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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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  • Re:They get a life? (Score:3, Informative)

    by helicologic (845077) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:07PM (#14275382)
    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 to tell the good from the bad). These reasons are probably why my employer is willing to pay a premium to hire me, while yes, IIT grads are making (i would guess) 1/4 my salary on other projects in my corporation.
  • 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.
  • 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. []
  • Re:Law School (Score:3, Informative)

    by OldAndSlow (528779) on Friday December 16, 2005 @11:18PM (#14277578)
    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 []

  • 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.

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