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You're never too old to learn to code

anthonydelgado profile image Anthony Delgado Updated on ・3 min read

Breaking into tech after 40?

Learning to code can be a daunting task at any age but entering a Coding Bootcamp where the average age range of the students is 18-25 can make an aspiring web developer who is older feel out of place. I attended a Coding Bootcamp at the age of 31, and while I am still technically considered a millennial (And I am super young at heart), even I have felt like there is a bias in tech/startup culture that leans towards a younger crowd. In 2016 the organizers of a hackathon threatened to disqualify our team after 24+ hours of coding for being "too old to compete" even though the only age requirements at the event were that the participants be 18+.

Although you may face some challenges as an adult coder, learning to code can be one of the most rewarding things you can do as a human being, and there is no reason to let societies biases stop you from following your dreams. In this article, we are going to talk about how you can overcome any potential bias and how you probably have a lot more advantages than you think.

Let your work speak for itself

The beautiful thing about tech is that it is a show and prove industry. You don't need a license to pimp out your portfolio or create an epic Chrome extension. Showcase your skills by creating a collection of side projects and demo applications. This is how your creativity can set you apart from the pack, regardless of your age. Let your website/portfolio show your personality and your projects on GitHub; showcase your creativity and problem-solving skills.

Don't wear a suit

Listen, I get it. You want to take your career seriously. But if you walk into an interview wearing a full three-piece suit & meanwhile the person interviewing you is wearing a t-shirt, it is going to get a little bit awkward. I am not saying you have to wear a t-shirt. Do your research and ask the interviewer beforehand what the dress code is when setting up the appointment for an in-person interview.

Leveraging Industry Knowledge

This is a big one. If you have been an investment banker or accountant for the last 20 years and you are just starting a new career in tech at age 45, you might feel as though you have no relevant work experience, but you couldn't be more wrong.

Today, every company is becoming a tech company in some way shape or form. (And the ones who don't evolve are going extinct.) Now more than ever, software developers are in high demand at a wide range of organizations, not only Silicon Valley startups.

If you are coming from a career in another field, consider applying to the tech department in that industry or disrupt that industry in a tech startup that focuses on that vertical. Your domain expertise is super valuable and relevant at this point. At a FinTech startup, the fact that you have 20 years experience in finance AND you know how to code is a HUGE asset that can set you apart from your younger less experienced counterparts.

Project Management

Another advantage to having a wealth of previous job experience is the ability to work with and manage a team of people. If you ever held any managerial role in another industry, I would highly recommend taking a course on SCRUM and learning the fundamental principles of running an Agile Software development team. Your people skills and seniority can be a benefit to an organization looking for a tech team lead where you are skilled at coding but also at managing the timeline and product backlog of a project.

Overcoming Bias

Depending on where you want to apply, there can be varying amounts of age bias. The fact is that Millennials and Gen Z make up for close to 50% of the tech workforce and when you look specifically at Silicon Valley tech startups, that number is even higher. At some companies, the bias might be worse than others, and a lot of it is subliminal and subconscious.

Ageism in the Tech Industry is a real thing, but hopefully, this article provided you with some insights into overcoming age bias and even using your seniority to your advantage.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Discussion

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thejewelmaker profile image
Dennis Smith

OK, you are never too old.

I started a relational database design and development business from scratch at the age of 39 in 1987. Closed that business in 1993 and then modified 300K lines of code at night until it worked the way I wanted by 1996 (at the age of 48).

I was so exhausted by then that I swore that I would never touch code again. I got away with that until last year when I realized that I needed to look at development again for a unique business project.

Wow, has the ecosystem changed over the last 20 years! I feel like a kid in a giant never-ending candy store. So here I am, 70 years old, full of ideas and there is free code everywhere I look. I've still got 20 plus years in front of me. I've built entire enterprises in less than 5 years so the future is unbound and certainly age is not the problem.

Stay tuned.

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Belma

Thank you for the article Anthony! This is music to my ears and gives me great confidence in pursuing my dream of becoming a web developer in my 40s. I’ve been teaching the ‘soft skills’ including Project Management. Now I’m learning the hard skills to find out what it’s really like being at the coal face of coding.

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Anthony Delgado Author

Youre welcome. Keep following your dreams. Learning to code is an amazing gift. If you ever need any advice DM me on Twitter or Linkedin.

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Douglas McKechie

Great to see an article about this, older people can code and make a valuable contribution to companies. As well as technical skills, they have life experience and usually a degree of maturity which put them in good stead. Not to mention enthusiasm for something new.

A few years ago an older chap (45?) joined our company as a junior developer. Previously he had been a horn player in an orchestra but had an injury to his hands which meant he could not longer play to a high level.

He had self-learnt some web development and over a number of years developed a website/app for the orchestra he played in to help organise the musicians.

Like any other junior dev, he had lots of questions and also lots of learning to do about various technologies and team procedures and practises (coding style, peer reviews, stand ups etc).

I really enjoyed working with him. His enthusiasm, skill, hunger for learning and fun nature made him a joy to have in the team. Also his maturity and care when making changes actually made him better to work with than another junior dev.

Also recently I had a lady over 40 come to my Introduction to SilverStripe development course. While many of the things discussed were new to her having not really done much in the way of development before, she enjoyed the course and has set up a development server with the help of the IT department at her work. We have emailed a few times after the course and last I hear she is really enjoying PHP SilverStripe development.

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Anthony Delgado Author

You are never to old to learn a new skill. The human mind is an incredible tool.

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Ben Halpern

I got my older brother into coding at age 40 😁

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Anthony Delgado Author

That is awesome Ben! Coding is a skill that can transform lives 💪

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Definitely

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Frank Carr

My recommendation is to avoid the "cool" tech start-ups if you're over 40, regardless of your skill level. It's a path to disappointment in most cases. They may bring you in for a face to face based on great phone interviews and coding tests but once they see gray hair and wrinkles in person, buh-bye.

Instead, look at the non-tech corporate IT and MIS organizations. They have a huge need for good programmers and project management so that they won't have to depend on outside consulting as heavily. Also, they're generally more willing to hire older folks.

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Douglas McKechie

I've experienced this and I'm only 36 (with no grey hair either). Got through a number of steps in interviews, technical is all fine etc, and then they went with another candidate.

I got a bit of feedback from a recruitment agent after he pursued one of the companies about this, seems they went with a younger candidate who was more desperate to work for them. Also the recruiter believed it was because they could pay them less.

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Anthony Delgado Author

Yes, coming in as a Jr Developer when you are older isn't easy especially at bootstrapped tech startups. The ability to pay lower wages to youngsters is also a barrier to entry.

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Reed Fisher

I’m signed up for an intensive Coding Bootcamp and I’m 73 years old. I have experienced ageism many times and do not expect that I won’t experience it again. I also do not expect to get employment in the industry and don’t have to; I own a small SAAS company and will employ myself.

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Mike Hill

There is no question that there is a bias. It's also true that being older may come with some challenges, but it comes with several core benefits that a younger person can't match. You have experience, you've already made and learned from big mistakes. You may also have management and leadership experience that makes you more valuable to any business. Learning to code is no more difficult to learn than any other new skill. Your ability to learn doesn't fade with age, unless you never had it to begin with. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do, just do it.

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Scott Hannen

Wear a suit - two-piece, no vest. Don't wear anything that was considered stylish ten years ago. That's unless they specifically tell you to dress casual. In that case, wear the suit anyway. There's no perfect way to dress, so dress like you want the job. I wouldn't judge a candidate by their clothes, but in a close race the person who cares more wins.

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Frank Carr

I figure if they're asking for a rock star I'll wear a sparkling jacket, black T-shirt, skinny jeans and pointy boots. If they're asking for a ninja, I'll wear a black gi and a hood. Gotta dress the part.

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Erin Moore

Does wearing heels show you care a lot? Should I wear really red lipstick and hope the other interviewees stuck to a more neutral palette?

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Scott Hannen

Personally I'm usually oblivious to details like cosmetics unless they're really over-the-top.

My personal rule for shoes: Never wear shoes you can't run in.

I'd like to think that if I were a woman I would refuse to wear heels on principle. My wife says I'm wrong and I don't get it. Either way I'm not likely to notice shoes, and like I said, what a person wears to an interview tells me nothing about their skills. But I'd recommend to anyone that they dress for the interview, not as if they already had the job.

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Deanna Swallow

Thank you for posting this. As someone in their late 30s, this is a fear I have. I'm hoping that my Jill-of-all-trades background comes in handy when I start doing interviews soon.

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Sergio Martínez

This article reminds me this one, not just old people but people of different disciplines.

I see here in my country Colombia, a lot of people that tech is their career but they don't have a good level, there a lot of non tech people that is gaining importance and making better stuff with tech than the tech people.

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Fabio Russo

This is one of the greatest fears.
I started to work into software developing at the age of 23.
But my career has been really strange.

My job is all about "using softwares", that of course include code, but just in some sort of "software native" language that are "similar" to Java and MySQL... you know what I mean.
Than I started to travel as consultant... my country and abroad, for years.

Lastly, I felt in love with web and JS. I already built my portfolio and I got the FCC front end certification.
Going on, learning frameworks... but I work full time, It's really hard.

I'm stucked... I know the "code standards"... how to learn by references, how to develope clean code and debug, how to handle customers and how to speak with a team (also been a team leader, during my last two year in my old position), ho to work with other people and have "respect" for my job and my bosses.

Now I'm in a new position, with the same job I did before, just more "techical", I'm still using softwares, and I would love to move to a junior position in web developement... but I'm almost 31...

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Anthony Delgado Author

You are still young and have your whole career ahead of you to continue to grow as a developer and a human being. #NeverStopLearning !

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Yoel

Freaking unbelievable that you're deemed "too old" at 40, that's just sickening. The funny part is those discriminating against 40 year olds will turn to be 40 real quick.

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jongi

Thank you for sharing, I have been System Administrator for the last past 16 years, now I just moved in the DevOps(6 month), I am teaching myself more coding like never before. I am in my early 40s. This article is such an inspiration to matured version of people like us. Thank you!

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Maksim Feofanov

I think that when dealing with clients age and experience is advantage. A 45 year old business owner is more likely to get connected with 35-50 year old developer or software engineer, even with 4-5 years of experience, than with regular 18-19 year old who does not know when to talk and when to listen. Unless, this 18 year old is genius, which is not always the case.

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Maksim Feofanov

From my experience in different industries if you are quite good - you will get hired. Trust your guts.

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Peter Kim Frank

Hey @anthonydelgado — thought you'd get a kick out of this: aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/i...

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steve bolo

Great discussion. I’m a 57 yr old considering learning to code(JavaScript) in hopes to land part time remote employment. No previous experience. Is this realistic? Thanks in advance for any input,