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Youth vs experience

What happens to programmers when they get old?

Natali Vlatko
Old hardware image via Shutterstock

For a career that involves a lot of sitting, it’s strange that most developers peak at the same age as footballers. So what do older programmers have to look forward to if they’re not making a beeline for that management position?

You know the drill, age discrimination is illegal and therefore doesn’t happen in the tech industry. What a load of crap.

People outside of tech are often led to believe that everyone in tech is young and fresh and full of ideas. For some reason, potential and ‘freshness’ is constantly aligned with the younger programming demographic. Whatever. I’m here to make the case that wisdom and experience should be the thing that companies look to nurture and advocate.

Being young in tech is still cool

What would tech be like at this very moment if there wasn’t a flurry a young blood running through it? A lot of companies crave the energy that young programmers can bring to the table, and of course that’s all really good. They’re considered to be a clean slate without any “technology baggage” and are incredibly willing to learn. They push limits, think outside the box and maybe make a stupid mistake here or there that everyone is able to learn from.

But age is often a motivating factor in a company’s effort to save cash. This is great news for the kids fresh out of university who are happy to accept any first lousy job offer, generally resulting in the company mindset high-fiving itself for saving a few bucks – what they don’t realise is that they’ve actually gambled on the wisdom and experience aspects of the job.

SEE ALSO: Does developer knowledge really only last five years?

Young devs still need to get hired, so there’s no need to call for a boycott. The industry still needs the sass that younger devs embody when they’re able to successfully market themselves, their brand and who they’re working for. But they shouldn’t be seen as the only source of talent in the industry and unfortunately, this type of thinking is getting more and more prevalent.

Experience is an asset

The demand for programmers is really strong, and it should be that way no matter what your age. Smarter companies will take advantage of the more costly yet more experienced older programmers because they value the depth that newer programmers often lack. There is also a sense of security in knowing you’re hiring someone with the right credentials, experience and cock-ups in the past allowing them to jump right into the code.

Complex systems can buckle under pressure when the talent that brought those systems to life has been cut to save costs.

The key to staying relevant in the game is to make sure you keep learning. Countless evangelists and writers will bang on about it, but it really does make all the difference. A recent study conducted by academics in North Carolina, based on a bunch of data from Stack Overflow, makes the case that your age has nothing to do with your programming knowledge. Jack. Nada. Squat.

The Stack Overflow data showed that, contrary to the perceived ideas of older devs, veteran coders are just as able as young pups to adopt new programming languages, and in some cases they enjoy an advantage:

We observe that programmer reputation scores increase relative to age well into the 50’s, that programmers in their 30’s tend to focus on fewer areas relative to those younger or older in age, and that there is not a strong correlation between age and scores in specific knowledge areas.

The elephant in the room here is the push of older programmers towards management, even if it’s against their will. If you want to go into management, then by all means do it, but if you’re being pushed, then you need to be having a conversation with your boss. Any decent boss should want to keep good developers and will be happy to accommodate your desire to keep coding, but speaking up is important. You are a beautiful and unique snowflake, after all.

SEE ALSO: Slower programmers get there faster

The startup scene is full of companies looking for motivated, young software developers who will accept minimum wage in return for equity ownership and the opportunity to build their careers, but this shouldn’t be the means of how the entire industry measures itself.

Older programmers have a wealth of experience and knowledge to bring to any company willing to invest wisely in their talent pool. We must stop trying to seduce these devs by the notion that they should become ‘managers’, when sometimes all they want to do is grind code. Youth alone as value shouldn’t be the standard.

Author
Natali Vlatko
An Australian who calls Berlin home, via a two year love affair with Singapore. Natali was an Editorial Assistant for JAXenter.com (S&S Media Group).

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