I'm about 40 years old and I'm a software developer (with focus on Java). I was told that in my region (German-speaking Europe) companies stop hiring people over the age of 45.

I don't believe in public pension systems and assume that in order to survive when I'm old, I'll need to work until I die. It's doable because one of my ancestors also worked in an intellectually challenging job until the age of 89.

I intend to use the time until I'm 45 in order to acquire resources that will allow me to earn enough money in a role where I can continue working as long as I perform (not when some HR bureaucrats think I'm young enough).

In what occupations, niches, or roles can a 45+ person work without being discriminated because of his age?

Ideally, this niche should allow me to work remotely because I want to settle down in a rural region when I'm old. Both being an employee and a contractor is an option for me.

Below you can find my ideas on how this can be achieved. Feel free to criticize them (if one of them is terribly wrong, please tell). Note that these options are not mutually exclusive (I may use several of them at the same time).

Option 1: Pick a niche where the demand is likely to be so high that employers/customers will hire by merit

I assume that the rule "We don't hire anyone over 45" applies only, if the company doesn't need that developer badly enough. Let's say a company offers a job, and 100 qualified people stand in line for an interview. In this case, they can be picky and only hire young people.

If, on the other hand, the demand for that particular skill set is so high that their recruiters have to hunt down qualified candidates (it's recruiters who court the qualified candidates, not the other way round), then the age may be a lesser problem.

Hence, part of the solution is to

  • pick a niche where the demand is likely to stay high in the coming years and
  • establish myself as an expert in this niche (learn the technology and create proofs of my skills like a portfolio).

Most of my experience is with Java. I don't think I can work in Java when I'm old (see also Option 2 below for an additional reason). So I need to pick another niche.

So far I think that frontend development with JavaScript or one of its subniches (like React or Angular.JS) may have a consistent demand during the years to come (more than Java does).

Why?

It's primarily medium and large corporations that need Java developers. These companies also have the age-discriminating HR gatekeepers.

In contrast, anyone, from a Fortune 500 corporation to a mom-and-pop internet store needs a developer who can make their web site work properly (frontend development). I assume that smaller companies care less about my age, especially, if I work for them as a freelancer.

Another reason in favor of frontend tech: Java is an established, mature technology. There are solutions for the majority of problems.

Frontend technology, on the other hand, changes rapidly and there is a lot of chaos in this sphere. In the frontend world I can deliver additional value to the customer by helping them orient in that chaos. For example, I could blog about which technology in 2018 you should use for task X and why. Such a blog post would a) help the potential customer make a technical decision and b) promote me as an expert. In 2019 I would write another article with the same topic and it is very likely that the contents will be different (because by then the advice from 2018 would have become obsolete).

Option 2: Pick a niche in which employers/customers are used to remote work

As I said, when I'm old I want to settle down in a small village. Most companies that use Java are located in big cities and, according to my experience with German-speaking companies, 99 % of them don't like remote work (I know that in other cultures, e. g. in US, remote work is much more widespread).

My impression is that there are more frontend-related remote jobs (including freelance) than Java-related.

Therefore I could increase my chances of finding employers/customers by focusing on niches populated by more remote-friendly companies.

Note: I don't consider working for US companies remotely because of the time difference. Correct me, if I'm wrong (i. e. if you know someone in the US who successfully works with a remote developer in Europe without them both being online simultaneously for 6+ hours per day).

Option 3: Become a superconnector

This approach focuses on expanding my network. For example, if I

  • contribute something valuable to a promising open-source project,
  • write a valuable blog post, or
  • translate some material from English to German

I'm likely to get to know new people. The more people I know, the easier it is to provide value to them by connecting two people who may be useful to each other. The more such favors I do, the more likely people will want to respond in kind and help me get jobs (or get past the age-discriminating gatekeepers).

If these efforts go really well, I may find something like a virtual user group where I would regularly hold free webinars (e. g. on topics in frontend development), provide value for the customers, and position myself as an expert (which again increases the likelihood of getting hired). This would also increase my attractiveness to potential customers despite my age.

closed as too broad by Twyxz, gnat, CMW, David K, Mister Positive Sep 20 at 13:05

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Have you considered that, no matter what you can do or plan now, at 90 years you won't be able to be "mentally flexible" enough to face the challenge of a contractor job? Also, Java technologies may be mature and well estabilished, but they will surely change in the next 40 years ... – Liquid Sep 20 at 8:21
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    companies stop hire people when they turn 45 - really? Where I work (DE) we hire people regardless of age. What counts is what they can - as with every one else. Just stay up-to-date with the innovations and you'll be fine. – red-shield Sep 20 at 8:53
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    Google COBOL developer vacancies. There are very few young developers with that skill set, but it is still in demand some places. Even if Java becomes obsolete, it has been used by so many places for so long you will still be able to find work with it in decades to come (when the kids have moved on to the Next Big Thing). Of course, you can and should try to stay up to date. But don’t be ashamed of what you already know. – Joe Stevens Sep 20 at 9:12
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    'I don't believe in public pension system'. Right, but you are contributing to it (and have for the past 25 years). So the second step is to move to a country where you do not have to take that burden upon you and can save the money yourself instead (maybe in gold bars or army cans?). The first step is of course to try to claw some of those past contributions back. A bank heist followed by an exodus to Mali or the Central African Republic seems like a plan. You might try to use your remaining days in Germany to ask advises about the trip to those that have done it in the other direction. – user189035 Sep 20 at 11:11
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    companies stop hire people when they turn 45 - I have been told the same (UK) since the 1980's but when I was made redundant in 2016 (age 54) it took 3 days from submitting my CV to an agent (Monday morning) to having a job offer with a "blue chip" international company (Wednesday afternoon). I write embedded software. – ʎəʞo uɐɪ Sep 20 at 12:32
up vote 23 down vote accepted

Technology will be so different in that time span as to make any answer meaningless in terms of a specific tech and probably any specific niche within the dev industry. 45 years ago none of the languages you're using were even concepts.

So look at most people who have done it. Start a business or develop a product and then concentrate on building it so that it gives you a revenue stream until the end. Either by having a good exit strategy and selling it at it's peak for enough money or retaining ownership and picking the right people to keep it going while you collect your money.

I retired from working for anyone else before 40 and full time before 45, I have a revenue stream that will keep trickling into the foreseeable future which I nurture and add to while I keep my options open, I keep upgrading my skillset in several areas, but only really take on work for extra revenue and to stop from getting bored. Mostly I focus on increasing the trickle and having multiple ongoing revenue streams in case one fails.

You could do something similar. It's much the same as any long term investment, just that you back yourself to make it all work rather than others.

Pension here would not keep me in power, water, tea and bread without assistance, so I have no intention of relying on it when I get old enough. It's around the equivalent of USD $60 a month.

None. The question is moot. With 90 it may be possible to still earn (I would consider this an amazing failure to savem oney, though), but the problem is you just said you are 45 and ask us for roles. Look BACK 45 years - IT Looked VERY different. Projections 45 years into the future are meaningless. You may end up between "architect" and "security" towards "archeologial pogramming on outdated systems" to "talk partner for new AI". WAY too far in the future to give any idea. Sorry, that just is too far into the future. I would not recognize today's technology 20 years ago.

Damn, you even name some technologies. And fall into the typical trap.

So far I think that frontend development with JavaScript or one of its subniches

NONE of which have been around 30 years ago and now we get web assembly to run "any" langauge in a VM. Your assumption has zero merit 45 years into the future, sorry.

IF ANYTHING I would argue that SQL wil stil lbe around, because it survives, very few people know databases by heart and - hey, it actually is older, which can not be said of front end technologies.

With 45 you should be in your earnings prime. I am 49 now and I can tell you I have ZERO trust into the retirement system either. But as programmer you end up in the top paying area, if you are good. And if you are not, noone will hire you with 90 anyway. But, if you earn top money, you have no problem saving.

  • 19
    +1 I was working as a programmer in 1973, 45 years ago. A lot of my work was using overlays to slice and dice an assembly language program so it would fit in 16KB of memory, even after the OS had taken a few KB. The main editing tool was an 029 keypunch. I wrote bigger chunks of code out in block capitals on coding sheets. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 20 at 11:14
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    @DetlevCM You need oto read. The OP - with all his attitutes - is not MOVING into programming. And the majority are sheep. I.e. Paris - why would i WANT to work there? Comes back to pülay smart. I also do not work in Austria (baaad rates). My choice. I am where I am NOT because of trusting rules other people make for me. – TomTom Sep 20 at 13:02
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    But supposedly by your own wirds it is shitty paid net and expensive. Ergo why live there? Oh, I am going where iH ave little money != smart decision. And changing jobs is HOW you earn more money actually. And specialization is something you can get. See, it all runs down to "own your finances" not "be a sheep and just trot along". if Paris s not worth it - it is not worth it. Same reason I do not work in London. Crappy pay, and even 800 pound I got offered daily are not worth it compared to the costs. If you limit yourself to france - grats. Welcome in not earning. – TomTom Sep 20 at 13:10
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    @DetlevCM - straight out of college programmers get salaries that are 2-3 times higher than what people make in most industries with 10 years of experience. If those people can live just fine off of their income, programers have no excuse. – Davor Sep 21 at 7:23
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    @DetlevCM - yes, in Europe. Europe is not a single village, where everything is the same. I'm in Belgrade, and complete beginners can get around 1k euros salary here, while national average is around 300 Euros. My friend is making 5k in Berlin, and she's 28 years old now, with around 5 years of experience. German average is 2300 Euros. – Davor Sep 21 at 13:39

I don't think that companies stop hiring people after 45. Some may, but it is definitely not the rule. At the company I work for in West Germany, there's plenty of programmers in their 50s and 60s and they don't have much trouble getting another job in the region, as has been proven multiple times.

However, being so good that they can't ignore you is always a good rule to abide by.

Regardless of what you think or do, you should implement Option 3 immediately.

I wouldn't put too much money on Option 2. Web technologies will change like the wind. Last year it was React, this year it's Vue. Last year Javascript was king, this year Go. And so on. If you want to surely bet on something, go with native mobile - I mean, start from the hardware up, not from the software down.

Consider freelancing. I have done this 5 or 6 times in Germany over the decades, several of those times being over the age of 45.

Yes, alas, there is age prejudice, not just in Germany, but everywhere. But, it seems only to apply to permanent staff, and not to freelancers/consultants/contractors (Freiberufliche).

I imagine that companies don’t care so much about people whom they have no legal obligation to employ. Since trade unions are so strong in Germany, the situation is more serious, with some permanent being literally unsackable.

I am in embedded software, not java, and I can see there always being a call for that, especially as IoT takes off. I would try to position yourself towards networking, not just desktop stuff.

I seldom have problems finding work, plus I have been able to travel the world for decades, choosing where I wanted to work. If you don’t want to travel, you should probably be based near a large city, to have a pool of potential client companies.

My contracts tend to last 12 to 18 months, although some have been much longer. It depends on the size of the project. If I do well, I am generally invited to stay on for the next project, as I know the companies tools and processes, plus they would rather have someone they know than replace me with an unknown quantity.

I have certainly known many contractors over 45 who have been with a company of more than ten years and no one cares about their age, because they are “only contractors”.

Experience ought to help you continue to find work, and a series of 12 to 18 month contracts will provide you with a much wider variety of experience than staying at one company, with the bonus that it keeps your brain sharp.

Finally, you might consider starting your own company. That way, no one can fire you :-) We are only at the start of the beginning of the rise of IoT, so you might get into that. Personally, I have done side projects where someone has a business with a requirement for some software or an idea for a project, which we can also sell to others. I code for 50% of the company and he gets the other half for known the market and bringing in customers.

Think more out of the box, not just a permanent employee.

Without sounding cliché: software development.

Although some modern companies like IBM appear to have age discrimination issues, older developers can still find work in industries that still use old or obsolete technology. Companies tend not to always update their software or even hardware at times (for example, some SCADA systems still use Windows 95, and COBOL is 50 years old and still in use), and if a company sinks a lot of money into custom piece of software, they'll generally keep using it in order to increase their return on investment (even if better technologies exist).

With stronger legal protections, odds are that protections against age discrimination will improve over time. However, to cast aside your concerns, you might want to consider the fact that, as morbid as it sounds, you might not live to see 90, and stressing about a future that no-one can really predict is not beneficial. You could have all your plans in place and then an unexpected event occurs. You might grow bored of software development and change job occupations.

If you're reaching an age you're seeing it difficult to land a job, it might be worthwhile looking for an obscure language (the future's equal to COBOL), learning how to develop in it and applying to jobs that relate to it.

  • 1
    When I worked in Hidesheim about 2015 there was great demand for Cobol programmers with one of the large car companies (I forgot which), maintaining a legacy app which ran everything. Three failed major rewrites later they gave up & are sticking with the Cobol system. It's maintenance work & extremely boring, so it is very highly paid, to try to attract people – Mawg Sep 20 at 18:52
  • Problem is that today’s 45 year olds are unlikely to know COBOL. – gnasher729 Sep 21 at 6:42
  • @gnasher729 They can always learn. But in truth in the future, it might be Java is the 'new' COBOL (or any other language 45 year olds already know). Adobe Flash as a technology is already basically obsolete, and yet it's still relied upon. – SSight3 Sep 21 at 13:30
  • @SSight3 You would seriously recommend that an older developer should learn an obsolete language? What nonsense. I learn new things to be a step ahead of the kiddies and I plan to keep doing that. – gnasher729 Sep 22 at 12:22

I am pushing this to also see what others think. You stated that you are currently a software developer primarily with JAVA. Why could you not state your are a domain expert who used JAVA to solve specific problems.

i.e. Business Analyst in the specific domains you currently work
within, be that medical, financial, whatever.

Wouldn't transitioning to a BA role or, if possible SA role (solutions architect) be a long-term solution. SA is no longer involved with specific technology or language.

A BA is now out of tech. And a BA with years of experience in a specific niche is valued.

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