possibility of discrimination.


Hi recruiter - in what age/level of experience does "discrimination" come in and one should start to "trim" the number of years?


In my experience, that might be dependent upon where you are in the country, the leadership of a company, pre-determined notions and biases (likely unfounded) about the ability of older workers to keep up with trends, and the relative age of the employees you will be working with.

In the startup world (nationwide/worldwide maybe), ageism might be equated with "likely to have a family and commitments to prevent he/she from working longer hours than are typically expected". If that person writes "single, no kids, open to 60 hours per week" (and I'm not suggesting they should) on a cover letter, being 50 years old might not be an issue.

I usually recommend trimming jobs when they become irrelevant. Working on systems in the 1970's and 80's will show you have a foundation of knowledge that dates back through computing history, but I'd usually recommend trimming those types of things off (or at least limiting to them as "previous experience" entries with little content).

There is usually no reason to trim experience before you turn 40 these days, though as technology changes quicker that could become lower. The things most people did 15 years ago likely still have some relevance. 25 years might be another story.


Hi Recruiter,

I appreciate the value of what you have said but I wonder whether the deception by omission would count against me in the case that I get as far as the face-to-face interviews.

Thanks!

ps. The 40 years includes only the years I was paid. Prior to that I spent about a year learning how to program.


It depends on how much you omit. If you omit the last 35 years and your graduation date, you show up with the expectation of a 27 year old where you are likely in your 50s. That might be considered deceptive.

Graduation dates are usually the biggest issue, as older workers tend to drop their first jobs off the resume just to save space. So if your first listed job was in 1995, people will assume you are about 42 (we assume first job around 22 years old). But if you include a graduation date of 1985, we now know you are 52. So a graduation date makes a major difference there.

You can probably overcome any personal ethical issues by calling your experience section "relevant experience" if necessary. I personally don't find that necessary, as I don't think anyone has the right to assume a resume must contain every professional activity. Resumes from foreign countries often include photos, birthdates, and marital status, which is not recommended in the US (by employers or candidates).

Don't trim off too much - you want them to value your experience. But trim just enough where you are keeping most of the relevant work without sharing unnecessary and potentially unhelpful content.


I'm also a recruiter. Once you've interviewed well, no-one will care what your CV said. When I was 19, and a developer, I would do the opposite; I had a very enigmatic CV long on skills and part-time roles and experience, without any dates to show they were part-time. It was intriguing enough that I got face to face with people, and from then onI was able to talk myself in to roles I knew I could do.


> Graduation dates are not required

Unfortunately many ATSs like Taleo insist on having your educational history. You can leave it out at peril of being eliminated as a candidate by a single ill-conceived filter.


Appreciate the advice, Recruiter, but despise the suggestion that appearances apparently still matter more than reality.


Just to be clear, I'm not advocating ageism at all. I'm in my 40s, write about ageism somewhat frequently (1), and tend to work with candidates that are closer to my age or older. On Monday, I should be getting an offer letter for a female engineer who started her career in 1988.

I don't necessarily feel that appearances matter more than reality, depending on what appearance you are referring to. We're talking about resumes here (or at least I am), and we're in an industry where some (often the young) have opinions about the older members of the industry. This isn't new, and it's not even specific to the industry.

The reason I'd suggest trimming the resume is so you can actually be invited in to have that conversation where you can then convince someone who might be ageist that their bias is incorrect. By including information that makes it obvious you are of a certain age (for some it could be 30+, 40+, 50+, 60+), you are giving someone the ability to discriminate.

It goes the other way as well. Workers in their early 20's might want to appear (on paper) as old as reasonably possible.

The reality is that lots of older workers know their stuff, and will only be able to change the minds of those who discriminate by getting in front of them. I'm not suggesting "by any means necessary", but I have on issue with the tactics I suggest.

1 - http://jobtipsforgeeks.com/2013/01/31/ageism/ (Overcoming ageism) http://jobtipsforgeeks.com/2014/03/25/older/ (Why Hire Older Engineers)


I was referring to resumes/CVs as embodiments of appearances, although now it occurs to me that web browsers are essentially appearances portals.

I guess I'm just disappointed that the "Information Age" became mostly about titillating a mostly passive audience into drooling over screens. Whereas I had a seemingly eternal career working on what used to be called "middleware", it now seems to be impossible to get noticed without droning on about one's vast "full stack" experience, which on closer examination seems to be mostly about ADHD-like rushes from one Javascript and/or MVC framework to another - again, mostly in the service of wowing the senses of screen addicts.

I'm also kind of stunned by the seemingly universal belief that there's really that much difference between underlying tools that make machines sing, and that anyone who was ever profoundly well-versed in one set of tools couldn't quickly come up to speed on yet another syntax. That, in other words, the word 'generalist' has become a curse, while the parroting of anything ending in '.js' a red-carpet-unraveling blessing.

I suppose the increasing speed at which new screen junkie drugs must be deployed to become relevant/profitable has something to do with it.


Thanks and doubly so for the links.

And thanks to all for the great information and perspectives!


Useful advice . thanks


just gonna be straight here, there are older people that are the really smart, savvy engineer types that school all us young folks, then there are the older people that learned Pascal in 1978 and never stepped outside of their comfort zone. We have an older person working in our office that, if it wasn't for him would practically be a zoo. He constantly schools us on all things tech, and keeps everyone in line. You are gonna be just fine.

The fact that you are on HN and able to have this kind of insight proves you are capable of hanging with the youngins.


On the flipside, I've personally witnessed a manager firing someone just because he was old. There is an ageism problem in the industry. Like racism or sexism, whether you see its effects depends on where you are.


surely there was more to the story. hard to believe it was only attributable to age without some context.


No, not really. It seemed quite strongly that the reason was due to his age, but the official reason was that he couldn't learn new skills very well. The problem was, he seemed to be learning them pretty decently.


I saw that happen to my father and a number of his co-workers (scientists and engineers) at a mining company forty years ago.


Reminds me of someone who refused to use revision control because "merges were unreliable". Of course they are when you wait 30 days between commits.


Git noob question here (but someone who has been working on that noobishness for a year now): Can't you just rebase the branch you're on before trying to merge to another branch?


Rebasing is similar to merging. Instead of merging their code after your code, you are merging your code after their code. So if the two versions modify the same code fifty commits apart you'll have conflicts in both cases.


The other side to that is that there are plenty of younger developers that don't know how to use timers in Javascript or know what the CPU cache is.


As someone who has also been programming for 40 years (!), I find that although I don't work as hard, I get more done. I.e. one learns to program more efficiently, and make fewer mistakes. There's a lot less of uselessly thrashing about.


I think you should not worry about your age, after all there is nothing you can do to end up younger. You should have confidence; you are much more experienced than the average 25 year old developer out there.

On the other hand, as others have stated, you better avoid making your age obvious.

In the end, you know what? In this life your time is limited and I think it's wise to avoid worrying about things you can't control. Don't make your age obvious but have confidence in your skills and experience!


At 31, I feel like I am just now leaving the 'young talent' group, but not yet considered older. Standing in the middle, kinda, I think I can see both sides. To help deal with the agism issue, my hypothesis is that if you can zero in on the exact misconceptions they might have about you, or older programmers in general, and demonstrate that you don't fit that mold, you're in.

Some younger engineers will worry if older engineers lost their hunger for learning new technologies. In their position, they are well aware of what is fashionable, or even just current best practice. This is mostly because as new people they go straight to the new stuff. For example, new programmers don't learn SVN, they go straight to git, and github is a way of life.

So, right or wrong, it is a red flag to them if they see or hear about people advocating what they consider as outdated approaches.

But, importantly, they also read books by the folks who are 20-30 years older, but never lost that drive. They go to talks by these people and take notes, buy their screencasts, and brag about what they learned. They want luminaries to guide them. So, maybe, establishing expertise over what they consider important is a way around this misconception the youth has.

I imagine you could send positive signals by fixing or improving some popular open source project. Maybe write some interesting toy code, a game, or something that solves a development problem, and add that to a personal site or your github account. Any way to demonstrate what someone with 40 years experience can do, in a context they can see and interact with should do the trick.


I have to say, as a young engineer working at a startup full of cutting-edge technologies, this seems to be the best advice I've seen yet (if that type of environment is what you're looking for).


I have recently been involved in a project where we are analyzing employment offers from companies in different markets (SF bay area being one of them).

We have found that one of the biggest factors in getting employment offers is how you position yourself. For instance right now if you are an enterprise engineer with extensive perl or .Net experience this will hurt you if you want to get into a young web company. On the other hand if you are an iOS or Node engineer in SF or can position yourself as an engineering manager then you're likely to find it easier to get job offers.

In general, the data that I've seen suggests that new companies are basically not interested in older technologies. I believe that the problem a lot of older engineers have is that they try to enter the current market by relying on their old skills and that mis-match is interpreted as ageism.

In my experience having experience (and age) is very valuable IF you're a strong engineer and you can apply that experience to the existing technology landscape. Make sure that you're presenting yourself to the right companies with skills in the right technologies and toolsets though or they will not even look at you.


It's pretty silly, though. Node is not a new "technology." It is framework for using Javascript. It is debatable if it is even good. What is more important is someone's grasp of core CS and programming concepts. If a code bootcamper with 6 months of using some fad framework is more valuable than someone with 30 years of experience, why is that? If the code bootcamper can use Nodr, presumably the person with 30 years experience could very easily, as well.

Maybe it's just better to not work at these kind of. Dry low technical skill SF "young web" startups. I dunno.


I completely agree. It's strange to me too... but that's what the data shows.

I think it makes sense in a way. If your technology is built on Node then hiring a guy who'd rather work in php or java is not going to be a good fit. He won't go home at night and play with Node to really understand it's strengths and weaknesses and he won't have excitement for the technology -- totally justifiable since at some point all these new frameworks start to feel like re-inventions of the same wheel over and over again.

In my experience there are nice things about working for SF startups --

You're surrounded by people passionate about technology. You're generally working on problems that are small enough where you can have big impact on them yourself. If you want to know how to build a company then it's really good experience.

That said, it's sort of a question of what scale you'd like to work at.

In my experience --

Contracting is fun because you build lots of small stuff and experiment with lots of different technologies and ideas

Startups are fun because you get to actually build and run a product but you have to build everything so sometimes you don't get to venture into those really interesting areas like massive scale or search quality

Enterprise (I haven't done a ton of enterprise work) seems fun because if you're part of the right enterprise then you get to work on problems that are much larger than a startup can work on and work with more resources and more exotic larger problems (wouldn't it be fun to work on self-driving cars?)


The problem is that the hiring risk is greatly amplified if they don't know the stack. If they don't know the stack, they say "Give me a month or two, then you'll see."

Well, in a month or two, what do you get? Who knows. Evaluating anyone from a resume is very difficult. They might be terrible, but you had to give them two months to find out.

If they claim to know the stack, a bad hire has nowhere to hide. They'll be found out much quicker, so you've lost much less.


> why is that?

I tried to answer this, but it boils down to this. No one is going to say "I'm looking for node and boot campers because I don't have a lot of money."


I"m just a young guy here, not an employer, but I can share how I view your age in a candid way that might help you put your best foot forward.

My parents, born in the mid-1950s are currently in the job market looking for work, and they claim they feel the ageism/discrimination but it completely baffles me as a younger person.

As a person who celebrated Y2K in public school, now in the workforce blazing my own trail: I personally wouldnt have any issue with your age whatsoever. I gauge people based on results and performance, and so if you're an old dog I dont need to teach you any new tricks, you're probably a pro already!

I would be a little intimidated by your age, and it would be humbling and awkward for me to feel like you were my subordinate, but I would cherish your insight and experience (and hopefully mature reasoning skills) and I believe you may have a lot to offer!

I still prepare resumes and cover letters for my parents as they hunt for jobs, and I wish I could encourage you as well.

Age != youth

Age != ability

Age == how many pages have been turned in the 'Book of You'

Best of luck as you put yourself out there!


I enjoyed reading your encouraging words. I know it's not encouraged to post 1 up comments, so I have more to add, but before I do, I wanted to pass along that it's nice to hear how supportive you are with regard to your parents and others.

I agree with your comment and I think the thought of ageism is what is intimidating. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished when a person sets their mind to it, regardless of age, but there is a time and energy cost. Young people have more energy, so more effort is required on the part of an older person to appear energetic and desirable. I am 46 and have worked in five different careers. Experience can be demonstrated and comes across as impressive if it is concise and on point, regardless of age. Being both energetic and concise is an art form. But I highly recommend it as a strategy when seeking employment.


It's on me to deal with coworkers honestly and without prejudices based on their place in the hierarchy within which they work. :)


For me, when I've interviewed older developers, my main concern is that they have too much experience for the role we are interviewing for and may be bored and want to leave.

It probably depends on the job description, but sometimes more experienced candidates get rejected for this exact reason.

I'd love to hear how other people handle this type of situation.


I can totally validate this concern.

I have a really good friend who's a Javascript pro. Like mad scientist Douglas Crockford good. He's also in his early 50's. He's been hired at some of the largest corporations and has done some absolutely amazing work.

But he never sticks around longer than 6-8 months for the very reason you cite.

Just like in his current gig with a huge financial institute where he completely rewrote all their tools in Angular and Node in four months, and then basically said he was bored and the company was moving too slow for him!

He's currently looking at starting his own app development company and doing his own thing finally, which he really needs. He just has so much talent and experience, he had a hard time finding anything challenging anymore. And since Javascript developers are in such high demand, he can come and go when he wants to - something his experience and talents allow him to do. Something someone in their 20's or 30's just can't compete with.

We both currently work in the midwest, and the tech scene here is really vibrant.


Over the past couple of decades I have become more inclined to stay in a position due to the fact that I am not feeling the need to make more money or climb the corporate ladder. I wouldn't take a job that was going to be boring but I also know that a job is often what you make of it. My experience has always been that there's always challenging work that others don't want to take up because it's not on their career path, not high profile, and etc.


>... may be bored and want to leave.

To follow your line, you could reject with the same success persons who have mentioned "Haskell" or "Compilers" (or "Game dev") in their CV, regardless of their age...

(Assuming you're interviewing for "yet another CRUD job")


Great discussion here, although so much of it presumes that people whose hiring prowess mistakes CV crafting skills for CS wisdom are worth working for.

Okay, I'm lucky to be at a point where I squeezed enough blood from the software development rock to carry on even if I never wrote another line of code again.

But I can hardly express how much happier I've been in a (relative to "rock star" and/or "ninja" mindsets) silly, part time "data specialist" position for a local non-profit that really needs someone who can spin useful utilities and disparate systems connectivity from any available silk (or dirty kite string) than I've ever been slaving away in the usual "headless chickens" environments managed by the usual clowns whose management training consisted of little more than proving themselves useless at software development itself - which training, of course, tends to result in the aforementioned hiring prowess to boot.

Good bleeping riddance!


I'd like to express a somewhat different view while being in the same boat. I am 35 and working as a dev for years now. My recent teammates (small team) include a senior very experienced developer who started coding with punch cards for the British gov. That seemed cool at first but now I am trying to maintain some software he wrote from 2004-now. The software has really bad code in it, the kind you wouldn't expect some experienced guy to produce. It has no testing, it has serious OO flaws. Maybe its this particular guy that was just not very good, but its creeping me out when we talk about things and I realise he is comprehending much slower than the rest. I was wondering if that's just normal age degradation. I would love to code 40 years from now. I am just worried.


First of all, I have never... and I do mean _never_ had a recruiter ask me for my birthdate. I've been in the industry for 20 years now (not 40, congrats on almost hitting THAT milestone!), so it's not like I just have low exposure.

Secondly, my advice is to do nothing special. Yes, filter your resume for things you think the company would be interested in -- you would do that regardless of your age. In general a one-pager resume is greatly appreciated by everyone. If it comes up that you've been around the block more than most, fine. You don't want to work for companies that would discriminate against you based on age anyway -- they are probably going to fail due to stupidity like not appreciating expertise learned from experience.


Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

I'm proud of the skills I've acquired over the years and the projects I've worked on. And I never think my skills are enough, lately I've worked with meteor, zero-copy packet architectures, iPhone apps, and some security-related issues.

I'm not going to try to hide my age and I'm not going to try to make it a desirable trait. I will hope that bit of ambiguity gets me in for a face-to-face interview which I am very confident will turn out well.

Companies which are so rigid as to wonder whether I'm "young enough" are probably not places I'd like to work anyway.


I dunno, this is kind of creeping up on me. I just turned 35 at the end of January and I'm in the middle of a job search because my last startup is shutting down. I've only done a handful of onsites so far and I've been a little worried about perceptions. I'm overweight and because of genetics, I'm much greyer in hair and beard than a lot of other people my age. So far it doesn't seem to be an issue, even when I'm talking to people younger than me. I'd say the issue definitely exists, but so far it hasn't been an issue for me personally.


Thats yet another kind of discrimination - but I am sure (and hope) there are many who will treat you fairly.


Have you considered freelancing or running a small consulting business?

I admit that if I was faced with the opportunity of hiring someone a lot older and experienced than me I'd have two immediate thoughts: "This guy would be a great asset, we need him" and "I think I'd be way too intimidated and nervous being his boss, can't do it".

Doing consulting work solves the second question since it changes the boss-employee dynamic to a more business-to-business like one.

Now, I am not in a position to hire anyone so take my introspection with a grain of salt.


1. Where are you.

2. Don't be paranoid but don't play it up.

3. There's no way to hide your age, realistically. You have to answer questions like the year you graduated from college, the year of your first job.

4. There are a bunch of people that age I would kill to work with (35 year programmer), we have half a dozen people in our office with that much experience. We're a C shop and we write very, very high performance code. WORK YOUR FRIENDS, you must have friends, those friends have jobs.


Thanks, I'm in LA, if you're into high performance networking then you might want to see https://github.com/pfq/PFQ , if you haven't already.


As a startup founder who anticipates hiring some time this year, my feeling is that all things equal I would vastly prefer someone who has been programming for 40 years and still loves it. You're likely to have far more experience, knowledge, and superior work habits vs a fresh grad. However I doubt you would be willing to join a risky startup for lower wages than you could get elsewhere.


Actually, due to the fact that my kids are grown up and out on their own, I am not nearly as concerned about getting top dollar (or climbing some career track) as I am about working on something interesting and having done something I can look back on 10 years from now and feel that my time was well spent.


That's cool, I like that attitude! Maybe once I am ready to hire I will reach out. :)


Honestly, it's more about finding a results based org. I've worked with a lot of different companies and some are very culture fit and some are very results oriented. You will never get a shot at the culture fit crowd so go for the results based crowd. Flood your resume not with experience as much as real results and value you have created.


Life is short.

Why would you want to work somewhere that allows or encourages discrimination on age or anything else?

Let assholes filter themselves out of your life.


Actually life is long, too long work for assholes.

I usually phrase it "No, I don't want to do that, life is too long to write C++," or whatever thing I'm declining to do.


No, of course you shouldn't downplay your age. If such prejudice exists, you are perpetuating it by downplaying your age.


>>I've been programming for nearly 40 years

Instead of being 59 you will be 49? I don't think it will help. Instead, put a spin on it and sell yourself as experienced in technical matters.


It's all poker, especially the part about not needing to have a strong hand to win. Play the game to win, your 40-year-old jack of all trades high notwithstanding. ;-)


"We've been consistently recognized as one of the best places to work for Gen Y", read an ad that I saw recently.


The coin has been in hand 2 all along.


I tend to see it that way too.




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