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Ask Slashdot: Best Approach To Reenergize an Old Programmer? 360

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-back-in-the-game dept.
StonyCreekBare writes "I started out programming in Z80 assembler in the 1970s. Then I programmed in Pascal. Then x86 Assembler in the early '90s. Over time I did a smattering of C, Basic, Visual C++, Visual Basic, and even played at Smalltalk. Most recently I settled on Perl, and Perl/Tk as the favorite 'Swiss army Chainsaw' tool set, and modestly consider myself reasonably competent with that. But suddenly, in this tight financial environment I need to find a way to get paid for programming, and perl seems so 'yesterday.' The two hot areas I see are iOS programming and Python, perhaps to a lesser extent, Java. I need to modernize my skill-set and make myself attractive to employers. I recently started the CS193P Stanford course on iTunesU to learn iPad programming, but am finding it tough going. I think I can crack it, but it will take some time, and I need a paycheck sooner rather than later. What does the Slashdot crowd see as the best path to fame, wealth and full employment for gray-haired old coots who love to program?"
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Ask Slashdot: Best Approach To Reenergize an Old Programmer?

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  • Coldfusion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:31AM (#41627167)

    Seriously, stop laughing. It's a niche language, but is used in a lot of places you wouldn't expect, and there aren't tons of developers. Bad for the language, but good for the developers. And the best part? It's easy to learn.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:37AM (#41627201)

    I wonder what it'll feel like when I'm 50, or 60.

  • by stox (131684) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:37AM (#41627205) Homepage

    I would take a strong look at Ruby. There are a lot of Ruby jobs available these days.

  • by AuMatar (183847) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:38AM (#41627211)

    You have tons of experience. If you're any good at all, you don't need a class, in fact a class will go far too slow. You need to get your hands dirty. Just pick something that you think would be fun, pick an existing app for it, and copy it. You learn more by doing than reading.

  • Old standbys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elysiuan (762931) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:44AM (#41627259) Homepage

    If the primary motivation is getting a job I'd probably stick to Java and C#/.NET. Not the sexiest technologies but ubiquitous. Neither is going to be replaced anytime soon and even if they are they'll turn into what COBOL was with people working on legacy systems well past the host languages shelf-life. Given what you've said I'd probably focus on Java since you already have experience there. Another plus with Java is that you can still focus on mobile development with the Android platform if that's what's exciting you.

    Or you can take the badass Paul Graham approach and create the next big thing in Common Lisp and ride that wave to YCombinator-esque superstardom! This is the more exciting/perilous route.

  • by pieterh (196118) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:47AM (#41627275) Homepage

    If you're better at smaller focused tasks, learn Android development, and team up with someone with good graphics skills.

    If you're better at the big picture, learn 0MQ [zero.mq] and sell yourself as an architect.

  • the sad truth. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:49AM (#41627297) Homepage Journal

    No one wants to tell you to take up JavaScript, or .NET, or drive through IOS, but the money is there.

    SQL and VB will complement some of those skill sets.

  • by Garridan (597129) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:50AM (#41627313)
    Then get out. You're still young, you can learn an entirely new trade and expect to succeed. There'll be some pain and difficulty along the way... but it won't be as bad as hating your life for the next 40 years. (yes, 40 -- you don't think the retirement age is going to go down, do you?)
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday October 12, 2012 @12:57AM (#41627345)

    ...and perl seems so "yesterday".

    Ya. It's not.

    I'm a 49, with only a BS in CS, am fully-employed (though I often choose to work less than 40/week) and I use Perl every day for production projects. Yes, I also use about 9 other programming languages on both Unix/Linux and Windows (sigh), but when the shit is approaching the fan, Perl usually saves the day. Having a breadth of experience and knowledge is what makes one really useful. Knowing a little (sometimes more) about a lot of things, knowing what you don't know, and how to research what you don't know, is better than knowing a lot about a few things. It's also a damn-sight better than pretending to know thing you don't know.

    I've been a systems programmer / administrator on just about every Unix platform there is and specialize in automating things. That experience also helps me on Windows (again, sigh). I'm the one that gets asked to do the "impossible" things because I figure out how to get them done.

    As for fame and wealth... Be good and generous with people, especially the ones you love, pay off all your bills promptly and don't buy shit you don't really need. I'm debt-free and - actually - don't have to work ever again - though, I'd be bored (okay, more bored).

    Oh, and don't be a dick, unless absolutely necessary. Then...

  • by Sussurros (2457406) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:00AM (#41627365)
    By the time you get into your fifties you have more answers, less problems, some entrenched bad habits that are nearly impossible to break, a whole lot of dreams that you know you'll never achieve, someone who looks like your parent looking back at you in the mirror, and the search for sex is no longer an overarching need - but inside you'll still feel young.

    At thirty you probably feel as old as you'll ever feel. You always feel young inside but at thirty the world stops looking new. That soon passes though once you realise that you haven't been paying close enough attention. The world will always be new and that you'll always feel young even if you live to be a hundred.
  • C/C++ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VirexEye (572399) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:03AM (#41627389) Homepage
    C/C++ is very relevant today, and will be just as relevant tomorrow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:09AM (#41627421)
    I think the expectation is that you'll transition to something up the ladder. What I actually see is people stuck in the same job forever while 25yo grads with mba's cycle in. They cut their teeth as project managers, move up, bring in a new grad. Programmers stay at the bottom, hoping that one day they'll make some awesome project that'll be their escape. Never happens.
  • by afgam28 (48611) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:11AM (#41627439)

    C++ is still big, and the jobs that require it pay really well. C++ is an incredibly hard language to learn properly, and most of the Java/C# generation can't quite do it due to all the little gotchas of the language. If you've got the experience and skills then you should be able to earn big bucks doing C++. And if you decide you prefer Java, the step from C++ to Java is an easy one (much less so the other way around).

    Also the embedded world still has strong demand for programmers, and pays well. It sounds like you've got experience with two different assembly languages and C, which is plenty.

    iOS is cool and fun but IMO the market is saturated. If you get into it, not only will you have to start from scratch, but you'll be competing with low-paid graduate programmers. If you're finding it "tough going", then not only will you not be able to compete, but you'll be putting in a high amount of effort for relatively low pay.

  • Believe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:23AM (#41627509)
    You may wonder, and worry that you don't belong to the younger generation of programmers - usually preferred by employers. Don't. You belong to the pioneering team of programmers which knowledge didn't come from a school, it came from passion and challenge because, at the time, we had to learn by ourselves and to make efficient programs one had to master assembly - voluntarily (nowadays, assembly is a mandatory (and feared) subject taught in computer science schools to force students to get a clue about what usually does a cpu, and how a system works internally). This is an invaluable plus. So you may want to try web sites development - like 80% of programmers and "programmers" - in PHP or Java, or iOS for the fun, but you may also want to give another try to the C / robotics / devices programming etc... areas, where you could fit surprisingly well.
  • by Netdoctor (95217) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:29AM (#41627537)

    I'd second that.

    If you're hungry and worried about the rent, then make that your priority instead of worrying about being happy.

    It's called Maslow's Hierarchy, and I've seen techie people make that same mistake time after time.

    Take care of the tummy first. Don't lose your house. In your spare time, look for the happiness, either by training and/or job searching.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:37AM (#41627567)

    If the primary motivation is getting a job I'd probably stick to Java and C#/.NET

    I would agree with you, for someone looking to leave college in a year or two...

    But for someone looking to make money sooner I'd say it would be difficult to land a Java/C# job without some practical on the job experience in those languages.

    As unfair as that may be with his diverse background, it's simply the case that most companies are going to have a number of candidates to look at with a few years of Java or C# and it's going to be hard for him to get a job going that path. Longer term it may still be good to study though.

  • Re:Old standbys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drolli (522659) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:42AM (#41627603) Journal

    This.

    The total environment (financially, technically) for mobile apps is not the most steady market. A little rule change on the side of Apple, and only big shops survive.

    Phyton is nice and used sometimes.

    But what will keep your bread buttered is Java/.NET+DB+"one application area of your choice" knowledge. Most big project are started in Java/.NET, most contain DBs.

    And never focus on a language which can be only used for a single platform (Objective C - Apple), They may be the hype today. They may be the hype next year. The iphone now is 6 years old. That is significantly less than the time over whcih Siemens mobiles or Nokia mobile seemed invincible and ubiqueus in Europe. And significantly less than the first phase of success for Apple. in the 80s and 90s. (yes, also Apple can bring you products, which really suck).

  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Friday October 12, 2012 @01:52AM (#41627647) Journal

    It's not your ability to program. Lots of people can program and to a first approximation, most programmers are expected to be able to adapt to a new language or environment.

    What makes you distinct is the contextual skills you bring. E.G. 802 or LTE protocols, HIPPA rules, industrial process control, DECT, pig farming automation, Point of Sale. There are thousands of different skill areas that a random programmer off the street won't know, but somebody needs.
     

  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Friday October 12, 2012 @02:04AM (#41627697) Journal

    Switch to hardware. Do chip design. Then you can complete the process of turning your hair grey. But it pays better than software.

  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Friday October 12, 2012 @02:05AM (#41627703) Homepage

    What have you actually made?

    That is the question.

    Software experience isn't a collection of language names matched with years.

  • Not iOS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ukpyr (53793) on Friday October 12, 2012 @02:10AM (#41627721)

    Not because it's uninteresting or unmarketable, but because it's got a language and a toolset that are fairly unique to it. Same with doing Android dev. On Android, Java is the easy part, learning the framework take a fair amount of time. This is from my experience, I don't like writing GUI's generally. Take with salt.

    Java has a massive market. The Company I Work For, hires nearly anyone that claims java due to our size and semi-standardization on the language. For a quick $ fix, I suggest Java. You experience with older stuff can be used in porting older stuff to java. Fun for all!

    Being who I am, I would also suggest you think about taking matters into your own hands long term. Find something that excites you, make it better or innovate something else off of it. Think tiny, supplemental income. Don't attempt to solve world hunger with your little dream thing. If it goes off well, think about how to expand it or do something else more risky. Of course, don't put all your eggs in that basket but hell, having a pipedream is fun if you keep grounded enough!

    Note:
    Just being pragmatic, I have nothing against making apps for iOS : )

    Cheers and best wishes,
    me

  • by RemiT (182856) on Friday October 12, 2012 @02:25AM (#41627783)

    As a graying 60 plus who also started with Z80 assembler then progressed through Forth, Fortran, Lisp and 7 other languages, I have considerable feel for your situation. However, having endured lots of online discussion about today's 'real programming jobs' being for younger folk, I regret to suggest that full employment is an unlikely outcome (if a nice dream) in the tight financial environment we have all been living through. But I have found personal renewal and significant career and financial payoff in iOS app development for publication, then cross-development for Android, although the iOS payoff has been nearly 10x greater than for a similar Android product. And as one of my renowned neuroscience mentors taught, learning difficult new skills is the best way to keep an aging brain healthy... Fortunately, programming isn't my main career, but my downsized programmer brother (over 10 years my junior) has also had significant recent success learning to program mobile apps (Android) bringing in new income and job prospects. We both started out trying to tap the still hot market for mobile devices, and it would seem a shame to ignore higher-level independent mobile developer prospects if you couldn't land a rare ARM assembly coding job with a commercial firm. But with about 90% of the current coding on my day job being for multi-device web applications (in a world where 20- and 30- something web designers are 'a dime a dozen'), staying flexible and diversified, finding a niche and evolving new applications for new technology seem to have been the most important strategies for long term survival as a programmer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:13AM (#41628303)

    I just want to say thank you for this response -- I'm 39 and your perspective is both comforting and much appreciated.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @06:16AM (#41628867)

    Say you've worked for 5-10 years already. You've got WORK experience. You've got OFFICE experience. Why not do something new?

    So brush up your CV and try to convey what is your experience, what is your positive personal traits.
    Get a job as consultant through a consultant company. You'll get your toes into many more opportunities and meet more people.
    Consider other roles. There are TONS and TONS of different roles in the jobmarket. Investigate and apply for them!
    Take every opportunity to sell yourself, honestly.

    With a bit of a confidence you may find there are more opportunities out there than the box you've let yourself get stuck in.

    Don't let ANYBODY ELSE define YOUR LIFE. Break out of it once in a while. We're all breaking out sooner or later anyways. Nothing is worth to be miserable for, not even a comfortable salary.

    Catcha: certify

  • by lourd_baltimore (856467) on Friday October 12, 2012 @06:31AM (#41628933)
    Have you thought of Software Quality Assurance?

    I work in a team of 7. We're a mixed bag of software, hardware, and systems engineering types, but we all have to do some programming as our primary function. When a team member leaves, the replacement gets all the lovely FNG assignments as their secondary role. That is, documentation, testing, and/or QA.

    I got shoved into software QA when I arrived on the team. I joke about how I hate it and how my teammates hate me in that role, but I secretly relish it and my team mates know it has to be done.

    Ask yourself these questions:
    - Do you love processes?
    - Do you find code reviews interesting?
    - Do you like tearing into others' designs and implementation?
    - Does it really jack your nads when the documentation doesn't jive with the implementation?
    - Do you like audits?
    - Do you like meetings?
    - Do you like ISO 9001?
    - Don't you just hate having to reverse-engineer a product because someone was lazy with the documentation?
    - Do you like making/maintaining support tools?

    Then Software QA is the move for you!

    It is also a skill you can shop around regardless of the development environment (although some environments lend themselves to QA better than others).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @06:44AM (#41628987)

    Nothing more attractive than watching some recent teen copy code from the internet and tell the boss how well it works.

    Ask one of them about hardware and the room clears. Ask one about integration and / or driver debug using actual electronic test equipment and the million techniques 40 years of experience bring to identifying WHERE a problem lives, as opposed to IF a problem exists and a sea of dull looks peeks out from under the metrosexual horn rims.

    Debug some hardware written on a 20 year old platform for an obsolete micro with development kits that haven't seen the light of day for decades but that cost a million bux to do originally and must be fixed in place without resorting to the latest single-chip solution and scripty language with 'stories'.

    Modern graduates are one step removed from Arduino hobbyists who have discovered how to light an LED. If you want skill, you find someone with experience. If you can tolerate crap born of a few semesters of studying one or two of a thousand languages and none of the underlying specifics, by all means, choose pimples and a pizza-based diet and hammer away with 10 of them, or get one competent 50 year old to help them find their way.

    Asking overpaid amateurs for their opinion on stuff like this presumes there is a reason they are overpaid other than the bosses are in a hurry, in trouble, and more incompetent. Just find better clients and leave this crew of hacks to their cute little puzzles.

  • Bull (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @07:05AM (#41629069)

    Those who never held a real specialist job when they got into management are simply incapable to make technology decisions. All they can do is to apply their el-stupido methods which openly ridicule expertise in anything. They can talk nicely and make pretty powerpoints. But that is it.

    Look at HP Co. - they thought that MBAers were the future. Fiveteen years later they are firmly in the crapper, while companies such as Google thrive on deep technology expertise. Google explicitly requires deep tech expertise when they hire people and they give $hit about your "soft skills". They hire quite old people with more than two decades of software engineering under their belt.

    If someone does not like the grunt work of software engineering, he or she has to make a change - no doubt. But that does not mean you cannot have a great career until 65 (or 70) in software engineering. Just don't think software engineering is all about a specific technology; it is about a solid understanding of concepts, complexity analysis, lots of experience in making systems, being able to write white papers for other technologists and of course the mastery of at least one development environment and things like business process analysis (and transformation into technology solutions to aid these processes).

  • by osu-neko (2604) on Friday October 12, 2012 @08:32AM (#41629519)
    I suspect a lot of programmers don't want to "move up" to project management and beyond. Coding is fun. Management sucks...
  • Re:Coldfusion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @08:42AM (#41629587)

    This suggestion and his own are entirely wrong for his skillset.

    He should be investigating industrial control systems and PLC development.
    It's a high-salary job that has little competition, especially with experience.

  • by PRMan (959735) on Friday October 12, 2012 @10:27AM (#41630995)
    And we get paid more than them, so I hardly call programming "the bottom". Why get the headache without the pay?
  • Re:Truth. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by menno_h (2670089) on Friday October 12, 2012 @11:27AM (#41631789) Homepage

    mandatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/297/ [xkcd.com]
    I'm part of that new generation, so don't you dare dis LISP or I'll mod you down!
    Oh, wait I posted. I can't do that anymore.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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