I'm been a software developer/engineer for over 30 years. My problem is that at the very small company I work for, I haven't been able to keep my skills current. The specific skills I've been using on the job aren't skills that are in much demand elsewhere, and there's not much prospect of being able to develop more current skills at this company.

I'd like to think that with my general experience, ability to learn things quickly, and generally having a knack for this kind of work, that I'd be a valuable employee in most positions. I'm expecting that I will need to find another position in 10-12 months, perhaps sooner, but I've started looking around now. Some questions:

  1. What experiences has anyone in my situation had trying to land positions based on "general experience" rather than "5 to 7 years of language X and database Y", etc.? Any thoughts on getting around managers that believe they need that specific checklist, or around resume-scanning software?

  2. As far as developing current skills goes, what's the best approach that would also be something that would convince prospective employers (on my resume, e.g.) that I can do the job well? I've been working on personal projects and more recently some open-source projects, to learn some of these skills, but only for the last 1.5 years or so. I'd be willing to find a part-time consulting position or something in addition to my current job, but everyone I've talked to thinks that kind of opportunity would be very difficult to find. I've gotten mixed, but leaning negative, answers when I've asked whether classes or credentials would be helpful.

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    For 2: Find an open source project that's interesting to you and contribute. – Martin Schröder Oct 2 '13 at 8:13
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    I think you are on the right path. Prove you know enough to do a good job with code projects that you share on github or something similar. – Fredrik Oct 2 '13 at 13:02
  • @JoeStrazzere unfortunately yes, although I was certainly developing general skills like software design principles, debugging, etc., that should be applicable anywhere. Other than that, though, I just wasn't aware I needed to, and apparently wasn't around people who made me aware of that. Anyway, whatever mistakes I've made in the past can't be changed now and I've already spent too much time getting depressed over them. – ajb Oct 2 '13 at 15:04

I'm afraid you have a tough challenge in front of you.

What you write makes it sound like you've worked for 30 years without attempting to learn anything new that wasn't required at your current job. You indicate that you have an "ability to learn things quickly", yet it doesn't appear that you have demonstrated that ability within the last 30 years. It will be a big leap for a hiring manager to assume that you are capable of picking up new technologies.

Still, you can do the same thing other folks do to broaden their skill set

  • Attend conferences on newer technologies
  • Read books on the newer technologies
  • Read relevant websites and blogs
  • Participate in open source projects
  • Conduct your own personal projects
  • Attend courses
  • Learn the relevant buzzwords
  • Talk with and help friends working on the relevant technologies
  • etc, etc.

Find opportunities like these to back up your statement that you can learn things quickly, so that you can cite them on cover letters and during interviews.

Also remember that just because you are a software developer/engineer, doesn't mean you need to continue to be a software developer/engineer in the future. The skills you have acquired over the past years may be more helpful in other roles like management roles, analyst roles, consultant roles, etc. You might choose to seek out less technical roles that value your non-technical skills.


I had a job interview with a company that simply gave me IQ tests and general background knowledge. After I was hired I found out their accounting system had been written in the old Apple Macintosh Omnis database. It currently ran in a more updated environment, but the code basically hadn't changed in 10 years.

Moral of this story is that there are plenty of dinosaurs out there, and the users won't grill you on current technologies. There's plenty of work with 'Classic ASP', VB6, older versions of Access VBA (2003 or before), etc. The best path to take, that being the case, is to develop skills in an area that 'feeds forward' - Access VBA has more current implementations so it's easy to straddle more current environments.

There are people that will teach you Ruby On Rails while you work for them, so you could just hold your nose and jump in. Whatever you learn in advance just makes it easier.

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