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Where Do All of the Old Programmers Go? 799

Posted by Cliff
from the wherever-it-is-I-hope-it's-FAR-from-a-cube-farm dept.
full-of-beans asks: "I work as a software developer for a large UK based international organization. Most of my colleagues that program are under 40 years old. Those that are over 40 tend to be in either Management or IT Support! I was wondering were do all the old programmers go? They can't all end up in management. I know we don't get paid enough to take early retirement. Is there some other career that tends to attract 40+ year old programmers, if so I'd like to know, because I'm not that far of 40 myself!"
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Where Do All of the Old Programmers Go?

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  • Loony Bins (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:56PM (#14275207)
    They're all in sanitariums, driven insane by debugging assembler for countless hours.
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:56PM (#14275209) Homepage Journal
    Seems to be the only other choices. Private industry, since globalization and commodity coding offshore, has no place for old programmers anymore. They cost too much in salary and benefits in comparison to a young person just out of college, preferably India Institute of Technology, where they train the next generation of yes men.
    • by rkanodia (211354) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:03PM (#14275316)
      My father is an IIT graduate who worked on (among other things) Project MAC at MIT in the 70's. He ended up becoming an executive by the 80's but quit so he could go back to being a developer. And, like you said, it's hard for people his age to find work in the private sector. He eventually settled in as a systems architect for Apple, of all places. I guess they realize (unlike most companies, which, as you said, dump their old hands in favor of cheap noobs) that it doesn't matter that he costs twice as much, because he's ten times the programmer they'll get by recruiting straight out of schools.
    • by vectorian798 (792613) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:03PM (#14275318)
      preferably India Institute of Technology, where they train the next generation of yes men.

      Agreed with everything except that last clause there. Do you really know what you are talking about or are you just randomly talkin' out your ass? Whether you are a 'yes man' or not, is completely based on your own personality and not where you go to college. I think what you meant to say is that 'preferably IIT, which has typically churned out excellent graduates' (note: I am at UCB not IIT, so this is by no means a biased statement).
      • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:14PM (#14275483) Homepage Journal
        Agreed with everything except that last clause there. Do you really know what you are talking about or are you just randomly talkin' out your ass? Whether you are a 'yes man' or not, is completely based on your own personality and not where you go to college. I think what you meant to say is that 'preferably IIT, which has typically churned out excellent graduates' (note: I am at UCB not IIT, so this is by no means a biased statement).

        As a 30-something programmer who went to a good American school, it's something I've noticed in the newest generation of H-1bs hired from India. Most of them are from IIT, and most of them know the language that they were hired to work in- but NONE know when to tell managment off when they need telling off. Managment likes this, and this is the reason I got laid off, moved to contracting for a state agency, and am in the process of interviewing for a permanent position with the same agency. It's more a function of age than where you graduate from I think- though there does seem to be something in the Eastern cultures that lends itself to working on teams and not rocking the boat.

        At any rate, it seems obvious that private industry has no place for an old curmudgeon like me- which is why I'm headed for the public sector.
        • by middlemen (765373) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:44PM (#14275840) Homepage
          I am sorry to hear this. I am from IIT and I am working in USA (not on H1B but with a Green Card). What you dont get is that the US Dollar is 45 Indian Rupees. If an Indian with an H1B visa works here, it is not for the life in USA, it is for the money which he gets in USA which gets converted to 45 times that of Indian money. Agreed some inflation, and standard of living has to be accounted for, but even then it is a large amount of money for that Indian on an H1B visa. And if this guy starts "telling off" his managers, he will be sent back to India, and another "yes man" will be brought in. This guy might have family that he needs to support etc. , so you cannot say that all IIT graduates are "yes men". In fact most of them are far from it. It is the circumstances that make a man a "yes man".
          I on the other hand do speak my mind with my boss, because I have no fear of getting fired and being sent back to India, because I live here and since I have a green card I can apply for another job in the worst case scenario.
          • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:49PM (#14275901) Homepage Journal
            I didn't really think it was a function of where one graduated. But thanks for correcting me that it's more a problem of the indentured servitude (employer purchased) visas as opposed to culture.
          • by kypper (446750) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:54PM (#14275970)
            And if this guy starts "telling off" his managers, he will be sent back to India, and another "yes man" will be brought in.

            Can you tell me how that doesn't validate his point?
            You're saying that because you don't fear being deported (like a natural born citizen would), that you have no problem telling your boss off, but that those from India need to be "Yes Men" to stay in the country. Regardless of whether they are all 'Yes Men' by nature, what you're saying is: they have to be to have the jobs here. Thus they ARE willing to bend over for the company and thus ARE more attractive to the company as employees.
            • On this I could comment as well. I have seen this before, both from India and from others. I am myself from Europe/France and came here (New York/98) with a visa. The first 2 years, well, it was new and I loved my job, but then, after abused and all, I just wanted to leave. Too bad the economy sucked (end of the .com bubble, 2000/2001). I had no choice than to say yes to keep my job. I got married, got my work authorization independent from my Visa, I was free. I resigned, created my own business, didn't wo
              • by deaddrunk (443038) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @04:06AM (#14278501)
                You're very wrong about demand for COBOL programmers. I was one and there are very few COBOL jobs about now, most have been moved to India because there are no young, cheap people coming into that field (not surprisingly). I now find myself outside of IT and the only way I can get into the newer fields is to get a degree just so I can get back into something that I already have 15 years experience doing.
                No-one wants to train me despite the fact that I did a C++ course at college and passed it with full marks (showing that it wouldn't take long for me to pick stuff up). It's in the nature of the wastefulness of corporate culture, they'd rather pay top dollar to poach someone or take on someone inexperienced in years than someone who only needs the language/platform skills, not all the analysis/design/corporate politics skills that takes years to learn rather than a few months.
            • by pkphilip (6861) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @12:13AM (#14277799)
              I am an Indian and I don't agree with the GP's broad assertion that Indians are "Yes" men when they land in the US. I worked and lived in San Jose. I decided to come back to India after my contract ended even though my employer granted me full-time employment. One of the reasons I was offerred this employment is because I am not a "Yes" man.

              The assumption that people will throw you out on the street if you don't keep sucking up to the management is false in most places; any management worth its salt expects to hear the truth from the floor and once the management gets around to the understanding that the people on the floor are lying to them and basically kissing butt, they will rapidly lose any respect for the opinions of these minions. Even the management expects to hear the truth - believe it or not.
          • Currency rates (Score:3, Insightful)

            by grahamsz (150076)
            Where does this notion that countries with low value currency units are cheap places to live?

            The cost of living seems to have very little to do with the currency exchange rate, if it did then i'd be moving to Japan as i'd get 116 yen for my dollar or perhaps turkey where i'd get over a million lira to my $.

          • by nikster (462799) on Friday December 16, 2005 @10:30PM (#14277368) Homepage
            It's true that trying to not get fired is a pretty good motivation to say yes to everything thrown at you. I even know westerners who do it.

            But it may also be a cultural thing.

            I now live in Asia and the culture is that you DO NOT under any circumstances tell your boss off. Or anybody else of "more respected" status like your dad or even any older, presumably wiser person.

            People here say no but they say it in a way that an American or other westerner would hear as a clear and loud yes. It's subtle. I can now tell a yes-that-means-no from a yes-that-means-yes but it took me a while. And some westerners who live here simply never get it.

            Oh... signs of getting old, I am repeating my own argument. [slashdot.org]
            • by ShyGuy91284 (701108) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @02:07AM (#14278162)
              Sounds like what my Japanese Culture teacher said in a lecture once. She had a slide to see what we knew about Japanese culture, and we learned that "We will carefully inspect your resume for further consideration" is a flat out "no" for if you are going to get a job somewhere..... I hope to go to asia someday, idk if I would be able to stand the formality between me and a boss though. There's a certain relaxed atmosphere many US bosses have that you can joke around with them. My supervisor in a previous job was actually a pretty good friend of mine in the end.
          • by aeoo (568706) on Friday December 16, 2005 @11:53PM (#14277713) Journal
            "Yes men" are precisely the people who are bound by conditions -- they fear for their lives and those of their families, and that's exactly why they are "yes men". The man who can say NO when needed is precisely the kind of man who is not affraid to lose life and comfort. Because such man doesn't produce yes'es and no's out of fear, he is less likely to be biased and is more trustworthy, but at the same time, timid people are often affraid of such a man.

            It is ironic, but it is people who love their families the most who end up hurting their families by creating a world where the power is so unevenly distributed. If people were less skittish, and yes, this means, not so worried about their families, then it would be difficult to bully people and boss them around, and there would be fewer scams and inequities, and the families would benefit. In the long run cowardice hurts us all.
    • by crystall (123636) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:20PM (#14275566)
      I've worked for both public service and private companies. If you love to code and don't want to be a manager, public service is a great way to go. It's fairly secure compared to the private sector (except when the legislature starts messing with pension plans). I'm 53 and have been coding since the days of punch cards. And yes, you can teach old dogs new tricks - last year I made the switch from Cold Fusion/Sybase to OracleForms/Oracle/PLI.

      And I'm not alone. Half my state gov't shop is over 40. What we oldsters can offer the young-uns is experience. It may not have been the same language or the same platform, but we've learned a few tricks over the years. And we're not just fogies sitting on our butts wasting taxpayer dollars - our agency leads our state in e-govt offerings.
  • by douglips (513461) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:56PM (#14275210) Homepage Journal
    40 year old programmers are recycled into yummy treats called "cheetos" and fed to proto-programmers. It's the circle of life.
    • not cheetos, soylent "Vista"
    • So really, the answer is that old programmers are now Soylent Green.
    • 40 year old programmers are recycled into yummy treats called "cheetos" and fed to proto-programmers. It's the circle of life.
      Sure, go ahead and recreate that food path for Creutzfeld-Jacob. You'll wind up with nothing but MCSEs and Flash designers, you whippersnappers!
    • by cratermoon (765155) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:35PM (#14275720) Homepage
      Well at least now I'll finally be able to say to the young turks who love to produce bad code [thedailywtf.com] and come up the endless excuses to justify it: EAT ME!
    • Re:Do not be afraid. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by demachina (71715)
      Did you ever see the movie "Logan's Run", well its like that with the 40 year old programmers getting spun up in the air and blown apart.

      Unfortunately the under 40 programmers don't get the non stop partying and sex with Farrah Fawcett in their 20's and 30's like they did in Logan's Run. Basically choosing a career in programming is a total gyp so there Americans going in to programmers in the 20-40 bracket are disappearing too. The Indians and Chinese, fortunately for the software sweat shops, are to dum
    • by LifesABeach (234436) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:54PM (#14276485)
      Legend has it that there is a hidden valley. This is where the "old" programmers go. There the lan's flow at 100gb, there's total 3D emersion games, and software licenses cannot survive. PHB's can't see it, and Users read the GD Manual. I hear it calling me now.

      Rats, its my boss asking how to reboot his "Etch-A-Sketch" Lap Top.
  • This interests me as I'm going to turn 40 next February. Is there some kind of energy barrier that strips away programming skills at 40? I hope to god it's not like Logan's Run [imdb.com]!!

    • by kibbey (96367)
      Relax, all the old coders (like me) are still here fixing the crap the youngsters keep trying to pass off as working code.
  • They get a life? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TERdON (862570) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:57PM (#14275220) Homepage
    ... or possibly, there just aren't that many programmers over 40. Most educations aimed at programming started approximately 15-20 years ago or less. If you were programming before that, it wasn't very likely that you had been educated for programming, but for something else...
    • Re:They get a life? (Score:3, Informative)

      by helicologic (845077)
      This is interesting. I'll be fifty next year, and I program for a living. But you're right, I didn't train as a programmer. I have a PhD in computer science. In the 70s and 80s "programming" was hardly considered worthy of *undergrad* courses, let alone graduate courses -- it was just assumed if you were smart enough to do CS, you could figure out programming on your own.

      I'm still around and programming because I have the foundations to pick up new technologies very quickly (and perspective of history
  • Old programmers? Heavens no!

    When their crystals turn color, they go through Carousel and are never heard from again.
  • Government Work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dch24 (904899) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:57PM (#14275231) Journal
    I am a contractor at a government installation. Without going into too much detail about what it is I do I can say this: civil service jobs in the US are where a lot of over-40 programmers go because the benefits of working for the US government are pretty good:

    1. Your employer is the largest (fill in the blank) anywhere.
    2. Your employer can't fire you. Civil servants basically can't be fired unless they do something completely crazy like "go postal."
    3. The pay's not great, but the people are pretty laid back. And most of them are over 40.

  • I used to take an advanced literature course in college. I loved to read but I knew that the placement for jobs meant I had remain a computer science major.

    My professor told me that maybe I should save up money writing code and then apply for a professor position at a college or get a teaching degree.

    Maybe it's conducive for one who programs computers to have a yearning for a different job and once they have enough financial backing, they take the plunge?

    I haven't yet discounted teaching as a futu
    • by Phaid (938) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:01PM (#14276037) Homepage
      Maybe it's conducive for one who programs computers to have a yearning for a different job and once they have enough financial backing, they take the plunge?

      It's true. I've been a software engineer for 11 years and I frequently dream of a glamorous career as a truck driver. Once I get my house paid off, I'll buy some driving lessons, and then -- it's owner/operator time.
  • Well.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:57PM (#14275233)
    You ever hear of Mountain Dew? It's old programmers, I tell you! Mountain Dew is old programmers!
  • ...atleast in my case.

    I am a pretty decent coder, acoording to my bosses. Technical management can only take one so far. An IP lawyer who knows what he is doing should do pretty well (assuming I keep up with technology).

    I would code until retirement, but it just doesn't seem realistic for a variety of reasons.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:58PM (#14275235)
    > Where Do All of the Old Programmers Go?

    Silicon heaven [nildram.co.uk], of course.

    (No such thing as Silicon Heaven? Preposterous! Just ask the collection of HP calculators nobly enshrined atop the PDP-11 in my basement!)

  • 1) Management

    2) Downsized because of obsolete skillset and looking for a new job

    3) Starting their own business (either related to IT or not), most likely resulting from #2

    Seriously I'd evaluate your skillset at this time and think about where you're going from here. If you're still sharp you might find yourself pulled into management, if you're not so sharp, start thinking about your career away from your company...
  • Most wake up and realize that the company views them the same way they view the janitors: necessary maintenance workers. Few companies have "career paths" for IT staff. Start thinking about fast food franchise opportunities or working your way into managment.
  • I don't think anyone knows... simply because most programmers aren't that old, the management and IT fields have been able to contain them.

    The article asks a question that might have an interesting answer in the future, but I'd have to say that as programmers no longer fit in other areas, they'll just continue to program until they retire. Until this point they could move on to something else.

    I guess the real question asked here is - Will management and IT grow at a rate large enough to absorb aging program
  • by ddent (166525) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:59PM (#14275268) Homepage
    Fortunately you are almost 40 and won't have to be wondering in suspense for too long, but you can start saying your goodbyes to your friends and neighbours. Just tell them your going on a trip and you don't know exactly when you'll be back. We don't want to attract too much attention to our operations. At the stroke of midnight, we'll be dropping by. You can bring a couple boxes with you if you like, though you'll be well provided for even if you don't.
  • ... in unemployment! Younger IT workers are cheaper, and more familiar with newer technologies at the same time!
    • by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:10PM (#14275423)

      Younger IT workers are cheaper, and more familiar with newer technologies at the same time!

      As a bonus, they can make the same old mistakes all over again!

    • by koreth (409849) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:04PM (#14276064)
      and more familiar with newer technologies at the same time!

      If that's true of you, you have only yourself to blame. Age has nothing to do with it. I'm pushing 40 myself and I still make it a habit to regularly devote time to playing with new technologies that might end up turning into something useful down the road. And once familiar with those technologies, I look for places to apply them. Yesterday I spent most of my day working on a real-time streaming AJAX UI for a multi-user financial application, hardly a technology that went out of fashion with disco and bellbottoms.

      There are a lot of capable young IT workers out there. I have the pleasure of working with a bunch of them at one of my jobs right now. But there are also a lot of boneheaded young IT workers who are only in the business because it looked like a lucrative thing to major in, and who will be sick of the whole thing and looking to switch careers by the time they're 30. I've worked with some of them too. Trouble is, employers can't always tell the difference between the two. Meanwhile, as a going-on-veteran-status programmer, I have a resume with lots of references from past employers who can confirm that I'm worth what I charge. There are lots of companies out there who value a proven track record, and I doubt that'll change any time soon. Only time can give you a track record of any kind.

      In my observation, it's far more about your attitude than your age. If you can maintain an attitude of, "Wow, that's neat, I need to learn more about that and try it out," you'll probably do quite well no matter how old you are. If your attitude is, "I've learned how to do X, and that's what I do, so don't ask me to do Y," then yeah, familiarize yourself with the employees-only section of your local fast food joint, because the demand for X will dry up at some point.

  • Back to School (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CrazyTalk (662055) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:00PM (#14275278)
    I'm 41, a former programmer, and thats where I am - getting my MBA (and currently managing development outsourced to India). A good friend of mine has left the development world and gone back to Law School. Not an uncommon story.
  • Were do all the old programmers go?

    Well you see, my son, where people get very old, one day they have to leave their family and friends, to go visit a very old man living far away from here, in the mountains, in his small house. Then they never go back, but when that happens they are not sad, they are actually happy because they know they had a good life.

  • Law School (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stlhawkeye (868951) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:00PM (#14275280) Homepage Journal
    I realized a few years ago that your typical lawyer doesn't know jack about technology, and you're typical IT person doesn't know jack about the law, judging by the number of Slashdot posters who run their mouths about IP rights without understanding them, or asserting the right to do things that they clearly have no right to do (note: saying you should have a right that you don't have is fine, saying you do have a right that you don't have is ignorant; this is the practice I'm referring to).

    So I decided that, since I'm an argumentative armchair law nerd, I may as well get paid for it.

    But mostly, I want out of IT because it's generally unstable and I don't find the work to be satisfying. The contributions I wish to make to the world do not lie in software development, and so I'm getting out.

    • Re:Law School (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vertinox (846076) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:42PM (#14275815)
      or asserting the right to do things that they clearly have no right to do (note: saying you should have a right that you don't have is fine, saying you do have a right that you don't have is ignorant; this is the practice I'm referring to).
      "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

      -Thomas Jefferson [wikiquote.org]

      To paraphrase what I think he is saying is that I, nor you, nor the government actually can give or take away any type of rights at all. These are things that exist but cannot simply be handed out like physical things since they are given by either god or the natural order of the universe.

      Rights are simply there.
      • Re:Law School (Score:3, Informative)

        by OldAndSlow (528779)
        We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights;

        Wow, another wiki gets it wrong! Jefferson actually wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." from the the national archives [archives.gov]

      • Re:Law School (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stuktongue (140376)
        Well, first it helps to get the quote right. According to http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ind e x.htm [ushistory.org], which seems fairly authoritative, the relevant text is as follows:

        "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

        Based on what they show when you follow the "Congress's Draft" link, it appears as though your text is from an earlier
      • Re:Law School (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stlhawkeye (868951)
        To paraphrase what I think he is saying is that I, nor you, nor the government actually can give or take away any type of rights at all. These are things that exist but cannot simply be handed out like physical things since they are given by either god or the natural order of the universe.

        I'm aware of this. It's called natural law, and I subscribe to it. It's the belief that we as human beings simply have certain rights, and governments can recognize them or not, but the government cannot take the right

  • ...selling cars. Small companies ditch old programmers, but big companies keep them back in the mainframe shop.

    Some work as consultants as well.
  • by bsartist (550317) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:01PM (#14275299) Homepage
    ... they're just cast into void*
  • ...they branch to a new address.
  • Working for an Engineering firm in IT, taking classes and working toward a degree in groundwater chemistry. Time to move on... the fun was over abaout 10 years ago. There really isn't anything new to learn and I want to use my brain again.
  • They are still involved in development, they just know better than to get involved in the high profile / high risk / 80 hour a week stuff. They work on boring things you don't hear about on slashdot, and only work around 40 hours a week so they have more time for the new convertible and new blonde that comes with the mid life crisis.
  • If you are still programming in your 40s instead of hiring other folks to program for you, you are probably a loser.

    Start a business and let someone else be your code monkey. By 50 if you are still staring at streams of code all day, you will fucking go blind.

  • They WORK (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maiden_taiwan (516943) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:06PM (#14275351)
    They go to companies who appreciate them.

    My company is aggressively hiring software engineers right now. When we interview a senior developer who really knows what he/she is talking about it, it's like a breath of fresh air.

    It's true you can get more raw work done by two junior bodies vs. one senior engineer at twice the price, but when your production database server is dying under load, you want the engineer with experience to be there.

  • 20+ years ago, C wasn't so common. Career programmers didn't work in the same environment. They still have those jobs, but they are different enough that they don't tend to work in the same fields as new programmers.

    Just my guess.
  • by Aging_Newbie (16932) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:09PM (#14275408)
    From Google:

    Old programmers never die, they just lose their memory
    OLD PROGRAMMERS never die, they just byte it
    OLD PROGRAMMERS never die, they just decompile
    OLD PROGRAMMERS never die, they just get bugged with life
    OLD PROGRAMMERS never die, they just go to bits ...
    Old programmers never die, they just branch to a new address. -
    Old programming wizards never die, they just recurse.
    Old PROGRAMMERS never die, they just can'tC as well.
  • We get distracted (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kfstark (50638) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:10PM (#14275422) Homepage
    I'm not quite 40 yet, but I am approaching it in the next couple of years.



    I don't really enjoy coding as much as I used to. I want to go home to my family and friends. I want interpersonal relationships that enhance my life. I don't want to dedicate my life to learning the increasing amount of new technologies. I can accomplish more by making sure the people working for me are coding well and producing good work. I would argue that coding is a dead end job unless you are one of the best. Algorithm development, program design, project management and debugging are much more fun and take more skill than writing code to a spec. Solving complex problems and working in complex personal relationships are rewarding and fun. They don't allow time for the attention necessary for good coding. However, you can't be really good at these roles without a coding background


    As you get more experience, you are called on to do more and more things and have less time to devote to coding. Also, I have found that I enjoy it less and less. I like working with people and tackling problems that are more complex and involve human interaction. I haven't found a good reason to keep my skills perfectly up to date, since I can accomplish more work by making a good design and saving other people's time.


    Also, I want to work on my own projects, not the coding assignment that somebody else hands me.



    --Keith

  • by kawika (87069) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:12PM (#14275449)
    ...for large companies. By that point in your life you've learned enough to know that big companies move slowly and make dumb decisions. By age 40, you've either moved into management to participate in the stupidity, or you've left for a small company or consultancy. At least that's the way it's been for me and my friends.

    I love programming and will write code until I die. It's fun (in a perverse way) to come in to various companies, fix their WTF code [thedailywtf.com] and look like a hero.
    • I work at a large company and there are plenty of career programmers who are over 40. In fact, when I started as a co-op we had two anniversary celebrations, one guy had been there 25 years, the other 30. Working for a larger company I would imagine would bring stability, if you have two kids about to enter college you are not about to start working at a company where at any minute you may be laid off when the company goes under.

      BTW, I'm bookmarking that site.

      • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @02:33AM (#14278258)
        I agree with both of you.

        Large companies are slow and stupid. You can spend months doing nothing and then they act like something is an emergency and then before it is finished, it's dropped and something new is chosen. Assuming all does go well, you suffer a huge productivity hit.

        I was at small companies christmas party tonight and I asked about how long it would take them to make a 100 line change to production that involved adding a new column to the database.

        They replied, as I remembered from my small company days, oh about 2 hours-- another said half a day. I told them (and it obviously shocked them) that it took 4 months at a large corporation. There are too many steps to go into, but it is a stutter step of forms to fill, required estimation of the size of the project, impact analysis (even if you know there is none), approval of the pmo office, more required forms, required kickoff meetings, (actual coding & testing), required weekly status meetings, required regression testing, approval of the database team, coordination with our outside hardware partners. Sarbanes Oxley can be responsible for about 1 month of that - the pmo office can be another month of that.

        It is truly horrible. But yes, you still have career programmers because they are tired of spending their personal time to self train a few nights a week and really just want a pension and a stable job. It can be stable until this offshoring crap started- until inflation makes offshoring a bad deal (in 3-4 years) it piles on top of all the other horrible stuff.

        But hey, it's a job- it pays okay as long as you leap to each new tech, and it can take months before the large company lays folks off if it decides it wants to do so today. They just don't want the risk. So they have you document everything and train your offshore replacement before they let you go. So you keep racing to take on new responsibilities so they can't let you go. And so on.
  • Mentoring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishdan (569872) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:18PM (#14275540) Homepage Journal
    I had the priviledge to work with an older programmer -- and he was amazing. We had an incredibly productive office, and it was because even though we knew the science of computer programming, this guy knew the art.

    He also taught us incredible lessons. In 8 hours a day, 40 a week, he was able to get all his work done. And he did finally hit it big, and 2 years ago bought his dream house on the beach. As a spot of bad luck that beach was in Gulfport MS, so he'll have to rebuild, but that's not really the point.

    The best lesson he taught us was "embrace new technology -- because that's what your job really is." As a result he embraced Windows when it came out, Java, Open Source, XP, and was incredibly relevant, even at the the ripe age of 55. Of course he embraced some things that did not become important. He became a Notes developer. He spent a month becoming an expert on XML, and I know it never really became useful for him. What he knew, and taught us -- there is no point in this profession where you can stop learning. For some people, when they realize that, they decide they want to move to management, where learning actualy hinders your career.

    The reason you don't see many old developers is because they can't/won't learn new tricks. All you guys out there who won't learn Ruby? You're days are numbered -- not because Ruby IS the next great thing -- but because it MIGHT be. As a technologist, if you want to keep working with technology, you have to embrace the fact that technology changes.

    My last comment is thanks Leo! I know you'll see this, and I just wanted to let you know about the debt that we all owe you, and hope that some day I can pass on the lessons you taught to me to other young developers.

    • Re:Mentoring (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jcr (53032) <jcr@mac.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:44PM (#14275848) Journal
      I had the priviledge to work with an older programmer -- and he was amazing.

      I had the good fortune to run into several people like that in my career. One of them went to work for IBM the year I was born, and he knew not only the current state of the art, but how we got here, and what was tried and discarded along the way.

      My old boss at the first graphics hardware company I worked for, got into the electronics industry when the field was still known as "radio". For fifty years, he kept up. I learned more from him and people like him in my first year at work, than I'd picked up in all my formal schooling.

      -jcr
    • or, you know, learn the language when it is needed. really, ruby takes like a month to learn.

      The hardest part of programming is not the syntax.
  • by RembrandtX (240864) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:33PM (#14275701) Homepage Journal
    the first thing that popped into my head :

    "Well billy, you see ... about your programmer, he wasn't feeling so good anymore, and city life would be just mean. So Daddy put him in the car and drove him out to this WONDERFUL farm, where he could play in the sun, and see cows, run around having fun all day long. He seemed really sad at first, but Daddy said he REALLY enjoyed it there, we might be able to visit him eventually, once he is back to his old self."
  • by fdrebin (846000) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:39PM (#14275768)
    If you're over 40, your resume isn't even looked at. I've seen it again and again, and recruiter friends of mine confirm this for me.

    The conception seems to be that by the time you're that age you're either a burnout or a VP. There is no place in peoples minds for a Senior Scientist type programmer role. I believe that there is some truth to this - many 50 year olds are no longer so flexible or agile of mind - but it doesn't apply to all.
    Which is too bad. I happen to be in a highly specialized field, so I have some value. But for a while when I was trying to find something one could call generic, people wouldn't touch me with a 10 ft phone call. (It wasn't just me, I knew others my age range that got the same kind of non-response).

    This is really stupid on the part of recruiters - they miss a few nuggets because they won't even look. I ran a dev shop for 15 years, and I coded more than the 3-4 people working for me combined. Maybe it was that I new the system better...

    Then I changed jobs, was put in charge of a group of 6 using perl & XML & Oracle. Guess what? I coded about the same as those 6 put together, with a much lower error/bug rate. BTW, coding perl was new to me then, I'd barely even heard of XML, and Oracle was someone who predicted things...

    Am I egotistical? No, I know lots of folks smarter/better/faster than me. Some of them young whippersnappers are just damn brilliant. But I also know many who aren't as capable.
    As others pointed out, there aren't that many older types. When I was fresh out of college (late 70's) there wasn't anyone I even knew outside of work who'd ever even seen a computer, or worked with them, etc. Radically different from today. Hell, my degrees are in physics!

    I will admit, my ability to learn new things is slowing down. And there are some things I'm thinking I just won't pick up. Maybe I'm beggining to burn out...

    /Oldus Goatus
    Flatus Emeritus

  • At 46 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mycroft_514 (701676) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:46PM (#14275874) Journal
    I am a DBA and a DA. I have lost track of the number of languages, dialects of languages, and DBMSes I have learned and used over the years. But, I set my sights on the DBA position years ago, and here I am.

    I can outperform the youngsters on almost any day of the week, both in quality and quantity. Many times I write code that in turn writes code. I write code that performs edits over and over, thus freeing me from the scut work. Who do you think all these younger coders come to when they can't get their programs to work?

    And anyone that tells you COBOL is dead, better think again. COBOL will bury us, not the other way around. Even as a DBA, I had occasion to write a COBOL program just last month. It will become a shop standard next week, and ALL the developers will be using it.

    As for the years gone by. I got a BSCS in 1981. I have been in the field ever since. Right now, I am working for a Fortune 500 company. ($1 Billion a year in revenue.) I have worked for both large and small companies, and to tell you the truth, I like the larger ones for some things, and the smaller for others. This place is a little of each, and I have been here 5.5 years. At various times, I used punched cards, and paper tape. I remember working on a machine with 4K of usable memory. My current laptop is orders of magnitude more powerful than the first mainframe I worked on.

    Oh, and my father retired from this business 10 years ago, after 30+ years in IT.

    When the company needs something done now, and needs it done right, who do you think they turn to?

    I once had a company come to me at 9am, and request a validation program for an IRS tape to run in Production that very night. When it did, they avoided $4 Million in fines from the IRS.
  • System Architects (Score:3, Informative)

    by nr (27070) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:50PM (#14275907) Homepage
    Seems alot of the old dogs go into system and program architecture and design, more high-level and ofcouse higher pay.

    Programing is really low-wage work and programmers are often treated as that by most employes. With the exception of mainframe programmers which there is a shortage of people with this narrow competency. Mainframe programmers (and admins) easily make six digits salaries working at major banks or insurance companies.
  • They don't exist (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anthony Liguori (820979) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:17PM (#14276193) Homepage
    A 45 year old programmer (who has spent their entire career programming) has been programming since 1980. There weren't a lot of programmers in 1980.

    There will be a considerably higher population of older programmers in 2025 but right now it's still a young industry.
  • by minus_273 (174041) <<aaaaa> <at> <SPAM.yahoo.com>> on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:51PM (#14276477) Journal
    Old programmers never die; they just fade away..

    apologies to General MacArthur
  • by McMuffin Man (21896) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:14PM (#14276655)
    I work in a coding shop where the average age is over 40. We work in an industry where bugs have more significant repercussions than in most. Management responds to this by making sure to hire people who have had a chance to learn how to write quality code, and how to compensate for their own weaknesses, whatever those are.

    When faced with a choice between a bright recent grad from a top engineering school with great interships and a can-do attitude vs. a forty-something engineer who's been around the block, worked on various architectures, at various levels of the system, held various roles in a team, and had to pick herself up and dust herself off after a failure or two (and who wants more money than the new grad), my VP will take the experienced programmer almost every time.

    I'm under 40, and I love having all of this wisdom around to learn from. Our best, most productive coder is over 60, and he thinks so clearly and with such accumulated wisdom at an architectural level than he can see problems during the first design sketch that a clever new grad would figure out only while thinking over why he was unemployed after his product failed in the market. The young men and women on our team are very, very sharp, but brains is no substitute for brains and experience.

    • When faced with a choice between a bright recent grad from a top engineering school with great interships and a can-do attitude vs. a forty-something engineer who's been around the block, worked on various architectures, at various levels of the system, held various roles in a team, and had to pick herself up and dust herself off after a failure or two (and who wants more money than the new grad), my VP will take the experienced programmer almost every time.

      I have one question: Where does a "forty-somethi

  • by DeveloperAdvantage (923539) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:43PM (#14276826) Homepage
    Some of the postings in this thread comparing experienced and inexperienced developers remind me of an article I came across a few years ago by Gerard Holzman titled "The Logic of Bugs". In his article, Holzman states, as one of his first points, the following:

    Bugs can adjust to the level of experience of the programmer. One common misconception is that experienced programmers make fewer mistakes than novice programmers. Experienced programmers and novice programmers make roughly the same number of mistakes when writing the same amount of code. The mistakes made by the experienced programmer, however, will be more subtle than those of the novice programmer. The more complex bugs that the experienced programmer can seed into the code are often harder to find than the simpler typos of less experienced colleagues.

    Holzman is an extremely distinguished researcher, and I found his comment so counter-intuitive that I approached him and asked if there was any quantitative research behind such a bold statement. He said it was based his many years of observation in the industry.

    I googled and found the pdf for Holzman's article at: http://spinroot.com/gerard/pdf/FSE2002.pdf [spinroot.com]. In the article he also makes the point that developers and writers (say for the New York Times), have similar defect rates in their finished products!
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Friday December 16, 2005 @09:19PM (#14277040)
    30 years ago, the exciting skillset for 20 year olds was COBOL.

    20 years ago, the exciting skillset for 20 year olds was C. They still saw some COBOL programmers around.

    10 years ago, the exciting skillset for 20 year olds was Java. They still saw some C programmers around but just about never had anything to do with COBOL programmers who were still working - just at other companies with legacy mainframes.

    Now, the exciting skillset for 20 year olds is AJAX. They still see some Java programmers around but just about never have anything to do with C programmers - who are still working just on non web related tasks - and absolutely never see the COBOL programmers who are still working - just absolutely removed, in totally different companies.

    In another ten years time, the exciting skillset will be [whatever]. They will never see any AJAX programmers as they were all fired for knowing a silly over-hyped skillset. They will very rarely see Java programmers if at all, never see C programmers and absolutely not see the baby boomer COBOL programmers who are hitting retirement age anyway and bankrupting the nation.

    Ten years after that, the hip skill will be COBOL as companies pay out the ass to maintain legacy code that no one still working knows how to work with. And thus the cycle will repeat.

    So, it's not that old programmers don't have jobs. It's just that trends change and the exciting, hip skillset of one decade means you see less of the people ten years ahead of you who are on somewhat removed skillsets and even less of the ones ten years ahead of them who are on even more removed skillsets. It's not that they don't exist - it's just that they work for totally different types of companies that do totally different things.

    It makes me wonder if the now 50 something COBOL guys wonder why everyone's so old and how come no new blood ever enters the market.
  • by syukton (256348) on Friday December 16, 2005 @10:56PM (#14277471)
    Programming is a skill, not a career. Programming is like mathematics. There are few "programming" jobs out there just as there are few "math" jobs out there, but there are a lot of jobs which heavily involve programming just as there are jobs which heavily involve mathematics.

    Another way to think of programming, is as a proficiency with a certain set of tools, like hammers and wrenches and pliers for example. It doesn't matter how well you know how to use these tools, because there's no jobs out there which simply need you for your knowledge of these tools. Most jobs out there require you to know how to apply these tools in a given scenario in order to accomplish a goal or solve a problem.

    So to answer the question, "programmers" stop being "programmers" as soon as they realise this, that programming is only a skill and not a career. Once this has been realised, they take their knowledge of programming (which is essentially telling a machine to solve complex logical problems for them) into another arena. Law, Science, Administration, Teaching, etc. They don't stop programming, they just stop being simply "programmers" and instead become IP Lawyers, Data Modeling Scientists, Systems Administrators and Professors of Computer Programming.
  • Do the math. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ocbwilg (259828) on Friday December 16, 2005 @11:48PM (#14277697)
    A programmer in their 40's or 50's would have probably gotten their start in the late 1970's and early 1980's. PCs were barely in their infant stages at that point, and they weren't a whole lot of them around (relative to today). Most computers that were in use in the 1970's were mainframes and minicomputers. That's not to say that there weren't programmers, but there were far fewer of them in those days. The number of people that would have been programmers in that era is relatively small.

    Some of them have no doubt died off. Others may have changed professions. Some will have worked thier way into management. Others may have started their own companies.

    Still others have retired. Take a look at Microsoft. They've probably had more programmers come through their doors than almost any other company in the world. They've also made more millionaires out of employees (especially from the early days, and those people would be in their 40's and 50's today) than just about any other tech company. Many of those people (not just from MS, but other companies in similar situations) may have taken early retirement.

    I wouldn't be suprised to discover that a fair number of them went on to teach. If you were there in the beginning of the tech revolution, you probably have something useful to pass on to the next generation.

    Then I suspect that some are still working, but because there are relatively few of them compared to the younger people (those who got their start in the past 10 years) you probably don't encounter them as often.

    My father started programming back in the 70's, working on UNIX tools at Bell Labs. He stayed with them through several different companies until he was finally forced into early retirement from Lucent last autmun at the ripe old age of 57. He's by no means rich, but by being careful with his savings, and the retirement package (usually only the old-timers have these anymore), and the severance package, he had enough money to retire to Florida.
  • Redundancy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bazzalisk (869812) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @08:13AM (#14279085) Homepage
    My father is a 50 year old programmer - and I doubt anyone will employ him again when his current job downsizes (as I'm sure it eventually will) - this is because there is a (stupid) perception amongst people doing the hiring that all programmers should be 20-something recent graduates ... the idea that computers are only understood by teh young has become a cliche in our society.

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