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Programming Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Joining a Startup As an Older Programmer? 274

Posted by timothy
from the ask-slashtot dept.
First time accepted submitter bdrasin (17319) writes "I've had a series of interviews with a late-term startup (approx. 300 employees) and I think there is a good chance they will make me an offer. The technology is great, my skills and interests are a good fit for the position, I think the company has a promising future, and I like they team. Frankly I'm damn excited about it, more so than for any job in my career. However, I'm worried about what could euphemistically be called 'cultural' issues. I'm a few years over 40, with a wife and kids, and all of the engineers at the company seem to be at least 10 years younger than I am. Being at the company's office gives me a distinct old guy at the club feeling. I don't think the overall number of hours the team works is more than I could handle, but the team does a lot of young-single-guy-at-a-startup group activities (rent-a-limo-and-go-clubbing night, weekends in Tahoe, Burning Man, in-office happy hour) that I wouldn't want or be able to participate in; I need to be home with my family for dinner most nights and weekends and so on. I'm wondering if anyone else has had the experience of working at a startup with, or as, an older programmer, and how it worked out?"
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Ask Slashdot: Joining a Startup As an Older Programmer?

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  • by Sarius64 (880298) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:37PM (#46914553)
    Maybe you should just do your work instead of trying to co-exist with younger people raising hell. If these activities you mentioned are part of the company requirements then the company isn't focused on success; just spending their investors' money.
  • If it were a very small company and that were the culture, I'd be wary. But 300 people is reasonably big. Can you get an impression of whether the limo-and-clubbing type activities are something everyone participates in? It's quite possible that, despite being a high-profile part of the "company culture", it's only a smallish subset of people who actually go to those events, not all 300 employees. In that case it might not be a big issue, you'd just join the other people who don't go.

  • by IV-Swamp (744272) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:45PM (#46914595) Homepage
    They all knew I had a family and could not experience all the single-guy-out-on-the-town stuff. I instead, genuinely, showed interest in hearing about their antics, which they enjoyed sharing with me. I also kept up on all the newest techniques and news of the languages and frameworks we used. Thus instead of "old guy" I became the quasi guru. Having a beard helps.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:46PM (#46914609)

    Receiving appropriate compensation and equity and being successful in the company may be contingent on spending long hours at work, which can be incompatible with "dinner with family" at normal dinnertime, anyways.

    Your master has taught you well, slave.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:50PM (#46914637)

    That's pretty absurd. There is very little in common between software development and company development. You seem to postulate that company building is a more advanced form of development that software development grows into naturally. That's a pretty ridiculous assertion.

  • Go for it! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonxor (1841382) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:50PM (#46914641)
    This question so accurately describes where I currently work, that I'm seriously wondering if you're talking about my company. If so, I can tell you, I am one of the younger guys who works at a company exactly as you described and we recognize that we lack experience. We have youthful vigor, time and energy, but we are hungry for experienced people who have seen the pitfalls and mistakes that can be made and give us guidance. There are always the people who put in the extra time because they are young, with no spouses or children, and the culture is sort of transitioning from a startup to a more compartmentalized corporate culture. We recognize the people who put in the extra blood sweat and tears, but we also recognize the value of an experienced worker who doesn't have to do that, and as such, there is no negative stigma from the company culture around people who want to go home at the normal time, and stick to putting in sane (40 - 50 hour weeks) time. I say go for it, because the older guys in the club get respect and recognition. If you really have wisdom and have not wasted your years, then your experience will be plenty to show for it.
  • by pupsocket (2853647) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:51PM (#46914647)

    The firm, now large and organized, can no longer be a roving band of inspired friends. It has to dock onto the household world.

    Just admire your co-workers and invite a few to dinner now and then. They've already decided they like you.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @03:53PM (#46914663)
    Also, the "you should be founding startups at your age" sounds very much like those child games where four kids decide to play an army - a general, a colonel, a lieutenant and a private. If everyone after 40 is going to be a CEO or a VP, who's going to be doing all the expert technical work at the grunt first class level?
  • by Arker (91948) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @04:04PM (#46914749) Homepage
    "It's not unusual for software developers to be expected to work 16 hour days or odd hours in the weeks before release"

    It's also not unusual for released code to be so full of critical errors people are still discovering them years later.

    Coincidence? I think not.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday May 04, 2014 @04:09PM (#46914771)

    Seconded.

    Where's the money coming from for all these party events?

    ... weekends in Tahoe, Burning Man, ...

    That's not a startup. That's a frat. Startups want you working all weekend, every weekend.

    Even a successful, established company would probably not send its programmers away for a week to Burning Man.

    Sounds like they're throwing a non-stop party because they have venture capital to burn through.

  • by pigiron (104729) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @04:24PM (#46914875) Homepage

    Yes, and the warning is that you will be respected for your technical expertise and not for any foolish attempt to "fit in" bar hopping with super-annuated adolescent co-workers.

  • by drolli (522659) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @05:46PM (#46915297) Journal

    Employers favor people getting things done in a professional way. I have colleagues who stay in office 20% more than i do (10h instead of 8h), yet they produce less code and much less *well working not completely bugged code*. Planning my work and dissecting a problem into small, doable (and commitable) tasks came to me with age and experience. If a release date comes close, it gets even more important to think twice before you type and avoid stupid mistakes - and thus, my experience shows: avoid stupid all-nighters or 100h/week coding marathons. A missing feature usually can be explained and added later. But if a fucking show-stopper bug causes an undetected gross miscalulation, then things escalate quickly and nastily, up to loosing the customer.

    I had the case that some moronic project leader did not honour the feature freeze, but forced a junior colleague of mine (he knew I would not follow his order in that) to patch something in the middle of the code on the last afternoon before the review meeting (wihtout telling the rest of the team). He did not even put the time into looking into the new pdf report generated by the program and sent it directly to the customer as a demonstration. I can tell you, the customer was impressed that we presented software the output of which were not inspected by a human a single time (Reported cost error was by a factor of 10^12).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 04, 2014 @05:52PM (#46915317)

    If you're a developer and the loss of a single paycheck means missing a mortgage or car payment then you're doing it wrong.
    Most people can live a successful life with those things with half the financial resources a software developer has. Build a cushion!

    (captcha: reform)

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday May 04, 2014 @06:45PM (#46915485)

    Your master has taught you well, slave.

    No. A slave is someone who is legally forced to work against their will, in a job they are not allowed to quit.

    Someone working for a startup under an arrangement requiring super-human time commitment had the free will to choose to do this, and, it is within their legal authority to back out, too.

  • by plopez (54068) on Monday May 05, 2014 @12:27AM (#46916633) Journal

    " A slave is someone who is legally forced to work against their will, in a job they are not allowed to quit. "

    Have you ever had an underwater mortgage, a family member with health problems, or a huge pile of school debt? It is amazing how quickly free will can disappear in a legal manner without your consent.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday May 05, 2014 @01:16AM (#46916807)

    Also, if the company does well, you may get $20-$50K out of it. If the company does really well, you may get $100K. Don't even think about being in the next Google or Facebook, It. Will. Not. Happen. Even if you're in a superbly great company that's going to be making billions, you need to have an employee number less than 10 to become fabulously wealthy from it.

    So what this means is, do NOT bypass the salary. Getting a decent salary can more than make up for the lack of equity. That equity may not pay for for 10 years, and all the while it's being diluted.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people have been conditioned to worship at the altar of entrepreneurship. Mass media is hyping it all. People act as if everyone in silicon valley is wealthy or planning high level business deals. They will be the ones that voluntarily work the 16 hour days, and are baffled when others do not follow suit.

    All that said. The 300 person company as described is NOT a start up. 300 is too large to be a startup. It may be pre-IPO but that is not the same thing. Many companies in that boat are in the stage where they already have or are nearing a reliable revenue stream. A startup is a company with no income and no near term prospects for income and survives solely upon third party investment and second mortgages.

    At such a company, don't let the kids push you around (and 43 is not an "older worker", sheesh). Do NOT feel compelled to go drinking with a lot of party mad kids. You won't keep up. Don't go to burning man unless you've been before (if all of them are in that culture, you're in the wrong place, seek a place with more diversity quickly). Your main job as the "adult" is to instill a professional environment: code reviews, design reviews, respectful language, push back hard against unrealistic management deadlines, insist upon proper 8 hours days when there's no pending emergency. If everyone really is that young, then they have no experience at all with real companies.

  • by gsslay (807818) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:47AM (#46917639)

    The purpose of the beer party isn't drinking beer. It's getting everybody to hang around and socialize and have unfocused discussions about what they're doing.

    And if you don't drink beer? Maybe you don't like alcohol. Maybe its against your religion. Maybe it's a medical thing. Maybe you just don't like being the sober one hanging out with drunk people? Suddenly your "everybody" isn't really "everybody". Now it's just "The guys who like beer parties" (TGWLBP).

    So you weren't asked about the latest idea on your project? That's because you weren't part of the TGWLBP focus group. No-one got to hear your great idea that could have save the project? Guess that's because you didn't attend the TGWLBP brainstorming. Too bad, everyone loses, but at least TGWLBP got their beer.

    HR shut down the beer party because they know that beer parties aren't everybody's idea of fun, and are an excellent way of having company sanctioned discrimination and fragmentation. The best time and place to discuss company work are places that everyone can be comfortable and feel included. And that's even before you consider the legal minefield of company responsibility if anyone falls over drunk.

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