Where are the old developers?

Hi Everyone,

So today I started to think about the following:
Most of the people are working about until age of 65. I was working at several companies, together with really a lot of people, but 80% of the developer colleagues was under 40 years and I was working only once with a developer over 50.
Ok, it is pretty clear that nowadays much more people are starting a carrier in this field, than 30 years ago.

But still I don't understand: where do the "older" developers work?

And I think it is an important question for all of us, because one day we will be old as well and we still would like to work somewhere.

Do you have similar experiences? Do you have any idea, why?

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DISCUSSION (39)

I'm pushing 60 and still programming. Of course, no "cool" tech company will hire me once they deduce my age when they see me in person. So, I've been working in the corporate information systems world for the past 15 or so years, primarily writing in-house web and desktop applications for logistics, inventory control and manufacturing.

I probably could have moved into project management, IT management or the like years ago if I wanted to. That's where most other programmers I knew and worked with 20+ years ago have gone. But, I enjoy developing software so I've kept writing programs.

I've had the fortune of working with an older developer only once. It was a terrific experience.

This guy had been there done that and helped us avoid so many issues early on. He completed his work on time, sometimes early, left at 4:30pm, and liked guiding people on the team.

I hope when I'm his age I can contribute like that to teams. Older developers are worth every penny.

Usually, the older dev go to freelancing. I'm 54 and have been programming since I was 16 years old. Most the people I knew in dev work are now freelancing or gone to management. That seems to the the two routes people have taken.

Or they write books, some also teach.

Just to point out a counter-example. I worked at a decent-sized dev company where the median employee age was in the 40s. Many of the employees had been there for double-digit years. My experience at that company violated the demographic norms in a lot of ways actually -- great experiences in general.

For most companies, I have an unsubstantiated belief that a lot of devs switch to management as they get older. After 18 years dev experience, I feel like I'm finally getting to a good understanding of how to write software well. But I have come to the realization that a lot of my value is now in guidance and idea-development for the rest of the team.

Anyway, it's probably less about where older devs have gone and more about a huge influx of new devs skewing the ratio.

Great points. I find it interesting you are saying only after 18 years is your understanding of how to write software well coming through. I second this completely, with a similar number of dev years. The scary part is you're also right, most Devs head off into management or non coding architecture or leadership roles, so where do the younger developers learn day to day practice?

I think the industry has incorrectly qualified us as seniors, and the value given to an old Dev us diminished, and can be seen as having no ambition as they never progressed. Personally, I never became a Dev in the hope I would one day not get to write code again, but that often surprises people. I have turned down being a Dev manager, and other less code focused roles, and I always think the best leadership will be possible in the team, understanding the day to day problems of the team you're leading.

I also agree with you on the influx of younger developers skewing the ratio.

Contracting/Consulting, Freelance, Starting own business, Architecture, Leadership, Teaching, etc. Older devs are out there doing things and making very good money. If you work at a start up u wont find them there. Older devs cost more. Other mature devs no longer interested in progressing can be found in corporate settings doing legacy support work. I currently work at a place where 80% of the gang is much older. They dont mind supporting legacy frameworks and working with outdated tech. And thats a good thing. As a developer you also have more opportunities to move around into other domains like info sec, networking, dev ops, QA, just to name a few. I enjoy working with older devs. Respect.

Quite a few people in the programming world are not passionate about it, and end up doing whatever requires the least effort and they can still earn a salary.

This leads me to believe that it was the case also earlier and many of the older people in the industry never bothered to learn new languages and some are still stuck in some basement maintaining their COBOL applications and such, while others just switched professions when their FORTRAN skills weren't needed anymore.

Then there are entire companies full of these people providing high priced consulting for the business sectors still stuck using the old technologies.

I can see this happening to young people too, people who learn exactly one language, not even that do they care to learn well, and then they complain if anyone even suggests that a new language be tried out. In 30 years there's a big pile old timers maintaining all the awful PHP applications being built today.

Wow... Generalize much Janne? Sounds much like the general judgement that millennials get about entitlement and impatience. Having been in hiring positions in both startups and corporate I always try to keep my teams as balanced as possible. When it comes to the gender, race and age. I find it the best way to have a well functioning team... But that's just me I guess... Being a developer over 40 and all...

I have no idea what you're on about.

  1. "many" != "all"

  2. I've said exactly nothing that's targeted as a negative comment about older programmers - it's a generic comment about many IT workers, which I expect includes the people who started earlier, i.e. are now older

  3. It's simply a fact that quite a lot of people working in IT are not passionate about it. Nothing wrong with it, simply explains why some of these people don't become "old programmers". Most professions that are as easy to pick up as programming is (quite easy), have lots of people working on it who are not very passionate about it. IT as an industry also uncommonly has the ability to hire pretty much everyone with even the tiniest bit of skill to work in it.

Add to this the fact that a lot of them end up accepting promotions that take them away from programming to drawing powerpoints or managing technical teams or whatever, and that the whole IT industry has been massively booming for ages, so the younger generations are naturally more highly represented in the IT workforce.

If you've got a specific claim you'd like to refute, feel free to point it out.

So Sorry! I must have misread! Must be my ol' eyes not keeping up...

Sounds like you're trying to make some remark with this, but I fail to see the point.

Only one: I read you wrong, and I'm sorry :)

Oh, sorry. I'm tired and probably on a bad mood and just assuming malice in tone where there is none :)

COBOL now is a hole of gold, if you work in banking.

Yea, if you happen to be one of the people capable of and interested in still working on it, and have the connections to get work for it.

If there were tons of people available for it, it wouldn't be one.

What really financial institutions should do, is invest in upgrades for their systems, and set up a continuous development plan, which they can easily afford.

Getting approval for upgrade plans go something like this...

"The upgrade project committee meets for 2 hours every other Tuesday like they have for the past 3 years. Once they settle on a design then it will go to the planning board for approval. After that it will go to the executive budget for review. If they sign off on it, then we can move it to the information systems architecture committee."

Basically, it's a 10+ year process, or used to be.

There are some new federal banking regulations driving a lot of new development at financial institutions that have been slow upgrading. You'll find a lot of ancient COBOL, VB6, PowerBuilder and Gupta code that's needing to be upgraded or replaced ASAP. I passed on that when I was looking for work earlier this year since the pay was low and the projects stank of desperation and micromanagement.

This is a very interesting article on the subject: It’s COBOL all the way down

Invested in Bitcoin 10 years ago. Lol

I wish I had invested in Google and Amazon 20 years ago. Instead, I invested in companies that went up in flames in the dotcom bust.

Yeah, there are some definite downsides to the crypto markets and blockchain tech right now. I have a feeling that things are going to get worse in the near future much like the dotcom bubble of the early 2000's. The good thing is that those technologies that make it through are the ones that provide value, just like Amazon, Google, etc.

A number of factors at play (at least in the US):

  • First and foremost is that, while there's a lot of buzz around encouraging kids and people in career lulls to learn programming, that's only a very recent phenomena. So, absent other factors, the pool is somewhat youth-weighted to begin with.
  • Several decades worth of waves of recessions, outsourcing and overall realignment of the industry have pummeled senior programmers' careers: experience/seniority tended to equal high-salaries. When times came for cuts - due to economy, general staffing trends, etc., a lot of those high-salaried people were cashiered and never returned
  • Not everyone that programs stays a programmer for any number of reasons (the languages they wrote in fall out of favor; career burnout; more upward-mobility opportunities when not in the trenches; etc.)
  • You can't even begin to understand the rampancy of ageism in the tech field

Couple other factors - some of which boil down to "it depends one where you're looking"; but the ones listed above account for a big chunk.

To answer this I will use myself as an example: I am in my 40's and I seem to be one of the oldest developers around - we are very few. About 6 years ago I took a detour into management for 3 years - totally hated burnt out, and returned to active development.

However I am clearly defining my role, as a bridge between technology and business (in this case health program implementation), and I enjoy it very much, since it provides great leverage for my experience and skillset.

The key challenges are the fast moving technology (especially the Javascript world), with a short lifespan 18 months and lots of churn which I am struggling to pickup and also understand their place in the world, since the systems I work with tend to have a lifespan of 5 - 7 years in production.

The older devs are there - hidden in management, team leads and supporting business goals. There are few who stay actively coding due to a shortage of support systems to keep them there and leverage their experience and skillsets

Most have moved into executive leadership. Or out of the industry completely. Leadership positions pull you out of technology and into politics. Many say screw it and make tons of money with their own venture/app. Microsoft and other big firms hire old guys that code but you will mainly see them in training/travel positions. Many of my peers have grown kids that code.

My story: Im 43, first dev job at 21 - the internet was fairly new when I started so I rode the web 1.0 and 2.0 bubbles as a dev and then architect. After architecture I started a consulting firm and did pretty good. 2008 hit me hard, as did the 'Affordable Healthcare Act' but all in all I had a great ride for a college dropout. I'm in executive leadership now and code on the weekends and at least one night a week. I don't code for work as I have an issue with companies making millions on my creations and not getting a fair share if total profit. I code so i can remain relevant while building a product line for my new business. In this 'new' digital world you will see some 'new' technology but the developer role is coming to a slow end.

At 37, perhaps I'm neither "old" nor "young", but I would say it's been my experience that it largely depends on the type of development. For example, I encounter a lot of excellent 40+ age devs in enterprise class software, DBA and sys admin roles, but when it comes to web app and mobile development much less so

If you accept number of developers has roughly doubled every ~5 years since the 1950s, then then simple result of that is that at any point since then half the active developers have 5 years or more experience, 1/4 have 10 years or more, 1/8 have 15 years or more etc.

Combine that with the the age at which someone becomes a developer (mostly younger), the tendency for experienced devs to move to management|consultants|speakers|writers, older devs to retire etc. then there are probably only 1 in 500 developers with 30+ years experience

Compound that with the self selection of choosing jobs where you work with your peers, which seems to be echoed in some of the other comments, then the less frequent older developers seem to cluster in the same companies, it would be quite possible for some younger devs to have never crossed paths with them

Getting 50 next month. Really good question.
Personally i took somehow the management way. Not because I like it so much or money is better, but because in some companies I worked for there was a need to improve organization of work, introduced Agile stuff there etc.
But I continue to develop side projects on weekends to always stay on top of technologies. That's kind in blood on one side, fun on another side and more important, strong need in my opinion to understand dev's during my more "management" kind of work.

At 54, I am currently a freelancer working with process management and machine learning in manufacturing. I have worked every job from junior developer to VP of a large consulting firm in my career. I think most developers move into project management, management, or become freelancers as Richard mentioned in his comment. Startup's are a young man's game and I have no desire to work 20 hours a day anymore. I now enjoy a great life with lots of family, friends, and hobbies. I still love coding, but it is the means to an end, not the other way around. Enjoy your career and be a sponge taking in everything you can. Don't pass up opportunities to learn something new or to work with other teams and other positions. Enjoy your career but don't forget to have a balance between your career and your personal life. :-)

I'm not an "old" developer (although I'm not young either), but I used to work with one for a couple of years, at the very beginning of my developer career. He actually hired me without any development experience as a professional, nor education!

He made his small fortune back in the '80s as with contracts with the military, then moved on always on leading roles. He always liked his job so he never stopped developing. His development skills on AS/400 machines were required more than his accounting or management expertise.

A good person all around, except for the fact that he made me work on something I wasn't supposed to work on (one of his personal contractors), and that led to both of us being fired 🀦
Later we've been both hired by the same contractor, so it was all good I guess?

He was later struck by some illness and had to retire. I still send him birthday wishes.

First there werent so many developers 40yrs ago, compared to the total count of today. Probably a 1:20 ratio.

Second I think they could have early retire with all that money earned along the way.

3rd I hope to retire or work as a consultant before 40, being a 9-5 at that age sounds awful for me, I hope to live more work less. This include writing and teaching.

4th our industry has the same sexism and agism problems like all the others, so probably they cannot get a job.

They start a family in their 30s, and struggle to keep up with this fast moving world. Then get replaced by a 20 year old willing to work 80 hour weeks for half the cost.
I think most older devs are in a corporate setting where they can slow down, start a consulting firm, or move into management. Or get out of the industry all together. I know of a few people that moved over to real estate for example.

I'm a Mainframe tech and we have a lot of "older" developers on our team. We recently lost one of the young guys, in his mid 50s! (I am a complete anomoly.)

It's very scary because there is a massive skill gap in these legacy systems. They can't find young people to take on these roles and the retiring generation simple doesn't know how to pass off knowledge because they've been in the same role for 25+ years!

I'd guess it's some combination of burn-out, movement into management, or movement into other areas due to ageism. I'm pretty sure I'm the oldest Software Engineer in our mid-sized company, about to turn 62, with the peak of the age bell curve well to the left of me. If I had to start looking for another job today, I'd frankly be scared of trying to find anyone who'd hire me once they met me and determined I don't fit into their pre-conceived notions of what a developer should be. (I'm male, so I wouldn't have to deal with that prejudice -- but that's a whole other issue. 😠)

I heard the population of developers is doubling every couple of years. Do like only half has more then a few years experience. So they're out there but outnumbered by new ones.

I think most of the people who reach that age have moved on to a higher position or they are just not interested in programming anymore.

Literally, all of the people who reach that age now were indeed real programmers, not hype/money-hunters, I am positive 99% of them are still interested in programming.

The surviving designers of Unix work for Google now.

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