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Sandor Dargo
Sandor Dargo

Posted on • Originally published at sandordargo.com

Forty and still a dev?

I'm a regular attendee of the Riviera Software Craftsmanship Meetup. It's so good to listen to fresh ideas. And of course, to have a good craft beer ;)

I always get some inspiration as a takeaway.

There was a new member at the last event, a 41-year old developer.

The way we operate is that everyone writes down the topic title on a notecard, then each presents her own in a couple of sentences. After finishing the introduction of the topics, we do what people love to do so much in their life. We do fingerpointing! We'd discuss for 20 minutes the topic whose creator has the most fingers pointed at.

This guy proposed a topic called I'm 40 and I'm still a developer.

All fingers were pointing at him.

Marc (which is not his real name) has been a developer for 15 years. He loves coding, he has always loved. Marc always tried to learn and make himself better. More than that he has been trying to help the people around himself evolving.

Yet he found himself alone. People are not buying Marc's ideas and try to put him on the sideline.

He is turning 41 years old and still a developer while most of his former classmates started to walk the manager's path up on the ladder.

Marc asked in a rather desperate voice: What is he supposed to do?

My colleague who is a co-organizer of this group gave him a prompt answer. Do what he does. Celebrate his birthday, be happy for himself and keep coding.

Although I'm barely 34, in my opinion, coding beyond 40 - or any other age, by the way, is perfectly fine.

But this guy brought up an important topic.

If you ask a fresh grad where he sees himself in like 5 years, most likely he will say that he'd like to become a line manager, a project manager, a product owner, etc. There are more and more options if you want to escape coding.

If you look for the average age of developers you'll encounter different data. Some say around 30, some other around 40. Let's take something closer to the higher end, let's say 37. If you are forty, you are above the average, even though if you are driving on the slow lane most probably you still have to work for at least 20 years if not more.

But it's not just the average age that is relatively low, the average professional experience as well - which is not the same as coding experience. While this might makes sense, an average age of thirtysomething could easily mean an average experience of 10 years. But it's not the case, most probably because there is a lot of gold diggers fresh coders entering the market with the hope of easy and a lot of money.

What does this mean?

We need more coders. Experienced ones are relatively rare. If you are a good and experienced one (remember 19*1 year != 19 years), you have a lot of options to choose among. Consider the Cobol Cowboys. Still, a lot of financial applications are coded in Cobol written half a century ago and there are not a lot of people capable of maintaining them, or adding features to such systems! The few who can, they can earn ridiculous amounts of money (in terms of slowlane terms, of course).

If you like coding, you don't need an escape. You need to stay sharp and hone your skills.

You even have the options to become a fastlaner. There are plenty of options to create a business based on software that you can write.

In fact, moving to management or project management definitely narrows down your possibilities, I think. Both in terms of professional and financial possibilities. Unless you're playing the who becomes a big CEO lottery. That game offers great financial possibilities, but they don't come with a huge probability. That's why I call it a lottery.

If you like coding, you enjoy creating software, don't change a career path. You might want to check a management position once in a while, but keep your focus on coding. It's not just fine, it's awesome! Don't worry if you're in your forties, fifties or even in your seventies!

Keep learning and happy coding!

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Top comments (62)

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anortef profile image
Adrián Norte

I worked with a developer well over his 50s and it was an amazing and mindblowing experience. That extremely mature and seasoned point of view and the overall "we can weather any storm" feeling that he provided was something wonderful to work with.

If you ignore the opinion of someone just because that person is "too old to code" then you will miss out a lot of learning opportunities.

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jwollner5 profile image
John 'BBQ' Wollner

As a 62y old full-time developer, I thank you for your comment. I KNOW I'm not as fast as my other teammates, but I believe that 40y of solving application and systems problems has given me a broad perspective - I consider that a valuable skill you only get from being 'too old'

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sharpdog profile image
SharpDog

pffft! 62 and still a dev 😎

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic

I bow to You 😉
img

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bagwaa profile image
Richard Bagshaw • Edited

I'm 42 and still coding, I have had the chances to move up the ladder but asides from the financial reward everything else on that path seems much more stressful, I honestly struggle to see the appeal of that path, but I have mostly been motivated by freedom in life and not money.

I keep up to date and just love learning, I use React, Vue JS, Tailwind, ES6, Gatsby and GraphQL regularly, so I think I run with the cool kids at the moment lol.

Admittedly I do tend to use Vim over WebStorm / PHPStorm sometimes, so I guess that makes me an old fogey.

I am happy to keep coding, and since my generation will never retire due to how messed up the UK is, I will probably die at this keyboard haha

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic

If you think UK is messed up, be happy you're not living in this cesspool called Croatia 😕

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bagwaa profile image
Richard Bagshaw

Well we have Brexit so 🤷🏼‍♂️

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ky1e_s profile image
Kyle Stephens • Edited

Bok, prijatelj.

Imamo puno hrvatski programski inzenjir u Irskoj. Dođi!

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic

Hi Kyle

Yes, I know, it's becoming a trend for Croatians to emigrate to Ireland. Not that it's off the table, but for the time being, I have stay here in Croatia. When I decide to leave this Mordor behind me, I think I'll consider Netherlands first. Send my regards to all the Croatians in Ireland, nothing here to lament about.

Cheers

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ky1e_s profile image
Kyle Stephens

Amsterdam is a wonderful choice - I also considered moving there.

I love Croatia - I'm going back in 3 weeks time. Wonderful country - shame about the politicians!

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matthewbdaly profile image
Matthew Daly

I didn't become a developer till I was 32. Before, I was an insurance clerk, and I spent years doing a job I hated.

Now, I do something I love. I'm not interested in moving into management, and I couldn't do it to save my life. I'm now 40 and I plan to keep coding until I'm forced to stop.

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scriptmunkee profile image
Ken Simeon

Keep that motivation and you'll never be stopped by anyone but yourself to stop coding.

Jobs will come and go. It's your passion that's the driving factor.

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett 🌀 • Edited

One of the best developers I have ever had the pleasure of working with was around 55ish. I hope I make it to that age. He had and (has left us) still has made such an impact. I was reading a how to yesterday from his email that keeps circulating the office. A team is way way stronger with that level of experience.

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jonsilver profile image
Jon Silver

I'm 52. I've now been coding for 40 years, ever since my electronics hobby led me into computers. I still code every day. Workwise, it's my "happy place". I do firmware, serverless backends, React frontends and a whole load besides. I learn new techniques all the time and have forgotten more than I know now. I lead a team doing IoT R&D and business automation apps. The youngest is 19 and benefits greatly from my experience, but I also love it when my younger colleagues and inspirations are able to teach me something new. I shall always do this - retirement will just be doing the same thing but not for money, because I enjoy it and I'm good at it.

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

That's the best thing can happen to someone career-wise I think. To be your job, your happy place and not having to go to do something every day that you simply don't like or even despise. I feel the same as you, we are lucky!

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scriptmunkee profile image
Ken Simeon

As a 45 year old software engineer and manager I can definitely say that you can travel the path of engineer to manager/director and back to engineer without a problem. Some might say you are taking a step back in your career if you drop the management title, but I say that's bullshit! Your experience is your value. It's not that you know every in & out of a framework.

But I will say the experience you gain from managing others or projects adds to your availability to shape & convey a message. It also changes how you approach your work because you now understand the business side of the tech industry.

Overall follow your passion/heart. Don't be afraid to venture out of your comfort zones (many times your might not have a choice about it). But definitely if slinging code is what you love, don't ever stop no mater your current title.

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

Thanks for your comment, Ken. Indeed, that's something I discussed with another guy at the same meetup who has been an individual contributor, then a manager then went back to his solo role. He suggested me to read Engineering Management: The Pendulum Or The Ladder in this topic.

Just like you, Mipsytipsy also advocates for doing both at different point of your careers, not to be afraid of switching and make the most out of them in term of learning.

On my side, I still wouldn't like to move to a full-time management role, but I'm fine with roles where I can keep around half of my time for development.

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scriptmunkee profile image
Ken Simeon

Sandro, It's great to see & hear about more engineers navigating the careers path ladders & choosing what they enjoy most. I'll definitely need to check out the book you mentioned.

I fully agree that the best of both worlds can be had in a half & half role (technical lead, dev lead or managing engineer). The stress level is higher because of the ownership of the team or project but you still get to do what you enjoy and that is develop software & people.

What many people fail to understand is that as you develop software you are also developing or shaping the minds & thoughts of your fellow peers and the consumers of your creation. Software development is truly about people development and your efforts are impactful at so many different levels.

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bugmagnet profile image
Bruce Axtens • Edited

I am 58 years old. I'm still coding. For pay. I'm a partner in the business: that means I don't have to stick to 9 to 5. It also means that I've got to stay on the project until the work is done.

The jump from what I was doing for most of my professional life (IT Support) to full-time development was done in 2006. Yeah, when I was 45!

You're too old to code when you're too old to breathe.

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic • Edited

I wrote a post about my background:

I am also nearing 40, and time really is relative, it seems to have speeded up 🤔. I am almost 38 and will probably never disembark the coding train, in a manner of speaking.

There is an observable tendency in the coding community to strive for management positions; some see it as a wage increase opportunity, while others just realise that coding is not for them, and can't see themselves engaged in that sort of work in years to come.

Age is not an issue at all but there are some inevitable changes that everyone will have to come to terms with.

  1. You will need to get more rest
  2. Exercise should be much higher on your todo list
  3. Don't take it too seriously when younger devs don't agree with you just because they are obsessed with some latest framework, let them play with their toys

Everyone tries to keep up with latest developments in IT sector as much as humanly possible, but due to exponential increase in the frequency of these changes, you need the capacity of a super human to be able to follow.

These days everything is about Web and Javascript and this is how programming is perceived, for the most part. Younger developers are taught web related technologies as their starting point in the world of programming, which is vastly different than the path of most older programmes which usualy comprised Pascal, C, COBOL, even ASM.

I would like to conclude this comment by recommending the older guys to stick to what they know and even try to perfect it. I am doing the same, and even though the preconceived notion of companies hiring only web proficient devs is somewhat true, there is plenty of work for programmers working with low level languages like C and VHDL (FPGA) for example.

Maybe I'm lucky, but every time I disclose my love for C and low level programming, I somehow get offered a job. Oh, one more thing. When I said earlier to stick to what you know, I didn't mean to do it exclusively. It is a good idea to devote some time to learning new web technologies just to stay in the loop, not to become an expert or anything. Although, maybe there are cases of 40 year old programmes becoming experts in bleeding edge technologies; maybe they needed a challenge, a change, who knows, it is not unheard of.

Experience will always be valued, and every company needs both younger less experienced devs who can get less fatigued by working long hours, and older more experienced ones who, like it or not, have some age induced limits.

printf("Keep coding whether you're %d or %d, just try to enjoy it.\n", 40, 20);
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simonhaisz profile image
simonhaisz • Edited

Parts of the industry have moved away from the concept of "management is promotion" that comes from the traditional office/government model into a two-track system that treats individual contributor and management as two very different types of jobs that both have plenty of growth potential. I quite like the idea that I can stay as an individual contributor AND have the organization recognize that that contribution is as valuable as that of a director or VP .

Here's Square's model. I think this came up on HN recently. We've have a similar model where I work for a few years now, though we start at 1 instead of 3. I think Square was gong for that Enlisted/Officer ranking vibe.

[Fixed link]

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

If you don't mind I'll send this link around to some of my colleagues. It's definitely something we can learn from!

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simonhaisz profile image
simonhaisz

Hey, Square's the one that opened sourced it - share as you like!

Actually, here's the original blog post that links to that sheet. It provides more context into why they've done it this way.

(I tested the link this time before submitting :P)

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

Thanks for your comment. Could you double-check the link, please? It seems broken. Thanks!

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simonhaisz profile image
simonhaisz

Done! My copy-paste lost the h in https :P

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

Thanks, interestingly when I hovered over it nothing was shown and couldn't click.

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Tim Stephansen

I'm 30 and I was a project manager and a software developer with my previous employer. Now I'm working only as a developer. Working as a project manager made me realize I never want to go into management.

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kevadamson profile image
Kev Adamson

40 next month and still designing and coding. I know nothing else, so on I go!

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Richard Norton

54 now and only started coding at 35. No desire to move into management and still learn something new every week.

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I occasionally read posts about people who are 40 being "old". It seems like younger developers don't quite understand why any of their peers would consent to getting older.

I mean, what idiot decides to be 40, eh?

The only other jobs I can think that have anything in common with this are professional athlete or manufactured pop idol.

I'm not sure, but there seems to be a correlation with people who think developers have to be young and people whose careers are a tool to make them wealthier than their peers.

I'm older than the old guy in this post, and I'm not in a fast or slow lane to being a gazillionairre.

And I think it's all bit... weird.

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic • Edited

There's sometimes a very thin line between a young developer and a hipster. Those two are known to overlap every now and then 😄

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exadra37 profile image
Paulo Renato

I got my first job as a developer with 40 ish and I am now more near the 50's and still coding... So if coding is your passion, just keep learning and up to date ;)

Currently I am a Developer Advocate, that is another escape that still let you code, and let others learn from your acquired knowledge and experience.

You can also look at developer consultant roles ;)

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Bill Mitchell

Is good to hear from the older guys like you Paulo :)