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Forty and still a dev?

sandordargo profile image Sandor Dargo Originally published at sandordargo.com ・4 min read

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!

This article has been originally posted on my blog. If you are interested in receiving my latest articles, please sign up to my newsletter and follow me on Twitter.

Discussion (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 Author

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 Author

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 Author

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 Author

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 Author

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

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tstephansen profile image
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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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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geekatwork profile image
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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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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bmitch profile image
Bill Mitchell

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

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

I turned 40 this year. I've been creating apps, mostly for small companies, since my early 20s starting in PHP. Nowadays I write in F# and sometimes in C#, VB, and JS for older products. For the past couple of jobs, I have made it known that I am not interested in a management path, since I knew it might come into their minds. I do end up with some leadership responsibilities on the team simply due to experience. I probably could be convinced to take a servant-leadership management role which is kinda already what I do as a team lead, but I have less-than-zero interest in participating in a top-down management/bureaucratic structure.

I find nowadays that I am less fascinated by tools. Frankly, writing the same kind of code that I have already written many times before is downright boring. I am more content helping others figure out that challenging bit of code. And solving the business problems in an elegant way, which then informs simpler solutions in code.

I don't get as much code written as my team mates. (Although I do the stuff no one else feels comfortable doing, typically infrastructure and integrations.) But instead the experience I have been blessed to obtain force-multiplies the rest of the team's efforts.

Being in the fast lane is a non-goal for me. My reasoning is this: all the resources in the world won't make a person happy (see lottery winners). And trying to live ever-more-luxuriously is simply concentrating more of the world's limited resources where they aren't needed. (As a dev, I already make enough to take a lot of financial stresses off the table.) There is also the psychological cost: being separated and unrelateable to those around you. You can't trust other people's motives because you know that a part of them is thinking you have "extra" that could benefit them. That's human nature. You just never know if that is 100% or 0.1% of their motivation. As to unrelatable: while you are agonizing over what color your yacht interior should be, your gardener is struggling to afford college for their 4th child. You no longer face problems that most other people face, and after a while you may start losing empathy for them. I'd rather be a "regular" person, not too poor as to be in desperate need, but also not too rich so that I have to be defensive.

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maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu • Edited

40 and still coding and still loving it. Of course I'm not just coding now, as it looks like I'm also valuable as an architect, a project analyst, a team leader, a mentor and an advocate. Nothing I was allowed to do - or that I could do - when I started my career as a developer. (Not that I excel at any of that haha!)

Coding all day would be tiring now, so I appreciate the new roles in covering from time to time. But nothing still beats the thrill of a new discover and the excitement of a well working software 🤗

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rudolfolah profile image
Rudolf Olah

I'd suggest reading the book Developer Hegemony it covers precisely this topic

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo Author

Thanks for the suggestion. It's been already on my list, now it is moving upwards! :)

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stacy_cash profile image
Stacy Cashmore

I turned 43 last month and am still a dev 😊

I was a team lead in my thirties, but really, that wasn't me. I got ne energy from it, and it just made me hate my job.

I returned to coding, and love it! I'm still learning new techniques, still experimenting with different ways of working and just started speaking about my experiences at meetups and conferences!

And still suffering from imposter syndrome 😖😊

And I hope to carry on for a fair few years yet!

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vanaf1979 profile image
Stephan Nijman • Edited

I'm two months away from being fourty, and still happy being a developer. The only thing that makes me feel old amongst other developers, is when i tell them i started as a flash actionscript developer, and then having to explain what actionscript or flash was :p

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Stuart Clennett • Edited

50 and still a developer. I have my own business so I guess I'm CEO, sales director and (most importantly) head coffee machine operative too.

I often wonder how long I can go on; I guess I'll always be coding something for as long as the old grey matter keeps functioning.

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eddisonhaydenle profile image
EDDISON HAYDEN LEWIS

Awesome, I am 40 plus and I have been coding from the age of 16, my first language was BASIC, did some JAVA, C,MATLAB, pursuing Python.There is no cut off point for coding. Coding is a cognitive skill that becomes sharper with practice with varied exposure. The opportunities are immense so 40's plus, keep coding...

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Anton Korzunov

Will reach 37 by the end of this week. Coding.

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Jonathan Ray • Edited

I'll be 39 in a couple of months. I've been programming since I was 15 and can't imagine (willfully) switching to another career. I love the thrill of solving problems, finding bugs, and constantly learning new things. I sure hope nobody forces me out of my passion because of my age.

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guneyozsan profile image
Guney Ozsan

38 and coding since 35. I think age and income is pretty correlated because how you approach work sets your real value (Unfortunately I had to exclude generic lower margin jobs here).

So I believe at older ages focusing on what you want to do is more important. If you don't like management you can still earn the same by keeping coding.

Also I notice that as you get more experienced and older people start to ask you about business side of things regardless of what you do. This transitions you into a semi-manager through an organic progression. This way you can keep doing what you do (coding) and have a not-titled management value. Young people can work more and smarter but they have hard time seeing where and how to connect the end nodes of the paths they took. They feel like a very fast random search engine.

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Scot McSweeney-Roberts

There are more and more options if you want to escape coding

If you want to escape coding, why did you start there in the first place? There are better routes into management that are going to give you a much, much better shot at the higher rings. Get into sales or legal/business affairs. Not tech. Outside of a few companies on the US West Coast tech management is pretty much a dead end.

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Jayme Edwards 🍃💻

I’m 43, still code, and have been for 23 years now. I’m consistently the top developer on teams, but I don’t sell myself that way. I sell myself as a team player with deep agile and architecture capabilities. 12 years of my experience have been as a consultant of some sort.

Being an experienced software developer is great! If you keep your skills up, you can show companies a level of professionalism and skill they’ll never get from someone under 10 years or so of experience. The challenge is finding companies that don’t buy the hype that changing technology makes skills irrelevant.

Are there developers who can code circles around me in react? Totally! And I’d love to learn from them and be on a team with them. But I see people continue to make mistakes with design that are timeless. Wisdom isn’t exactly recognized in our field. It’s just part of our culture that values youth above all else.

YMMV

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Ankita Singhal

I know so many people who are developers and wants to keep coding instead of move up the designation ladder and manage people.

We should do whatever makes us happy and challenges us daily no matter how old we are.

Age is just a number, just like lines of code :)

Happy coding..!!!!

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biros profile image
Boris Jamot ✊ /

I'm 38 and I'm one of the youngest dev in my team of nearly 40 devs.
We have only one junior (28). Other devs are 40, 45, 50 and even 60.

I'm happy to be in this team where I know I'll have the possibility to stay in the dev path until "the end".

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Derek D

Over half my team is over 40, with two close to retirement within the next year or two. Some people just don't have any desire to manage people and I think that's totally fine. Developers make a lot of money, in some cases, more than the managers over them, so if they enjoy programming and want to keep on doing it, more power to them.

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