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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 @09:25AM (#42018715)

    He will be forty one day too...

    • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rockout (1039072) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:22AM (#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.
      • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by White Flame (1074973) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @02:52PM (#42021283)

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

        • You're hitting the nail on the head. I'm working at a scientific institute, and I'm surrounded by geriatric old farts. And I love them because it's impossible to do a project without them. We do space projects, putting infra-red cameras on satellites. These projects usually take a minimum of 10 years. This managing director its business is just that -- a big corporate business.

        • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday November 19, 2012 @12:30AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gruntkowski (1743014)
          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, 4
    • Re:really? (Score:5, Funny)

      by nospam007 (722110) * on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:27AM (#42019027)

      "He will be forty one day too..."

      He's 38, so it will be very soon.
      Actually, we don't have to listen to that geezer.

      • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by siddesu (698447) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:17PM (#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.
    • Or even older (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SteveFoerster (136027) <steve AT stevefoerster DOT com> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:00AM (#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.

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

        by rockout (1039072) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:04AM (#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?
        • Re:Or even older (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Gorobei (127755) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:36PM (#42020625)

          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?

          Probably about as much as the type of thing that would actually REQUIRE young cheap guys: a "business solutions provider" that sells the next big thing to customers every five years, while making profits on customization, support, migrations, and extensions. The company just needs a endless supply of cheap beginners willing to learn quirky frameworks and hack out a ton of code to lock in the clients.

          Fat clients, thin clients, server-client, SOA, compute-on-demand, the cloud, log-in anywhere, computing fabric, XML, beans, enterprise architectures tend to be little more the the last decade's technology renamed, rebranded, and resold to the same customers, but with a new set of 25 year-old faces assuring them it's going to be better this time.

    • He will be forty one day too...

      And that is when he will stop wanting to work 12 hour days, 5 days per week. At 40 he may have teenage kids at home.
      or kids just to become teens.

      When I was 20, working to 3am on a bit of code I loved, was a reward for my ego. Today, it is a punishment.

      Thats for lines of code, but when you look at architecture, clean code design, reuse of code, and bug-free, upgradeable code, foget the 20 year old. He is full of theory, but lacks real production hands-on situations.

  • Even worse (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I do IT for a cricket league. My shelf life is only 15 minutes!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:28AM (#42018733)

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

    • by shawnhcorey (1315781) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:34AM (#42018763) Homepage
      ...because they would rather work smart than work hastily.
    • by mellon (7048) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:34AM (#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.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:14AM (#42018937)

        It's SAP and it's India. It's probably a lab that is one step up on data entry.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:50AM (#42019191)

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

      • Indian sweat shops (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mrops (927562) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:57AM (#42019229)

        I am an Indian. And he is correct for the wrong reasons. Western countries should actually do something about this, kind of like how they (at the very least) frown upon sweat shops of china.

        Guys like him exploit young IT workers as they are starting their career trying to prove something. This results in 12+ hour working days and often weekends too. If AT&T pays some company in India to do some software, they need it done. the company in India treats these folks like work horses and 11:00AM to 11:00PM, 7 day a routine is quite common. Hence a 40 year with family with a PM around his age will say screw you and go to his kids. It has nothing much to do with tehcnologically relevant or not, so the 20 year slave labour does provide him more value. Not only does he work hours on end, he asks lesser money. A shit peace of software with a pretty interface is delivered to the client, non-techie iPhone generation business people see this bit, say, ooh look slide to unlock, this must be good, lets cut the check. Off to another client.

        Anyhow, I am 37 and learned to say no to pushy managers long back, clearly I don't provide the value I did 10 years ago when 11-11 was the norm.

        • by Xeranar (2029624) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:17AM (#42019381)

          Ssshhhh! You can't let them know you're a person with feelings!

          Seriously this is such a terrible meme that runs around. Most tech and science workers are constantly updating their know-how but it just justifies them firing older better paid tech workers for younger underpaid fresh from college workers who will take 1-3 years to get up to speed. Meanwhile if you had gone to business school you would be relevant forever and probably better paid.

          • by I_am_Jack (1116205) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:46AM (#42019655)

            Meanwhile if you had gone to business school you would be relevant forever and probably better paid.

            Nope, the same applies to business. People in their 20's are willing to worker longer hours and for less money than someone who is older, has a longer resume and is worth more in salary, and is less willing to devote stupidly long hours to a career which is already established. Those industries which can make their quarterly reports look good by throwing more workers at a problem will always be inclined to hire those who work longer for less. When I think back to my 20's and what I thought was a lot of money then versus what I know I need now, I realize why I was easily exploitable. It's not because you're good and smart, it's because you might be good, you might be smart, but they'll settle for how long you'll work for as little as they can pay. If you turn out to be a rockstar, they might promote you, but more than likely they'll use you for what they can get out of you, and then hire a replacement when you get a job that pays more for fewer hours.

            Not that correlation equals causality, but the fact an employee thinks it's a great idea to work hard to buy an expensive cell phone to take pictures of food from a trendy restaurant is not lost on upper management.

        • by mlts (1038732) * on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:33AM (#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 ink (4325) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:42PM (#42020139) Homepage

          You hit the nail on the head. I was willing to put up with a lot more bullshit when I was in my 20's. I was willing to "write to spec" at the behest of bad managers even when the spec was clearly ridiculous. I was willing to put in extra time at work because I did not have a family or much savings. Now, I prefer to do meaningful work and pursue my own interests in off-hours. The video game companies went through this problem about ten years ago (full disclosure: I work in that industry). They would hire a bunch of young, hungry developers and burn them out on a few titles, then shut down the studio. It turns out that doing that is not a long-term strategy because you destroy your capital -- and so they changed course (well, most companies did) and started investing in long-term, productive work forces.

        • Yup, been going on for some time. Probably 40 years!

          The University of Toronto used to use Kraft, p., Programmers and Managers: The Routinization of Computer Programming in the United States [amazon.com] (Heidelberg Science Library, 1984) as a textbook in their programming and software engineering curricula.

          I still recommend it, as managers still try to get rid of the good people, hire cheap ones, and then promote from within.It's a dumb move, but common.

          One of my customers noticed that dumbness, and has been pr

    • by mysidia (191772)

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

      I will... if the system already needs a rewrite, and the existing version has been written in PHP spaghetti code, with files containing document presentation mixed with all the business logic through and through, use of shell_exec and other shell commands with form-supplied params to accomplish work, and random SQL statements embedded in each .PHP file, including user data in the query, without use o

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:29AM (#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 stevew (4845) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:13AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Have you been able to maintain any career progression? Basically this same story comes up regularly on /. but I am reading it with some tightening of the chest for the first time due to a recent experience: I took a temporary management assignment, and hated it. Sometimes it was kind of fun to sit around like we had all the time in the world and basically gossip about people, but I realized what I really like is the engineering - crafting something and then seeing it come to life and function properly. W
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, this whole concept is idiotic. I'm 35 and I consider myself closer to the beginning than the end of my career as a software engineer. I work for a huge company with over 100k employees and most of the engineers I work with are older than me by anywhere from a decade to two (and in some cases, more). I would say that by 35, you are only starting to really hit your stride in being a domain expert and having a lot of information *and* experience to be of true value. You rely less on other people, you kno

      • by Ramley (1168049) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:17AM (#42019373)
        I'm 48, self-employed, and spend a good deal of time putting out security fires, and/or filling in the gaps that the younger, (very) less experienced guys didn't think through their solutions.

        As one of my roles, I am the "go-to" guy for organizations which have development staff, but only have 1/2 of the required talent, if that makes any sense.

        The more companies begin to understand / evolve online, the more open their eyes will be when they realize they've had their first SQL injection, etc. This is when people like us come in -- but the key to our success is keeping up with constantly changing technology, and doing it well.
        • When you are young, you think you know it all and as a result lack the proper humility and respect. When you get older and the problem domain opens up to you - you realize just how much you really didn't know - and the daunting fact that you will never be able to know it all. You can either let that knowledge crush you, or you can decide not to lose heart and forge a path forward that includes life-long learning.

          Ultimately I think long term success comes down to picking the right things to know, having a

      • by Jawnn (445279) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:28AM (#42019453)

        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.

        Precisely. Our shop is small, but I can tell you with certainty that most valuable developers are the oldest. Certainly, that's not a hard an fast rule - there are poor coders in all age groups, but the best young ones can't hold a candle to the best veterans. Not even close. Wisdom and knowledge are two different things. If I had a nickle for every time our most senior developer smiled wryly and shook his head when someone offered up some unworkable approach to this or that problem, I'd have a lot of nickles. The insight that allows him to immediately identify dead-ends is something that is born only from long experience. Sure, we'd all reach the same conclusion, eventually, but he's able to jump over the time-wasters because he's been down there.
        Then there's the actual quality of his work. Generally speaking, he can to in n lines of well-documented and easy to follow code what it might take the new guys 1.5n, or more. That ability has value that doesn't show up well in most metrics.

        • Every job interview I go to wants me to harken back to comp-sci 099 and code a linked list. I learned long ago that linked lists are to be retrieved from libraries unless there is a serious and overwhelming need for something that is "very like a linked list but isn't one exactly".

          They also want you to write it out on a white board, which is like attempting to sautee with screwdrivers on tinfoil over open flme.

          Job interviews select against experience.

          If you hire a 40+ year old based on his instant ability t

  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:30AM (#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.

    • by rtp (49744) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:36AM (#42018771) Homepage

      Youth is idealistic, therefore generally willing to commit much longer work hours "for the cause." Older adults understand the value in applying time toward family, raising children, and focusing more on quality solutions versus brute-force/take-the-hill/quantity solutions.

      And/or, do we have a generation shift where the 40+ year-old workforce today operates at a different tempo versus the newest generation? Is the next generation that enters the workforce committed more to work for a rapid increase in pay? The 26 year-old knucklehead in his mom's basement suggests otherwise, but perhaps he is the rare exception at the bottom left of the bell curve?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:18AM (#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 HornWumpus (783565) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:53AM (#42019721)

          When you realize that you would have done more better work on a more reasonable schedule then you will be somewhere.

          The reason you work about 40-50 hours/week is so you have something in the tank when a genuine crises happens.

          Work 2 weeks of 7x12 and you are wrecking things when you think you are working productively. Don't do that. Managers that crack the whip to get this are morons or are being rated with broken metrics. Insane hours are a peter principle consequence. He's too incompetent to rate anything but hours (whoever he is).

        • by Viol8 (599362)

          "I realized what most other people realize by their 30s --- that companies don't give a fuck and you shouldn't either."

          Having worked before I went to uni I realised it at 18. It amazes me it takes people 10 years in the workplace to catch this particular cluetrain.

      • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:29AM (#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 BenJury (977929)
          Not really. In my 20s I'd work longer hours but so would everyone else in the company, so after the long day was done you'd go to the pub and have a good evening. Get up the next day, recover from the night before and do it all again and you could because you were 20 something. Work hard, play hard, as the mantra goes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ElRabbit (2624627)
      I am running a small high tech company in Digital TV and we are mostly experienced people in there (20 yr experience). We recently hired a young programmer but I know this guy will probably cost us money for at least the next two year, this is an investment we make into training him so he don't get spoiled with javascript and powerpoints. For now, he is nearly useless, he is full of "thing", but cannot manage to turn this into a product or even a useful feature. Other experienced guys can run mostly unmoni
    • poor metrics lead to gameing the system all the way to makeing things very bad for quality.

      Do want things fixed right or bandage fixes?

      Do want easy stuff banked up and not fixed right away to fill gaps from harder stuff that count the same?? keep in mind easy stuff can be a password reset.

      Do want to be guy working the big ticket that covers a say a system that is down and 100's of users need but only counts as 1 ticket and will take most of the day to fix or just do tickets covering the other general 100's

    • by aix tom (902140) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:24AM (#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)

      • 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)

        If profit comes from the company, the health of the company needs to come before profit.

    • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @01:39PM (#42020671)

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

      What gets me is how quick they can flip. I was a wizard, though not a coder, more of a crypto specialist with a TLA who did lots of other stuff on the side.

      We went through a management re-shuffle from top to bottom that just about killed morale in the entire organization. In my case, no other function could borrow me for a project without a writ from on high. In the past, IT could lend me to another division to help them over a hump and build up favors that helped *everyone* the next time a new project came along and workload negotiations were happening. No longer. I got all my "interesting" work taken away. This was the stuff I did all day, every day, for years. I was re-directed to my core duties (which were fine...if boring) *only*. Literally, the last time I was lent from my division to another, the person who asked to borrow me had to take the request all the way up to the office of a presidential appointee to get me for two weeks (and I worked in one of the few TLAs where there are almost no political appointees except at the very top.)

      It took me less than 5 years to flip from wizard to burnout.

      They wanted to reduce staff and one day, out of the blue, offered me a few bucks and a reduced pension to retire early. I was out the door so fast, I feared the vacuum behind me would suck all the furniture out into the hallway.

      A few months later, I got invited back for a Christmas party. Management had been lying (of course) and they had not reduced staff. They had replaced me with 2 contractors. My old work partner described them as "#1 sits around and plays with his smartphone all day. #2 has a brain; in 10 years, we'll be able to get half the work out of him we used to get from you. Neither of them will ever have a clue where all the bodies are buried like you did." He then proceeded to tell me he was getting out within 6 months.

      Mod parent up; "...hire wizards and ...shift... burnouts into doing something they ... enjoy more, because older workers bring a lot of experience and realism to the game" is the best advice I've seen yet in all the replies to this article.

  • Corporate value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#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.

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

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:36AM (#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.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      which matters hugely if all you consider from your programmers are how cheap they are and how much you can sell them on for (and if their code is crap and it costs extra to maintain the product - w00t, that just makes you even more money).

    • Re:Corporate value (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ultima (3696) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:25AM (#42018999)

      '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.

      And that's really it.

      Older folks, generally, cost more.

      In the US, (I'll make some numbers up, but depending on where you are, the proportions are correct) corporate hiring knows they can hire a rockstar out of college for less than $90k, or an average programmer for less than $70k. (Even as that rockstar is 3-10* as productive as an average employee). Why pay $120-50k for an average 45 year old engineer? They assume the experienced rockstars figured it out, started their own businesses, or otherwise moved into senior non-coder roles, and the aged coders are people who just couldn't cut it doing something else. So your software engineering degree isn't necessarily worth less, but if you expect to be doing the same thing with it at 45 that you did at 21, you have a surprise coming unless you plan very well. There are great ways of doing this - becoming a subject-matter expert in something rare, consulting, moving into a mentoring role, or working for companies that are less bottom-line focused (government/military-industrial complex). But there's a substantial number of software developers for whom there is someone else willing to try to do their job for less $. That's one of the big reasons for both unions and professional licensure, but that's another discussion.

      This isn't unique at all to us. Any job enjoys this - "Step Up or Step Out". If you're an aging worker, you've always got to ask yourself what you provide that a college grad doesn't. (And hope you aren't asking what you provide that a HS grad doesn't, like many folks had to during/after the .com bubble). The canonical answer is "experience", but the professions show that isn't really true unless you can directly demonstrate it. More senior doctors in some fields are more prone to mistakes than younger doctors, because the senior doctors trust their "experience" whereas the younger doctors trust research. But the senior doctors also handle more patients, due in part to the same corner-cutting.

  • I call BS on that (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#42018755)

    I'm 43 and still very relevant. I offer experience as well as raw skill. I know what works, and what doesn't. I know the best practices and I know the pitfalls, and I know them well. I can troubleshoot a problem much faster than any of the kids, as well as learn new languages and new technologies very quickly, since after the first dozen or so, they're all pretty much the same. I can be a sysadmin, and a DBA, as well as a developer because I've seen it all, and over the years done it all.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:45AM (#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.

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

        Or re-doing the work when they didn't bother to ask first, and inevitably did something horribly wrong in their moment of youthful zeal.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Same (and more, but I won't brag), and I'm only 25.

  • India (Score:5, Informative)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:32AM (#42018757) Homepage

    The comments are from India, where the software field has not been around as long as it has been in the U.S. Attitudes on age are just now (barely) starting to come around in the U.S., and I predict they will in India as well in a few years.

    • Re:India (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:49AM (#42018839)

      20 years ago in school, I have a friend from India, who was worried that the computer skills he was then learning in the US would be useless in India when he returns because computers were too expensive in India at that time.

      So you can guess that, in India, techies over 40 have just as little experience with computers as techies in their 30s, since they all started 10-20 years ago! No wonder India managers found older techies giving them no additional value.

    • by 21mhz (443080)

      As far as I can observe, the general attitude there is that programmers are dispensable code monkeys who don't know much, but will try to do the job in any way they can, and the way to run projects is to get a few shovel loads of them and ensure that some formal checks are passed in the end. Code quality is nobody's concern.

      The programmers, on their part, largely match this bracket. There is a whole culture of getting "educated" to check correct answers in tests and collect certificates. An engineering job

  • by Shaman (1148) <{ten.sok} {ta} {namahs}> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:37AM (#42018775) Homepage

    ...these companies should stick with tried and true products and environments, and expand upon them. That's why Linux is still relevant today and is taking over damned near everything that isn't a desktop, IMHO.

  • Here you go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JWW (79176) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:39AM (#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.

    • Re:Here you go (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:48AM (#42018833)

      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?

      Bingo. Whether this guy's comment is accurate or just reflects the attitude of employers in the field, the fruits of this policy would be a vast reduction in available 20-year-olds in the future. And the 20-year-olds he would still get would be the ones that we sufficiently short-sighted to consider 15 years to be a lifetime.

    • Re:Here you go (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Xeranar (2029624) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:31AM (#42019489)

      Short answer: Capitalism is a meat grinder. We don't have a shortage of science and tech workers, just cheap ones. Our world's economy is run by business majors not economists just as our governments are dominated by lawyers not political scientists. They aren't interested in fact-based outcome decision making. If they were we would be in anmuch different and better world.

  • There are plenty of us "techies" out here who are not software engineers, and are more valuable than the twentysomethings precisely *because* we've got 20+ years of experience.
    • by Bigbutt (65939) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @11:18AM (#42019383) Homepage Journal

      Yep. I'm a 55yo Sr Unix Administrator who uses my old coding skills to proactively monitor systems. I used my debugging skills to identify a problem Friday that had the younger folks scratching their heads (it was a cloned virtual machine and the original worked fine). And a tool I wrote to help make server builds more efficient across the various necessary teams (networking, servers, SAN, backups, virtualization, applications, and infosec) is going live December 1st. How's that for an old guy. :rolleyes:

      [John]

  • by kbonin (58917) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:46AM (#42018815) Homepage

    Writing as someone coding professionally since the early 80s, in project teams sizes from 3 to 10k, and at the highest primarily engineering position I can achieve without becoming a non-coding manager (Systems Architect)...

    As engineers age, they may gain experience, but productivity does often drop. We also have those pesky families and/or work-life balance goals. And an unfortunately repeating pattern for engineers is reaching a point where they now think they know everything they need to, and learning grinds down, sometimes to nothing. If they only work on legacy code that might be OK if no innovation is required. Domain knowledge is difficult to quantify the value of, and varies greatly by organization and project, and I would argue that all seniors should work hard at making sure this is clearly documented AND passed down.

    Most companies are happy to keep a few older experienced engineers around to try and direct teams of young high productivity programmers (no family / life, willing to work 60-100 hour weeks) and attempt to mentor them to make less mistakes. Increasingly these teams are in low cost regions, most commonly India.

    I would begrudgingly agree that in most cases, in terms of a cost / benefit analysis of 'value to the organization / stockholder', which is what really matters, this is true a statistically significant percentage of the time.

    Of course, most of the time comments like this are merely the result of a HR directive to cull expensive engineers to reduce payroll and make room for more low cost region 'resources', driven by a suit that doesn't understand the full value of their older engineers. Unfortunately we live in a world where most important decisions are made by MBAs without a clue. Older engineers must learn to make sure the layers above them understand their real value to the organization.

    • As engineers age, they may gain experience, but productivity does often drop. We also have those pesky families and/or work-life balance goals. And an unfortunately repeating pattern for engineers is reaching a point where they now think they know everything they need to, and learning grinds down, sometimes to nothing.

      I think degrading performance can increase and percent of time spent on the job can decline a little with age, but it shouldn't be as much of an issue if you find people with the appropriate mindset. There are people who truly like their work - to the point where it is not just a job, but a hobby and something they love as well.

      For example, I am not a young man - I am 30-ish. I would rather go online and learn some new concept/pattern or a new language, or look up something to advance my coding abilities, t

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:47AM (#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 @09:47AM (#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 @09:47AM (#42018827)
    The 20 year old guy can program but the 35 year old can make requirements.
  • by NeoMorphy (576507) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:49AM (#42018841)
    Skyfall spoiler!!!! stop reading you have not seen the movie yet !

    They referenced Q on Skyfall as an example. Idiot hooked up Silva's laptop to the MI6 network and then powered it up. An experienced IT person would know that would be a very stupid thing to do.

    If you work in IT, learning new technology is part of your career, it never stops, you're doing it all the time.We know the old tech and the new tech. Anyone who states otherwise has no idea what they are talking about.

    • Indeed. He was supposed to be all cool and competent, but all I thought when he even powered up that laptop, let alone hooking it up, was "You utter, utter, numpty. You are about to have your balls handed to you on a plate."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...companies that bought "awesome" Indian dev companies filled with hundreds of 20 year olds.

    They were totally useless (not because of the kids, but the fact that effective software engineering LEADERSHIP doesn't seem to exist in the majority of Indian software companies.)

    Now, that's often the case elsewhere, but it seems to be particularly endemic to the Indian way of doing things. It's too bad as well, because some of the best software engineers I've worked worth are ex-pat Indians. Plenty of talent ove

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:07AM (#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 OzPeter (195038) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:10AM (#42018917)

    Q. Why is employing graduate like having sex with a virgin?

    A. Because neither one knows how badly you are screwing them.

  • This has got to be a garbage study. All it takes for a techie to remain viable is for him or her to commit to lifelong learning, reading, and experimenting with new technologies. I guess it must be true because a wealthy executive said it so we should all immediately believe him and say, "Oh whoa is me. When I turn 40 I'll irrelevant." Bollocks!
  • It's Hard For Techies Over 40 To Stay Relevant

    True. As a 42 year old hacker (in the empirical tinkerer sense, not the security circumvention sense), I have to spend as much time learning my craft, every day, as I did when I was 12. It was hard to stay relevant then, and when I was 22, and 32, and now. Fortunately, I love doing so now as much as I did then.

    'The shelf life of a software engineer today is no more than that of a cricketer -- about 15 years,'

    Depends on what you are using them for. If they are ex

  • by Anonymous Coward

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

  • Or maybe this is a quote from his resignation letter, explaining why he feels he must resign. Jolly good of him to do so! Especially since it would be so wrong of him to continue to slow down all of those high-output 20-something-or-others. Bravo!
  • older people know about legacy code / systems and there is so much of things like that in a office it's can hit you in a bad way if no one knows about it.

    I have head of the old door key system that was left over from the last office tenants that after some time that no one in the new offices IT had any idea about up it failed or some found a old system and ether pulled it or tried to change the os. Also have seen other old hacks / quick fixes that where put into place due lack of funds that stay in place fo

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