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Kevan Carstensen
Kevan Carstensen

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Longevity in software engineering

Software trends young 1. Many software companies are pretty young, as, arguably, is the appeal of CS to a broader group of students. It seems natural for the age of the typical tech worker to be younger than it is in other professions because of this. It's also true that tech has consistently faced charges of ageism. One doesn't have to look far on the internet for examples of explicit or implicit ageism (Blind, Quora threads as examples).

I'm comfortably into my 30s. I've been fortunate to have a rewarding career so far, and I have a long list of things I'd still like to do. I hope for another couple decades to chip away at that list. That said, my own personal experience – seeing how hard it can be for friends my age and older to get their next job, hearing subtle ageism in interview roundups 2 – gives me pause.

I'm working on a couple of longer posts about the arc of a tech career and, in particular, how age bias affects that. For now, I wanted to put up this discussion post. Is this something you're worried about? Do you think it's overblown? Do you do anything to help guard against it personally? Do you see a future for yourself in this field in 15 or 20 years?

  1. See, e.g., this chart. These figures – or similar figures – were widely reported in the media, though it's not clear from that site where the data came from or how reliable they might be. Compare that to BLS statistics showing the median age of the workforce as a whole – early 40s. 

  2. "I don't get the feeling that he's a lifelong learner", "she hasn't had a consistent title progression over her [25 year] career [in which, because of title inflation, she may have topped out at sr/staff/etc 10+ years ago]", etc. 

Top comments (3)

lizthegrey profile image
Liz Fong-Jones

I could choose not to work. I'm still working. Therefore, I feel pretty confident I'll be doing some kind of software "for fun" in 20 years, but not necessarily looking to make money. Instead, my goal is to maximize my social impact.

isnotajoke profile image
Kevan Carstensen

(answering my own questions)

I haven't had any really blatant ageism directed at me (that I know of). For now, I don't worry too much about it. I think I'm below the age where it really starts to become obvious; I also have a solid resume, better than average network, etc.

I have seen its effects on people close to me (and who I know to be good at what they do); they wait a lot longer in between jobs than I do, and sometimes have trouble finding anything at all. That, more than anything, has convinced me that this is something to think and perhaps worry about it.

I don't think there's a cliff beyond which I'll become unemployable, or at least one I'm likely to hit anytime soon. I do question the historically valid assumption that my inflation-adjusted earnings will peak sometime in my 40s or 50s. I think there's a decent chance that it might be late 30s, maybe even now. I'm pretty conservative financially partly to guard against this (should it happen).

cadams profile image
Chad Adams

I sure hope I’m still coding in 20-30 years. I have no clue what else I would be doing.