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It's Hard For Techies Over 40 To Stay Relevant, Says SAP Lab Director 441

Posted by timothy
from the cannon-fodder dept.
New submitter NewYork writes with this chestnut from an article about the role of age in the high-tech workplace: 'The shelf life of a software engineer today is no more than that of a cricketer — about 15 years,' says V R Ferose, MD of German software major SAP's India R&D Labs that has over 4,500 employees . 'The 20-year-old guys provide me more value than the 35-year-olds do.'" The article features similar sentiments from Mukund Mohan, CEO of Microsoft's India-based startup initiative.
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It's Hard For Techies Over 40 To Stay Relevant, Says SAP Lab Director

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  • really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:25AM (#42018715)

    He will be forty one day too...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:28AM (#42018733)

    bacause they aren't hype/trends followers. They will not tell you to rewrite your whole system in Ruby

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:29AM (#42018737)

    The 20 year olds "provide more value" to a company that expects them to live, breathe, and die for the company, because by the time they're 35 the people have realized that the promised rewards for working themselves to death for the company are lies. So the 35 year olds start screwing the company back.

    Oh well, can't expect any CEO to say any different than what they're saying. That's why the only good CEO is a dead CEO.

  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:30AM (#42018743) Homepage Journal

    Is the task really about quality, or quantity?

    Most places I've worked, it has been about quantity. Number of reported bugs fixed. Number of lines of code.

    These are metrics which can be shown to other people. That's how your manager gets promoted. How the shareholders are convinced that the product is doing well.

    The people who are still around after 20 years of coding are binary: they're either wizards or burnouts.

    On the other hand, the younger workers are inexperienced, which means you can keep fooling them with the same gigs. Make them work for 24 hours straight, keep them in the office for 12-hour days with $5 of free soft drinks a week, promise them a great career someday. They're guileless and easy to manipulate, which is great if you want your metrics to look good but don't care about the quality of the final product.

    Personally, I'd prefer to hire wizards and to shift the burnouts into doing something they might enjoy more, because older workers bring a lot of experience and realism to the game.

    But that won't impress my bosses or the shareholders.

  • Corporate value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:31AM (#42018749)

    'The 20-year-old guys provide me more value than the 35-year-olds do.'"

    Value=lower salary & willing to give up having a life outside of work.

  • by shawnhcorey (1315781) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:34AM (#42018763) Homepage
    ...because they would rather work smart than work hastily.
  • by mellon (7048) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:34AM (#42018767) Homepage

    But rewriting your whole system in Ruby is hugely productive! Look at the number of new lines of code!

    Seriously, the managing director of a lab at SAP in India? They were really scraping at the bottom of the barrel here. Seems like link bait to me.

  • Re:Corporate value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:36AM (#42018773)

    'The 20-year-old guys provide me more value than the 35-year-olds do.'"

    The shareholders of the company should note that the same observation is true for a Managing Director. There are younger men and women that would provide the share holders with significantly more value than V R Ferose, MD of SAP's India R&D Labs is providing them.

  • Here you go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JWW (79176) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:39AM (#42018781)

    So, this guy says that the entire career of a Software Engineer will be 15 years.

    And the politicians and business leaders are saying we have and extreme need for more people in science and technology fields. .....Ummmm.

    Why the FUCK should students going to college today sign up to go into a career where they know they'll be out of work in 15 years?

    Outside of that, this guy is spouting total bullshit. I understand that there are some great young innovators out there. But that's not all we need out there. We need people with experience building large complex IT systems. People who've done it before and know what might happen. People who know where the gotcha's will be. Not everyone is just going to be writing iPhone apps.

    At my first job, when I was young and I guess still valuable, the company I worked for was staffed completely by young people. It was staggering the bad shit and unforeseen consequences we ran into. Having just one staff member with some experience and proven capability in the field would have been invaluable.

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:45AM (#42018807)

    and I'm sure you get a lot of hassle from the kids who come to you to ask how various things are done.

    Its the same everywhere I've worked, there's always a group of older workers who are the go-to guys if you need to now how something works, or if you need advice on how to put your stuff in the bigger picture.

    The biggest problem for me is the crap the kids come up with - for example, I recently was shown a new web service that had 1 method on it, which was implemented using 6 interfaces and 10 files. And this had a comment saying "I didn't use dependency injection because this is such a simple project". It was the hallmark of someone who's taken on every OO way of working with factories and wrappers and decided to use them all without the experience to know when to use them.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:47AM (#42018819)
    The most important thing in coding was making it work.(Getting out fast was second.) As a 40 something year old coder I know the most important thing is making your god damn code readable since you will come back to it, you ALWAYS come back to it. (Amazing how many other coders don't get this even after years of experience.)
  • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:47AM (#42018825)

    I'll be sure to tell Rob Pike and Vint Cerf. You know, the next time I have lunch with him at Google with the Greyglers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9M0RPNr9qg [youtube.com] and be sure to remind Sergey Brin and Larry Page that they have one year until they're over the hill like Steve Jobs was and Steve Wozniak is currently. Oh, and like Elon Musk is over the hill by a year.

    Alternately, I'm going to just dismiss the author of the article as an idiot who has a terrible idea of what constitutes "relevance" based on a particular development model which I don't have a hell of a lot of faith in being able to actually deliver working product.

  • Prospective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:47AM (#42018827)
    The 20 year old guy can program but the 35 year old can make requirements.
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:48AM (#42018831)
    Never cut corners, nothing good comes out of cutting corners.
  • by MindPrison (864299) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:07AM (#42018909) Journal

    ...depending how LONG that person has been a techie though.

    Most over 40's techies have an experience that the younger techies doesn't even have (and would LOVE to have), is the hands-on experience how the insides of a computer REALLY work. Sure, any young technician can learn to program, anyone of them can complete any engineering course and school, with brilliant results, but that's just it - results aren't what they used to be. We have a LOT of theory today, they rarely get to try everything out in real life.

    Sitting and working in front of a computer, with simulated circuits simply won't provide the total knowledge, and even though they can come up with amazing new innovations, show fantastic skills etc. many of them come short if they fail to see why their design doesn't work as well in real life as in the simulated environment.

    This is where us old techies simply excel over the youngsters. I've had numerous dazed looks on the various younger techs faces when I within few seconds to minutes, points out the flaw in their design, when they eagerly show me formulas and huge math equations + simulations to show me how "flawless" their design SHOULD be, and desperately want me to agree with their designs. Then I show them HOW it COULD be done, and many of them say - what you just did doesn't make sense - but it work - it shouldn't work - but it works.

    To us old techies, the inner workings of everything, from scratch, from transistors to assembly code etc. are second nature, because we grew up with everything from scratch. We weren't served a huge bunch of books, a ready to use computer with a gazillion libraries, we often had to construct everything from scratch, including designing the logic, often on a breadboard - programming the OS ourselves etc.

    So techies over 40 with experience from the start of it all - can't even be replaced.

  • by stevew (4845) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:13AM (#42018927) Journal

    Some other points not brought up - since the guy is in India, there are some specific Indian Culture issues working here too. The big one that has been pointed out to me by Indian folks I've worked with is that Mom & Dad expect their kids to be MANAGERS within a couple of years of graduating or the kids are considered failures! So even FINDING someone in India with 15 years of relevant experience is HARD. They DO exist, but more than likely, they came over to the US then went back home!

    Finally - having just gone through a project with 3 oldsters pushing 50+ & three young guns just out of school (one a PHD & the other two youngsters Masters degree holders) I can tell you with certainty that the company took over a year recovering from the mistakes made by the newbies.

    BS to the whole thing. I'm 56 and still a working technologist.

  • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rockout (1039072) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:22AM (#42018981)
    I don't think he claimed he wouldn't be. But then again, his primary function is not that software engineer - it's Managing Director. So his shelf life may or may not be longer.
  • by aix tom (902140) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:24AM (#42018991)

    A ping point there being "Shareholders". I myself (42 years at the moment) would NEVER (again) work for a publicly traded company. Small, privately owned, outfits are the place for me. Where Priority one is the customer, priority two are the workers, and the owners profit is priority three. (Funny enough, it seems the owners profit gets better when it's priority three than when it's priority two)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:24AM (#42018995)

    ...above a certain age they just start telling me to fuckoff, to my face rather than behind my back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:50AM (#42019191)

    SAP shouldn't be telling anyone about engineering until they figure out how to do it themselves

  • Or even older (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SteveFoerster (136027) <steve AT hiresteve DOT com> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:00PM (#42019259) Homepage

    I'm still in my 30's, but I'm old enough to remember that they had to farm a lot of Y2K work out to retired guys in nursing homes because they were the best ones to figure out all the COBOL that had to be updated. Ignore the value of experience at your peril.

  • by mc6809e (214243) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:03PM (#42019285)

    I can't help but think of all the business owners that were firing people or cutting their hours down to less than 30 over Obamacare.

    Yes, they're full of shit,

    Believe it or not, math informs many of the decisions business owners make -- just like it informs the decisions engineers make.

    The math of Obamacare for most businesses means less money will be lost if employees don't work more than 28 hours. What decision should a business make?

    The world doesn't work according to what we feel is right or fair, and ageism in tech appears to be a very serious problem. So what do you do about this?

    Like good scientists, we know the way the world works by observation and not by what we feel is right. If companies fail because they discriminate against older workers, then that means discrimination is a problem. If, on the other hand, age really is a factor, then companies with younger workers can be expected to out-compete those with older workers.

  • Re:Or even older (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rockout (1039072) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:04PM (#42019297)
    Of course, that one example is the type of thing would actually REQUIRE older guys because of the old code involved. How often, really, does that come up anymore, when viewed as a percentage of all software work?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:18PM (#42019387)

    When I started my career, I nearly lived at work. And by nearly, I mean that I literally lived at work for weeks at a time. I did anything for the team, the project, the company. I worked holidays, weekends, months straight without a single day off. The 12hr days were the *light* days.

    By my late 20s, I'd put in the better part of a decade. The company started having pretty regular layoffs as the solution to meeting financial needs instead of ditching shitty management. After they trimmed the fat with several rounds of layoffs, it eventually came to be my turn, too. It was done in a fairly shitty and impersonal way.

    When I returned to my career a few months later, that passion and drive "for the team/project/company" was gone. I realized what most other people realize by their 30s --- that companies don't give a fuck and you shouldn't either.

  • by Xeranar (2029624) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:21PM (#42019405)

    Not really, math rarely is factored into these kind of decisions. Least not the complicated aspects. There math consists of "this costs me more momentarily" and like Frankenstein's monster and fire they get stupid. The lost productivity combined with disinterested workforce drives the value down. So yes, their refusal to support their workforce is simply bad math with a shift of the burden onto the state. They want a welfare state by forcing taxpayers to subsidize their poor business decisions.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:29PM (#42019473)

    Youth is idealistic, therefore generally willing to commit much longer work hours "for the cause."

    The word you were reaching for was "suckers".

  • by mlts (1038732) * on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:33PM (#42019507)

    I don't have mod points, else you would more than deserve your full five on this topic.

    One thing that happens as one gets older is their bullshit tolerance goes down.

    Take a person, stick them in a call center for PC support, have people sacked by their badges not working, or have them physically dragged out by security, force them them to have "optional" OT (which means that if they don't take it, the CC will not buy out the contract from the crummy temp agency, and anyone on the temp agency rolls for more than 90 days gets shown the door), have to wear a full-on suit just to sit on the phones (since the people were offshore), have every single call second-guessed [1] and penalties assigned, and offer zero benefits other than the job takes up space on a resume. A 20-something would do this, as they don't know better. After 30-40, unless there was absolutely nothing else out there, the older guys will laugh in the hiring manager's face and tell them to just cut the BS and walk out the door.

    There is an age where commutes are wearing (especially after knowing that eventually you will be in a wreck, so the less one is on the road the better), health insurance is a concern, there are family issues, and one realizes life is just too short to deal with that, even if it means a radical change in lifestyle.

    It isn't about working hard; as one gets older, it becomes about working smart, especially as retirement age looms ahead.

    [1]: There is always the time item. Explain something clearly to someone, you get yelled at for being too long on the phone. Get them off the phone and they call in on the same item, you get yelled at because you were too "stupid" to do it right the first time. The constant whipcracking on phone stats is a good way a company can guarantee zero employee loyalty.

  • by deoxyribonucleose (993319) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:47PM (#42019663)

    bacause they aren't hype/trends followers. They will not tell you to rewrite your whole system in Ruby

    Speak for yourself.

    I'll do it. And you'll come out way ahead. Ruby is a great language.

    The implicit context was that experienced developers won't rewrite an entire system for the sake of using the latest greatest technology. If you think otherwise, I'd suggest that you have managed to absorb years while avoiding experience.

  • by MisterSquid (231834) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:52PM (#42019709)

    The math of Obamacare for most businesses means less money will be lost if employees don't work more than 28 hours. What decision should a business make?

    This is an idea that is getting traction now that the Affordable Health Care Act will carry as a result of Obama's reelection, and it is an idea that needs to be challenged.

    Employees who are secure in terms of healthcare are a huge benefit to a company and to the society that supports the conditions for universal healthcare. Reducing the possibility of bankruptcy due to medical eventuality (not just crisis) means reduced money spent to train new employees and combat turnover.

    Employees with access to affordable preventive care need less time off and are more productive than overworked and ailing workers.

    In time, when the financial reality of universal healthcare normalizes, services and premiums will (with the proper administrative and legislative conditioning) hit a virtuous cycle where resources are commensurate to demand. People will not avoid seeing a doctor because it might be unaffordable and so will get proper treatment that may obviate the need for heroic but less-effective medical services at a later time.

    A populace with access to universal healthcare will mean more financial resources available for discretionary purchases, investment, and education.

    Employers and capitalists who think taking care of employees is too expensive are poor capitalists, indeed. While there certainly is more to life than money, in the case of universal healthcare there's economic sense to be had as well.

  • Re:Or even older (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrudPuppy (33870) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:20PM (#42019945) Homepage

    It also depends a whole lot on the area of IT. This article very mistakenly refers to "IT" and then makes a generalization that applies only to a subset of IT workers.

    I can see where programmers may actually be better when fresher, but I have spent the last 20 years as a unix and network administrator, and neglecting a truly prodigious few, these areas are impossible to master without many years of experience. At the same time, I can say that many 10+ year admins out there have not invested in their own self-training and are every bit as worthless as a 20 year-old admin.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:38PM (#42020103)
    We should thank the young Indians. If it weren't for their poor quality software, the older folks wouldn't have a carrier fixing it or making work arounds. Salute the young Indians and please continue your low quality of work.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:56PM (#42020293)

    I'm not a programmer, I'm a sysadmin.

    And from a trouble-shooting pov, holy shit do I hate Ruby with a god damn passion. Next person I meet who insists on writing a webapp in Ruby instead of PHP or hell, even Java, I'm going to punch them in the mouth.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:00PM (#42020315)

    The math of Obamacare for most businesses means less money will be lost if employees don't work more than 28 hours. What decision should a business make?

    I'm sorry but that is a piss poor slam at Obama that has very little basis in fact. Too bad there aren't much facts in political hyperbole that has flooded the US media prior to the election and still very little in the sour grapes that flood it now.

    You know what influence business owners? Certainty!

    It's the dysfunctional cluster fuck that we have as a government that is hurting US businesses. The irony is that most of this uncertainty was created by the republican obstructionist tactics that failed to gain them a presidency. It's ironic because they accuse the democrats of stunting business growth.

    Give us a fucking number. Tell me how much I need to budget for taxes and what benefits I should provide and what benefits the government will provide. Once I have these numbers, I can use them in my business planning. The politicians act like I wouldn't just pass the costs to the consumer. Oh I don't hire people just because I can afford it, I hire people because I NEED to. So stop with the bullshit that if only I had to pay less taxes I would hire another person.

    Give it up guys. We all know when you talk about lower taxes to the "job creators", you really mean lower personal taxes to the wealthy.

  • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by White Flame (1074973) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @03:52PM (#42021283)

    He also works at SAP, and his view of developers is from the big corporate drudgery perspective.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @06:23PM (#42022243)

    The math of Obamacare for most businesses means less money will be lost if employees don't work more than 28 hours. What decision should a business make?

    This is only true right now since the unemployment rate is rather high, and thus there are excess work hours available. But what happens when the unemployment rate drops? At some point, there will not be enough workers to keep hiring them at 28 hours per week, and employers will be forced to increase hours. There is also the issue of turnover. Workers who aren't treated well won't stick around, especially if they can get a slightly better job somewhere else.

  • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by siddesu (698447) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:17PM (#42022909)
    Actually, he may have a point in his particular context. If you give your staff the burnout on current tech and no time to develop new skills, you can do even better than "useless at 40" - "useless at 30" is also fully achievable.
  • Re:Or even older (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrudPuppy (33870) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:57PM (#42023167) Homepage

    Yeah, great example. Even at 20 years doing Unix, I feel like I am just hitting my stride. I'm in the top 2-3 percentile IQ and have been extremely diligent about self-training my entire career. I started really learning the Cisco world 4 years ago and that also seems like a bottomless pit of knowledge that could keep any normal person busy for 2-3 decades.

    Above all, however, one of the greatest skills an admin can have IMHO is analytical troubleshooting, and time definitely helps with that.

  • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday November 19, 2012 @01:30AM (#42024357)

    Yep, at SAP they probably want someone cheap and with no experience that will do low-tech drudge work without complaining. But are you ever going to see someone designing the next NASA exploration vehicle asking for twenty year olds, or do you want your medical devices to be designed by the cheapest programmers? Hell, I don't even want someone called a "techie" to be working on machines that keep me alive.

  • Re:really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gruntkowski (1743014) on Monday November 19, 2012 @04:47AM (#42025041)
    This is so true.
    I don't know on which planet he lives, but in my experience (yes I do work with SAP products)
    those obsolete guys are the ones which have to fix all kinds of BS and problems. This guy probably only looks at how fast developments are delivered; and he does not have to work with his product at customers.
    These customers are verrrrrrrry happy with an 'old obsolete guy/gal' because experience is priceless.
    And also: age does not matter, if you don't catch up you will become obsolete. 20, 35, 40, does not matter.
  • Re:Or even older (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:28AM (#42026031)

    Thanks. As a geezer myself (59) it is nice to hear someone actually values experience.

    That this guy gets "more value" from a younger coder is just a way of saying "I can make the inexperienced give me more for less".

    I have a good work ethic, but I am for rent, not for sale. If a company wants my skills, they will pay me for the time I put in to acquire it.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

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