Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Not a profession for old men

So, I am looking around at the moment and I notice something.

There are very few old developers. Lets say 45 - 55 is 'old' - it certainly seems to be for software development. It got me thinking - where do they all go? Assuming that we need to keep working to at least 55 (let's face it, it's going to be more like 70), that leaves a lot of time to do... er, what?

It is a little worrying if you ask me. This is still a young industry but we seem to have chopped a minimum of 10 years off the career path. I tried thinking of other industries that have a similar sort of cut off and not many sprung to mind.

Professional athletes have a physical cut off, although there are the odd few who carry on through to their 40s. Although, golfers seem to carry on into their 50's (my wife insists this does not count since golf is not a 'sport'). Call centre staff seem have a natural cut off in the amount of abuse they can take so they tend to be younger, which is just an observation.

I think a lot of this is down to presumptions. We presume that someone who is older cannot or will not change, but surely this is down to the individual? Some people respond to change and embrace it, others don't - might be more prevalent as you grow older but it is not unique to older people. I often find younger people stubborn to change - so maybe there is a sweet spot?

Work culture has a place too. Although we like to think that companies invest in their staff, it is more likely that they only invest in things they find valuable. So if you are using an old technology at work, you are going to be left far behind in the real world if you need to move on.

Again, this is down to the individual - the real geeks have a love for tech that is in-built. That's not something that just disappears at 40 (hopefully). Waiting to be taught something is a waste of your time. You need to do it yourself. Again, people of all ages fall into this trap, it is not something specific to being old.

Another big assumption is you cannot learn, which is clearly rubbish. This might not be as fast but I would take the incumbent experience over speed any day. When chaos erupts, I would bet the older developers are keeping calm and working through the problem without additional drama.

Maybe our minds just go. Or we can't take another flipping CRUD form, sell everything and live in the woods. Whatever happens you need to prepare for this now, as I cannot see it getting better. If you are entering the profession, think about how long you can keep doing it for. Here are my thoughts:

  • Keep you skills up to date - check your CV every few months, if you have not added to it then you are doing something wrong (probably got too comfortable). 
  • Keep up! Get interested in what is going on in the industry. Experiment with new languages, play with new systems, services and APIs. 
  • Practice - find some way of experimenting that excites you and do that whenever you can. 
  • Create and keep a childlike wonder of all things new and interesting. 
  • Attend conferences, meetups etc and listen to stories, return the favour and tell a few of your own. 
  • Seek to learn from others and don't be afraid to ask for help. 
  • Read - everything you can, whenever you can. 
  • Differentiate yourself by being awesome to work with. 
  • Learn to communicate and collaborate and build this into your day, this is much harder to master than any code you will ever write.

And finally..... Code, Share, Discuss but Sleep, Laugh and Love in equal measure - there's more to life than just coding even if it doesn't feel like it.

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