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Programming IT

What's the Shelf Life of a Programmer? 388

Esther Schindler writes "Why is it that young developers imagine that older programmers can't program in a modern environment? Too many of us of a 'certain age' are facing an IT work environment that is hostile to older workers. Lately, Steven Vaughan-Nichols has been been noticing that the old meme about how grandpa can't understand iPhones, Linux, or the cloud is showing up more often even as it's becoming increasingly irrelevant. The truth is: Many older developers are every bit as good as young programmers, and he cites plenty of example of still-relevant geeks to prove it. And he writes, 'Sadly, while that should have put an end to the idea that long hours are a fact of IT life, this remnant of our factory-line past lingers both in high tech and in other industries. But what really matters is who's productive and who's not.'"
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What's the Shelf Life of a Programmer?

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  • by Eightbitgnosis ( 1571875 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:43PM (#41887371) Homepage
    And they find older people around them to be outdated and archaic?!

    This has never happened before
    • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:48PM (#41887425)

      It becomes a problem when the older person can't land a job as a result.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:55PM (#41887503)

        Older workers want more pay, don't want to work all nighters every other thursday, don't want mandatory 90 hour weeks, don't want to mess with all these new fangled thingies that will be obsolete or irrelevant in 1.7 years, etc etc

        • by OhSoLaMeow ( 2536022 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:02PM (#41887609)
          Younger workers want the same thing.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:03PM (#41887615)

          Older workers want more pay, don't want to work all nighters every other thursday, don't want mandatory 90 hour weeks, don't want to mess with all these new fangled thingies that will be obsolete or irrelevant in 1.7 years, etc etc

          These are older workers who have clearly learned that working all nighters every other thursday and mandating 90 hour weeks is counterproductive.

          • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:12PM (#41888315)
            Although I am no longer very active in programming, I can sort of cope with people in modern-day shops with their toytown programming languages and IDEs being a bit sniffy about my assembly, Fortran or C skills, because I can easily prove my ability to code rings around them. What really gets on my nerves are the kiddies whose tech skills run no deeper than an ability to interact with Facebook and Twitter, but who seem to imagine that an old fart like me is clueless about the internet. I usually find it satisfying to rub their noses in it by reminding them that it was old farts like me who built the net in the first place.
            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo&world3,net> on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @08:55AM (#41892279) Homepage Journal

              I am a fairly old-school programming, writing C and assembler for micros with 4KB of RAM. Across the room from me are the desktop guys who do everything C# and .NET with SQL databases and some PHP or ASP scripting for web stuff, which is presumably what you were talking about when you said "toytown programming languages".

              I have immense respect for those guys because while they might not understand the depths of the compiler like I do (C# doesn't even have include files!) they write some really complex and usable applications that are extremely flexible. The stuff they do is every bit as complex as what you or I do, just on a different level that allows them to get the job done in a tenth of the time it would take doing it the traditional way.

              The net may have been built in the low level code guys like us wrote, but no one would use it if it wasn't for guys like them writing all the web apps and making complex stuff work seamlessly.

          • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:43PM (#41888569) Journal
            Old fart here, 20+yrs of experience, three grandchildren and still on the "shelf". I work as a developer for a Japanese mega-corp in Australia, the ~25 others who work in our department are all over 40 (except the secretary), all of them have 10+yrs of experience (including the secretary). Three of these people want to work at their projects for more than 8hrs a day, the others don't. Those 3 people are rewarded for their efforts but not sufficiently to encourage the others to do the same, they do it basically because they want to do it, not because they have to, in fact there are a few of us who could afford to retire but don't because they want to work. We are a well managed and happy crew because we know how to push back at our managers in a constructive manner, sure management would like us all to work as long and hard as those 3 people and have twice the man hours to play with but the managers are also experienced and know not to push it as an unwritten condition of employment.
        • We need a new "Godwin's Law" with respect to discussions about 'older' programmers. In this case, a person's thread becomes invalid any time they use the term 'new fangled' in their explanation on why they think older workers aren't as good as young ones.
          • by Qu4Z ( 1402097 )
            I don't think this was an explanation of why older workers aren't as good as young ones... I read it as why they're less appealing to management (who've just learned that the Cloud is the next big thing. Or node.js. Or something).

            The whole "that will be obsolete or irrelevant in 1.7 years" makes it pretty clear to me that the poster shares the "new-fangled" opinion.
        • by interval1066 ( 668936 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:31PM (#41887895) Homepage Journal
          Speak for your self. And get the hell off of my lawn.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:51PM (#41887451) Homepage

    Have you kept them out of the sun and filled them with preservatives such as redbull?

    Shelf life is far longer that way.

  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:51PM (#41887453)

    Older workers, regardless of the industry, come in (err....well, broadly) two flavors, those that are open to new tech, ideas, whatever, and those that are adamant they stay within their old niche. The latter is, in some sense, understandable. That niche is one that has rewarded them in the past. The problem is that it may not reward them in the future.

    The ones that are open to new ideas also fall into the trap of glomming onto the latest whizzy technology to come down the pipe. That will result in no sense of perspective.

    What is needed is a happy mix: developers who will evaluate new tech and adopt given experience, and who will also keep past tech that still has the right punch.

    This necessarily weighs older developers more than younger, you cannot teach experience. I say developer because programmer is too, what, blinkered. If you are good at development, you know your industry. If you are good programmer, it is hard to say what you are good at. Programs do something, and that something is not in a vacuum. To be a good developer, you must understand much more than being a good programmer.

    • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:02PM (#41887601)

      Older workers, regardless of the industry, come in (err....well, broadly) two flavors, those that are open to new tech, ideas, whatever, and those that are adamant they stay within their old niche. The latter is, in some sense, understandable. That niche is one that has rewarded them in the past. The problem is that it may not reward them in the future.

      The ones that are open to new ideas also fall into the trap of glomming onto the latest whizzy technology to come down the pipe. That will result in no sense of perspective.

      I fail to see how this applies uniquely to older developers, younger ones are just as prone to the same behaviour. I always laugh when I see these stories though, I mean what, twenty years is a long time? Blink and its gone, the young hotshots will inevitably become the older programmers, and a hell of a lot sooner than they think.

      • by Sun ( 104778 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2012 @01:31AM (#41890541) Homepage

        Blink and its gone, the young hotshots will inevitably become the older programmers, and a hell of a lot sooner than they think.

        Not so. The burn rate for programmers is very high. Not a lot of people who programmed while young are still as motivated to do so at 45, not to say 55. Then you get unmotivated workers, which is, as you know, a real problem.

        Yes, those who manage to maintain their interest are, usually, a gold mine.


  • by seepho ( 1959226 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:51PM (#41887459)

    Why is it that young developers imagine that older programmers can't program in a modern environment?

    Although I'm fighting anecdote with anecdote, I've never seen this happen. The only people I and my young coworkers assume can't program in a modern environment are people who have shown that they're unable to program at all.

  • by tempest69 ( 572798 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:52PM (#41887461) Journal
    And I'd bet if asked if he REALLY understood Linux, he'd be saying nope.
    There is something to be said for being comfortable with not knowing everything.
  • Whatever (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ios and web coder ( 2552484 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:52PM (#41887465) Journal
    I'm 50, and with 30 years' experience, growing up with the Software industry, I do fine.

    I learn better today, than I did at 25.

    Back then, I just knew how to do stuff.

    Now, I also know WHY it works. Right down to the bone.

    My years of experience and nonstop training (self-training, when my company didn't want to foot the bill) has paid off in a big way.

    However, I have absolutely no illusions at all that I'd have much of a chance in the job market.

    In the day of the "brogrammer," there's no room for gray hair. I'd have to start my own company (something that I'm quite prepared to do).

    I get paid to manage younger programmers. I code for fun.
    • Re:Whatever (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:16PM (#41887725) Journal

      I turn 49 in three weeks, and I still love programming. It remains my work, hobby, and passion. I think my ability to crank out awesome code leveled off when I was about 30, and since then I've had to settle for enjoying mentoring the next generation rather than soaking up knowledge like a sponge. At one point, I looked around and realized there wasn't anyone left to learn from, at least not anyone who I was capable of emulating, and that many people were looking at me to help them. I started a company back in 2000, and continue to work in the position I created for myself, and I am still having a great time.

      However, I agree... If I had to go find a new job as a programmer, my age would be an issue. I intend to stick with my company as long as they need me, but after that, I'll probably start another one. I haven't become a stronger programmer with time, but the experience I've gained working in startups has made me a better entrepreneur.

    • Re:Whatever (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:53PM (#41888105)

      Nestled down at the bottom of your post is the real answer to this conundrum

      I get paid to manage younger programmers.

      By the time you've reached a position of seniority, you should be prepared to manage. Even if you're not officially a "manager" you're still the top dog and need to act like it. If you can wrangle a dozen whipper-snappers and keep them diligently coding, your value to the company far exceeds your own code output

      Also, if anyone has 30 years experience in *any* field, coding or otherwise, you'd damned sure better be moving up and managing. If someone has been around for 30 years, and isn't taking charge... well, they're not going to be around much longer.

      All that to say, sounds like you're doing it quite right Mr. ios. Keep it up, and hopefully show the next generation how to age well and keep productive.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @10:57PM (#41889769)

        By the time you've reached a position of seniority, you should be prepared to manage.


        Skilled and experienced people can contribute in both technical leadership and training/mentoring roles, to the extent that they aren't really part of the same thing anyway, without getting involved at all in "management" in the common senses of project management, product management, being someone's "manager", and the like.

        Moreover, being a good manager in any of those senses has very little to do with technical competence. Being good at the job and being good at managing people who do the job are no more the same thing than being a world class athlete and being a world class athletics coach.

        A false equation of seniority and management is one of the biggest dumb ideas holding back our industry, and it needs to die. Unfortunately, as long as we keep promoting geeks with no aptitude for management into management roles, they won't understand what's going wrong well enough to stop it happening...

  • Generalization (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verdatum ( 1257828 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:52PM (#41887469)
    You cannot disprove a generalization by way of counterexample. Certainly, lots of old programmers are wonderful. They read the latest developments and new paradigms, and work to understand whether they are appropriate or not, and they have lots of experience that lets the quickly detect problems or avoid paths that will become future problems...But lots of them also just get burnt out. They haven't learned a thing since college, and/or they just want to put in their hours and go home until they are able to retire. Until someone does a survey that compares age and software development apptitude (which would be a really hard thing to do well), it's a valid archetype to watch out for. I fully expect I'll have to prove I'm one of those exceptions to the "rule" when I get to be an old coder.
    • Re:Generalization (Score:4, Insightful)

      by darkwing_bmf ( 178021 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:16PM (#41887721)

      You cannot disprove a generalization by way of counterexample.

      That's exactly the way you disprove a generalization.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      How do you disprove a generalization? Perhaps the problem is that there are plenty of people that don't age well, but a DMV counter worker who can't form an original thought or solve a problem will not be noticed, as that's standard DMV counter-worker behavior. But put that person in IT, and there'd be a problem. But someone who ages well will age well no matter what the job.
    • They haven't learned a thing since college, and/or they just want to put in their hours and go home until they are able to retire.

      This is the difference between good coders and bad coders, no matter the age (well, except for the retire part). This is a career whose first mandate is constant learning and refreshing of skills. If an organization finds itself with older programmers and technicians who haven't learned anything new, that's a sign of bad management, and a waste of human capital. One of the things that led me to leave consulting for a steady job 20 years ago was the huge cost for training to stay up to date. Since then, my e

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:52PM (#41887473)

    But what really matters is who's productive and who's not.

    Your so naive grasshopper. Management is taught that a good manager is one who is able to manipulate their subordinates to make themselves look good. Old timers are much harder to manipulate because they typically have too much experience in this area.

  • Ageism etc (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:53PM (#41887477)

    hostile to older workers.

    Hostile to expensive workers. Combine with the notorious inability to evaluate programmer productivity, and ...

    how grandpa can't understand iPhones, Linux, or the cloud

    I'm technically old enough to be a grandpa, in fact in the inner city I'd almost certainly be one by now (its a cultural thing, "my people" tend to get married a bit older, vs some cultures its all about the teenage/highschool pregnancy, etc) The funny part is despite my apparently grandfatherly age I've been there the whole time for all three examples, and that's not even all that unusual. Great grandma might have some issues, but not my generation.

    Now pick a fad that I am the wrong age for social reasons, that I intentionally skipped because I thought it was dumb, like SMS text messaging, or twitter, or myspace, then you've possibly got a point...

  • by turgid ( 580780 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:54PM (#41887493) Journal
    ...let me be the first to say that these young whipper-snappers can't code their way out of a wet paper bag. They don't know the difference between C and C++, they've never heard of FORTH and they can't write makefiles. And they think a 2GHz CPU is slow!
  • by jacobsm ( 661831 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:54PM (#41887499)

    I've been in IT for 33+ years, mostly as a zOS Systems Programmer. A little assembler language programming now and then though. There are several programmers in my age bracket still programming full time though, but they've had to reinvent themselves several times over the years.

  • by StillNeedMoreCoffee ( 123989 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:56PM (#41887511)

    After working for 40 years in IT and 27 years teaching CS at Northwestern part time I would say that a lot of the young programmers don't have a real sense of programming. They feel that knowing a particular framework is programming, or using a particular package is programming. But the deep programming comes from the Data Structures and algorithms used and the patterns used. There is an art to programming much of which comes with time, experience and study. So you may not be fashionable if you don't have all the latest acronyms on your resume but if you don't know the DS and Alg. you are just window dressing.

    • by Gramie2 ( 411713 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:28PM (#41887841)
      Just a small correction: I'd say that programming is a craft, more than an art. I'd liken my skills to that of a master cabinetmaker or metalworker, except that I rarely get to create the same thing (or a similar one) more than once.
      • by StillNeedMoreCoffee ( 123989 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:37PM (#41887949)

        Ah, There is the difference, just as you might say that a novelist is a craftsman rather than an artist. There is a level of understanding and experience that transforms the craft to an art. If you only think of it as a craft then for you it is a craft and will always be a craft, but as the best engineering is invisible, the same is said for an artfully crafted program, with all the considerations and degrees of freedom handled, with the flow natural and maintainable. As there is an art to poetry which is just words and sentences pieced together , there is an art to programming as well. In the construction world there are carpenters, builders and architects. The architects are the artists at the top. The craft is below. It is much easier to do the art when you have wide ranging control. So not all environments allow the practice of that art. I hope at some time in the future you have that opportunity.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:24PM (#41888967) Homepage

          In the construction world there are carpenters, builders and architects. The architects are the artists at the top. The craft is below.

          If you're designing the Sydney Opera, you're creating a work of art. If you're doing the n'th residential house so it'll blend in with the neighborhood and comply with all the regulatory standards but otherwise little boxes all the same (cue Weeds theme) then you're doing a craft. Like with houses, there's a lot more craftsmanship than artwork to be done. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of skill that goes into making it well but unless you consider every highly skilled worker to be an artist there's not much art. Particularly in software I have the impression it's much more about making sure all the i's are dotted and t's crossed because the computer has zero tolerance for sloppiness. That kind of rigidity is hardly what most people associate with art.

  • by NinjaTekNeeks ( 817385 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:56PM (#41887517)
    IT is always evolving and there is always new stuff. If you choose not to evolve and learn new things then you will become out dated and have problems finding a job. This is not unique to programming, demand for NT 4 Server and Exchange 5.5 admins is probably pretty low these days.
  • by ThorGod ( 456163 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:56PM (#41887519) Journal

    There's a similar thought process in mathematics. Many really amazing mathematicians died young (Srinivasa Ramanujan, for instance), "and therefore any old mathematician can't possibly be a good one." Well...that's a load of crap. The truth is, mathematicians of all ages contribute importantly to mathematics. CS probably faces a similar thought process because computational technology is still very new. (It wasn't long ago that algorithms were primarily researched as a mathematical curiosity.)

    • Particularly more in mathematics since even the fields medal can't be handed to anyone over 40 years of age.

  • by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:57PM (#41887533)

    Youngsters with magic coder fingers are far in between. I'll take a coder with 20+ years of experience over a half dozen near-rookies any day, thank you very much. The senior will typically be cheaper, much faster, and will invariably produce much less bugs.

  • What I've seen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:57PM (#41887537)

    I'm of the younger generation, but I've worked with all the age groups at some point or other on multiple occasions, and what I've found is... older devs tend to be more encompassing, think their approaches through, and have the jist of how to tackle a wider range of techniques / fixes (experience). Younger devs tend to be faster coders, better out-of-the-box thinkers, and more motivated to do the work (typically, comes from having something to prove), as well as try various approaches at solving a problem. There are high & low programmers in all age groups, I've met people 40+ who rattle code off methodically without external references, and those that can't rewrite a render method. A lot of "newer" code is "older" code optimized, all AJAX is is javascript more or less, insanely complicated javascript at that. A lot of big wig types find it easier to deal with somebody that is more their peer also. Another thing that comes to mind is "culture", bringing a 20-something year old into a team of 50 year olds has some serious cons to consider. There's a ton more factors, but there's a reason age isn't listed on resumes, and that's because it's the shoe that fits that you'll wear.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @06:59PM (#41887561) Homepage

    Whether or not there is an avalanche of contradictory evidence, most people will remain true to their beliefs and will ignore and deny facts that don't agree with them until they die.

    This is a human failing. And it is pointless to blame humans for being human. It's hard if not impossible to change the thinking of a single person. Now imagine the scale of impossiblity it would be to change the thinking of the whole human species?

    Pretty darned impossible. So what do you do about it? Well? Sometimes there simply NOTHING you can do about it. Unfortunately, the economy no longer makes "retirement" an option for everyone. And if you don't have it, you're destined to end up somewhere miserable in your twilight years hoping for death to take you when you're sleeping. Why? Because there is simply no chance of changing the world of people and their ideas that older people are incapable. Best hope is comfortable retirement if you can... ...and people need to start planning for their retirement in their 20s these days. And are 20-somethings thinking about retirement in their immortal years of adulthood? No. What about 30s? Yeah, sometimes, but often times not... they are thinking of buying bigger and better things all the time for the most part. And 40s? Oh crap... now it's definitely time to think about retirement and if you're not making a lot of money to invest in your retirement, then you are either going to have to put almost all of your extra cash in there (that's money after paying your bills and buying food on a tight budget) until that fateful day arrives when you simply can't get any more work... and then... ...then? ...Then hope that a bunch of wallstreet assholes don't tank your retirement with ponzi schemes. This is what happened to a lot of people with the economic crash.


    You can't change the world. Change what you do in it and hope for the best.

  • by Ami Ganguli ( 921 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:00PM (#41887571) Homepage

    I find younger programmers don't know how computers actually work. They've never used assembler or C for anything. They can't use SQL properly. They don't have the range of experience that lets you attack a problem from all angles and find the best solution.

    That's not to say that I use assembler or C for anything nowadays, but the understanding I gained way-back-when gives me a feel for what's actually happening behind the scenes when write in Javascript, Python, etc. And the addiction to application frameworks among young programmers seems to have inhibited their ability to come up with creative solutions to unique problems. They just apply their favourite framework to everything, regardless of how well it actually fits the problem.

    Sorry for the rant, but the lack of technical breadth in younger developers is a real pet peeve of mine. I guess part of the reason I get annoyed by it is that experience isn't given that much weight in hiring decisions, so you have inexperienced people in roles of responsibility that they're not ready for. Us old farts who do know better end up having to deal with with the mess afterwards.

    • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:35PM (#41887931) Homepage
      I'm a 25 year old, I use SQL all day and used C for my personal projects and as part of my computer science course. (And not just hello world, but UNIX threading / network programming / signalling and network stack emulation.)

      I also work with a 38 year old who is a much better coder than myself, not in all ways but certainly in all but a few niche areas, and a 42 year old who does fit the stereotype of old people being afraid of new technologies (but who will readily learn if he wants to).
      That's our dev team; a 25 year old, 38 year old and 42 year old.

      Basically these stereotypes are just bullshit. I cringe just as much hearing about how "younger programmers can't do this" as when I hear how "older programmers can't do that".
  • Productive? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:01PM (#41887583)

    Productivity is hard to measure. Salaries, however, are very easy. When you can get 3 24yos for the price of one 40yo, good luck convincing an MBA the latter is the better choice, all else be damned.

    • Well, an experienced dev is likely to have 3-10x the output with a fraction of the bugs or other rework. Even the math works in the favor of a more experienced dev.
  • you leave them in the wrapper, but once the seal on the shrink-wrap is broken they start to decay within seconds.

  • Citing a few counter-examples doesn't disprove claims about a general trend.

    • by Zalbik ( 308903 )

      Citing a few counter-examples doesn't disprove claims about a general trend.

      They do when no proof is offered for the opposing position.

      I've seen no evidence that this "general trend" or even the "agism" apparently so prevalent in IT even exists.

  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:04PM (#41887639) Homepage

    Since everyone is putting forth their sweeping generalizations, here's mine:

    From the late 90's up until 2008-2010, there were two camps: the old school and the web crowd. But now the old school is learning web, and the web crowd is finally learning OO, design patterns, etc. So now everyone's the same.

  • by drerwk ( 695572 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:06PM (#41887655) Homepage
    fell asleep
  • Do you know what is the shell life of a dentist ?
  • Roughly the same as the stuff they eat. I think some of my ramen will last until the 2038 Problem hits.

  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:12PM (#41887691)

    Jesus told them this parable: âoeNo one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, âThe old is better.â(TM)â - Luke 5:36-39

    Old programmers are like old wine; we have no shelf life. As we age, we get better. We also get more expensive. If you pour us into the new wineskin of long hours, low pay, and other kinds of abuse, we burst your bubble and leak out. Put us in the old wineskins, preserve us with reasonable working hours, pay us well, and we'll reward you with the best patches you have ever seen. Keep away the patches coming from new wine, or you'll tear your garment and your hair. After trying us, you'll too say "truly, the old is better", and then continue "however, our shareholders demand higher profits this quarter and prefer 'cheaper'".

    • Unfortunately management says "we just want to get drunk, hang over we'll deal with tomorrow and after the first glass it all tastes the same anyways."

      That's why the vintage wines stay on the shelf while the younger ones fly out the door.

  • same as any other industry, there is value in experience.
    • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:47PM (#41888047)

      I'm 62 and earn my living as a software engineer. I entered the field at 52 after getting tired of doing chemistry (PhD) - learned a bit of PHP and SQL to get the foot in the door and now have picked up Java, Python and C++.

      Experience is one thing, but having a sound background in math is what makes for a really long career in technical fields, and can be used to enter into many others.

      Compared to software patterns math is far more durable and broadly applicable.

  • A better question: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by briancox2 ( 2417470 )
    How long before the myth that you must be 20 to be a good programmer dies out?
  • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:23PM (#41887793)
    I am 53, been in computers since I was 18 years old, cutting my teeth on a TRS-80 at home and HP mini's at the college I dropped out after one semester. I've had jobs writing assembler, COBOL, C++, FORTRAN, perl, Java and who knows how many proprietary or niche programing languages. On HP, Burroughs, Tandem, IBMs and Windows boxes. Reading ISAM files at first, switching it up to Oracle, Sybase, Informix and even a few Access database. Even wrote a COBOL program that did communication via RS-232 ports. Spent 5 years as a system administrator/manager because of my Unix skills, learning Linux from a floppy disk install and dual partitioning. Spent time on HP, Burroughs, IBM, NCR, Sun and Windows computers. Even spent a year programming a phone system with my phone admin got himself fired. I sincerely doubt that I've been left behind.

    But I have known several developers that have gotten left behind. For some of them, it's just because they got stuck in a rut and didn't try to learn anything new or take on new assignments in new tech. Others just wouldn't speak up and let their boss know they were getting bored with what they were working on and would like to work on something new. Happened to me once, I got passed over because my boss didn't know I was interested and I vowed to never let it happen again. If someone is willing to sit at their desk and only code in COBOL or Java or C++ or C# all day, in a few years they will look around and notice things have changed and they didn't keep up. If they wait too long, they may not be able to catch up.

    But there is one batch of old IT people that are the worst -- the old programmer who absolutely refuses to learn anything new because "programs today just aren't elegant' or "these new programmers and their fancy languages today use way too many resources to get something done!". They have all kinds of reasons to not learn something new, but it all comes down to they think they know the best way to do things, and expect everyone else to change to their way instead of giving new things a chance. (My personal opinion is that many of them are just to insecure to admit they don't know something.)

    Whatever the opportunity that comes up for me, you can bet that I'll dig in and learn anything new that I have to. My boss told me that the reasons she hired me was I was the only person she interviewed that basically said "I may not know it, but I can figure it out". Today's tech changes too fast, and people who rely on the excuse "But I don't know how to program in XYZ" or "But I don't know how a firewall works" will surely see their usefulness decline.

    Just like so many old programmers before them.
    • And before anyone makes a comment about my ego .. I readily admit I'm not an expert in any of these things and there are many people that are much better than I am.
  • by AwesomeMcgee ( 2437070 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:28PM (#41887837)
    Techniques for interviewing are still so jacked. That's really what it comes down to. I think ageism does occur, but I think if interviews were structured to allow people to flex their technical muscles and show their technical weaknesses we would end up with a fairer treatment across the board. As it stands, interviews are usually a practice of the interviewer trying to prove his hypothesis bias rather than disprove it, and therein lies the problem for young and old.
  • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:29PM (#41887857) Homepage
    Young programmers don't usually have a full grasp of how things work, and haven't the experience to apply the correct solution to a problem. What they do have, much more than older programmers, is energy. They can turn out a LOT of code (and usually do, most of it irrelevant to the problem) in a given time and work long hours. They're cheaper too. An effective team is therefore an older programmer that can guide and mentor the younger productive units.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:10PM (#41888297) Homepage

    Frustrations of being an old programmer:

    Javascript is at last a decent object-oriented programming language, but much of the Javascript out there is miserably written by people who have no clue. Much of it is cut and pasted from older bad Javascript, with special cases for different browsers. Even worse are front ends to convert Java or something else into obfuscated Javascript.

    C should have died decades ago. The problem is that all of the replacements were worse. Modula tanked because Wirth and DEC botched the marketing. Ada tanked because it was too verbose. All the languages with garbage collection are unsuitable for low-level work. The C++ committee went off into template la-la land and became irrelevant. So we still have buffer overflows, security breaches, and crashes all over the place because the key language of the infrastructure sucks. Treating arrays as pointers was a horrible mistake.

    HTML browsers should have required, from the beginning, that the opening and closing brackets balance. Instead, we now have HTML5, with clearly defined semantics for broken HTML. Have you ever seen what has to go into an HTML 5 parser to make that work?

    Machine learning is great, but the notation of the field sucks. Most of what's going on is better visualized geometrically.

    Microsoft says the future of programming is adding trivial little "apps" to a Microsoft-provided core and being paid peanuts for them. Apple insists they get to monopolize anything worth doing, and others can only develop "apps" in areas Apple can't profit from. Not a good future.

    System administration is a blue-collar job, like electricians. But without unions.

  • Renew! Renew! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @08:27PM (#41888423)

    Ok age jokes aside, honestly I worry just as much about younger programmers. They have less of an idea where it all comes from. Not many graduates these days are coding in assembly. Or even C anymore which is pretty much the mother language to all other languages.

    Drivers and other down-to-the-metal stuff aren't written in Java. Yes, I know that with Google you can find me an experimental counterexample. I know that. But the system you are using right now? It'll all be assembly, C and maybe a little C++. And you're most likely not using a browser written in Java or Python or C#.

    You know, some years ago I considered going back to college and getting a CompSci degree. When they said that Java was their main language I decided not to. I like Java, write in it, and I plan to get whatever Oracle is calling the SCJP this week someday soon. I'm not dismissive of any of the new technologies. I like them. They are great at the problems they are designed to solve.

    But there is something to be said for writing assembly and manually turning on an MMU unit, just once. You can know about computers, or you can know computers. We're missing something by shifting the educational focus to the higher level languages.

  • new tricks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @09:32PM (#41889039) Journal

    " Too many of us of a 'certain age' are facing an IT work environment that is hostile to older workers. "

    It has nothing to do with the attitudes of younger workers. I work in a field where the oldest workers are treated with the most respect because experience, insight and wisdom are highly regarded. The youngest are most likely to treat the oldest with deference.

    It just so happens that like most industries, there is consolidation in the IT industry, and that means more power to fewer companies. Since those companies no longer see the communities in which they reside as having any value beyond the tax benefits they are willing to grant the company, they have no problem cutting the oldest workers loose because they tend to have been around longer and make a few dollars more than their younger counterparts. Since they worry about age discrimination suits, they just can't say, "Get lost, old man," they create a hostile work environment, hoping for attrition.

    This is one reason you are seeing such a concerted attack by businesses on workplace rules and civil rights laws. Those "age discrimination" rules are part of what they call "stifling over-regulation", along with minimum wages, child labor laws and environmental regulations.

    Left to their own devices, these companies would be more than happy to see the US turn into one big Foxconn dormitory.

It seems intuitively obvious to me, which means that it might be wrong. -- Chris Torek