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Adam Nathaniel Davis
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Posted on • Updated on

Why Older People Struggle In Programming Jobs

I'm old. I'm OK with it. I don't lay awake at night worrying about it. But I do understand quite well that I'm definitely old - at least, in a "programming" sense.

Most outside this career field would laugh at the idea that I'm old. In most careers, being in your mid-40s is the prime of your professional powers. But in software development, anyone north of 40 is often viewed with some suspicion. Anyone north of 50 is frequently weeded out of the resume pool. And anyone 60+ had better have a very solid retirement strategy in place.

But this isn't an article about the definition of "old" or perceived bias against the Olds. This article is about the fact that "more-experienced" devs often have a tougher time adjusting to any particular job / task / environment.

It's not just bias. It's real. I've experienced it firsthand. I've seen it in others. I've felt it in my soul.

I don't know if this will help anyone. In any way. But I feel compelled to point out (some of) the reasons why Olds like me find it increasingly difficult to simply fit in - let alone, excel.

I don't claim to speak for all Olds. And I'm not saying that there aren't some aging devs out there who are absolutely thriving in their environments. The following observations are mine and mine alone. Your mileage may vary.


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Political Fatigue

When I was younger, I was content to play all of the standard corporate political games. Heck, at times, I even enjoyed them. But nowadays...? Well, let's just say that I've become the polar opposite of a political player - and my unwillingness to "play along" frequently causes tangible problems in my job.

I used to be in management. At one point, I had 60 devs, organized in 6 different teams, that all reported up through me. At that time, I was much more concerned with making sure that I couched my thoughts in the "right" verbiage. I was much more inclined to burn hours writing reports (that I knew would never be read) and checking off audit boxes (that I knew no one really cared about).

About 5 years ago, I purposely stepped away from management. I wanted to "just" be a coder again. I wanted to get as far as possible from standard corporate politics and allow myself to overdose on code.

But a funny thing happened on my way to being "just" a coder again. The politics seems to have... followed me. On a good day, I'm doing nothing but staring at my IDE. But on far too many days, I find myself expected to tell executive management what they want to hear. On far too many days, I'm still bogged down in meetings and endless administrative details.

Since I'm griping about this here, you might have the impression that I'm one of those Cranky Olds. You know, the guy who's gotta complain about every decision - no matter how trivial. However, I don't think this describes me at all.

I'm perfectly happy talking to "the business" or "the client" or "the stakeholders". And I can typically talk to them in a manner that avoids techno-babble and doesn't demean anyone. People can ask me for all manner of questionable deliverables - and I calmly explain to them, in laymen's terms, how those deliverables could have nasty unintended consequences down the road.

For weeks, or even months, on end, these interactions cause me no problem whatsoever. But then it happens...

It is that moment when someone wants you to do something in the code that, quite literally, makes absolutely no sense at all. But they don't just tell you to do it. They fervently ask for your opinion. They insist on making you feel like you've contributed - even when your only logical contribution is to say that this whole idea is batshit-crazy.

But you can't tell them that it's batshit-crazy. In fact, you can barely tell them anything at all - unless it backs up their original request. That's because they keep soliciting your feedback. But they don't want your feedback. They just want you to nod along and do whatever crazy thing they've asked.

When I was younger, I had a much easier time swallowing my objections in cases like these. But nowadays...? Well, while it's easy for me to avoid being abusive or confrontational, it's not easy for me to couch my feedback in such milquetoast terms that the bigwigs can delude themselves into believing that I support the idea.

I don't yell at anyone. I don't use unprofessional language. But you'd better believe that if you ask me what I think of an idea that is truly, epically stupid, I'm going to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that it's a horrible idea. It's amazing how often this simple tendency causes me repeated headaches in my work.


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Rejecting the Churn

With every year that slides into my rearview mirror, my patience for technology's relentless "churn" grows a little thinner. That sentence probably makes me sound like a dinosaur. But I'm not complaining about learning or adopting new technologies. (Like nearly any programmer, the process of learning new tech is usually exciting to me.)

I'm complaining about (what I perceive to be) an accelerating trend to throw out established tech - and dive headfirst into new tech - often for no better reason than the fact that someone really likes the new tech (or really dislikes the old tech). If you've read some of my other articles, you might've noticed my frequent use of the term: fanboy.

If you're hyping any particular tech, but you can't make a cogent empirical argument for that tech, you're probably a "fanboy". If you're badmouthing some other tech, but your primary argument against it is that it's old or stupid, you're probably a "fanboy".

Fanboys may sound like a harmless hazard of this line-of-work. But fanboys can cause real damage. If the fanboy is some little-respected kid right out of college, his irrational passions probably won't cause any real problems. But fanboys can be anywhere.

Your manager can be a fanboy. The ivory-tower architect who's friends with the CIO can be a fanboy. The guy who's been working for the company for the last 20 years can be a fanboy. Heck, even the CEO could be a fanboy.

And once the fanboy decides that they hate the tech you're currently working in (the tech that you've probably invested thousands of hours into), and once they have the ear of the decision-makers, it's only a matter of time until you'll be rewriting all your stuff. Or you'll be looking for a new job.

This "churn" doesn't just apply to top-level tech. It can apply to NPM packages. Or style guides. Or... any trivial aspect of our work. And once the opinion in your shop has "evolved", you'll find yourself having to radically change the basic way in which you do your work. Or you'll be looking for a new job.

Do you wanna know why something as (supposedly) trivial as tabs-vs-spaces can still, to this day, infuriate people? It's because you have some people who have been coding with tabs/spaces for years and it's never been a problem. And then one day, someone walks in and says, "OMFG! I can't believe you're still using tabs/spaces!" Pretty soon, you need to follow the herd on whatever trivial decision has been made - for you. Or you'll be looking for a new job.

Please don't confuse this section to mean that I don't want to learn new tech (or techniques). I'm as excited as the next programmer to dive into something that promises to solve a problem. But I'm not excited to switch out languages / frameworks / tools / etc. just because the old way is supposedly "stooopid" and the replacement is supposedly the New Hawtness.


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The Cynicism of Experience

When I started in this career, I can think of many instances where my naivete was almost... an asset. You see, sometimes I was too stupid to realize I was being used. But in the process of being "used", I also gained valuable experience. Or I impressed the hell out of the people who saw me breaking my back to make everything work.

In my 20s, any slight suggestion that extra work was needed would lead to me pulling a 24-hour coding marathon. Or working through the weekend. Any suggestion that we adopt some (counterproductive and poorly-supported) technology would lead to me diving in headfirst to learn-and-implement said technology. Any hint of stock options or future IPOs would get me all giddy thinking that I was working for the next Google and I could work myself nearly-to-death - because... I'd be rich!!!

Nowadays...? Well, let's just say that I'm more discerning with my efforts.

I will (and frequently do) work overtime. But the moment I get the sense that my willingness to work overtime is being abused, we're gonna have a little chat. And if our team loses someone, and the company's "solution" is to simply spread the work onto the remaining employees - while keeping all the due dates the same - you can guarantee that I'll be telling everyone, very clearly, that I will not be absorbing someone else's entire workload.

I don't get all giddy anymore about the empty promises of most companies (especially startups). If the comp package includes some stock options, that's great. But if you expect me to consider those options to be all, or a major component, of my comp, then I suggest you start recruiting at the local colleges. I have mortgages (plural). I have bills and commitments. And even if I like your company, I promise I don't like it so much that I'm willing to forgo a market-rate salary.

Here's another scenario where my experience (cynicism) can sometimes cause me problems:

Once you get a reputation in an organization as a proficient coder who can really get stuff done, you can suddenly find many "off the books" requests landing in your lap. I'm talking about those scenarios where someone outside your team's pipeline comes over and starts saying things like, "Hey... How difficult would it be to make this one little change to this app??"

20s Adam would get all excited about those kinda requests. A few brief meetings and I might end up working nights-and-weekends just to implement some kinda guerilla project. Sometimes I'd do it because I was excited about the tech. Other times, I'd do it because I was eager to please. In a few cases, I even got in trouble for doing it. But I almost always found that the boost within the company to my reputation was well worth any short-term blowback.

These days, I rarely indulge these folks. You know the ones. The people who figure that they can completely subvert the dev pipeline by directly cozying up to one of the programmers.

I've had executives try to do this to me (who were, nevertheless, completely outside of my chain-of-command). I've had young ladies try to do this to me, sitting closer to me than is natural and smiling at me more than anyone truly wants to smile at me.

But these days, my response to these folks is always exactly the same. I listen politely to them. I provide any immediate feedback I can which might help to steer them in the right direction. But as soon as they want to push me to actually do the work - outside of the normal dev pipeline - I politely (but firmly) decline.

This may sound like the "right" way to handle this situation. But I've noticed that once I tell someone "no", it tends to come with all sorts of long-term side effects. I've had managers tell me, in performance reviews, that I'm "difficult to work with". Yet when I try to figure out where this assessment came from, it turns out that it's from the same people who were trying to get me to subvert the normal flow of things.

In fact, it's amazing to see some of the stunned looks on peoples' faces any time I tell them, in a professional and unemotional tone, "No. I won't be doing that." Or, "You'll have to talk to the project manager about that." Or, "You'll need to negotiate that priority directly with the client."

For some people, it doesn't matter how professional (or justified) you are. They will still hold a grudge against you if you dare to deny their request.


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Little Tolerance For Double-Speak

Maybe this doesn't much bother the Olds. Maybe it just bothers me. I'm not sure. But I know that, over the last 2+ decades of corporate work, my patience with blatant corporate double-speak has steadily dwindled.

To be clear, I understand that corporations have their own vernacular. It doesn't bother me when someone says that we should "touch base offline". And "think outside the box" is a hackneyed (and near-meaningless) phrase, but when someone spews those words, I pretty much know what they're trying to communicate.

But if you tell me that we need to do some "right-sizing", I'm gonna vomit a little bit in my mouth. If you keep preaching to me about being a "disruptor", I know that your idea of "disruption" is for me to work nights-and-weekends to realize your vision. If you ask me to take an "action item", it's your subtle way of trying to assign new work to me without consideration for current project priorities.

I could go on, but you get the point. I've really grown to hate this incessant need to doctor distasteful ideas in some vague form of New Speak.

This hang-up of mine is particularly glaring when someone wants me to chime in on a proposal - and that proposal has no redeeming factors. I can pretty much talk around most potential ideas. But if the idea is simply without merit... I'm going to say so. And that's where people start talking about me like I'm some grumpy old bear that can't be reasoned with.


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Knowing Your Worth

How can knowing your worth possibly be a bad thing?? Well, let me explain.

In my 20s, I already had a ton of knowledge and pretty decent programming skills. But I had a sparse resume - and it was more-than-difficult to initially get my foot in that door.

When you're in that part of your career, you tend to think very carefully before quitting, or job-hopping, or getting on the bad side of one of your coworkers. But it's been a lonnnggg time since I had such worries about my resume.

I'm blessed to work in a field where there has always been very strong demand for my skills. And my CV is now at a level where I no longer fret over any particular entry. For the most part, these are good things. But it also means that my willingness to put up with other peoples' crap is frighteningly scant.

I recently had a contracting gig where my entire team was remote - but they wanted me to come into the office every day. So... I wasn't there for long.

I recently had a gig where several of the executives were blatant, boisterous racists. (And misogynists. And anti-Semites.) So... I wasn't there for long.

I once had a job where they made me jump through ridiculous hoops to certify the security of my code (including many audit checkboxes that would do nothing to actually secure the application). But when I showed them how I could easily hack the employee database - and anyone else outside the company could do the same - they didn't care at all. So... I wasn't there for long.

Generally speaking, this sort of hyper-mobility is an asset. I mean, who wants to be stuck in a job where some aspect of it has become onerous?? But the flip side is that it becomes very difficult to justify dealing with anyone else's crap - even for a short period of time.

Again, that's generally a good thing. But I've met other Olds like me who just can't be bothered to hunker down and build a solid history with any single company - because those companies always do something that's rude or unprofessional or just downright stupid. Follow that pattern through 3, or 4, or even more sequential employers and, before long, you have a reputation as this cranky Old who just can't "fit in".


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The Cookie-Cutter-ing of Software

One of the most soul-sucking trends in dev over the last decade-plus has been the constant effort to reduce programming to some sort of assembly line kinda process. Although I can understand the desire to refine a complex process into a simpler one, the end result of these efforts is that the programmers often end up being treated like... assembly line workers.

Look, I get it. Software development is hard. And complex. And expensive. And time-consuming. And I also understand that organizations are constantly looking for new ways to simplify these (inherently complex) projects.

But you can't build a sizable, brand new app from scratch and expect that you can just hand a pile of all-encompassing specs to the dev team and have them crank it out like they're building a bird feeder. You see, everyone wants to chase this Holy Grail idea that they can just brainstorm over a big set of specs, hand those specs to the dev team, and voila! out comes the app they were envisioning.

I don't know how many times I've been building some component, and working my way through the specs, when I realize that the client has asked for something that's completely contradictory or nonsensical. And that's fine - as long as I can ping them and have an intelligent conversation about the issue.

But now it seems that, with increasing frequency, the stakeholders wanna just shoot me over a bunch of specs - and then they want me to go away until I have a finished product. Sometimes, they literally get annoyed if I hit them up with questions. And even if they don't mind my queries, god forbid that I ever go so far as to question(!) the design they've asked for.

Most people in my position don't just know how to write code. They know how to build better apps. They know a great deal about what works - and what causes end-user nightmares. Now, I don't have any desire to be a BA or a PM. But the idea that I should never provide any functional feedback on the design of the app itself is, well... it's just ignorant.

When I was younger, I'd offer my meager suggestions. And sometimes the client would even listen. But if they completely ignored me, I didn't much care. I just did it exactly how they'd asked for it.

But I'll admit that, at this point in my life, it's pretty damn frustrating when the client's asked for something that I know will fail or need to be changed once it goes live - but if I bring this up, in any way, the annoyance in their voice is palpable. You can almost hear them thinking, "Why won't this guy shut up and just build the app exactly as we've asked him to??"

Go through that process with enough clients and you'll find yourself wondering why you're even in this career field at all...


Conclusion

I could go on like this for an additional 100,000-or-so words, I'm sure. But this piece is already getting pretty long. I've decided that I'm going to spin up a new series where I actually go through some specific stories of things that I've experienced.

For now, I just wanted to lay out some of the reasons why older programmers really can have problems fitting in with "modern" dev shops. It's not because they're "stuck in their ways". It's not because they can't understand the latest technologies. Frequently, it's because their own experience is almost, in some ways, working against them.

I've noticed this often when looking at myself. I find myself wondering, "How much longer can I keep doing this?" Because some of the stupidity I deal with daily can occasionally get me very depressed.

Top comments (140)

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aleron75 profile image
Alessandro Ronchi • Edited on

Hi Adam,
I'm almost 46 and I quote every single word of your article.

When I read "think outside the box" I elaborated on the metaphor and thought: "when we are young, it's easy to think outside the box because that box is small if ever exists."

As time goes by, the box grows and grows, we fill it with something called "experience" and thinking outside of it becomes harder because, well, we realize that a lot of things we need are already in the box.
But nobody seems interested because, well, it's in the box and we should "think outside the box".

I had my most important achievements after I turned 40 and that's because I never stopped exploring, learning, and realizing that the more I see the less I know.

That's the Dunning-Kruger effect that a lot of people ignore because... of it :-)

You can't please everybody but the very first person you have to please is yourself, so keep pushing, never stop learning, fill that box with experience, after all, it's your box, nobody can appreciate what's inside more than you.

Looking forward to reading more from you about the topic.

My best,
Alessandro

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

This is excellent. Unfortunately, it will probably make me far more annoyed the next time I hear someone saying, "think outside the box"...

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bcncodeschool profile image
George K.

This is gold -- "When I read "think outside the box" I elaborated on the metaphor and thought: "when we are young, it's easy to think outside the box because that box is small if ever exists."" 👍🙌

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jenlooper profile image
Jen Looper

I really like the quote "fill that box with experience... after all, it's your box, nobody can appreciate what's inside more than you." Well said, from an Old :)

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Thank you!

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ericyd profile image
Eric Yancey Dauenhauer

I am not-young-not-old (31) and I personally think you article feels less like reasons that old people struggle in tech, and more an indictment of the industry's flaws as a whole. I think you correctly identify that a lot of these problems stem from young people's eagerness and excitement to prove themselves, but unfortunately that leads to a lot of toxic expectations for the rest of us. Maybe I'm just older than I think, but it seems like a work culture/expectations problem rather than an age problem.

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Hi Eric, I'm also 31 and I think in tech we are considered old, it is like you said because the young college grads love to take on anything it makes it toxic for everyone else.

What I've noted I used to work a lot of free-time for the company, at one stage got a serious relationship and decided to spend MY time rather on the relation.
Needless to say, the company was not amused when I told them I was working for free and never got compensation for these hours, nor did I receive the Porsche they promised me upon selling the company did they silence completely.

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pippoapps profile image
Pippo Gregoretti

Wait to get to your fifties mate :) even listening to the sound of the wind becomes more important than an overtime commit.

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Wise words, can't wait to settle down and not have to feel bad about ridiculous things

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luiz0x29a profile image
Real AI

Its a industry that refuses to grow up. As you grow older you start to have enough of it. The same mistakes, the same attitude, nothing ever changes.
My solution was literally quitting the job and opening my own company.

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mikeyglitz profile image
mikeyGlitz

I'm reaching that point. Instead of being unhappy in a job you hate, and you can't seem to find the job you love, maybe it's time to make your own job that you love instead of waiting for the perfect one.
Developer Hegemony was a really good read and I'd highly recommend it for anyone dealing with these issues

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yaireo profile image
Yair Even Or

31 is a baby. You ARE young my friend, and at the beginning of your career.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Agreed on all points. The underlying issues were always present - even when I was far younger. But the "issue" is that I'm now far less likely to just "put up" with them!

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infopro94 profile image
Susan Fowler

You think you're old? Try being 60+ and female. Those two factors alone are guaranteed to whack 50 points off your IQ.

I think what you describe goes back to a conversation I had with a colleague post-conference in Washington, D.C. a few years ago. She informed me that once she hit 50 she discovered she was out of give-a-shit points. Fortunately, the older she gets, the less it bothers her.

I've been toying with the idea of forming a company that caters to us geezers and geezerettes. We view the world differently. We have little patience with BS. We have tons of experience and know what the eff we're doing. Whaddaya say? Who's with me?

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Charles Koehl

I think you would call that company a fartup, but your idea doesn’t stink.

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luiz0x29a profile image
Real AI

I'm 30 and I'm already doing that. I opened my company because I had enough with my 20s co-workers ignorance and willing to accept shit for breakfast.
Lets see how well experience/intelligence matches against brute-force/over-nights.

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mayowa profile image
mayowa • Edited on

I turn 47 in a couple of weeks, and I 100% identify with your friends running out of give-a-shit-points

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

::RaisesHand::

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moreurgentjest profile image
more-urgent-jest

Sounds fabulous, where do I apply?

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helro154 profile image
Harry Respass

count me in. I'll share my resume.

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Wow adam really nice article, not sure if I'm old, but seeing the people I always work with I feel old.. (being in tech for 15 years now)

It does really resonate with me what you write about the pushy mentality of literally anyone and everyone...
Making sure they're problem (often a stupid promise) is going to be your problem. Here we go again, Bill made a stupid promise to a client, and has Adam convinced it will really make the client happy if we can just wing this little tiny fix in this sprint.

Now you can't manage this or other works doesn't get done, doesn't matter, it's always your fault...

Really frustrating indeed.

Another one, which I wanted to resonate with you is this one:
In the last 2 jobs, I got hired as a Senior Developer, much like you because I like to develop, and not particularly manage a big team...

I'm still ok, being a scrum leader and guide the new kids to success.

BUT, what really bugs me, is silent expectations..
Oh man, I had another chat with the CEO and Project manager the other day, because they "expected" a senior dev to find flaws in a design? or they expected me to create a full training session for the new kid?

Like I'm all ok if you tell me to do these things, but how must one know you expected these things?

Is this also something you encountered, the silent expectations due to your seniority?

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Great questions. And some of these are probably best encapsulated in another article. But the short answer is, yes, I've definitely experienced this. There's a whole bunch of confusion out there around what is meant by senior developer, tech lead, architect, and/or dev manager. While it's nice, on many levels, to be "senior", you can also find yourself in these horrible, poorly-defined, unwritten, hybrid roles where management still wants to see you as (and treat you as) a "coder" - but they also want to lean on you to do many of the things one would normally expect from management.

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Sean Allin Newell

Ah yes, the senior engineer/principal/architect/wizard-ruler-rocker role.

I am recently coming off a lead position (over 3 devs) where i had two more senior than I devs under me and the other a bright college grad. I often scratched my head at why senior engineer X didn't do Y, and every time I asked myself, well, did I ask them to do that?

The clearer expectations are, the clearer everything is! I'm still gonna be working on thwt on my new role for sure; both upwards, downwards, and horizontally.

I'm also about to enter my thirties, so tryin' to chill out. Got a baby now!

amy poehler pregnant bouncing

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Yeah 100% not worth getting stressed out about, and I think as with many things communication is key, if you are a senior but none of your previous companies workers with Git (stupid example but it happens) are you then expected to use CI etc without ever being told.
Same for testing, Till this day it has never been a mark in any of the companies I work for, and I still feel comfortable being a senior without it.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Congrats!!

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Awesome! Yeah resonates well, thanks for this write-up, I might also try an article towards this seniority expectations haha.

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jwp profile image
John Peters

Don't burn bridges they say. But others say Burn them all, or don't leave.

One thing is for sure, if one returns to the same job, nothing will have changed short of a full manager purge. That rarely happens, and sometimes; the new regime is worse than the last.

meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

One mistake I made early on was not understanding the pressure 1st line managers have. I always mistakenly thought their hovering was just to bug me personally. Now that's funny right there.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

I personally think that, in software development, being a "1st line manager" is the absolute worst place to be. It's like you get the worst of both worlds.

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jwp profile image
John Peters

100% in agreement. It's the number 1 political position requiring chameleon like color changes.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy 🎖️ • Edited on

Wow. I relate to this almost 100%. I've been a professional developer for 25 years, and have been writing code for around 37 years. I've just started a new role and, at 44, I think I'm possibly the oldest there. My tolerance for BS has gotten fairly low over the years, and I'm really not afraid to speak up and tell people that things they're suggesting just simply won't work, are badly thought through, wildly optimistic, poorly implemented etc.

I've been there almost 3 months now, and I'm already getting the feeling I'm being sidelined as the 'grumpy bear' - and yet, people are increasingly coming to me (outside of meetings I appear to be being excluded from) to ask for my advice, and are following it.

I don't want to quit the role, but I don't want to 'tolerate' it either. I'm not sure on the best path forward

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Nathan Sheets

I've found that the best way to avoid feeling like this is to embrace change and give new technologies a try. Technology is made to make our lives easier, why not let it? I started coding in C++ and C# and resented JavaScript and Python for all the ways they can make our lives easier in the name of 'performance' or just being too prideful to use all the built in functions and features that make them easier to work in than C languages, but embracing change is necessary in this field. I've only just started my coding career and it's too early to get stuck in my ways, and I don't know if there ever truly is a time where you should. Just my $0.02!

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Your reply is the exact reason why I wrote this article. Someone 40+ says/thinks "wow, this is some real BS" and some younger person, who really didn't pay any attention to the situation at hand, says, "You should just embrace change!!"

There's nothing in @jonrandy 's comment that indicates, in any way, that he's unwilling to embrace change. There's nothing in my original article indicating that I'm unwilling to embrace change. I try new technologies nearly every month. But any talk about embracing change or trying new technologies is completely and utterly missing the point.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy 🎖️

Embracing technological change is very much not the issue

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

1789: Let them eat cake!

2020: You should embrace change and give new technologies a try!

Yet again, history repeats itself...

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

I feel for you. Seems like this describes my last several gigs. Good luck with that, cuz I'm never sure what the best path forward is either.

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Laura

Up to the point. I am 61 and have been trying to find a job for 2 years. Have had time to learn new technologies and enjoyed it but when I was interviewed by men in their 30th lights go off:) in their heads.

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Stefanos Kouroupis

This applies totally to me, with the only exception that I became grumpy in my mid or early 30s. A note around fanboys. I am a fanboy, but I will never go and tell people to use this thing I love, I might being it up, share articles etc but no further. But currently there are too many fanboys in my current work and it's getting annoying. Everyone from management goes ..we need to use this (insert trend) language/framework, but it is clear and apparent that this language or that framework is the wrong choice for the task...but that what new people like and it's easier to hire.

I have also starting to see positions for non existing titles....which I am sure for some people it's a thing. i.e React Engineer

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

In terms of really liking a particular tech, sometimes to the point of thinking irrationally about it, I'd argue that everyone in tech is, at times, a fanboy. It's natural. There are some things out that, for whatever reason, you'll just really like. And those reasons aren't always empirically defensible. I do this. Everyone who's been in tech for long enough occasionally does this.

But I doubt you qualify under my definition of fanboy. Because one of my primary requirements for someone to be a fanboy is for them to lack self-awareness. Fanboys actually undermine their own cause (amongst who can think critically) because their wanton "fanning" makes it difficult to assess the true merits of their chosen tech.

Also, I chuckled a bit about "React Engineer". On numerous occasions, I've had a formal title of "Software Engineer". The first time I heard such a title, I remember thinking, "Wait... what?? How is a programmer an engineer??"

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elasticrash profile image
Stefanos Kouroupis

On the fanboy part ...I am a rust fanboy...but when people ask me what is the benefits of using rust....I give them completely the wrong reasons (important for me) like private modifiers don't apply to unit tests or worrying about linting is not a thing (applied automatically) or my best argument is that documentation is supported out of the box.

But bossiness don't consider them important

Lol see I am a rust fanboy because it deals with my personal pains and not because it's efficient 😝

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elasticrash profile image
Stefanos Kouroupis

I never found the engineer term weird ...because as some colleagues say about me.....did you he is an actual engineer??? and not a software developer?? (my degree is on Surveying engineering)

I always laugh at that. But I don't find it weird as most of my colleagues are actual (on degree) electrical engineers

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Ahhh, well, that makes total sense if you're degreed as an actual engineer! I, on the other hand, never even went to college. So you can imagine how strange it felt the first time someone slapped the title of "Software Engineer" on me.

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dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

Love this article ( even though maybe split int two would be a bit more enjoable)

I am 44 yo, could not agree more. to any point you mentioned

but the one i liked most, i am still struggling at not being disruptive and confrontational during

that moment when someone wants you to do something in the code that, quite literally, makes absolutely no sense at all.

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benhosk profile image
Ben Hosking

You have described some of the reasons older developers struggle and many of the reasons are because they less tolerant and don't work as well in a team. This is a choice because you could use the experience to smoothly navigate the issues you raise and help other developers.

I would add experienced people have less enthusiasm to spend time outside of work learning new technology, tools and this can lead them to using those new technologies less. There is a sunk cost fallacy to developers who have invested years of time become an expert in a language or software product and are relunctant to lose those skills and move to a new technology or software product. I have seen this happen, the IT environment changes and older developers choose not to adapt with it but stick to what they know.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

I love that you've basically demonstrated most of my points from the article.

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benhosk profile image
Ben Hosking

Your article explains why experienced developers find it harder, you nailed the part about lack of patience and not putting up with nonsense that people have to earlier in the career (because they have no choice).

I don't think you covered the part that senior developers are not good at evolving with technology changes because they have invested a lot of time, effort and experience in older technologies which become less popular. Experts in one area don't have the same incentive to take the opportunity of learning a new technology/language/software/system.

I would add that many senior developers move into positions that involve less coding and more managing but there are definitely some coders whom that career choice is not appearing (and there is a good case to be made that their should be a career path which doesn't involve management but it's not common)

Another area I would add is senior developers seem more inclined to not be told what to do by junior developers and the number of these grow each year they stay developing.

cookie cutter software is an evolution of the platforms we use and another example of senior developers not evolving with their environment. I would say these are tools to be used by software developers to build systems. Low code/no code solutions still need software developers with the discipline and experience to create a maintainable enterprise system. These are the direction of travel because these system create solution faster and easier (so they cost less). For the code puriests out there , I have seen many legacy/spaghetti code monsters to know that writing code doesn't make a better system. It makes a system that is more custom but the majority of developers don't have the knowledge, standards or discipline to create a maintainble system. Not to mention the cost of maintaining and extending a custom solution is vastly more expensive.

great article, full of excellent observations.

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skyandsand profile image
Chris C

It really is a mixed bag. There are some older devs in high demand because they are the only ones who know what legacy languages are in some job descriptions. They also demand more salary than millennials which is not always in their favor, depending on the employer.

Then you have some 2020 startups that don't seem to care if you know the fundamentals of computing. All they desire is fluency in some cryptocurrency, new-age protocol that nobody over the age of 21 is even aware of. It's a jungle out there lol

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johnpkent profile image
JohnPKent • Edited on

Excellent and so true. As a programmer, the wrong side of, ehem... 59.9, this article is like therapy. I recognize the fanboys. When they criticize some tech just for being too old, I often say that I take it as a personal criticism. Often it is personal, because they don't like their Dads and they don't want to work with someone who reminds them of their Dad. It is an authority psychodrama that I am not interested in getting involved in. What gets worse as you get older is the ageism.

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allison profile image
Allison Walker

I'm not sure if what I'm reading is due to age and experience, or just a realization that there's a lot of emotional unintelligence in the tech world. This is aside from the sexism and lack of diversity.

No one likes to be treated like an engine part, or ignored completely, yet the tech world or the business world seems to be fine with it.

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d4vev profile image
David West • Edited on

I am in complete agreement with your assessment, Allison, in calling out a lack of emotional intelligence in the industry. The drivers are surely vast and numerable, though I would take this a step further, when you say: "This is aside from the sexism and lack of diversity." I can't help but wonder "maybe the sexism and lack of diversity are strong indicators of this lacking EQ"?

Bringing my own perspective into this discussion as a black man in his late thirties who is actually fortunate to be in a leadership position (granted, the hellscape that is "first line leadership"), I wont say redressing the problems of diversity and inclusion are the magic cure to this lack of emotional intelligence, but redressing the problems of diversity and inclusion along the familiar lines of race, gender and sexual orientation does make room for additional modes of thinking that can (I think) open more pathways for emotional intelligence that aren't presently utilized.

Curious what you think?

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allison profile image
Allison Walker

That's probably true. Increased training in emotional intelligence (EQ) -- seeing the humanity in our co-workers -- would probably have some spillover effects into some of these tougher issues.

Of course, there's a gendered or diversity-related component to everything. There should be a specific focus on these areas if the goal is to increase awareness and overcome inherent bias. It's both/and, not one or the other.

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steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

Hmmm.. after reading this, I won't blame senior developers to want to jump out of the industry when they reach your age.

How would you impart advise to someone younger to prepare for this eventual move towards becoming what you hate?

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

The trite answer to this is that, if I had those answers, I wouldn't be writing this article in the first place. But even though I struggle with some of the "issues" outlined in this article, I do believe there's value in continually trying to solve for a better solution. So with the full caveat that I don't properly know how to advise someone younger on these problems, here's my best stab at it for the time being:

  • The older I get, the more importance I see in the "fit" that you have with your employer / team / job title / etc. When I was younger, I didn't much care about these things. Work was work. Didn't much matter if I was working for a massive corporate retailer or a small startup in healthcare or a government contractor. But I've only recently started to (finally) become leery about jumping to an opportunity with any employer / team / etc. that just doesn't "feel" right.

  • You've gotta be honest - really honest - with yourself about your own personality "quirks". It can be really tempting to jump to that new opportunity that's offering $10k/year more. But if, for example, you don't thrive in big corporate bureaucracies, and this latest offer comes from a big corporate bureaucracy, well... you can imagine how that plays out.

  • If you have even a shred of risk-tolerance / entrepreneurship about you, I think it's always a good idea to keep working on side projects. One "solution" to the problems I've outlined in this article is to not work for anyone at all. To be clear, I'm not working for myself right now. And I haven't for a number of years. But I keep thinking about new things I could build that would get me out of those political arenas.

  • Do not isolate. Meaning: don't ever hunker down in a technology / environment just for the sake of hunkering down and being stubborn. As soon as you get pigeonholed into a specific tech stack, your aging rate (to potential employers) immediately triples. Sometimes it can feel painful to adopt a new tech if you don't honestly see any benefits in it (for me, TypeScript would fall into this category), but it can be far more painful to find, in a couple of years, that all the plum jobs are now featuring that tech stack that you so stubbornly have avoided.

I'm sure there are many, many other tips that I could come up with if I sat down and thought about it for hours. But these are some of the first ones that popped into my head.

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aminmansuri profile image
hidden_dude • Edited on

I'm tired of the constant technology churn as well.

I don't think most of the new frameworks are really making web programming (both front end as well as back end) better. With some minor exceptions I don't feel like we can do a lot more now than we could do 10 years ago or maybe even 20 years ago.

It's just different and uses different techniques.

What I do find though, is that much of the new stuff is missing important things that were discovered 20 years ago.. and a lot of it has thrown away learnings along the way.

That's frustrating. And it seems to be mainly motivated by an impulse to "own the tech stack" than any technical merit.

I really think that this constant churn is harming the industry. Creating unnecessary instability.

I no longer get so excited about some new library... it's just more of the same.

I do however, find that the practices of software engineering have advanced and welcome those. I think that is in ways more exciting than the tech itself.

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karolyi profile image
László Károlyi

While writing this comment, 2 new javascript frameworks have been created.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis
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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis • Edited on

Yeah, I'm very keen to constantly look at new packages / libraries / tech / etc. But it's extremely rare when I actually recommend that we adopt those shiny new things. I guess you can say I've become a tech window shopper. I can easily browse through dozens of new tech solutions without ever feeling the need to "buy" one of them and take it home.

For me, it always comes down to one simple question:

Which problem, that I'm experiencing in my current environment, does this new approach solve???

Soooo many times, when I look at new solutions, the answer to this question is just... crickets. Often, the "answer" is just that the new approach is somehow awesome and the old approach supposedly sucks - which I almost never agree with. Sometimes the problem solved by the new approach is something that doesn't even apply to our environment.

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aminmansuri profile image
hidden_dude

To me it always comes down to:

  1. what third parties are contributing to this framework?
  2. who is using this today? is it popular?
  3. out of those options which is least horrible

Sadly these are important considerations, because if it's losing popularity then soon it will have no support and then it will become costly.

But none of these considerations are technical considerations. It's mostly a popularity contest. We don't have the luxury of using the best tech that is no longer supported or soon to die.

Though some considerations could also be load time, how heavy the library is, etc..

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Oh, I totally agree. And at the risk of being semantic, I will say that my original question (about which problem it's solving) could, in fact, be the "problem" of support / popularity / etc. Those are not illegitimate considerations. But even under those scenarios, I'd have to be convinced that our Current Established Tech is truly going the way of the dodo bird before I'd wistfully embraced Hot New Tech. It wasn't that long ago that people were convinced that they had to embrace Ruby on Rails to address the "problems" of support / popularity / etc. And we saw how that played out...

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