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With a Computer Science Degree, an Old Man At 35? 918

GrApHiX42 writes "I pissed away my 20s and now I want to go to school and get a bachelor's degree in computer science. The thing is, I'll be 35 when I get out of school, and I've read on numerous sites that there seems to be some ageism going on in the IT industry when it comes to older geeks. What have some of the 'older' Slashdot readers experienced as far as being replaced or just plain not getting hired because IT is a 'young man's game'?"
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With a Computer Science Degree, an Old Man At 35?

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  • Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) * on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:35PM (#27352215) Homepage Journal

    To paraphrase what someone once told me, in four years (more or less), you're going to be 35 anyway. There's not a damn thing you can do about that, except die. if you don't go to school and get your bachelor's degree, then will it be any easier for you if you're an "old man" without a CS degree?

    If you don't have a degree at all, then jump through the hoops and get one. My personal experience is that my salary almost doubled literally the day after I got my CS degree. If you do have one but not in computer science, then I'd suggest that you might be better off pursuing certifications relevant to the field you're working in.

    If you're not currently in a computer-related field and you're asking if you should get the degree and go into it in an entry-level position, that's your call. You'll probably need that degree to break in, even at 35. If it's worth starting over from scratch, go for it.

    Fortunately, I got hired by the company I'm currently at when I was 27. Unfortunately, they're going through the RFP process to outsource all of our jobs. If I'm lucky, I'll be spared. If I'm not, I'll be working as a contracter doing the same job I'm doing now. If I'm really shit outta luck, I'll be a 37-year-old in the job market in the worst economy I've ever known. It won't be easy, but at least I do have my CS degree to help me stand out from, with all due respect, people like you who don't. I don't mean to be cruel, but if it means the difference between whether or not I'm eating cat food, I'll use every advantage I can to beat you out in the aforementioned job market, including the fact that I have a CS degree.

    So knowing only what you've asked in your question, my advice is that yes, it is worthwhile having the piece of paper.

    • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Informative)

      by qw0ntum ( 831414 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:52PM (#27352367) Journal

      Great, great, response. I know the poster is not asking whether or not he/she should do it, and I'm not really an "older" reader (currently trying not to piss my 20's away), but perhaps they'll find this useful as well.

      You have a blessing in front of you in having a strong desire to do something, namely, to go to school and get your CS degree. If that's what you are passionate about right now then you need to take advantage of that energy and do it, because you'll make the most effective use of your effort by doing so. I am at a top CS program and many of my classmates are so-called "non-traditional" (read: have more life experience than your average student) students, and not only are they often the ones setting the curve, they ask the best questions, they are motivated, they take advantage of the opportunities available to them better than most, and all in all they enrich the quality of our program.

      Some advice I might offer as a young student. Most of my friends who are older students tend to be a bit disconnected from the rest of the University. Don't make that mistake: as much as you might think so, you're not a graduate student, even if you're the same age as them, and your academic life does not only revolve around your department. At the very least, you'll have to fill gen ed requirements. More importantly, as an undergraduate, the university has resources that can be very helpful and enriching to your education. Make friends with some (highly motivated) younger students (even outside your dept) who tend to be more aware of these things and can help you get more connected.

      You should be focused on your objective. But undergraduate college years are an excellent time to take some risks and go different directions than you may have previously seen yourself going. Do that: universities are breeding grounds for opportunity, and you might be surprised at what doors you might open for yourself by trying something new.

      Good luck!

      • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Skreems ( 598317 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:16PM (#27352579) Homepage
        Speaking as someone who interviews candidates at a technology company, I can tell you we don't give a damn how old someone is if they're good at the job. Make sure you take on large projects and/or internships during school so you have usable experience once you get out and you'll be fine.
        • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gwait ( 179005 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:24PM (#27352655)

          Actually, it's a decent natural filter, any company that wouldn't hire you for such a reason is one you don't want to work for anyways.

          I also work at a tech firm, age is not a problem for our office either. If someone is passionate about their career, they will stay up to date and relevant their whole life.

          • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @08:14AM (#27355561) Homepage

            Actually, it's a decent natural filter, any company that wouldn't hire you for such a reason is one you don't want to work for anyways.

            For starters, in most states that would be illegal.

            On top of that, most companies eager to hire younger workers over others do so because younger workers are (a) cheaper and (b) easier to overwork. It's not because they're smarter, or because they're better at coding, or anything like that.

        • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:33PM (#27352735) Homepage Journal

          As someone else who interviews a lot of candidates, I agree with the parent. Age does not play a factor at all. I'll happily recommend an 80 year old man or woman who can do the job and do it well.

          I think a lot of this impression of "ageism" comes from the fact that the older generation didn't grow up with computers. As a result, there were fewer of them working in the computer field, leading to an impression that computers are a young man's game.

          Of course, the younger generation is getting older. So it's getting more and more common to see older programmers. As time goes on, the age distribution will begin smoothing out and the apparent "ageism" will disappear.

          • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by baboo_jackal ( 1021741 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:52PM (#27352869)
            I think there's actually an advantage in being a bit older than the average crowd. I'm not responsible for hiring, but I have to believe that experience and maturity play a huge part in whether or not you get a particular job. After all, once you've passed the minimal hiring criteria (i.e., BS in cs or whatever), the deciding factors will be your skill (however that gets tested in the interview process), and how well you fit in with the team/group/company. Just based on the assumption that people become more agreeable as they age, I'd say you'll be at a distinct advantage over younger, similarly-educated candidates.
          • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:33AM (#27353185) Journal

            Of course, the younger generation is getting older. So it's getting more and more common to see older programmers

            You'll know we've reached that significant threshold when you start seeing artificial hip technology advertised on ThinkGeek.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by SkyDude ( 919251 )

              You'll know we've reached that significant threshold when you start seeing artificial hip technology advertised on ThinkGeek.

              My titanium hip replacement acts as a range booster for my Blackberry.

          • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Skim123 ( 3322 ) <[mitchell] [at] [4guysfromrolla.com]> on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:39AM (#27353227) Homepage

            As someone else who interviews a lot of candidates, I agree with the parent. Age does not play a factor at all.

            Age shouldn't matter at all in the hiring process, but I can understand why it can impact hiring decisions. Some people have a hard time having a much younger boss, which is likely for an older candidate being hired in this industry, especially an older candidate straight out of university.

            Also, for those crazy dot com-type companies that like to work their employees to the bone, older employees are more likely to have real responsibilities (family, health issues, a life, etc.), and more of a backbone to stand up and not take the company's crap. Of course, when making such generalizations, you could also say that the young are foolish and irresponsible. :-)

          • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Dreadneck ( 982170 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:55AM (#27353673)

            I think a lot of this impression of "ageism" comes from the fact that the older generation didn't grow up with computers.

            Sounds like an accurate assesment - I'll tell you why.

            I'm 37 and have been using computers since I was 8 years old and got my hands on an Atari 400 w/ a membrane keyboard and started teaching myself how to program it. I then moved to Atari 800's, VIC 20's, Commodore 64's, Commodore 128's, Amigas, Apple I, II, and IIc's, Macintoshes and finally to PC's.

            I taught myself BASIC and Assembly as a kid, learned PASCAL in high school and C, C++ and FORTRAN at college. I wasn't able to finish my degree for reasons of health, but now that I seem to have reached some stability with my health, even at my age, I too am considering getting back into programming and finishing my degree.

            The fact that you think "...that the older generation didn't grow up with computers." qulifies as a 'fact' shows at the very least your ignorance and, at worst, your ageism.

            I think your response shows that GrApHiX42's worries have at least some foundation in fact. I would nevertheless encourage him to go back and get his degree - if for no other reason that to show the snotnoses they're not the only ones with skills.

            • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:4, Informative)

              by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday March 27, 2009 @02:13AM (#27353739) Homepage Journal

              Wow. That was completely uncalled for. Did you even pay attention at all>? Or did you read that one sentence, then decide to go off on a tirade? You obviously missed that I was pointing to the generation prior to home computers existing. I even ended my post with:

              "Of course, the younger generation is getting older. So it's getting more and more common to see older programmers."

              If you'd taken time to apply a critical eye to my post, you would have realized that I was referring to a traditional view brought on by a factual smaller size in workforce. When the number of computer-related jobs booms with the advent of the personal computer, is there any wonder that the young people growing up with those computers boom along with it? (You know, like yourself?)

              I do not believe that age is a determining factor for the skill of a programmer. And as you quite aptly proved, age is also not a factor in determining if someone is an oversensitive jerk or not.

            • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:4, Interesting)

              by geezer nerd ( 1041858 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @03:18AM (#27354053)
              You should notch up your perspective. The older generation is not 35 or 37 -- those ages are not old. The generation that did not grow up with computers are 50+ and older. I was active as developer and project lead/manager in Silicon Valley until I was almost 64. Got laid off in 2003 and had to fight for a job in a very gloomy market. Starting in 2004 I worked for 2 years with a startup company where my colleagues were younger than my children, typically. I loved it! What gets to me occasionally is colleagues telling tales about how technically inept their parents are, and painting that generation with a broad brush of ridicule. I have to agree that I am a bit unusual at my age with such technical skills, and I like it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by shaitand ( 626655 )

            That and the fact that IT requires someone to be well within the top 1% of mental and cognitive ability and those abilities peak at the age of 22 and begin to show measurable decline at 27.

            Personally I believe there are other advantages that come with age and experience that offset those loses in certain roles but at some point that will catch up with you. It isn't whether or not you've forgotten more than that whipper snapper ever learned but whether or not you remember, readily recall, and utilize effecti

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by nusuth ( 520833 )
              That and the fact that IT requires someone to be well within the top 1% of mental and cognitive ability and those abilities peak at the age of 22 and begin to show measurable decline at 27.

              Whaa??? IT people are typically, well, typical. Good computer scientists are an intelligent bunch, but most of the IT professionals are not computer scientists, let alone good ones. In my experience about half of IT professionals are less intelligent than average college graduate, and average collage graduate is at best

      • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by symbolset ( 646467 )

        (currently trying not to piss my 20's away)

        Misspending is what youth is for. The wine is never so sweet as it is upon the lips of youth.

      • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by scoove ( 71173 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:42AM (#27353617)

        Outstanding advice. I went back ~35 after a career up until then in network engineering and information security, though I went back and picked up a finance degree. gw0ntum makes a valuable addition. You're going to find it awkward, especially when you have some profs your age or even younger. Some suggestions I'd make:

        1. BE HUMBLE: even if you're an alpha, don't play one. set it aside and adopt an alternate persona. your classmates not only don't want to hear about your experience but they're ready to reject you if you show any signs of it. instead, humility is your friend. when you kick ass in assignments and show you're naturally good at some things, your younger classmates will likely respect you then for it. but always keep the humility as your persona. they're going to be intimidated by the age difference and when they find that 15-20 years of age difference really doesn't mean jack u-know-what, they'll be cool with you.

        2. HANDLE PROFS CAREFULLY: show your creativity, innovativness, eagerness, etc. by DOING, not by saying. this screws so many nontraditional students up. yes, its important to let the prof know you're eager to learn/succeed. but do it by doing, not by showing off. understand that you're an outlier, so every subtle action you make in the classroom will have 10x the effect. this pisses off your classmates and makes your prof uncomfortable.

        3. FIND YOUR PERSONA AND STICK TO IT: my dad's long-time faculty at a university that has a good amount of nontraditional students. i've learned that even the faculty has stereotypes of the nontrads. eager beavers (over-eager volunteer for everything desperate to show their worth low self esteem types), suck-ups (total poseurs that will flunk out but will suck up at first and try to play the 'hey prof, i'm a grown-up like you, give me preference'), one-class-ponys (typically 60+ gals who take one class and blow the damn curve cuz they have no freaking life outside of that one class), over-committers (usually the nontrads who have just come back to academic world and are so clingy and over-committing trying to prove their worth to self and prof), and dominators (nontrads that want to give input to everything, dominate the discussion, share their "worldly" experience on everything and embarrass everyone in the room except themselves). Those are not good choices. Find something subtle, quiet and driven. Sit in the front row, kick ass and let your work show your drive. Let the prof call you out because you get stuff right. They will balance the dialog and keep you from being seen as a show-off - hey, when your work is good, that's the game.

        4. FRIENDSHIPS: Be open, kind and friendly to all. I ended up with friends spanning the total range - from girl jocks to geeks to poet-thinkers to hard core achievers. All I had to do was smile, be relaxed, be damn good, and be a team player.

        It's a weird situation but if you handle it right, it'll be very rewarding, and that degree does open up tons of doors. Good luck!

    • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:54PM (#27352405) Homepage Journal

      In my experience - which is considerable, I'm oooold - at 35, he won't have an age problem. That's not old enough to trigger the insurance companies to really mess with the company's expense of keeping him around under the current insurance setup. And who knows, by then, health care may look somewhat different.

      A lot of ageism in tech companies is not being willing to pay for the experience an older employee usually brings to the table; but he's fresh out of school, so that doesn't apply to him. It seems to me that the odds are he'll do ok. He'll also have to accept starting wages, of course.

      • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:12PM (#27352541) Journal

        The problem he *WILL* have is that there will be a lot of 35+ year olds that have had their CS degree for several years and have years of experience (like me, graduated in 94, so 15 years of real experience). You'd like to think that he'd be lumped in with the other fresh-outs, but his age will make people want to lump him in with the experienced people. He'll need to find a good mentor and take to the real learning quickly (school doesn't really teach you how to work in the real world). The faster you catch up to those in your age bracket, the better.

        Is 35+ too old? No, I'm almost 37 and by far the best developer in my area (very large company). The people I see being squeezed out are the ones that are over 50 with no upward aspirations......so there's plenty of time to make good on the degree.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          "The people I see being squeezed out are the ones that are over 50 with no upward aspirations"

          That should actually give them an advantage since they won't be moping around like the younger ones are when the company fails to satisfy those aspirations.

    • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Informative)

      by GuyverDH ( 232921 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:15PM (#27352571)

      When it comes down to it, experience will trump a degree anyday... Let's face it... A degree means you were taught how things *should* work. Real world experience teaches you how things *really* work. The only way to get that real world experience is to do it.

      If you don't have the experience, or just want the degree, then the degree is worth it.
      However, please don't wave the degree around saying that "I, who have a degree, will trump you, who doesn't, every time". It's just not going to work out that way.
      Now, if you have your degree, and experience then it's a more equal footing, and let the best person win. If a place only looks at the degree, then chances are, they're missing out on some of the most talented people in the field.

      In 24 years, I've received job offers for every job I've interviewed for, and that's without any kind of degree, unless you count real world experience. I was lucky in that I was able to pick the job I wanted, and do the things I want to do. I work in a field that I've chosen as a hobby, as well as where my aptitude and interests are. It's fun to go to work on most days, and a learning experience, even on the days that aren't so fun.

    • No, don't go for it. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wonkavader ( 605434 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:22PM (#27352643)

      The above post is great except for this one line: "If you're not currently in a computer-related field and you're asking if you should get the degree and go into it in an entry-level position, that's your call. You'll probably need that degree to break in, even at 35. If it's worth starting over from scratch, go for it."

      If you're already programming, but are not employed, getting a degree to reinforce what you know is a good idea and will help you with salary.

      On the other hand, if you're not already programming, you're wasting your time. Programmers are (mostly) like writers or artists. You can't help it. You get sucked into it even if you fight it. If you didn't get sucked into it, you'll be a crappy programmer when you get out of college no matter how good an education you get, because you've already proven that you're not, at core, a programmer. You were handed the test and you failed. LUCKY YOU, REALLY.

      Furthermore, 35 year olds usually have a life. 20 year olds don't. You really need to do something for 10,000 hours before you get fantastic at it. 20 year olds can accomplish that in three years. A 35 year old with a wife and a family won't accomplish that in a decade.

      What DID you get sucked into? What did you spend your 20's on? Dig through that time and figure out what you loved. Do THAT. You'll be good at that. If you weren't a programmer, you won't get hired as a 35 year old programmer not because you're old, but because you're BAD. If you don't fail the first fizz-buzz question you get, you'll fail the second follow-up.

      Set yourself up to succeed, not fail.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:56PM (#27352905)

        I disagree with your post almost in its entirety.

        There are plenty of great actors, directors, writers, painters, etcetera, who didn't get involved in the profession they became famous for until later in life -- the most blatant example being Grandma Moses, who started painting after most of her generation was dead. Some people choose their young adult jobs because they need to make a living, or circumstance forces them, or because they simply never had exposure to something they later discover or it was the wrong type of exposure. There are so many reasons why someone can have a passion for something and not pursue it until later in life.

        Even if I grant you that 10,000 hours is the right number, 10,000 hours is about 5 years of a full-time job. I will say that lines up pretty closely with my personal experience, as I switched to a CS major with two and a half years left (from math, from studio art) and felt extremely solid after my first three years on the job.

      • by rve ( 4436 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:44AM (#27353621)

        Programming is not some mystical, magical skill, and I wouldn't call it all that creative a job either, and it's not one of the better paying jobs in IT.

        People with a university degree in CS usually don't stay programmers for very long; you tend to go to university to get a more responsible (and higher paying) job.

        The reason why it's mostly done by young people is because generally if you're still doing it for a living after 15 to 20 years, something probably went wrong in your career advancement.

        Anyway, the OP didn't even mention programming but showed an interest in IT. In my experience, a 22 year old project manager, analyst or architect, even if they're quite talented, has more trouble getting taken seriously and getting people to listen to them than a 35 year old.

        Ageism exists, yes. If an adult is still doing a kid's job, people wonder what went wrong. If a kid is doing an adult's job, they will have more trouble getting taken seriously.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cskrat ( 921721 )

          What if programming is what he actually wants to do? Some people actually choose a profession because they want to do it, not because it has the highest yield of dollars per effort. And some people don't get an opportunity to actually pursue such a career until a little later in life. Sometimes it's our own fault for mistakes that we didn't know we were making at the time. And sometimes it's just a matter of life happening and adjusting our priorities for us.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbcad7 ( 771464 )

        On the other hand, if you're not already programming, you're wasting your time.

        Wow.. so unless you plan from birth to be a programmer, your screwed for that position.. I think someone thinks too highly of their profession.

        35 is not an unreasonable age to begin a second unrelated career in almost anything. I would also submit that attending school will do him good even if he does not end up following the path of a professional programmer.. I can't tell you the number of people in my life with degrees such

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Splab ( 574204 )

        What a load of BS.

        CS has nothing to do with programming. Code is just the end result. No autodidact person I've ever met understood NP complete problems.

        Also from experience, the smartest CS person I know woke up one morning, realized he was stuck in a dead beat job with no promotion path. He quit his job took math on a summer course and started studying CS (the proper kind), he graduated last year and is currently applying for a Ph.D with multiple companies offering him very high payed jobs, he is 37 now,

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by syousef ( 465911 )

        On the other hand, if you're not already programming, you're wasting your time. Programmers are (mostly) like writers or artists. You can't help it. You get sucked into it even if you fight it. If you didn't get sucked into it, you'll be a crappy programmer when you get out of college no matter how good an education you get, because you've already proven that you're not, at core, a programmer. You were handed the test and you failed. LUCKY YOU, REALLY.

        The first computer company I worked in was unusual. I ha

    • Re:Yes, go for it. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Eric Smith ( 4379 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:24PM (#27352657) Homepage Journal
      Heck, I'm working on a BSCS, and I'll probably be 47 or 48 when I complete it (depending on whether I double-major in Math), and then I plan to apply to either an MSEE or PhD CS program, so I'll have another two or more years after that.

      And after all that, it probably wouldn't even get me a better-paying job, assuming that I could find anyone that wants to hire an engineer in their early 50s at all.

      But I don't care, because I'm doing it for my own enjoyment and satisfaction. I quit my day job in December, and I'm hoping not to ever have a day job (other than working for myself) again. I'm much happier now that I'm trying to do entrepreneurial things, even though I'm not (yet) bringing in as much income as I got from the day job.

      When I was in my late 20s through my early 40s, I found that experience was much more of a factor in getting hired and getting a good salary than having a degree. I'm sure there are some exceptions to that, i.e., employers that are idiots, but who would want to work for those employers anyhow?

      For anyone that doesn't have a degree, AND doesn't have industry experience, I'd recommend getting the degree and doing some summer internships to get experience. When I've been involved in interviewing candidates, I've found that even candidates with an MSCS but no real experience are often not adequately prepared for a software developer position. CS programs tend to be heavy on theory (and there's nothing wrong with that), but almost entirely lacking in practice.

    • I am in my 50s and am making twice the average salary in my discipline as a DBA. My goal this year is to move to triple.

      Going to school will give you a piece of paper. So will getting a certification. No big deal. Rote memorization of the answers without comprhension of why the answers are correct will get you a piece of paper.

      You need to ask yourself two questions:

      1. What do I want to be?
      2. What did I do today to be what I want?

      If you are not working on improving your skills, knowledge, expanding your exp

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by digitalunity ( 19107 )

      While it certainly smells like shit(to me), I've seen how cat food is made and I've got to say it is probably a hell of a lot healthier than the shit I eat now.

  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:38PM (#27352231)

    but I've seen the opposite when it comes to age and programmers.

    People have grown tired of these "young whippersnappers" fresh outa college with their executable UML and agile methodologies.

    Where I am experience is huge.. especially just plain familiarity with software in the real world and not some acedemic fantasy land. Someone in their 50's with 30 years of dev experience is pure gold .. and companies will fight tooth and nail to recruit the old veterans... assuming they arn't off "consulting" for serious money.

    Now obviously this doesn't apply in your case.. it's the experience not the age employers are looking at.. but I can't see a company turning you down based on age.. unless you're in your 50's and/or only plan on working for a few more years. Even though you may not have any programming background.. you are probably going to have more social and team skills then most people coming out of school. Just the ability to communicate ideas is massive... and a skill that just doesn't seem to be taught any more.

    I think I'll make tacos for dinner tonight.. havn't had them in a while.

    And I need to get my hair cut this weekend.. starting to look like a hippy.

    • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:40PM (#27352255)

      Some companies want younger people because they're cheap, and they'll work extra hours for a USB key or a pizza or something. If you have the skills, you're useful, and companies want someone useful. Most companies are shit, run by fucking idiots in suits anyway. Don't worry about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slasher999 ( 513533 )

      I agree here completely. I'm not a programmer, but I'm in a high level Windows/UNIX engineering group doing systems design mostly. At 39 I'm the youngest in my group of seven engineers. The caveat is we are all very experienced in the field, which is why we are in the high level group to start with. Our more entry level positions are populated mostly - not all - by those in their late 20's and very early 30's.

    • Same here (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wee ( 17189 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:59PM (#27352923)
      I've been hired and retained quite a few times because I have "more time in the chair". I've seen all sorts of stuff. Hell, my first networking mystery at work involved Novell 3.51 over ARCnet. I've actually run gopher servers. I've written java programs before the language even had regexes, and still have trouble with perl that uses OO stuff (and what was so wrong with chop() that we needed chomp()?). My first linux install came on 13 floppies. From all that to now I've come across an incredible amount of randomness that isn't easily searchable on Google. And all that adds up to a serious ace in the hole when things get really strange.

      So when the young college grad new hire has questions like "full-on RDBMS or little serialized hash table" he gets not only the right answer but a why as to how come it was the right answer. And sometimes that answer doesn't use the latest newest shiniest thing, but he has to learn what that's a good thing. Sure, the kid wants to play with toys. But if the right tool for the job happens to be mundane, then that's what should be used. In a boiler room full of recent grads, you can get a really serious case of Techno Lord of the Flies. Old dudes can temper that (though some old dudes can go overboard in not embracing new things).

      I wrote my first BASIC program well before the recent crop of college grads were born. I'm my early 40s and, yeah, I have a life. I wouldn't want to work at a company that would trade a widely diverse set of experiences for fresh-out-of-school book knowledge. Plus the social skills come into play. You know the old guy isn't likely to call in hung over on a Thursday.

      The reason you hear all the talk about ageism is that college grads can get worked harder and longer for cheaper to do crappier work (until they burn out and snap). Us old guys know enough not to put up with that shit, and most employers know it too. But sometimes the balance sheet is what matters most. You shouldn't be working at that kind of place anyway. Keep your salary requirements modest and you'll be fine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh ( 229690 )

      People have grown tired of these "young whippersnappers" fresh outa college with their executable UML and agile methodologies.

      It's worth noting who invented those agile methodologies:

      * Kent Beck [wikipedia.org], coinventor of extreme programming. No date-of-birth generally known, but worth noting he has been a professional developer since at least the late eighties. I'd guess he's in his late 40s by now.
      * Ward Cunningham [wikipedia.org], coinventor of extreme programming, inventor of the wiki. 59 years old.
      * Ron Jeffries [wikipedia.org], coinventor of

  • I would do it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:44PM (#27352285)
    How long do you plan on staying in the field? Much do you think you're going to gain per year from having it?

    Personally, I'm 36 and I plan on working until I'm around 70. It might sound dismal but I'm guessing 70 will be retirement age when I get up there. That's nearly 35 years in the field. How much would I have to get paid extra in those years to make it worth my time? Not very much. That's the same reason I wonder why so many scoff at certifications.... for the couple hundred dollars most base certification cost you're going to make that back so fast as an entry level geek. It sounds cheesy but it's a little bit extra you can put down on a resume that will help you get up the ladder a bit faster. It's worth it.
  • Obvious (Score:5, Funny)

    by afxgrin ( 208686 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:44PM (#27352289)

    Tell them to get off of your grass.

  • Depends on you (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:44PM (#27352293) Homepage Journal

    Do you have confidence in your ability to learn? Will you stick to a four year commitment? You need to answer both of those questions honestly before you head down this road.

    The other question is "what will your opportunities be like when you get out?" and that is going to depend in part on what you do during these four years. You might consider trying to get into a company now that might need your skills later. It's sometimes* easier to move around from within a company than to get your foot in the door.

    * Guarantee not included.

  • Just go for it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lysol ( 11150 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:45PM (#27352303)

    I'm pushing 40 this year. Been programming most of my life. Never completed my CS degree. Worked on some fairly high profile projects in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco. I would say tho, at this point in my life, I'm definitely at the Sr. level and if I was to apply for a 'real' job it would be a Director or VP/CTO position - probably in a small startup.

    I know of friends consulting companies that have guys in their 20's-40's. Other friends work for big software companies and have similar age groups. In the end, if you're a good programmer and not over 50 ;) then you shouldn't have a problem. But at some point, you're going to probably start your own company or be at a level above 'straight out of schoole 20-something coder'.

    I wouldn't worry about the ageism thing at 35.

    • by bessie ( 212155 )

      I'm about to be 45, and I've been a software engineer since I was around 18 (started way before, but didn't get my first "real" job until then).

      Since then, the highest title I've reached is... Sr. Software Engineer, which is where I've been pretty much most of my career. Never had an interest in management, Lead, or anything that would take me out of the trenches of coding.

      This also means my salary has been capped where I live at around $125K or thereabouts.

      I had some strange idea that the more experience

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:45PM (#27352305)

    there will be naysayers. You could listen to them forever and be paralyzed and always do nothing.

    So there are rules of thumb. There are always exceptions, work on being an exception. The shelves of libraries are littered with biographies of successful people, almost none of them achieved it "by the book" or had the ideal life, pedigree, grades, what not.

    Perhaps something like Napoleon Hill's Lessons of Success may be an inspiring read, although if you understand "I think I can" story, it gets you as much content.

    Look at it this way: you'll only be 35. With 30 more years to retirement ON AN OPTIMISTIC note, assuming SS hasn't forced everyone to work till their 70th birthday.

    Do what you want. Invest the hours to get good at it and stop having regrets. Having read numerous times about how it takes 10,000 hours to get world class great at something, I'm more convinced now that many of the great people are the ones that started young are because they're the ones without responsibilities and have the time. Not their youth alone. So it isn't too late, just start it and stick with it.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:46PM (#27352311) Homepage

    You'll find you may be managing those same younger competitors. While you're at it, throw in some business management courses to help ensure you are positioned to mature in the industry.

  • by realsablewing ( 742065 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:49PM (#27352339) Homepage
    My husband was 36 when he got his Computer Science degree. It was a few months before getting his job but this was also at a time when the job market was in a slide. Once he got his first computer science job and some experience he had no problem getting other positions as follow up. Plus, he met me and have been relatively happy together now for 23 years so his degree helped in other areas as well, at least in my opinion and my husband is smart enough to agree with me. So I would definitely say go for it
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:49PM (#27352343)
    The key thing is to keep your skills up-to-date with whatever training and certification you can get once you have a degree. I had a roommate who did nothing to keep his skills up-to-date, took a six-month long unemployment vacation when he got laid off, and found out that no one wanted to hire him because his skill set was obsolete. He ended up fixing cash registers at Longs Drugs and still has no clue on how to restart his career because he won't listen to anyone.
  • by cstec ( 521534 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:51PM (#27352361)

    It depends on who you work for. In many shops, it's become increasing clear that you don't want to hire anyone under 35 or so, though without the experience you'd be right there with the kids.

    The sad truth of it is many of the grads for the last 15 years are junk. Not as people - fortunately, the career still attracts a great crowd - but the curriculums now create people who think that the compiler, the runtime, and the OS are a black box. They rather literally think in terms of South Park's gnomes .. Step 1) write code, Step 3) Profit! And that mindless dependence creates people who have no idea how or why their code works or more often doesn't.

    That's fine for school, but you can't ship a product writing code like that, which means we've turned out a legion of coders who are fit for writing reports for accounting instead of firmware for an engine controller or a new comm protocol. And even then, that only works because the penalty for failure in accounting reports is so low. On any meaningful project, assigning work to this generation is like building in bugs, bugs that take a loooong time to fix because the team simply doesn't understand what the machine really does.

    Not to worry, there are still plenty of businesses that basically have no idea of how the software sausage is made and will merrily hire anyone with a degree, but in businesses with more experience [and more on the line] it's more the exact opposite is true. They only want the previous generation of coders, and use CS grads for tech support, or if they're lucky, to apprentice.

  • It's easy (Score:4, Funny)

    by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:52PM (#27352365)
    • Grow a pony tail
    • Smear some Cheetos dust on your shirt
    • Memorize Monty Python quotes
    • ???
    • Profit!

    Honestly, I've worked with guys in their 40s and 50s relatively new to IT. I've never heard of ageism in my experiences. Hell, the fact that you posted to Slashdot probably is enough reason to hire you!

  • Go for it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ElectricRook ( 264648 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @10:54PM (#27352399)

    I say go for it. Consider that we live in a generation that will probably live to be 100. And you'll likely work till 70+. You'll have 35 years doing what you want, to earn enough money to support you for the following 30 years.

    I'm 47 and going back for Geology. I'll probably finish at 55, but I'll still have 15+ years to work. My motivation, is that I don't see my career in Electronics being able to warm down to retirement. You're either in or out, nothing in between. But I see Geology as being something you can take on smaller jobs, and slow down to retirement. From what I see, it's much broader than Electronics. Hey, but that's my rainbow...

  • Did ya really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:01PM (#27352459) Homepage

    When you say you "pissed away" your 20s, were you doing something where you got to know part of the world that kids who went straight through college in IT generally are ignorant of? Years ago, I could say "I work with computers" and it meant something. Now, to say "I work with computers" merely means you have a job. They're in everything. For most businesses, computers are not an end, they're a tool. Nobody hires somebody for their degree in hammers. But if you've learned a special sort of carpentry, and can demonstrate your ability, it will be assumed you know how to swing a hammer well. That's not to say you don't want to study the tools, even get the degree in them. But focus on the craft, on what you'd love to build, because that's what people really get hired for, not their tool collection. Not except for truly hack work.

    Anyway, if you've gotten to know some part of the world well while pissing away those years, can you leverage it? Have you seen some aspects of life that can be improved with the right computer tech? If so, start studying how to do that. Make your own niche. Take advantage of where you already uniquely are. It can be your strength.

  • by CatOne ( 655161 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:04PM (#27352485)

    I don't know that Computer Science classes really prepare you for IT... one is developing applications and writing code, and the other is managing computers. Many, many people in lower-level IT positions don't even have bachelors degrees... they have associates or often less than that, but have gone to trade colleges or done some studying and gotten their MSCEs or other certifications.

    If your heart is in computer science, then go for it. Go to college for 4 years, write a lot of code (really... many places when interviewing for entry-level positions with bachelors candidates will ask you how many lines of code you've written), really understand CS and a couple key langagues or paradigms (e.g. OOP or REST or whatever they're teaching now... I'm older than you ;-) and don't worry about it too much.

    Again, IT is different, and who knows how IT in 4 years will look compared to IT today. I don't think 35 is too old for an entry level position... the key concern about age is desire and the ability to work. Few people at 25 have a wife and kids and other associated "lifestyle influences" to prevent them from regularly working 10-12 hours a day. People in their late 30s have all manner of excuses or other distractions they may deal with in entry level positions.

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:25PM (#27352677) Homepage

    My father made this observation:

    "Old doctors and old lawyers are like old wines. Old engineers are like old fish fillets."

    There probably is some outright age-ism out there, although I haven't had it smack me in the face yet.

    But I suspect that what is much more common is a desire for the latest shiny technologies. When I went to school, Java hadn't been invented yet, and most of my classes were taught in Pascal. The colleges now are presumably teaching the new cool stuff. So, while you will be 35, you will be 35 with a fresh degree.

    As I would advise any college student considering a computer career, I recommend you do projects on the side as much as you can. Find an open-source project, learn your way around it, contribute a few lines of code. Figure out what your college isn't teaching you, and study it on your own. For example, if your school teaches only Java and you don't get any assembly language or C programming, study that on your own. Joel (who writes Joel on Software [joelonsoftware.com]) says he won't hire anyone who doesn't know how to work with pointers; he may be an extreme case, but knowing pointers can only help you.

    Study the want ads now, and try to figure out what the employers are looking for; make sure you are learning it. But you can't learn everything... I don't have any Visual Basic experience, and I was never interested in the jobs that require it. So I guess what I'm saying is, try to figure out an area you would like to be qualified for, and get the skills for it.

    I highly recommend you study Python; a good book that walks you through the whole language will expose you to some cool stuff. Other people would urge you to study LISP; that will stretch your mind a bit. (When I was playing with LISP, I used the book The Little Schemer, and the DrScheme environment to run my code.)

    The point of the last few paragraphs is to make you stand out a bit when you have your degree. You won't just be a 35-year-old with a fresh degree, you'll also be able to write cool Python scripts, juggle C pointers, maybe write mind-stretching LISP functions. I believe those sort of extras will help someone decide to hire you.

    If you have to work full time and support a family while going to school nights, this is going to be hard. I have a friend doing this right now, and sometimes he does his homework from midnight to 4am, then gets up and goes to work. He's doing it and he's probably ten years older than you, so I'm sure you can do it too.

    The good news is that if you are really right for a computer software career, and it is right for you, you will actually enjoy a lot of your work. Building software projects and watching them actually start to work is a special pleasure.


  • I did it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tihstae ( 86842 ) <Tihstae@gmail.com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:29PM (#27352695) Homepage

    I did it. I managed grocery stores through my 20's and early 30's. I got my degree at 35. While in school, I quit the grocery business and went to work at Comp USA (Yeah yeah I hated the place too). Started as a sales weasel until there was an opening in the Tech dept (repair and service).

    When I got my degree, I had a few years of IT (yeah yeah, Comp USA and IT don't go together.) under my belt and got a job in a University IT department as a Help Desk Service Coordinator (one man complaint department). I got this job because of my dual abilities of being able to manage people (from the grocery business as a manager)and because I understood technology with my repair bench experience. I hated every minute of it but it got me in the door.

    One of my responsibilities in that position was to work with the different IT departments that were constantly bickering over whose job it was to take care of any given situation. I earned a reputation as someone who could troubleshoot AND get things done. When a position opened as a domain/exchange admin I jumped at it and got the job.

    So 9 years after getting my degree I now manage the windows admins, unix admins, mainframe admins, and DBA's at this University.

    Yes, you can do it.

    Now the bad part. In order to do this, I went into extreme debt paying for school and working for peanuts at Comp USA. It took me most of those 9 years to pay off the debt I accumulated while getting to where I make a decent living now. It is a lot of hardship, a lot of dedication, and some luck in landing a position.

    If you are ready to take the step, good luck to you!

  • by meburke ( 736645 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:29PM (#27352699)

    I'm 61, and last year found myself in an environment of people in their mid 20's and younger. They didn't have clue 1. They were good programmers, some of them were genius level, but their social skills and teamwork sucked big time. Furthermore, they were all into "agile" programming. The lack of planning on the project caused massive support problems. (This may have been OK in the early iterations of the product, but it was starting to show up as a major tech support problem. Once they shipped a product that didn't even work because they hadn't tested it thoroughly.) What drove me away was the lack of a plan and a clear set of performance standards. I never really knew what I was hired for, and I had no way of knowing how well I was doing, but I had a strong sense of "not fitting in" and falling below expectations (even though nobody stated the expectations).

    Somewhere it occurred to me that these guys took for granted the elemental programming concepts that my generation had to invent on-the-fly back in the 60's and 70's. None of them could do assembly, none of them knew how to manage a decision table, and the idea of a formal systems analysis was foreign to them. My computer game was chess (which I've had to take off all my systems in order to get work done), and these guys think a "game" is WoW.

    I suggest you decide what you want. To me, CS is designing the hardware and structure. CIS is designing the administration and apps that make the structure work, and MIS is is the design and apps that produce tangible results, especially for a specific end-user. These definitions don't necessarily match up with what the colleges are teaching under those names. In my experience, MIS environments have a little more respect for age and experience, CS has a high regard for innovation and results.

    Good luck.

  • by tempest69 ( 572798 ) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:37PM (#27352751) Journal
    Do it. Enjoy the whole process of having knowledge going in. Enjoy that you feel assured enough to consider the teachers your equals. That the current events from your jr high years are history to the freshmen. That they were born after the fall of the Berlin wall. Enjoy the girls who are put off by boys who are still trying to show off. Talk with authority from actual life. Youre going to be 4 years older in 4 years anyway. If your looking to have more things, skip college. If your looking to have more memmories that rock, and more options.. college...

    ok.. I'll admit it's my MS at 35. Still I wouldnt change it.


  • by Orion Blastar ( 457579 ) <orionblastar@@@gmail...com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @11:49PM (#27352841) Homepage Journal

    that is doing the hiring.

    Some companies hire young people because they know:
    #1 They aren't married yet and are willing to work extra hours for no extra pay. have no spouse or children that need them at home after 5pm.
    #2 They are willing to work for less because they have less experience than a 35 year old and up, so the company hires them at a below average salary.
    #3 Management knows that younger people can handle stress more than older people, so they work the younger people harder.
    #4 A younger person is less likely to need more benefits skips the 401K and insurance benefits, that help save the company money.

    In reality these companies are run by scumbags and dirtbags and you are better off not working for them. They will cause you to get sicker until you eventually become like me and get too sick to work and end up on disability. If they do hire you, it will be at a below average salary with minimum benefits and a lot of overtime for no extra pay or bonuses.

    What you need to do is research a company before applying for them, search the Internet for feedback to see if they are run by dirtbags or scumbags. There used to be a web site named f*ckedcompany.com but now I think people just resort to writing blogs or forums about their employers. But others exist Boss B*tchers [bossbitchers.com] Office Whisper [officewhisper.com] Jobvent [jobvent.com] and My Boss is a Jerk [mybossisajerk.com] to see if any of the companies you want to apply for have people complaining about them.

    For older people you can always get a contract right to hire opportunity where they start you out on a six month or one year contract and if you work good enough they hire you on as an employee. You might like working as a contractor instead of an employee and you might earn more pay and fund your own health insurance and donate to an IRA.

    Another option is to start up your own small business. Go to a community college to learn how to run a small business by their continuing education department and learn Quickbooks and Turbo Tax for filing the accounting and tax papers.

  • by kylben ( 1008989 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @12:14AM (#27353037) Homepage

    I switched careers from air-fright driver/dispatcher to C++ programmer in my late 30's, on the strength of a two-semester community college certificate program that I never even finished. The key for me was enthusiasm. I had done some futzing around programming at home, and if you haven't been (or whatever equivalent aspect of IT you are interested in - make the appropriate substitution from here on), then you are barking up the wrong tree. One thing that will help you in early attempts at getting a job is expressing that you not only want the job, but you want to be doing programming. If you really want to do programming, then you already are. If you are a good enough actor to fake the enthusiasm, go to Hollywood, you don't need to waste your time as a code monkey.

    My first job was an internship, for $8.00/hr while I drove a cab at night. It wasn't even a programming job, it was a data entry job. The data entry system sucked donkey balls, so I rewrote it to be fast enough to make up the lost time and still finish the project ahead of schedule. That looks good on the resume. If that's the kind of thing you can see yourself doing just because it is fun, or because you see crap and know you can do better, you will probably do well.

    My current job I got partly on the strength of a recommendation from one of the young hotshots already working there. He had gone to the same community college at the same time as I did, and noticed me helping out others in the lab, and told the boss about it after my interview. Enthusiasm again.

    So the first criteria is that you really want to do programming. If you don't, your age won't matter. If you do, your age won't matter... much. You'll have some explaining to do as to why you are starting so late if this is your "life's calling", but experience, skill, and enthusiasm will overcome those doubts.

    This isn't a business for young hotshots and cowboy coders anymore, its all business, and there is big money on the line. Companies want people who will produce, and not just produce "beautiful" code, but code that will sell. At our age, we have one advantage over them young whippersnappers: we have experience at providing business value to those we work for. We have experience at gaining and using experience. What we lack in drama, we might just make up for it in consistency and reliability.

    But don't expect it to be easy. The first few years will suck. The pay and the hours and the working conditions will suck. And unless you've already written some kind of take-the-world-by-storm software product in your spare time, your code will suck. You're starting from scratch no better, and no worse, than a kid fresh out of college, and your position at the bottom of every totem pole will be just like it is for those 20 year olds that don't have a mortgage and car payments and kids to feed.

    Keep at it and use the experience you already have and the experience you'll gain every day. If this is what you really want to do, the thrill of learning and mastering a new skill will carry you through it. You'll have to prove yourself just like anyone starting from scratch does, but don't try to do it by out hot-shotting those kids, prove yourself by being reliable and professional. It is harder to break into this kind of business at a more advanced age, but most of the difficulties come from you yourself (we have different expectations, flexibilities, stamina, and abilities at 40 than we do at 20), not from predjudice on the part of those you'll be working for.

  • age can be a benefit (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eil ( 82413 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:13AM (#27353439) Homepage Journal

    I'm pushing 30 and I find that many people (including employers) assume that you have experience in your chosen field just because of your age alone, even before they've seen your resume. If the choice for a position comes down to you and a pimply-faced youth just out of college, age can be huge advantage. A lot of employers look for maturity and intellect first, raw skills second.

    And anyway, it's never the case that your resume is what gets you a job, although it might limit you to an entry-level position. Either a strong recommendation or an excellent interview will get you the job. And if you spend your next few years boning up on I.T. or whatever you want to do, the interview will be easier than you think.

  • Age not the issue. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GiMP ( 10923 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:15AM (#27353455)

    You say that you "wasted your twenties". I think this will be more of a struggle than your age in the hiring process, especially for entry-level positions. Potential employers will wonder what type of person "wastes their twenties" and ask themselves if they want to hire that sort of person. You need to have an explanation for the past decade which puts you in positive light, even if the circumstances are bad. However, once you do manage to squeeze yourself into a career and have some solid, relevant experience, you can get that all past you.

  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @01:38AM (#27353599)
    My advice would be to piss away your thirties and consider the degree when you're 45.
  • Do It! (Score:3, Informative)

    by EastCoastSurfer ( 310758 ) on Friday March 27, 2009 @09:15AM (#27356095)

    I have a good friend who did exactly what you're describing. We actually met in the CS program in college. He's now an IT manager doing very well. One of things he did well was take his previous work experience and leverage it in useful ways in IT.

    I say go for it.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik