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I'm at a crossroads in my life and need some help. Long story short, in a couple of years both my children will be in the later stages of their schooling and will no longer need me to do the school run 3 days a week so, after many years of working around other people and taking jobs that suit my hour requirements, I will finally be in a position where I can almost choose what I want.

One of my friends hit the nail on the head when they said I was good at "computery stuff" and "nerding out" so I'd like to go into IT in one form or another.

I have 2 years to take courses which will give me the qualifications I need but I'll have no job world experience although I do have what I'd call real world experience since I've been using computers and programming them for over 30 years, albeit self-taught with no official qualifications.

By the time all this happens, I'll be in my mid-40's. With all the people coming out of university year after year with similar qualifications to what I will have, how likely are employers going to choose me over one of them?

What can I do to improve my chances to be hired?


Most of my adult life has been spent in office based sales so yes, I'm used to hitting targets, forecasts and deadlines.

I have a lot of experience dealing with members of the public of all ages, nationalities and education levels.

As for knowing how to learn, I'm currently doing two Udemy courses on learning C++ with the Unreal Engine. I'd love to get into game development but, living in rural England know this is unlikely but I do use GitHub and have been following coding conventions wherever possible.

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    IT is a broad sector. A lot of the answers seem to be assuming Software development, which may be one of the places where you suffer age bias most. Have you narrowed down what you want to do? Service Desk, or Manual Software Testing roles could leverage 'Real World Experience' – Phil Aug 5 at 15:21
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    Are you looking more at becoming a programmer or a systems administrator? Are you really into C++, or would you be equally content starting with a less dangerous programming language? – trognanders Aug 5 at 21:00
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    Please indicate the kind of things you have done during your 30 years of programming. Technically, 30 years can translate into a lot of programming experience, provided you did it more or less regularly, even if it was not your job title. – Gnudiff Aug 6 at 11:21
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    To follow up on @trognanders comment - because C++ is such a difficult language to learn well (in comparison to nearly all others) while simultaneously being such an easy language with which to shoot yourself as well as your entire project team in the head (also in comparison to nearly all others) these days C++ usage in the industry is becoming a niche populated only by those projects which demand the highest performance, cost is no object, and people are very very picky when hiring. Programming is great to do but to break in (if that's your goal) choose an easier language to start with. – davidbak Aug 7 at 23:29
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16 Answers 16

137

I'm developer in your shoes and I had the added challenge of not having done any kind of computing type work before my current job as a Technical Lead at my company.

With age comes experience, so often as an "older", I use this term very loosely, developer you bring different skills and competencies to the table. A couple things to note:

  • Leverage your work experience. You've learned things from other places, use those things in your day to day.
  • Being older means more maturity and professionalism, generally speaking, make an effort to demonstrate that.
  • Since you're self taught, learn computer science in an academic sense. As a lead, self-taught and educated coder one of the biggest holes I see in self-taught programmers is they often don't have the foundational computer science knowledge. Things like SOLID Principles, Data Structures and big 0 Notation, and just an overall understanding why things are done the way they are. They hack well, they can solve problems, but they rarely know the "why". Know the "why".
  • Patience is your ally. Younger coders, very generally, like novelty. You're older, you understand there's a "long game". Lean on your life experience when engaging with decision making.
  • When you show up to an interview, you need to demonstrate above all things that you bring two things to the table: You can grow and learn, and you're responsible.
  • Demonstrate and become a life long learner.
  • Knowledge is power. Know a lot. Theory and Practical come together really well in computer science.

Personal Anecdote

I really want you to succeed. Because your story was my story. I was in my mid 30's and I stepped into Software Development. I attended a 3 year technical program. It only prepared me for an entry level position. I had to do a LOT more to become the lead I am today. In school I was surrounded by 17 year olds. I want to share my process. Take what you want. Leave what is not for you.

Build a Learning Plan

I began by trying to understand my knowledge gaps. What did I know? What holes did I need to fill? I went to look at College and University curriculum to see what they were teaching their students. I took note of the things I was missing and then I planned out my journey.

Some things I did:

  • Got a white board and outlined my plan. The board was in an open area I saw every day
  • On the board, I listed my goals, in order. I prioritized and planned.
  • In my case, the gaps I noticed were in Data Structures, Algorithms. I was missing those from the University courses.
  • In general, I was weak on Product Delivery. One of my goals was to be able to take an idea and build it from nothing to something. So I started with Object Oriented Analysis, then Design Patterns. I followed up with a basic book on Architecture.
  • I learned more about the tech stack I was in. So Generics and how my language is compiled. Side note, learn Generics alongside Data Structures and Algorithms. They go hand in hand.
  • Learned Design Patterns before Architecture
  • Pick several days a week and read from a book. Do the theoretical and then apply that theory in examples.
  • Put ALL your learning examples in git.
  • Learn some dev ops. You'll be expected to eventually understand it.
  • Create Deadlines and honor them because it's important you learn how to follow through.
  • It's going to be difficult, take some "off" days. You will need to give yourself a break.
  • I built a list of books on concepts I wanted to learn (Like Functional Programming or Microservices) and I eventually, one by one purchased them. Why purchase books? So if download a PDF, I've committed nothing to the process. I'm getting the knowledge for free and thus, it's easier to step away. With a book I purchased, it was committing me to reading it. Because otherwise I just paid for a pile of paper. Each person has their own way of accountability. Make an effort to find a mechanism to keep you accountable to your learning.
  • On my book list I had two kinds of books: Study and Read. The difference between between the two was this: Study books often had an accompanying notebook where I took notes on concepts and ideas for review. Read books were just books I would consume but not take notes on. What topic / book is which type will depend greatly on your goals. So in my case, for OOP Analysis, I studied it. I took notes on the entire thing. An example read book was a book on Code Structure (think Clean Code).
  • It's crucial to always be exposing yourself to new ideas in software development. Read a lot and consume a lot of content surrounding the topic. You might no learn every single little detail, but that's not the point. It helps you develop mental "frameworks" for thinking about Software Development.

In short:

  • Understand what you don't know
  • Plan to learn what you don't know
  • Create deadlines / milestones
  • Find a mechanism for accountability

Good luck!

UPDATE A lot of response so I'll add some background.

I was hired as a junior developer. Over the course of a year, I started working on fortifying my fundamentals. I refreshed myself on all the technology we worked with and then, I stepped into the OOP Analysis I mentioned above.

The company at some point, hit a rough spot and all the Lead Developers at the time, left. I was the only one among the junior developers who even understood the product. The other juniors, had no will to lead and were not familiar with the product we were supporting. So I stepped in and replaced 3 leads. I worked, a LOT. It was not easy and a gargantuan amount of stress. Eventually I was asked to temporarily replace out CTO because he had health issues (he's back now, I'm back to technical lead)

None of this is to brag. The reason these opportunities arose is because I sought after them. One example is when I first started only lead developers were allowed push new versions of the website to Azure. Well, I wanted to do that. I approached the lead and I was like "show me". He showed me. Then when he was not busy I would ask if I could do a supervised push. We did it. Here's where it become interesting. Eventually the leads would get very busy and we would need a push, I would do the push. I'm part of a smaller firm, (we're 8 devs) so we wear a lot of hats. My goal: Earn more hats.

How do you move up?

  • Initiative is everything
  • Be cautious and conservative: do not take risks with the product
  • Trust, but verify
  • If there's a problem, flag it immediately to the manager or who ever is responsible above you. This is very important. The best way to convince people you're not trustworthy is avoid talking about difficult things.
  • Communicate : This is extremely important. Do not avoid this.
  • Be curious
  • Learn about your company, don't sit in a cubicle waiting for opportunities. You need to learn who does what and why
  • Learn people's names
  • When someone new joins the organization, don't wait for introductions. As soon as it's polite to, introduce yourself.
  • Be reliable : Do your damnedest to deliver on time.
  • Be indispensable
  • Learn what no one else is learning : In my case, functional programming was one example. Everyone was Object Oriented (I was too), but I went ahead and learned some functional programming
  • Figure out how to reduce OTHER PEOPLE'S workload
  • Lists : I cannot describe how useful listing is when the day is very busy
  • Read soft skills books: Productivity Project, A Mind for Numbers, The Power of Habit, Peopleware and the Mythical Man Month
  • Being strong technically is good. Being a strong technical leader is better and this is where age leverages nicely. A lot of people, whether consciously or not, will listen more intently to someone a little older. Maybe it's just anecdotal, but that's my experience.
  • Product delivery is priority number one
  • One thing no one ever tell you, is that development, broadly speaking, is a sociological process (Peopleware talks about this). Often failure doesn't come from technical skills, it comes from people skills. Build those soft skills as well
  • Finally, Peopleware has a nice little study it talks about. It compares the productivity of developers of varying experience. What they discover, is experience accounts for very little when it comes to raw productivity. What does this mean? Learn the technical side, but don't obsess over it. The reality is that what makes you good has more to do with your work ethic than it does your technical knowledge.
  • A couple responses mentioned ageism in the industry. Which is real. You cannot change that. Neither can I. But, personally, I'm stubborn and I believe Software Development is a meritocracy. If you can do, you will be hired. It might take time to swim against the current of discrimination, but eventually you'll find your shore. Don't give up and always remember, they cannot deny your knowledge. It's what will save you and for some desperate firms looking for professionals, it will save them too.
  • I would also suggest smaller firms. Often in smaller companies you cannot be "silo'd". You need to be able to do many things. Often those many things include working full stack, talking to clients, managing teams and all other sorts of tasks (I've done managing, training, building, architecting, employee reviews, lead a security audit and much more.)
  • Make tech friends. Go to meetups and meet other professionals, it's good for networking and just talking code and learning about the industry.

Final Note

It's very difficult to do in a short time. In two years I've doubled my salary and I've gotten a lot of respect and responsibilities. But it's a mountain of work. My routine looked like this:

  • 7am to 5pm at work
  • 7pm - 11pm studying on weekdays
  • Weekends, the entire day, study and review and code

It's a difficult thing to do. VERY difficult and it requires a LOT of dedication. But if you want it, you can do it. You will for a time live like a monk, but that's ok. It's worth it. (Friends and I joke, we call it "monking it" when we're trying to learn some new tech in a relatively short period of time and we shut off the rest of the world to accomplish it.)

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    I followed a similar route, though not quite so intensive. I was a computer tech for 15 years and had learned programming before learning computer repair. I also went to school to be a computer engineer, but didn't finish. I ended up finally getting a low end programming position and now have almost 7 years as a professional programmer. Switching can be hard, but in my case, I'm earning about 3x as much as I used to as a tech. Change can be good. PS: understand that you aren't going to be a senior/lead right away. Humility is also good. – computercarguy Aug 5 at 20:44
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    Could use a better explanation of how you went from "no experience" to "Technical lead," a position that generally requires lots of experience. It should probably be edited to "no professional experience." Also, terms like "stack" aren't very beginner friendly. – Mars Aug 6 at 0:28
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    This is a wonderful advice on how to make self-taught effective, not only programming. Really good answer, and I'll use your advice as a "way to go" for other disciplines, :D. – Chococroc Aug 6 at 8:19
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    "not having done any kind of computing type work before my current job as a Technical Lead at my company" You were hired as a tech lead with no experience? That seems like a bizarre hiring decision, and not one that its realistic to hope to emulate. Or do you mean that you worked your way up the ladder? In which case, you had done "computing type work" before your current job - all of the roles at that company which preceded it. – Michael Aug 6 at 9:25
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    This answer deserves a big +1. Speaking as a hiring manager, you've really nailed the aspects that make an "older" person worth hiring. I would just make one addition to get this answer to the next level: It's important to target the right opportunities. A big software shop that just needs to churn through warm bodies pumping out code is likely to focus on hiring known-entities (fresh grads). Compared to a smaller shop where more independence/flexibility is desirable, or a small software team embedded in some other entity (i.e. 10 devs in a small community bank, or the like). – dwizum Aug 6 at 12:46
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What can I do to improve my chances to be hired?

Your best bet is to obtain some sort of certification, in whatever part of the technology field that interests you, so that you have some talking points and credibility when seeking interviews.

This could help you get your foot in the door, or at least help you obtain an interview. Be vigilant as I believe you have a tough road ahead of you, but not an impossible one.


If you're interested in breaking into software development, which it seems you are, add the following to your list of tricks:

  1. Participate on StackOverflow
  2. Use GitHub to show your work (your code)
  3. Contribute to Open Source projects
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    Can you give some examples of the kind of certification you have in mind? – littleO Aug 6 at 1:01
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    An anecdote... I've never seen a tech certification worth the cost. I've never hired someone based on their certification. I've never met someone with a certification that had the skills to back it up. In my very strong opinion, a certification is a complete waste of time and money. Better to have something real to show for yourself. – user1234567890abcdef Aug 7 at 1:56
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    In my experience, certifications are a great tool to get you noticed during selection and to score an interview. The more certs you have, the more credibility you have (on paper). But certs are borderline useless in an interview if you're flustered. Do practice interviews, and once you DO have an interview, send a thank you letter to the person who interviewed you. In that letter, feel free to ask about your performance and how you might be able to improve. This shows initiative and that personal touch that can make all the difference. – jparnell8839 Aug 7 at 11:46
  • Just an example (reached character limit on last comment), my current job as the youngest sys admin in my Fortune 100 company was given to me specifically because I followed up after the interview. I just had my first mid-year review at this job yesterday, and my boss admitted that my resume had already been placed in the "pass" pile after my interview. She said I interviewed well, but she assumed I was too young. The followup changed her opinion and I got the job. – jparnell8839 Aug 7 at 11:48
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    If you are going to get a certification, first find someone who has the position you want and ask if certifications are helpful for getting a job, and what certification in particular. Keep in mind that certifications don't help in all fields, and in some fields it can be seen as a negative signal. – stephenbez Aug 7 at 22:11
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Too many "it depends".

"My kids don't need school collection" is far, far better than some of the excuses I've heard from e.g. unemployed truck drivers (what they've realised is good hours, easy work, great money).

What did you do before this (IT epiphany)? Was it a specific business / business domain? You'll have more success looking for IT in that - remember IT is not just about programming stuff; the company employs you to do this for a reason; to support the business. If you understand the why and the business domain, you'll have a much better chance against a 23 year old with a degree and no experience willing to work long hours for peanuts.

Look at some of the tools / procedures that most hobbyists don't use; Source Control (Github). Database queries (not just select * from orders; look at how databases are designed).

Create a linked in profile and SELL YOURSELF. Don't lie, but don't create an amateur hour CV. Don't refer to your experience as hobbies; it's non-commercial experience.

Look for some short term contract work in a skill that you do have, and try to gain more skills whilst you're about it. NB You'll need outstanding sales skills to swing this. Be super confident. This above anything else will get you started.

I'd try to get some experience ("showing commercial"), then maybe look at an open university qualification.

Just beware - you've a long road ahead. Get used to hearing "No, because reasons".

  • As someone who has lots of varied experience, and even years of experience in IT, it can take weeks/months to find a job in today's market. There's a lot of uneducated people that think they are "masters" because they know a single, simple, scripting language and made a handful of cute websites. +1 or the "tools/procedures that most hobbiyists don't use". I'll say that a lot of people do use GitHub, but a lot of it is also random junk. Also be sure to look up common coding styles for the language you use and be prepared to defend your choices in interviews. – computercarguy Aug 5 at 20:50
  • "you'll have a much better chance against [someone] willing to work long hours for peanuts" Someone willing to work long hours for no money is unattractive to a company ... why exactly? – Michael Aug 6 at 9:28
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    @Michael - they're very attractive, which is the point. That's who Stephen is competing against for entry level positions. Those people have no other way to differentiate themselves from the next entry level worker, except working harder and cheaper. Stephen does; life and hopefully domain experience to bring to the role. He can work smarter, not harder and still have evenings to help the kids with their homework. – Justin Aug 6 at 10:37
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Get into I.T. as a Software Tester

For reference, I am a software developer, architect and I.T. manager with over 20 years experience.

Your main challenge entering the market "late" is that kids in their 20's have completed a 4 year degree and will be on the same level (of computer science and software development) as you, or even ahead of you.

You might have other worthwhile skills, but in software development both technical and people skills are key, and you are behind in technical skills and experience.

In my own observation, there are very many people who get good jobs on I.T. projects as Software Testers without needing a 4-year degree plus "3-5 years experience in Java, eclipse/intelliJ, maven, jenkins and spring".

As a Software Tester you can leverage your communication and people skills you have already aqcuired. You already are a little "nerdy" and enjoy working with computers. Yet deep technical skills in computer languages are not expected.

From a Software Tester you can become a Test Manager or even a Scrum Master or Team Lead.

Software testing is a worthwhile career in it's own right, you'll be working closely with developers and "nerdy stuff", but you'll skip the 4 year degree completely and can apply for jobs with minimal crosstraining.

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    I like this as it is a good foot in the door, and a business needs testers when dev work takes place. If the goal is software development there is no reason why the jump form tester to developer can't be made, I know plenty of testers who changed paths. Whilst they may not have the development experience (and were trainees), their experience in the testing field was looked at favourably as their previous experience could help them write better code. Although that would be a much longer journey (tester experience + dev training) than sticking to a single path. – MattR Aug 6 at 8:16
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    In the UK most of the "kids in their 20's" will have completed a 3 year degree, not a 4 year one. – Peter Taylor Aug 6 at 14:13
  • The trend in software is actually going away from a 3-4 year degree, or so I've heard. My last manager only had a GED as a dev, I only have a 2 year degree in computer repair, and I know lots of others without a 3-4 year degree in programming. A 3-4 year degree is great for some things, and likely teaches what a self learner doesn't know, but there's a lot of practical things that only professional experience can teach. Also, to be able to get ahead in testing, you have to actually like testing, otherwise it's just another dead-end job you hate. – computercarguy Aug 6 at 17:16
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    +1 - This is exactly how I entered the field about 15 years ago. Software Q&A requires minimal technical knowledge to begin with, but working with developers you will really begin to grasp the specifics of that particular implementation and software functionality. Now, I'm fairly independent and given carte blanche with projects to improve both accuracy and automation. – gravity Aug 6 at 17:49
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    +1 - I hadn't thought about testing when I wrote my answer - stupid really, as I'm surrounded by them on a daily basis. There's also automation testing, a path to dev-ops, either of which might appeal to you OP. – Justin Aug 7 at 8:45
4

You could do an Open University Degree and then apply for a graduate level position when you've completed it or you feel that you've gathered enough knowledge from it.

The Open University courses next start dates are October 2019, registration needs to be done by mid-September to catch this start date.

There are some great course options which will lead to you having a very credible qualification at the end of it and will allow you to change the path of your degree to an extent to cover things which interest you.

If you decide to choose programming, I'd also recommend having some of your work online as this can be a good way of setting yourself apart from other Grads. You'd be surprised at how many graduate developers there are who take no interest in programming in their spare time and have no code to demonstrate their coding style.

2

Get good at solving poorly-defined problems and fixing bugs

I have been hiring later-in-life software developers for a few years now and one of their biggest strengths can be their ability to handle poorly-defined problems.

While it varies from course to course, folks whose experience is largely academic at the undergraduate level can be very skilled at solving questions like "what is the quickest way to sort this list" or "how does one implement a linked list".

However, problems in the real world are seldom that clean cut. Being able to sort a list quickly may be the right solution to a problem, but if the problem is "our content loads too slowly" or "we're getting HTTP errors whenever users search our catalogue", even the smartest CS student can get stumped.

Being able to take the tangled knot of a problem and methodically unpick it until you're able to clearly articulate what the issue is and how to address it is something that comes with experience, but a lot of that experience is unrelated to the specifics of software engineering.

So, look into your past and find examples of your ability to cut through the chaff and get to the root of an issue. Provide examples of your skills in problem-solving.

While you're learning, make sure you do all of the exercises. Then take time to look at GitHub projects and take a look at https://up-for-grabs.net/#/ and start solving bugs in the field on code you're not familiar with... this is 100% what your first job will be like, so it will give you a chance to see if you like it and also help you build up a track record of execution.

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I just thought this would be too much for a comment, so I'm prepared to get some downvotes as this might come off a bit negative (not the intention, just to prepare you and I'm a huge pessimist & cynic).

I'm just in my thirties and bordering into Senior level in my field and I feel I can tell a lot about working software (I'm careful with that, senior means a lot of different things and some companies just make you one if you've been working there for a long time). I have worked in small companies and enterprises with xxxxxx employees.

As (Software) jobs are on high demand here (West Europe) it's becoming all more apparent that many people are switching field (to IT) and education does not make a (good) developer, though some form of education to prove you have a certain level of intelligence is highly recommended (many businesses here use it to filter CV's).

Depending on what jobs you're aiming for, higher positions should find your lack of experience slightly easy (assumptions from my part again here), I assume you create some stuff to automate tasks, maybe create some websites/applications for fun, so things that I notice when having interviews or reviewing applicant's code.

  • Knowing how to create stuff, but not the why. For higher end positions it is expected you know why the code you write does what it does. And what impact it will have. E.g. would there be impact on memory or CPU. What are the alternatives, and why not use those, language quirks etc. (you need this for bugs).
  • No experience in the field. This is very obvious, you'll likely not have experience with Continuous integration, version control (I mean, knowing how to git-commit is not the same thing as working with a team, coding conventions vary everywhere). Handling bureaucracy, people and more.
  • Working with legacy; when you learn to code, you're usually starting with something new, how do you handle working in other people's code? Know a sane way to refactor safely?
  • Rest assured more questions will be language specific.

Anyways, I just wanted to ramble some items which could be an issue. The problem I foresee might be your age; people of ~40 should be of a high seniority level if you look at development. This comes with a price tag. It might become a bit of a demotivator if you're making half the income that someone half you age does.

I see that you'd like to working in the gaming industry. Get on the boat, loads of people want this. Fact is, the pay tends to be crap, the deadlines and workload way higher, code quality less important; and to finish it off you're probably working for a gaming platform making mobile/browser games with transactions (At least, that's what's possible here). But keep in mind, as I see you mention C++ and the Unreal engine, that these positions tend to be for the experienced and gifted, not someone rolling into game development in their forties (unless you tend to pull off a great game concept before you start working, since that is how people get those positions at a younger age ;-)). You might want to consider some other technologies. Also I would suggest looking at Unity3D as it is way easier to begin with, though maybe less hardcore development!

However if all those things are fine with you, and you're not in it just to make a lot of money (straight away), you surely can! Just go for whatever position you can get and grow from there, Again culture is a big thing here, but being honest with your interviews and hitting up some recruiters (oh god the UK has many, they even recruit for us) will get you your first job somewhere.

If possible, try to contribute to open source, as larger projects tend to be a little like working in a company and you'll get some proper critique from peers and this is how you grow. Also free track record ;-).

TL;DR; you need experience in this field and yet, that might still not be enough. However, as markets vary I might be dead-on wrong about what you might need, and hit up some meetups of local companies and ask your future colleagues.

2

As someone who has hired a good many developers in the different companies I've worked at, I'd honestly say the best thing you can do to improve your chances is be humble.

Go for junior positions and realise that your years of hobby experience without a team (and code review) have probably led to same bad habits and that you probably "don't know that you don't know". That said, if you can show a couple of example projects, can explain why you made the decisions you did and can learn from the alternate suggestions people propose, then you'll have just as good chances as anyone else.

Ability to keep improving is the most valuable thing and every senior worth their title knows and looks for this in an interview

I know you didn't ask, but getting into games dev is probably going to be far harder than most other fields for programming

2

One answer related to this from my observations in the US:

By the time all this happens, I'll be in my mid-40's. With all the people coming out of university year after year with similar qualifications to what I will have, how likely are employers going to choose me over one of them?

The is a lot of age discrimination in the sector in the US. The UK will likely be the same based on reading. Be prepared for a lot of unexplained rejections, and some off the wall rejections from folks who don't have a filter.

Age discrimination in the IT field starts in the 40's.

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    This is absolutely so and it's rampant. Even Google was fined - forbes.com/sites/patriciagbarnes/2019/07/20/… – Kingsley Aug 7 at 3:52
  • The -1 is not from me, but you should definitely expand this answer with an eye towards helping the OP with an answer/advice for his/her situation. Now this "answer" is just an FYI. – rkeet Aug 7 at 9:20
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    I'd tell young guys, make sure you get into management before you hit 40. In your early 40s you hit a wall where suddenly management thinks you're too much trouble. Even if you're great at what you do they know you're not going to be eager to work 60 hours/week in exchange for free soda. And if you can get into management in your 20s even better. ha ha. – HenryM Aug 7 at 18:24
1

I've been using computers and programming them for over 30 years, albeit self-taught with no official qualifications.

Do you have a portfolio of projects that can be presented to potential employers? It could be in the form of a website or a GitHub profile. If you happen to have been contributing on Stack Overflow, that could be used as a strong indicator of your skills too.

While obtaining a certificate would be a good idea, it's more suited for individuals who are new to the domain and lack a decent experience (or the domain is highly specialized). Also, going the certification route could be a bit lengthier route if your immediate goal is to get a job and enter workplace quickly.

If you have a presentable portfolio as above, with projects that you worked on in recent time, it can give a potential employer confidence about your skills.

I'd use this to go ahead with applying for job via various good job boards on the Internet.

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    Definitely do this, a portfolio which you can show, preferably on the spot, is the best tool. And it's (should) be very easy to talk about and explain your choices etc. Even if it's just 1 website or 1 application, if you're going down the developer road. – Devilscomrade Aug 5 at 14:26
  • I'd love to be a programmer, games ideally but there's nothing like that in my area so it will be more help desk or similar. – Stephen Aug 5 at 16:57
  • @MisterPositive, the OP added "As for knowing how to learn, I'm currently doing two Udemy courses on learning C++ with the Unreal Engine.", so it's likely they are going into programming, but your comment is still generally correct. – computercarguy Aug 5 at 20:53
1

Having seen your edits, some parts of this answer do not apply. I've left it intact in case someone else is looking for similar advice in the future.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you need to earn money to support yourself (or your children)?
  • How soon do you need this money? You probably need a hard deadline and then set yourself an earlier target that allows significant contingency time.
  • Do you have any funds that you are willing/able to sink into education?
  • What kind of job do you want? Some people prefer to do routine jobs, others prefer to be challenged.
  • What kind of IT job do you want? "IT worker" covers a wild range of jobs from sitting on a phone helpdesk to database administrators to website designers to cutting edge research.

General tips

In general the more time you are able to allocate to formal maths/STEM education the better the job offers will be. Similarly, the more mainstream/recognised your education is the more likely it is to be useful.

The more maths you do the more thinking you are likely to be able/allowed to perform in your future job.

You can and should supplement formal education with personal projects and work experience. Be sure to build a portfolio of the work which you think best demonstrates your skills. Print anything visual plus a couple of code samples and make sure that the rest is available via github.

The most important things for landing a job, in order:

  1. Having previously done an identical job
  2. Your interview/application skills
  3. Qualifications
  4. Work experience
  5. Portfolio

I'm not suggesting that a portfolio of personal projects is worthless (quite the opposite) but don't make the mistake of spending 110% of your time building a killer portfolio and using this to justify neglecting interview technique.

UK specific tips

You are likely eligible for government support. GCSEs, A-levels and degrees are all funded to a greater or lesser extent. Apprenticeships also receive significant funding but I'm not sure how this is accessed.

There is a need for "IT workers" of all kinds. It is a sensible choice of career so don't get discouraged if the going gets tough.

Internships offer fantastic opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students. If you decide to study at a university you should try to complete an internship during every summer. Look out for local opportunities or opportunities arranged by your university as these are often interesting and valuable while being less competitive than nationally advertised internships (there will be plenty out there but they take more than a google search to find).

Certain institutions, notably the NHS and local councils, are not adequately funded and have had to make huge cutbacks spanning a decade. There is a significant and growing requirement for these institutions to employ programmers and IT technicians but they don't have the funds to pay a competitive wage and often struggle to find competent workers. This doesn't mean that it is easy to find a job but there are definitely jobs to be had. Make sure you take a look.

If feasible alongside your other plans it would be useful for you to get some work experience (to show you can be relied on to do basics like turn up to work every day). You could do any kind of work but may find it difficult to secure the first job. If you are finding it hard then you could either a) volunteer at a charity shop or b) work in the homecare industry. If you have a clean criminal record and are able bodied it is fairly easy to get a home care job in the UK. The point here is not to become a home carer for life (the pay and conditions are awful!) but to demonstrate that you are serious about holding down a job. If asked at interview you can and should candidly explain that you wanted to get back into the world of work and that job XYZ was available and seemed like a worthy thing to do.

Good luck!

  • 1
    I would definitely endorse looking at the Public Sector in the UK where as @p-hopkinson says it's often a struggle to recruit IT staff. – Alan Dev Aug 6 at 6:35
  • Public Sector in the UK also will have stronger anti-discrimination policies, which will help combat (unconscious) age bias. – Phil Aug 7 at 11:05
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Heavily promote your people and business skills

You say, "I have a lot of experience dealing with members of the public…" From having been on both sides of this situation, I think that is an immensely valuable point for an employer.

Those teenagers in class with you? Most of them don't know anything about customer service, about budgets, about cost-benefit analysis, about people- and team-skills. They have probably never worked in the real world, with unrealistic budgets and unreasonable bosses and uncooperative team members. You have.

A lot of ICT is customer-facing (especially Business Intelligence, where I spend a lot of my time). Customer-relationship skills are gold.

The founder of the company I work for once said that he preferred to hire people with good customer skills and poor technical skills, because it was a lot easier to teach them the technical stuff.

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A combination of a certification and documented/verifiable volunteer experience (with a non-profit/charity, for instance) can serve as "foot in the door" experience in most places that don't require related degrees.

However, you mention "taking classes", and taking classes towards either a certification or degree makes you a "student", which can also qualify you for many (not all) internship programs. Some listings for such internships will require you be seeking a specific kind of degree, so you won't qualify for all of them, but some aren't so specific and don't care if you already have another degree or are not in your early 20s.

A portfolio of documented work can be helpful, but the usefulness of this will depend on exactly what sort of job you seek. I've never seen a portfolio for a networking, repair, or IT technician job, and not sure what one would look like or how seriously it would be taken. Still, developing some record of what you have done so far (for classwork or for your own interest) can be helpful even if you don't show it to anyone, as you'll have a clearer story to tell in the CV and in the interview. But having documented and verifiable experience tends to be the best advantage you can get - all else is more of a backup plan.

You should also avoid the trap of thinking, or trying to present as, someone with no experience at all. You have work experience that can likely testify to reliability, getting along with others, following instructions, etc.

From my own experience, you might have the best luck when your application gets read by someone who knows something about having multiple careers. Many hiring managers will have had more than one career, especially ex-military, people who've run their own businesses, etc. They know what it is like to start over yet not start over, as they have done it themselves, and you won't be at all an oddity to them! Apply broadly and you'll have a chance for the app to land in just the right place. Good luck on your next life adventure!

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I would suggest you take online courses that will prepare you for the job and also build an online portfolio along the way... being part of dev communities and maybe a medium handle to share your experience, you can go an extra mile with YT, where you share what you have being learning other beginners may find interest in that. I hold a degree in IT but I have always put it last when I'm applying for a job. All the best pal

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The following answer assumes software developer (specifically, web)

One thing I’ve noticed here in the UK in recent years is that employers (at least in my sector, web development), are caring less and less about qualifications. After being an interview lead over this last month, here’s where I’d put my focus;

  1. Build a strong portfolio in your own time. I can’t overstate how important this one is. Pick a couple of simple ideas and build them to the best of your ability. Put them up on github. Buy some hosting and put your sites there so people can see them. They can be as simple as a website that shows football scores or the weather. It doesn’t matter, employers just want to see that you’re capable of mastering the key concepts and are willing to invest the time in learning them

  2. Have a clear idea of why you want to work in the industry - another big one. You’ll be asked this, a lot.

  3. Research - figure out what technologies you want to work with and read about them. As much as you can. Read the documentation, specs, blog posts. Watch YouTube videos. Sign up to some online courses (I.e, udemy). Browse the tag on stack overflow and look for some of the common questions.

  4. Be willing to learn. If interviewers mention a technology you aren’t familiar with, be open to learning and working with it

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Start Competitive Programming. Grind it day in and out. If you are serious and dedicated enough, you will get "Purple" (Codeforces) in three years. When you have reached that level, the interviews (coding and/or white board) will be a piece of cake. Your chances of getting hired will be extremely high (not just for mid-tier pseudo-software companies, we are talking the Big-4/N here).

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