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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39? 592

Posted by kdawson
from the when-you-come-to-a-fork-in-the-road-take-it dept.
relliker writes "So here I am at age 39 with two contractual possibilities, for practically the same pay. With one, I continue being a techie for the foreseeable future — always having to keep myself up-to-date on everything tech and re-inventing myself with each Web.x release to stay on top. With the other, I'm being offered a chance to get into management, something I also enjoy doing and am seriously considering for the rest of my working life. The issue here is the age of my grey matter. Will I still be employable in tech at this age and beyond? Or should I relinquish the struggle to keep up with progress and take the comfy 'old man' management route so that I can stay employable even in my twilight years? What would Slashdot veterans advise at this age?"
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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39?

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  • Do both (Score:2, Interesting)

    by starfishsystems (834319) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:52PM (#28617517) Homepage
    Cover both bases. Why not? I have. I'm 53 and it just keeps on getting more interesting that way.

    Cheers.
  • Not a greybeard.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy&tpno-co,org> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:53PM (#28617531) Homepage

    But if you enjoy both, the choice is clear; go with what will keep you employed longer. If you feel you can't keep up with the day to day in tech anymore ( a common concern ), then by all means jump to being the PHB.

  • by MagusSlurpy (592575) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:05AM (#28617659) Homepage

    You have to know tech either way, whether you continue to be in tech or go in to management

    I want to work where you do. My company hires management based on management experience, not experience in the field I work in. Then they quit after two months because they don't know what's going on and all the working stiffs are making fun of them. Hire new manager, rinse, and repeat.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:23AM (#28618125)

    and then if you want to go further, you go into management. Technical positions don't scale.

    Instead of staying "in the front line" as a programmer, or going into "labor management", I went sideways into database management.

    Keeps me in direct contact with the hardware, I still do some programming, and lets me semi-mentor intelligent young programmers.

  • by guilliamo (977425) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:30AM (#28618155)
    It's a matter of your complete competency. Techies and management alike can get promoted with appropriate pay with most modern, small or large companies. I am 54 and have elected to spin the consulting trail. I did so out of need after 911 shut the doors down on many opportunities in 2001. Started on the consulting trail only to find that it works. I did not want to be a JAVA developer driving a cab. Bright nimble minds with the ability to traverse the political IT jungle will always be in the loop. Age means nothing.
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:53AM (#28618261) Homepage Journal

    I have had lots of coworkers over 50 who are software or hardware engineers. And they are all great engineers. Some of them work full time, some run their own consultant companies.

    If you enjoy management, then the choice is pretty easy. Short term the pay is the same, but generally the limit for a tech guy is principle engineer, which is a director level position at pretty much any company. Beyond that you can only move "up" to CTO, where you usually don't get any salary and have to make due with stock options and selling your share of the company. In management you can move into a VP role, although it helps a great deal if you get an MBA. Without an MBA you probably can't easily rise past a director anyways. You're age is pretty "average" for people starting for an MBA, so it's not entirely out of the question if you have some long-term career plans.

    It is especially important to consider your long term path when you have another 15-25 years of career left to complete.

  • by QuasiEvil (74356) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:02AM (#28618299)

    Seriously, depending on where you work and what you want to do, you don't have to keep on top of every new fad. I'm a few years younger than you, but have largely considered most of the recent trends to be fads, or niche things. I'm a happily employed electrical engineer who does C, Forth, and 68k ASM programming and embedded work, and I've crafted my position to be as much business analysis as technical. I'm lucky enough to work for a department where I could basically morph my job duties to fit my talents. I considered management for a while for many of the same reasons that other posts suggest - that it has a further career track, and that I wouldn't be outpaced by the younger people coming in. In the end, I realized that there will always (or at least for the foreseeable future) be a place for programmers who have a greater understanding of the business their code supports, and have the skills to maintain and upgrade legacy systems. C isn't going anywhere for a few decades at least - it's still by far the most portable thing on the planet. I also realized that while I'm good at motivating and organizing good people, I suck horribly at dealing with the problem ones and therefore, I'm not management material.

    Don't give up the technical side just because you're afraid of learning new fad X, Y, or Z. If you're a technical type where software is not the end product but supporting a larger business, the ability to understand and solve business problems in a consistent, efficient, and rational manner is much more important that whatever the hell trend Infoweek is pushing this week. Give up the technical side because you honestly think you'd make a better contribution as a manager. In the end, doing what you enjoy and providing real value to the company will likely make you happy.

  • by craigmcc (1593427) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:52AM (#28618595)

    I'm 56 and have been a techie since my first programming job in 1974 (a Univac "mainframe" with 32k BYTES of main memory, using RPG II), to today (designing REST APIs, programming in Java, Ruby, and Python (plus I need to pick up a couple more scripting languages in the next year). I've loved it all along.

    For me, I've never been interested in the management track. Fortunately, I am currently working for a company (Sun) that believes in the value of individual contributors, and has parallel career tracks for technical and management folks -- well at least until the Oracle purchase goes through, then we'll see what happens :-). However, I have started from the assumption (from the very beginning) that anything I thought I knew about technology would be non-useful (from a career enhancing perspective) in 3-5 years, and laughed at in 5-7 years. So, I've committed myself to a lifelong self education regime to make sure I'm always current on the latest and greatest technologies. It can indeed be tough keeping up with the young bucks from an energy perspective, but there's a lot of value that comes from experience and being smart, so you can be more productive without having to work quite so hard :-).

    For you, I will agree with what others have said, and suggest you go with your passion. BUT, I would suggest you *not* assume that a choice today has to be a now-and-forever type commitment. (Save that kind of commitment for marriage -- coming up on 35 years myself :-). I know lots of folks who have switched back and forth over the years of their careers, and enjoyed the fruits of both tracks. As long as you stay current with trends on both sides of the fence, you'll always have that option -- plus, techies that know something about management, and managers who know enough tech to not get snowballed, are going to be better at their job of the moment, and thus more likely to get rewarded.

  • Not Quite (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @04:36AM (#28619081)
    I don't do brain surgery but I wouldn't suggest that just anyone could do it. As others have said it is because we can SEE that what managers do is often just follow the latest trends, buzzwords, etc.
  • by realkiwi (23584) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @04:40AM (#28619091)

    Being 39 doesn't make you 'too old for tech'... being lazy, unwilling to change, inexperienced and out of touch does.

    Sometimes slashdot has comments that are based on common sense! Last year I found a web job. 15 people were interviewed before me. Many were in their 20s. I am 54...

  • by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @05:05AM (#28619191)

    The problem is, of course, that tech doesn't have that much of a career path. You go from junior tech, to tech, to senior tech... and then if you want to go further, you go into management. Technical positions don't scale.

    Depends on the company.

    My dad managed to stay a tech for his entire career. He's good at what he does, but he hates doing management stuff, and refused to be in charge of anybody else. He still got very big raises early in his career, and soon got a bigger salary than his boss. Occasionally he gets put in charge of a project, but mostly he's managed to just do his own thing. He never says anything during meetings, but when he does, people listen, because it's bound to be important.

    But it's probably a lot easier to advance that far in a management track. My dad's situation requires a boss who recognises and rewards talent, and a company that's willing to accommodate eccentric talent. But if my dad had even the slightest bit of talent and will to do management, he'd probably have made even more money. He didn't, but he's quite happy where he is.

    And if you go the tech route, you really do need to keep learning and improving. My dad was about 50 when he learned Java, and now he does most of his programming in Java, and does open source Java programming in his free time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @06:53AM (#28619577)

    The parent shows many insights into managers and management. I've had all these managers and been some of them too.

    Being a manager of complex projects isn't easy. I hated the constant follow up with my team members and being burned with their estimates. Telling someone that they smell and there have been complaints is easier than telling someone they need to find a new job ... elsewhere. Day to day project tracking and prioritization of features and fixes are easy in comparison.

    One of the best managers I ever had was a former techy from 30 years prior. He'd written something critical to the NASA Apollo control center. Now, he was a spreadsheet jockey and fairly worthless to our minds ... then we got to see him in action as 50% of use had to be removed from the contract. He was fairly honest and handled the problem with efficiency, dignity and sensitivity. I saw another manager under the same issue handle it poorly with postit notes hung outside selected office doors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:23AM (#28619701)

    If you make friends with somebody who has many enemies, don't be surprised when you become the enemy. Assume it will happen, because statistics make it likely.

    If you make friends with somebody who talks behind others' backs, don't be surprised when you are the one being talked about. Better yet, assume it from day one.

    Pay attention to how friends treat people other than yourself. In all probability, this is exactly how they will treat you.

    I have come to realize that these are the two biggest red flags in social relationships: (1) the person declares many enemies and seems to be continually "looking" for more, (2) the person has a habit of talking behind others' backs. Be extremely careful around these people. Take a neutral stance on every subject they bring up, no matter what your real opinion is.

    On the other hand, the most respectable, trustworthy people in the world are those who refuse to make enemies, and refuse to talk behind others' backs.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:23AM (#28619999) Homepage Journal
    Well, not that 39 is OLD (I have to say that these days..hahah), but, it is a time to start thinking about the future. If you are wanting to stay with direct, W2 jobs....it is probably best to work into mgmt. That will allow you to progress further over time to better money and position as the next years come along.

    If you are really good at your tech..you might look seriously into incorporating yourself, and do some indie contract work. This is especially good if you can get on govt./DoD projects which can be quite long term. This way, you can still have some job security (lets face it , even with direct jobs there is no such thing really anymore), and can make some very high dollars, by incorporating you can save serious money in taxes, and put lots of cash away for retirement at a decent age.

  • by cptdondo (59460) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @09:02AM (#28620505) Journal

    I disagree with this very strongly. Ask anyone in the military; the best offices are those who came up through the ranks. They understand what the average mudfoot/swabbie/wingnut/jarhead has been through, and, frankly, have the balls to stand up to upper management.

    Example: We were in Saudi, in the desert, in August. If you're not keeping up with geography, it's hot enough to melt a typical outside thermometer. My guys were doing heavy manual labor - building stuff. They all got camelbacks so they could drink on the job. Word came down that they could not wear the camelbacks as they did not match the uniform. I very politely ignored this and told my guys to keep using them. No one in upper mgt pushed it. Safety first.

    Now a typical newbie officer would probably have followed this nonsense order. Me, I spent 10 years humping steel and dirt in all kinds of weather before getting commissioned, and I know what these guys go through, and I have enough common sense to say; "It's 140 degrees, these guys are doing heavy construction, and you want them to do what????"

    The older managers also have a really good idea of what's possible and what isn't, and typically have the knowledge and the balls and the support of their people to stand up to PHBs up the line.

    Back to the OP, ask the people you work with - would you make a good manager? Would they work for you? If not, what can you improve?

  • If you like tech analysis and have people skills, these two are good options where an older person is respected for tech knowledge.

    I'm 42, and slowly moving toward management roles. I still do sysadmin, but not anywhere near as much. The Tech Sales bit can be either pre-sales, where you largely prove concepts, do demos, write up project plans and such. It can also be just flat out sales. (not for me)

    Management of both these groups in a technical setting is challenging and fun. You will have a quota though. That's not so fun right now.

    If I were you, and enjoyed management, I would jump at the chance to add it to the resume. Given where tech spending is at right now, and given the ongoing outsourcing, I don't think management is a bad idea.

    Then you do tech hobbies to stay cool and relevant!

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