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Discussion on: Why Older People Struggle In Programming Jobs

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brianmcbride profile image
Brian McBride

Damn, I guess I am old. Running my 40s out to the end now.

As I have read through more and more of this article, I think you are suffering from burnout Adam. None of these problems have anything to do with age, but they are related to your mental heath.

I'm not judging you or diagnosing you either. Obviously I don't know you. If you had a positive outlook, this article might be "Ways to better the workplace for developers" offering solutions over complaints. I've felt parts of what you describe at times, but in the end it was MY problem, not theirs.

You can share opinions and even tell someone their idea is "batshit crazy" in a constructive way. I have personally never worked in a place where people honored processes and were called a "difficult person to work with". Now, I have had people say "no" both as an asshole and with healthy boundaries. Yeah, the ass is difficult, the other guy isn't.

Even things like "the churn". This is an exciting time in software development. I've never seen it evolve so rapidly. While I think Facebook's recoil.js is a rehash of hookstate.js because an ego developer there can't make an open-source project better so he has got to make it own... yeah, that is churn and is a waste because junior developers jump on Facebook hype. Still, with that, it's better than that shit Redux. If you have been coding as long as I have, state engines are nothing new. And all my rant there... pointless. Who cares what others are doing. My team and I can pick the tools we like, enjoy the learnings from others, and create cool shit. I will still complain, but partly because I find it a little fun and I like to challenge myself and my team to make decisions based on thought and research.

And yet, with that all, why get worked up? Just contribute. Teach your team what is good and bad about this new hotness. Explain what was built in the past and how that used to work. Contribute to the open-source project if your company will allow it. All this wisdom can be applied in a way that makes the environment better. People bitching about tabs/spaces, use a code formatter, and make it an automation thing. I keep asking my developer to not work overtime. If they do, I'll ask them to take comp hours off. I actively work against the "kill yourself" culture. At the same time, I'm still guilty of it myself. Hell, I took a break coding a new tool for my team over the holidays to read and reply to your article.

When you say "cynicism," I think that sums it up nicely. Maybe you are burned out. Maybe you just never learned great people skills. Not to judge, I personally took a workshop years ago for people skills as I know I have ADHD and maybe even a little spectrum tendency. Most software developers are too, from what I've read. I'm not a natural empath, and I still honestly stuck at people skills in general. However, I have learned enough that the interactions with my team, my management, my clients, and even myself are far more healthy.

Your very last statement is a direct reflection of how you view the world: "Because some of the stupidity I deal with daily can occasionally get me very depressed"

That's your emotional stuff to deal with. I would suggest that you look into that, for your own health and happiness. Sometimes others don't know things. Sometimes others manipulate because they have their own needs or stresses. Sometimes others are having a hard time and they are cynical too. That's is their shit do deal with, not you. Be the best person you can be on the planet. Be the person you want to be. If you've traveled around the sun as many times as I have, use that wisdom in a constructive way. And if all that shit is getting you depressed, you might just look into yourself and find the real core of those feelings.

I appreciate your article. I feel it has a lot of true points, even if it is from a negative viewpoint. I am sure that others have or are having similar thoughts and feelings as yourself. There are a lot of systemic problems in our modern culture as a whole that I don't think people notice, but then come out in issues like you mentioned. But that is another topic. I wish you the best in finding your groove in life again, and for all the others who are feeling the same way.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

I sincerely appreciate your feedback. And I also appreciate the fact that you spent so much time to lay out your thoughts. There are elements of your reply that I wholeheartedly agree with - and others where I think you've kinda missed the point. (But that's OK. I'm the author. It's not your job to read my mind. It's my job to convey my thoughts as clearly as possible.)

As I have read through more and more of this article, I think you are suffering from burnout Adam. None of these problems have anything to do with age, but they are related to your mental heath.

There most certainly are aspects of my job/career that, at times, make me feel burnt out. I wouldn't deny that for a second. On the other hand, you seem to have taken most of my points and assumed/read that the issues all stem from me. But part of the inspiration for me writing the piece was to point out that there are a lotta "older" devs who may be experiencing the same thing - and the problem isn't always that they're old, or that their skills are slipping, or that they can no longer "fit in". Rather, there are systemic issues in dev that exist for all of us - but it becomes harder for self-respecting types to deal with them as they get older, and they've had to deal with the same issue over and over and over again and they know where that path leads.

The "problems" I point out didn't arise in tech over the last 7-or-so years (I'm 47 now). But my willingness to just ignore them has diminished over the last 7-or-so years.

I've also been struck by the sheer volume of views, likes, and comments that I've gotten on this piece. It's quickly become one of the most popular articles that I've ever written. Granted, that does nothing to indicate that I'm "right". But it does seem to indicate that I've struck a nerve with a lot of people who are in similar situations with similar feelings. Take that for whatever it's worth.

I have personally never worked in a place where people honored processes and were called a "difficult person to work with".

I'm glad you haven't. I certainly have.

As for "the churn", I embrace it.

I tried to specifically spell out that I do not resist change for the sake of resisting change. Heck, five years ago I'd barely heard of React. Now, it's what I want to be writing in all day. But I do resist change when change is presented for change's sake. I saw this scenario play out with class-vs-functional components in React, which has eventually led to Hooks.

If I were recalcitrant, I'd still be angrily cranking out my class-based components and flipping the bird to any of those whippersnappers who want me to do otherwise. But the fact is that all of my development these days is with Hooks and functional components. And I'm fine with that.

My "problem" with Hooks is that, to this day, I've yet to hear anyone give me any sorta reasoned, empirical argument for why class-based components are "bad" and Hooks are "good". I hear all sorts of people hollering that Hooks are great - but when you try to get any reasoned responses out of them, most of their justifications fall into dogma or personal preference.

And yet, with that all, why get worked up? Just contribute. Teach your team what is good and bad about this new hotness. Explain what was built in the past and how that used to work. Contribute to the open source project if your company will allow it. All this wisdom can be applied in a way that makes the environment better.

Honestly, that whole paragraph comes off as a bit condescending. I contribute every single day. I absolutely dive into what is good and bad about the new hotness. I talk about these things with my team. I'm no curmudgeon. And I don't think that my team members see me as one.

I will say that, partially as a result of this blog, there are more people "out there" who get this impression that I really get "worked up". They read my "voice" and they think that I'm just telling everyone every day that their way of doing things is stupid and they should just listen to me, with all my wisdom and experience. But I don't honestly believe this describes me in any way at all.

I sleep exceedingly well at night. My partner (of 8 years) tells me that I'm one of the most laid-back guys she's ever met. I laugh a lot. I fish. I paint. I write. I enjoy the hell outta coding. Do I ever get "worked up"? Sure. Occasionally. But don't take these blog posts to mean that I spend my days yelling and launching spittle at all who dare to cross my path.

A commenter on another blog summed this up nicely when they called me an "iconoclast". I like that word. I absolutely enjoy questioning authority and challenging norms. But I'm not undermining my own peace of mind to do it. I just want to point out the things that, far too often, seem to be ignored.

When you say "cynicism" I think that sums it up nicely.

Yeah. As a writer, I know exactly what that word implies and I chose it purposely. I didn't mean "critic". I meant "cynic".

Of course, I realize that "cynic" can often be a synonym for "pessimist" or "crusty old jerk". But that's not how I meant it. I meant it as someone who's seen this movie. I know how it ends. And no matter how many times I try to express that to others - and no matter how carefully I try to couch the message - they still insist on watching the movie till the end. And they still insist on being shocked that the flick didn't somehow end on a better note this time.

... that's culture again.

Bingo. Couldn't agree more. The "issue" IMHO is that I've been through a rather long list of employers in the last half-decade-or-so, and no matter where I land, it feels that I'm constantly running headfirst into crappy culture.

And please, please, please believe me when I say that, through a certain lens, that last sentence can sound rather "suspect". It's suspect because, if you've dated 10 people, and you've come to the conclusion that all 10 of them were jerks, then maybe, just possibly, the problem is with you, and not with those people you dated. And trust me, I get that. I've been re-evaluating myself, almost constantly, for the last several years. And I know that all of my "issues" are not someone else's problem. I certainly play a role in all of my interactions. And I certainly bear a great deal of responsibility for the manner in which I fit in (or not) with any particular culture.

But in my own self-analysis, I've also come to realize that many of the things that now bother me were always there. It's not that the dev world has really changed that drastically. It still has most of the same rewards and headaches it had two decades ago. But two decades ago, I was much more likely to just grin and move on. Or, in many cases, I simply didn't acknowledge the headaches for what they were. Now that I'm more of a "grown-ass man", I'm much less likely to grin and move on.

Again, I'd like to say that, overall, I deeply appreciate the time you took to give such excellent feedback. But I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't feel a bit like, "The problem is just you. So learn to get over it." I know that's not exactly how you said it or meant it. But considering that this was precisely the point I was trying to rail against in the piece, I can't help but feel a little bit like that.

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brianmcbride profile image
Brian McBride

Thanks for the thoughtful counter reply.

Yeah, I started off by saying I don't know you. And my ignorance is huge in that regard. I don't mean to offend or imply anything. I was sharing opinions based on what I heard (and even that is suspect as I am not best best empath myself!)

I think I hear, basically, all this shit has existed and now you've done it enough times, you don't want to deal with it. I totally agree with you. I did the opposite, instead of sliding back into developer-only, I moved to a company where I could be in charge to make the change. I still make many mistakes and probably cause some of the issues you mentioned, but I'm trying :)

For me, I'm living life with the analogy that we all walk on our side of the road, even if we are going the same direction. I'm responsible for my side, you are responsible for yours. We can't make others do better, we can't make them not have a crappy culture. All we can do is represent the culture we want.

So, again, I don't know you, and your counter-responses are well articulated. So I'll just reflect that from an outsider, it read a bit like a "bitch session" :)


And speaking of bitch sessions. I totally agree with you on hooks. Functional components could be faster in some benchmarks (Maybe?). At least I thought I remembered that. But, I suspect that early on, "Pure" functional components didn't have all that hook state management code in there.

The ONLY argument about functional components and hooks that I have heard of is "you don't have to deal with the 'this' keyword". Now we have useEffect, useMemo, useState, useContext, blah, blah, blah... Not only that, but front end developers are starting to put more and more app-wide state into their hooks or API calls that don't cancel out properly. So I guess Facebook thought to abstract it all away was better? I can see some of the arguments... but now there are new problems. So now Facebook has to create Recoil.js (basically Hookstate.js... sigh) to offer better performance as useContext sort of sucks at scale. I personally keep wondering why we just don't make Observables part of the ecma standard so we can use libs like RxJs even more efficiently. I mean, RxJs can make a state engine in a few lines of code and has way better operators for events.

I can definitely bitch and complain :) Next week I have a big tech talk on why GraphQL is leading us back into building monoliths (which is fine if you intended that) and the problems that will impose at the enterprise scale. It is so true developers keep repeating the mistakes instead of learning from the past.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

If you're ever bored and wanna read more longwinded stuff, check out some of my other articles. I've written a lot about JS's class hatred - and its fascination with all things functional.

And to your point, I will never quite understand the irrational fear that many devs have over the this keyword. When I first started using anonymous functions and arrow functions, I found those constructs to be far more counterintuitive than any problems associated with this. But I've heard from numerous JS devs who, for whatever, seem to have some kinda mental block when it comes to this.