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Ask Slashdot: Will Older Programmers Always Have a Harder Time Getting a Job? 379

Posted by Soulskill
from the recommendation:-stop-aging dept.
Theseuss writes "Given the strong youth culture associated with the modern day Silicon Valley startup scene, many times it falls to the 40-year-old programmer to prove that he can still use the newest up-and-coming technology. Yet the rate at which the tech sector is growing suggests that in 20 years there will be a an order of magnitude more 'old-hat' programmers in the industry. As such, do you think the cultural bias towards young programmers will change in the near future?"
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Ask Slashdot: Will Older Programmers Always Have a Harder Time Getting a Job?

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  • by turgid (580780) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:22PM (#46528515) Journal

    Ignore Silicon Valley.

    50 years ago it used to be a hot-bed of science and technological innovation. Now it is a magnet for designer coffee-swigging social cloud blog web 2.0 get rich quick smartphone app hipsters.

    Look for real companies designing and building real products for proper customers. Silicon Valley's day is gone.

  • by madopal (308394) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:30PM (#46528607) Homepage
    I can say the difference between now and the last time I had to do this (~12 years) is stark.
    Seriously...if I have to take another test checking my ability to O(N) a problem, I'm gonna scream. I've been living in ginormous game engines for 6 years, and the amount of times I've had to, in the span of a timed half an hour, optimize a routine to make sure it was running in the optimal time has
    I'm sure it comes up, and I'm sure it's useful, but this all reminds me of the older assembly guys who used to put in all kinds of wonky tricks that eventually got optimized out by the compiler. Bubblesort has been solved. If your company has to implement it again, you're doing it wrong. There's a routine lying around somewhere in the company. Really.
    I don't know what the solution is for evaluating tech talent, but this doesn't seem like it.
    Also, web guys...if you're really concerned about speed, maybe you should consider writing some of this code in a lower level language. Plus, if your ad server takes 5-10 seconds to respond, then all of your optimization is for nothing anyway. But hey, you got the O(log N) solution. Bully for you.
  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:35PM (#46528645)

    Yes, older programmers will always have a harder time getting a job, just like older people in all other professions. Age discrimination isn't just an computer industry problem.

  • Re:False premise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:38PM (#46528677)

    There has been a traditional bias away from hiring older workers that I've never really questioned. I have no evidence beyond my 25 years of observations, but it seems to me that the submitter of the article is right.

    But, looking back, it seems explainable that older workers are less likely to be hired. They usually have experience, but this usually requires that you pay more. If younger workers can do the job well enough, why not go cheap? Also, older workers have higher costs for medical and sick leave and are more often injured on the job. Finally, who wants to hire somebody they know won't be working more than a few more years?

    So, where I see a lack of STEM employees coming up though the ranks, it doesn't seem to me that this bias will go away.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:44PM (#46528737)

    In my experience, actually being "old" can be a huge benefit, depending on what you're looking for. Old programmers may not know the current fad in programming languages, but they know the basics, something contemporary "programmers" (I'll use the term loosely now) often sorely lack.

    The label "programmer" has been diluted to the point where schools pump out people who can kinda-sorta somehow slap together something that compiles, but when you ask them how they do a binary sort, their reply is either the API function name for the binsort or they start digging for the documentation to find said name.

    And yes, of course I don't expect anyone to reinvent the wheel and implement their own version of a function the API provides. But I do expect people to know what they're doing and why they use what they're using! Because some of those standard algos can have quite interesting side effects that manifest themselves only under certain situations, and then only someone who KNOWS what he is doing will KNOW that these quirks exist!

  • by DavidHumus (725117) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:48PM (#46528783)

    This only holds if there's no awareness of the difference in work quality...oh, wait.

    But I call BS on this tired old argument anyway. If it were true, the 50-something w/the kids in college and flexibility would be sought after - we're not.

  • Re:False premise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:55PM (#46528847) Homepage Journal
    They usually have experience, but this usually requires that you pay more. If younger workers can do the job well enough, why not go cheap?

    Because the cumulative of 20 years experience they are looking for can actually be had by the older worker.
  • Re:False premise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:02PM (#46528903)

    For an example, are you a 40 year old programmer with pre-standard C++ experience and 14 years of Java experience, but looking for jobs requiring C# experience?

    Anybody who gives a shit if somebody's experience is in Java instead of C# (or vice-versa) has no business making hiring decisions.

  • by time961 (618278) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:07PM (#46528953)
    As others have observed, older workers tend to want to be compensated for their experience... so they're more expensive.

    In a rational hiring world, that might not matter much--they usually deliver greater value, too--but it's often not rational people (or, let's be polite and say, people who could be better-informed) that are making that decision--it's people who want to minimize costs no matter what.

    Hire an expensive engineer who really understands the work? Or two young cheap ones who might not? The latter, of course--for the same reason that outsourcing to the third world is so popular despite the incredible hurdles of management and quality. And if the bet fails, and neither of the young'ns can get it done (despite the 80-hour weeks that they can deliver and have come to expect), well, you'll be off to another job by then anyway and no one will know.

    It's a vicious cycle: VCs like start-ups that live on ramen noodles because they're cheap to fund, unlike ones that have a real staff and a real track record. And sure, some of those cheap ones will succeed, and they'll get the press (in no small part because they are young), and that will perpetuate the myth that only young folks can innovate, leading the VCs to believe in their own decisions.

    I don't see the bias going away. As a general rule, young people are less expensive, more dedicated, more attractive, and just more fun than us old farts. The market want crap in a hurry, and this is one of the primary reasons they get it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:11PM (#46528983)

    The irony is strong with this one. "Silicon Valley is sooooo 50 years ago" hipster much?

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:12PM (#46528993)

    At 40, a person should be managing a bunch of 20-somethings, not competing with them for a job.

    Given that there are just as many 40-somethings (or at least, 40-somethings + 50-somethings) as there are 20-somethings, it's mathematically impossible for them all to be managers. What are the rest of them supposed to do?

  • No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:13PM (#46528995) Homepage Journal
    But I've noticed that the ability of bad ones to get hired tends to fluctuate with the boom-and-bust cycle. Are you a bad one?
  • Re:False premise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:24PM (#46529095) Homepage

    Also, older workers have higher costs for medical and sick leave and are more often injured on the job.

    Oh for crying out loud, he wants to be a programmer ... do you know of a single job related injury of a programmer that didn't involve something involving a nomination in a non-fatal Darwin-award category (like chair races)? A freak mouse accident in which someone lost fingers? The coke machine falling on you?

    Finally, who wants to hire somebody they know won't be working more than a few more years?

    Ever heard the joke about the two bulls on the hill, and one says "hey, let's run down and fsck one of them cows"?

    Sometimes experience and having learned some mistakes along the way can be very valuable, because not all of the kiddies have learned these things.

    Kids straight of school may churn out large quantities of code and do cool things. But they also haven't yet learned all of the reasons for doing things with caution and diligence and all of the things which come with having spectacular failures.

    Eventually, your skillset becomes more valuable for your breadth of experience and knowledge, than your specific ability to code.

    For the poster, I would suggest that either you tough it out, or recognize that your ability to provide adult supervision and a longer view might be more valuable to companies (and in the long run you).

    At a certain point, if you look like you're just gonna hang on in the corner doing the same old thing until you retire, your company might decide to get rid of you. I know people who started as Help Desk grunts, and have moved on to become Directors of entire departments, because they were smart, learned stuff, and became responsible adults. I don't know many programmers in their 50s who have done nothing but.

    I'm in your cohort, give or take a little, there is life after programming. These days, organizations have more of an "up or out" mentality.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:54PM (#46529357) Homepage Journal

    No, it doesn't depend on management, it depends on ownership.

    The instructions to management are now, "Get the youngest, cheapest, most scared". The last thing they want is someone experience enough to know when they're getting fucked.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:25PM (#46529603)

    Not true. Those resumes are often lies. I see a great resume that says someone can do the work. And yet they can't wrote up a very simple function on the board, the sort of thing they'd have to do every day on the job. Maybe searching for something in a list is inane, but you'd be surprised how many people with years of C experience on the resume can't actually do it. I feel stupid just asking some of these questions in an interview because they're so basic, but so many people just can't do the basic stuff. Now granted, maybe the recruiters are scraping the sides of the barrel to get these candidates (my theory is that with the current economy that the best engineers are staying put instead of changing jobs).

    Ie, Joel on Software mentions some of this, saying that he expects that for the simple questions he would like to see the programers just start writing out the code without pause. And yet I have seen people pause because they can't remember whether to use '~' versus '!' and the like despite a resume that says they should know this completely. I have a really simple question which can be done with a one-line answer that 9 out of 10 candidates can't do.

    And besides the programming examples aren't just for checking if someone knows the syntax. We also want to see how the candidate can think about a problem. I try to ask something that they would not know if they just crammed the night before so that it requires them to think. That's important to do on the job: thinking is an important part of the job, whereas bullshitting about what's on the resume is really only useful in the lunchroom. Can the candidate think logically about the problem, or are they flailing about?

    Believe me, someone can spend 30 years in the industry and still be clueless. Quite a lot of programming jobs are very basic; in fact right now I think that most programming jobs require minimal thinking, they instead either require mostly gluing together different frameworks, or else making minor tweaks to a large existing body of code.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:44PM (#46529773)

    that depends if management wants to waste time and money reworking mistakes that would have been avoided by someone with experience.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:55PM (#46529875)

    Sorry, that wasn't any form of English.

        - American AC

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:10PM (#46530409)

    What old farts hear:

    "You're not a good fit."

    "You don't have the skills."

    "The position has been closed or filled"

    And one I actually got: "Your commute will be too long."

    You see, people over 40 are a protected class in legal speak. What that means is if a company were stupid enough to say, "You're too old.", they just opened themselves up to an EEOC lawsuit.

    Now, when I was volunteering as an IT guy at a free clinic, one of the guys there was a retired IT manager. And this is what he said, "When there's a choice between an older or younger candidate, the younger will be chosen. I'm not saying it's right, but it's the reality."

    Working with retired IT/Development managers was a real eye opener. One actually said to leave IT.

    I'm trying but starting over again is really hard because folks don't like hiring middle aged entry level people and they are quite incredulous that anyone would want to leave a lucrative career like software development.

    It is VERY hard out there for folks who are unemployed. Just being unemployed is a black mark against you and the longer you're unemployed, the chances of getting employed again approach zero.

    Freelance? Even worse.

  • by Harlequin80 (1671040) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:28PM (#46530519)

    I am a recruiter who recruits in the engineering spaces and in particular the Oil & Gas space in Australia.

    So while not IT it probably crosses over in that we see a significant difference in attitude to years of experience between Australia and the US. For example a Senior Drilling Engineer with 20 years of experience can find it hard to get a job in the US. There seems to be a real preference for people with less experience ie younger.

    In Australia the attitude is the opposite. Here the attitude is a 10 years of experience they haven't seen enough to know what not to do and that 20 is what you need to be useful.

    Makes my life easier I guess, as we bring a load of skilled people over to Australia but the difference in attitude is interesting.

  • Re:False premise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @12:26AM (#46531303)

    As a "young programmer," ...[y]ou know how long it took me to start being productive in 30 seconds, maybe less.

    Yeah, you really weren't productive after 30 seconds. As you said, you can declare a variable, whoopdie-fucking-doo. I fully believe that you could figure out how to write functions that did math functions in 30 seconds. Being productive requires more than that. It only took you 30 seconds to, I dunno, use to use a COM process to read cells from an excel document?

    Which isn't to say you cannot get anything done. But your "general programming knowledge" with a barebones syntax knowledge is not as valuable as you think. If a page of your code can be replaced by a callt o an existant function, you're not being productive.

    And I say this as someone who has written professional code in... I lost count somewhere around 15 languages and cannot be bothered to go back and start again. Sometimes I was very productive. In some languages I was not. And in the case of small modifications or small projects, it was okay to be fairly unproductive (I'm using the term how I think you understand it, which means I was fairly inefficent in the use of my time, and the solution, while working, was probably suboptimal). But, the fact that me being unproductive lead to a good solution doesn't mean it wouldn't have taken 1/3 of the time with someone who actually knew the language.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2014 @12:33AM (#46531335)

    Oh dear. Sorry you couldn't find a job.

    You mean, sorry he couldn't find a job that isn't going to be around in a year.

    There are a million little startups, who have no plans to ever make a real company. They hire a bunch of naive kids, and work them to the bone. The second the Venture Capital money starts to dry up they're gone, leaving behind a company with nothing in the way of assets and in many cases a mountain of hidden debt as well. Many of these kids don't understand what just happened, even when they show up one day to find locks on the doors and a Repo company cleaning out the office. And then reality hits- all those millions in Stock Options are literally not worth a penny.

    So sure, older workers can have a hard time finding a job... at a company which isn't worth a shit.

  • by Terje Mathisen (128806) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @03:25AM (#46531765)

    I'm 56, should I be forced to retire?

    Programming is still something I do more or less 7 days a week because I like it, not to get rich or just because I'm paid to do so. When I started out this was pretty much the only way you could get into programming, i.e. my (technical) university didn't even offer an IT degree when I started there.

    I've been programming since the seventies, I have written MBs of source code in many languages, but of course I'm getting about a year older every year. :-)

    The main difference between today and 25-30 years ago is probably that now I'll spend a bit more time up front thinking about the problem _before_ I sit down to write the code. I've taken part in 3 of the 4 Facebook Hacker Cups that have been held so far and I've noticed that I get into trouble in the later rounds when time pressure becomes critical, but I like to think that I'm still coming up with good solutions even if it takes me more than 30-40 minutes to do so.

    The international competitions that I've won have been for the fastest possible code but with some weeks to deliver the solution.


  • by technomom (444378) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @08:29AM (#46533219)
    You know what? I don't ignore all of headhunter notes I get. The ones that sound a little interesting, I send a little note thanking them for their interest, tell them I'm currently employed but if that changes I definitely will keep them in mind. Usually, I throw in some small talk asking how the market is for things that are more my current "hobby" than my job (I've been dabbling in a lot of mobile, noSQL and cloud programming) just to get an idea for what my Plan B, C, and D will be should I get laid off or finally decide to retire from my "real job". More than a few recruiters have engaged in conversation this way. Those I keep in my Contacts list for a later date.

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