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Why Coding At Fifty May Be Nifty 317

theodp writes "Enough with the dadgum naysayers. Google's Vivek Haldar lists some good reasons for why you would want to program at fifty (or any other age). Haldar's list would probably get a thumbs-up from billionaire SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, who had this to say about coding when interviewed at age 56: 'I would be happy if I just stayed in my office and programmed all day, to tell you the truth. That is my one real love in life is programming. Programming is sort of like getting to work a puzzle all day long. I actually enjoy it. It's a lot of fun. It's not even work to me. It's just enjoyable. You get to shut out all your other thoughts and just concentrate on this little thing you're trying to do, to make work it. It's nice, very enjoyable.'"
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Why Coding At Fifty May Be Nifty

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 04, 2012 @08:29AM (#41871617)

    This just in, programmers would prefer to continue programming at 50.

  • by korpique ( 807933 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @08:39AM (#41871645) Homepage

    Many people move on from programming to management or entirely other careers because it is so hard. What makes most existing systems hard to develop is the unnecessary complexity, lack of or overabstraction and negligence of test code. Management coming from such mess and never seeing anything better can not strive for anything better. It is hard to navigate such an enviroment and stay sane and become productive. Once you succeed it is highly rewarding to coach younger team members. I'm living proof of that and there are plenty more at least in the Finnish agile circles. Career age would be of essence to anyone looking for real successful team leads.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:11AM (#41871763) Homepage

    Switching between languages takes time. Programming Java, then C, then Assembler... It takes me a solid 4 hours to switch between languages if I have to do anything complex. If I have been coding in C for months and then Oh here's a new embedded project we need done in assembler... My brain doesn't have the drivers loaded for assembler and it has to search the tape backup archives for that driver and load it into operating memory.

    Then I hit the ground running full speed.

    Back in my 20's I was able to switch language sets at random within a moment's notice. In fact I was at one point writing in 3 languages at once. 4GL for the accounting system, C writing printer drivers for that Xenix 386 OS we were running at the office, and assembler for my 68hc11 wyse terminal multiplexer. I figured out how to get 16 text terminals to communicate uber fast speeds over a single pair of dry copper wires from the main store to the second store location. But then I also did not need coffee and drank an epic amount of beer and rum every day...

  • by turgid ( 580780 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:14AM (#41871777) Journal

    coding used to feel like freedom because of all the possibilities, and now it feels like chains because of all the same old hurdles..

    I'm starting to have fun finding cunning ways of working around the hurdles now that I didn't have the experience to make work in the past.

    I try to make time to try out my own ideas and to explore away from work. I find it keeps me refreshed and interested.

  • by mattpalmer1086 ( 707360 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:25AM (#41871831)

    There seems to be some truth to this, in my own experience. I find the solutions my younger colleagues invent are just too complicated and gnarly. They haven't yet found how to see the underlying simplicity in the problem and solution - and more importantly, they don't even understand that they should be doing that.

    Mentoring is very satisfying, particularly when someone has a "got-it" moment, and their code improves forever thereafter. But I find that is rare. Many people I've worked with - even really, really bright people - just aren't interested in seeing a bigger picture. In fact, I'd go further. Most people will never do this - they will just solve the problem immediately in front of them, without any regard for how the whole thing hangs together, or the semantics of their construction, or the future ease of maintenance of their code.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure it's really about inexperience, or hardness of career. It's the difference between being a journeyman or a master, and very few it seems have a genuine desire of mastery in what they do.

  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:36AM (#41871891) Journal

    This is my strategy. I tell my employer: "Do you want to pay me overtime or do you want the account to slip its deadline? Your choice." If that's drama, get your head out of your ass. If you're not paid by the hour to code, you're doing it wrong. I keep hoping my employer will answer "yes, we'll pay overtime" but they never do.

    What, is that somehow unfair. Well too fucking bad. My time is worth money.

  • Re:40 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ramley ( 1168049 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:37AM (#41871897)

    ... and still coding

    / Very nice!

    I'm 48, and wish I had another 24 years to do all of the things I want to do coding-wise alone. I haven't learned it all yet, and still want to know how everything works.

    It's a great lifestyle after all this time. I own my own firm, work from my home office, get out to the boat on Fridays and work from there if needed (during summer), and make my own time to work on my own terms.

    Coding at 48 is great!

  • ... and I've gone back to coding. I'm good at it and I know I'm good at it. I'm only 56 now, but I expect to be still coding for a living when I'm 70.

  • Re:40: I'm 55... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Terje Mathisen ( 128806 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:37AM (#41872159)

    I've been programming since 1977, and I'm still doing it, although my job description hasn't had "programmer" in it since 1984:

    (My first job out of university was writing digital signal analysis sw for a research institute, I did that from 1981 to 84.)

    During the last few years I've been involved with crypto (AES) and graphics optimization, multicore computing as well as a few programming competitions:
    I suspect that I'm probably 20 years older than most of the other quarter/semi-finalists at the two Facebook Hacker Challenges.

    The main/only/sufficient reason is of course that I love doing it!

    Solving puzzles is something I would pay to do, so getting paid is a great deal imho.

    (My official job these days is to be the in-house IT troubleshooter for a very large Norwegian IT company, I manage to sneak in some programming here as well, often some Perl to analyze network trace/log files.)


  • Re:40 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:47AM (#41872199) Journal


    Whether I do it for work or for play, I'll always code.

  • 60 here... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rob Y. ( 110975 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @11:45AM (#41872595)

    After watching how the various regimes running (and buying, and selling, and outsourcing) my company feel about programmers, I don't think I would ever go into it as a young person today. But a strange thing has happened. Of all the people that have been there all this time, I'm one of the few that has survived all the M&A shenannigans and outsourcings. It seems that those who moved up into management roles were more replaceable than those of us who stayed technical. Turns out they really needed somebody around who knows how the systems work. And who better than the ones who wrote them. The serious downside to this is that all the shortsightedness and 'people as widgets' thinking is leaving behind no next generation to take over where I leave off.

    This stupidity will not end until people stop being rewarded for it. So far, every manager who's engineered the next sell-off of the company has been richly rewarded. The company's for sale again, and I can't imagine anybody being stupid enough to buy it. But fools abound, and I'm sure the current crop has their golden parachutes in order...

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @12:33PM (#41872903) Journal

    Mental exercise significantly decreases the chances of dementia []. I'm 56 and involved in lots of things, not the least of which is coding for a large company. Someone once said "learning keeps you young" and he was right. My last career switch was at 53. I picked up a new, fairly technical hobby at 54 at which I'm becoming fairly decent. Earlier this year I completed a 4,400 mile solo motorcycle trip.

    There are concessions, of course. My knees are blown out. I can't run or bicycle anymore, and put those things away with true regret. But other things have replaced this. Walks with the dog, (with knee braces) long motorcycle trips, and driving daughter and her friends to skiing trips. (I hang out in the bar and write. Some of my best articles have come from there.)

    If you think your life is over at 50, I can tell you from experience, it is only if you want it to be. I see some of my contemporaries sitting in their barcaloungers in front of the boob tube waiting for life to end, and it makes me sad. A few of them used to be sharp, and can no longer carry on a conversation that doesn't involve reminiscing. The people I associate with tend to be decades younger than I, because they're still doing stuff and I am unwilling to give up on doing stuff.

    At 65, my mother had a bad heart attack, resulting in a triple bypass. She quit smoking, started a new business, and now in her seventies is a successful small businessperson. But the biggest change I've noticed is that for the first time in years her thoughts are clear, she can carry on a coherent conversation, and she's interested in learning new things.

    I thought it had been pretty much settled that activity (mental and physical) tends to keep the parts working. I'm not sure why this is a news item. But I note other threads like this, even in Slashdot, of people worried that their careers will be over at 40. Well, maybe if you're a trapeze artist, but otherwise, it's pretty much up to you.

  • 73 and still coding. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RNLockwood ( 224353 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @01:05PM (#41873149) Homepage

    I did my first coding at 37 on using punch cards and coded for cash the next year. A couple of years ago I had to switch from C/C++ and Windows to Java on LINUX and have learned Java and some LINUX. When my Raspberry Pi arrives in a couple of weeks I'll start on Python! Mostly my job descriptions have been Ecologist with some coding. I look at most of the coding I've done as problem/puzzle solving.

  • by GrantRobertson ( 973370 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @02:36PM (#41873703) Homepage Journal

    Amen to that, Brother. I am 52 but most people think I am in my late 30s. Problem is: I have to juggle three DIFFERENT pair of progressive bi-focals just to see what the hell I am doing. This is partly due to all the time I have spent reading and on the computer, partly just due to heredity. I don't know how many times I have been looking for something that was right in front of me.

    But this has nothing to do with programming. Or one's IQ.

    I think your last statement does apply, though. Older people are less ego driven and more willing to ask questions. The younger coders may not be asking the questions simply because they don't want to appear stupid. So they waste hours Googling things when they could have just asked someone and gotten on with their day. People need to remember that the reason people all go to the same place to get work done is so they can actually interact with those other people who go there too. This was found to be more efficient ... oh ... maybe a few thousand years ago.

  • Re:40: I'm 55... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @02:44PM (#41873769) Homepage Journal

    My experience is that I started as a hardware engineer, then spent 25 years as an engineering manager. I now have a job as a programmer, work sane hours, and am a lot more productive than the "one-year-out-of-college" kids who are generally creating as many problems as they're solving. Some of my code is now in the Linux kernel and I'm a lot happier going to work.

  • Re:Good for you! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @04:10PM (#41874353)

    How sad for you! I'm 50+, and still find coding to be "thinking out elegant solutions to interesting problems"

    Just saying... There was this guy named George Marsaglia. Occassionally posting on comp.lang.c and elsewhere with new algorithms for generating random numbers with a period of 10^45000 or so (ten to the fortyfifththousandth power). Then no posts for a bit, then someone posted he died aged 86.

    I can only hope to be fit enough at 86 to come up with elegant solutions to interesting problems.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.