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I work as a game developer. I work mostly on visual novels, fighters, shooters and arcade games.

Each year the workplace is more and more dominated by younger folks and fewer and fewer seniors. I feel lonely and sometimes frightened by this, as I do not posses sufficient retirement savings. I find that I am often overcome by a fear of being fired to make way for the younger folks.

How can one deal with this pressure and feelings of doubt while maintaining a professional attitude? I would like the perspective of Western colleagues who have faced similar problems, and what they have done to adjust to the changing environments.

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    Are you located in Japan? – Malisbad Aug 27 '20 at 5:44
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    Hi, your question definitely has value to others, but I would seriously consider not using your actual name to post on here if you mind anyone from your company finding this post. You can easily change your profile name by using the edit functionality here: workplace.stackexchange.com/users/120905 – numenor Aug 27 '20 at 15:24

13 Answers 13

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I have also had these feelings, though I am in a different field which is not gaming.

Remember that the younger generation does not have the benefit of all of your years of experience. You can use your experience to become important to your coworkers as a mentor or teacher. This may work to your favor if you can demonstrate to them the methods you have learned over the years and can warn them of the problems they may face.

You may find that they may respect your experience, especially if you can help them. By helping them, you will feel less lonely and frightened, and may find instead that they may be eager to learn from you. Be of value to them, and they will want to keep you around. If your company sees that value as well, it may help to protect your position.

That which is useful is not often discarded.

If your feelings continue, seek out peers who also have the same concerns and you may find reassurance in their advice as well.

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+100

I faced similar problems.

The gaming-industry is special in that regard. Young people will work out of enthusiasm, as long as they are provided enough money for a bed and cheap food. This does not apply to anyone who gets older — as you noticed.

Furthermore technical, tool-specific skills will not age well in this industry. Young people will enter the workforce trained with the latest tools, so it is indeed hard to compete on that level. Note that this is not true for other skills: handling clients, organisational-skills, personal connections, knowing who or what to avoid during a project — those skills age well.

A) So: if you want to stay in this industry, slowly but steadily shift to a (formal or informal) position where you can capitalize on your non-tool-specific skills; team-lead, management-assistant, manager, mentor, speaker/author, etc. Side-note: the masses of young people who want to be a game-developer kill any demand for game-developers, but they create a demand for teachers for game-development.

B) Other industries do not have an influx of people who will work for (nearly) free. Transitioning to another industry can be hard if you have to do it quickly. But if you start searching without immediate pressure, you might even find former colleges who switched industries and are happy to recommend you to their current employer.

Good luck!

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    Good point about tools and soft skills. Another thing we older folk know about is what to do when the tools break or cannot fix a specific problem. I had an Excel file that was corrupted, so I went in with 7Zip, extracted the underlying XML file, and repaired it, then placed it back in the Excel file. There are no tools designed for that. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 27 '20 at 15:56
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    "Young people will enter the workforce trained with the latest tools" I'm not sure this is particularly accurate across the board. Many schools teach primarily in either C++ or Java, and while Java is still widely used, I wouldn't call it "the latest tool". Also in my experience many mid-level to senior-level devs keep up with modern tools and tech very well. Not all of them of course, but the best ones do – Kevin Wells Aug 27 '20 at 16:25
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    One aspect of this that I did not elaborate in my original post: using "the latest xyz" is more important in the gaming-industry: The game has to look better than those of last year and those of the competitors, or many target-audiences will ignore it. In other industries I have seen teams maintaining technology and code that was older than I myself was at that time. – JW at Flavia Aug 28 '20 at 6:49
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    It's interesting to see the tool thing being importantn. I work in a field where we create bleeding edge technology, but the tools we use are as stable and time-tested as can be. It's the product that has to look good, not the tools. – Mad Physicist Aug 28 '20 at 19:37
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    @Old_Lamplighter. Exactly. As an example, for the 5% improvement for people that already know what they're doing, stack overflow enables the vast majority to get away with absolutely horrendous results. – Mad Physicist Aug 30 '20 at 3:05
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IT is definitely youth-oriented, but not necessarily because older people aren't valued. It's because the demands of keeping up with constantly changing technologies can become overwhelming. I've seen many people transition more into leadership and management as they get older. There's a need for managers who actually have a good understanding of technology. But let's assume you want to continue as a developer.

At my current workplace, I've had colleagues old enough to be my parent and other colleagues young enough to be my child. My oldest colleague stayed relevant by being continually willing to learn, and keeping up with new technologies and tools. We used to call him "the world's oldest millennial."

For myself, currently on a team where I'm the oldest person, I do a lot of mentorship, teaching and training. I also emphasize coding best practices and making wise decisions, not just doing things the most clever way. That has made me a valued part of a team that has an abundance of youthful creativity and energy, but not much in the way of the wisdom of experience. I don't see myself as competing with my younger colleagues. We are in "different lanes", we serve different functions for the group. The more I help them succeed, the more secure I feel in my position.

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There are few ways, one is retirement but as you said it is not an option, you should try to move to higher level position, management, HR, or even launch your own startup. I was in same boat as you once, where i live 25 is considered washed up so I didn't wait, now I am 31, manager and enrepreneur.

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How can one deal with such dire situation and maintain professional attitude ?

Perhaps it is a bit pedantic, but one should maintain a professional attitude regardless of how dire a situation is. That's precisely what constitutes a professional attitude (professional above any other external or internal factor).

The company and project may be falling apart but, as a professional, an adequate posture and attitude should be maintained (another story is how that could affect your productivity though...).

Now, onto more constructive comments and advice:

I am obsessed by fear of being fired to make way for new generation.

Being worried about getting replaced or displaced by younger people is not rare, nor an invalid worry (personally I consider myself more on the "young" side of the spectrum, so I am not yet at the point of worrying TBH).

However, being obsessed about it just seems unhealthy.

If you are actually obsessed and constantly and recurrently think and worry that you will be replaced by a younger recruit anytime, I would suggest you consider seeking the aid of a professional like a psychologist. This could surely help you find the reasons for why you worry so much, and work on a way to overcome those negative thoughts that don't do you any good.

Finally, I will say two more things that come to mind:

  • First, I dare to say that all and any company will always need senior members. Just replacing your senior members for younger recruits is not a wise idea, as they may be more knowledgeable on current trends, but lack leadership and the know-how needed in the industry.

  • Second, it seems to me that if you see fewer and fewer senior members each time, that could mean that you are in fact a valuable senior worker, and that the company values your work to the point of not having to "replace you". Perhaps with time you won't be doing all the coding tasks, and each day you may be moving into more leadership roles (if not already)... However, make sure you are actually moving into more leadership roles (if that's what you want), or progressing in your career... otherwise you could eventually become "obsolete" and that would not be positive.

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    OP comes from different work culture, please take into consideration that there may be dissimilarities between NA/EU and other corporate cultures. – Terry Glebnerr Aug 26 '20 at 17:32
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    @TerryGlebnerr I know and I did consider that, thanks. OP specifically asked for the "western" point of view. regardless of their culture, mental health is paramount and that is the main thing I'm suggesting. (Cleaning comments in a moment) – DarkCygnus Aug 26 '20 at 17:34
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    @ImmortanJoe Yeah, but we graybeards know that age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill – Old_Lamplighter Aug 26 '20 at 20:58
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    @DarkCygnus If the OP is Japanese, suggesting that they see a mental health professional is probably unhelpful, because seeking such care is heavily stigmatized by their national culture and may well result in the consequences he's worried about. – nick012000 Aug 27 '20 at 13:42
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    @nick012000 with all due respect, I think you are failing to read what OP asked, which is (quote) "I would like the perspective of western colleagues who have faced similar problems, and what they have done to adjust to the changing environments."... naturally, my answer is one of a "Western" perspective, and OP can then decide and judge it seeking a mental health professional is something they are willing to do... It would be very helpful if you included an answer of your own where you propose a course of action to OP for their consideration, if you feel other approaches lack something. – DarkCygnus Aug 27 '20 at 23:49
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Just going to speak from what I've seen working in games+software in Japan+US.

Especially in games, it's rare to see a dev stay a dev until retirement.

From what I've seen, you generally have 3 options:

  • Graduate to architecture/design.
  • Graduate to project management.
  • Hit a pay-cap. If your pay is not much higher than junior engineers, then you're always the better deal (unless your attitude is bad). However, if you push your salary too high, you will always be considered when cuts need to be made.

You're not crazy to be worried. You probably are not in imminent danger though.

Whichever of the above options you choose, you will probably want take a more active role in training junior devs. If you can do that, you will provide even more value to the company and ensure they keep you around

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We all have those preconceived notions that float around in our heads. They are unfair and they cause us to pass judgement far too quickly, and yet it can be a difficult thing to shake.

It is important that you are smart and mature enough to recognize the problem with such snap-judgements and work to keep an open mind to work with them. Maybe you’ve had a difficult experience with a younger colleague, fine, but that can’t be used to paint an entire generation as difficult.

Don’t be dismissive or intolerant of the way they work just because it’s different from your own style. Empathy is underrated and being able to consider the point of view of someone you might be in conflict with can really be a tremendous asset. Be willing to listen and consider their approach.

Building and maintaining a healthy working relationship, no matter the age difference, is not that hard to do. If you can all keep these points in mind, it will only help to build a stronger and more effective workforce for all.

My personal experience: I work as a software developer filled with seniors here, and I am the youngest one here and work without any related experience before. I was intimidated by seniors on how they worked so good, way better than I did, with a better workflow and very organized while I myself couldn't even organize my desk.

I was afraid of being replaced as I didn't have experiences as they did. The things that I did to get rid my negative thoughts were:

  • keep an open mind to work with them
  • be a listener and learn stuff from them

Of course, it was different with your condition, but similar, you can take advice or vice versa.

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Most answers are about career and work relationship side. However here is approach that works for me. I am 26 year old male and consider myself still very young but also realize that Im not as fresh who is say between 19-22. I didn't feel ageism until now but as wrinkles started showing I started to feel slight distance creeping in. There are many ways to deal with this. But rejuvenation, cosmetic surgeries and slight makeup worked for me. I invest time and money (within reason ofcourse, think hobby) into cutting my apparent age. I do botox, try out new anti aging products and treatements. I also wear subtle makeup to fill in some wrinkles that can't be botoxed away. This might come as shoking to some but it is more and more acceptable and you would be surprised how many guys do it. If I can pull off that 20 look at 26 then why not ? Especially that at 50% of population already does it :). It fixed my position at work and I became more outgoing and extroverted, or more precisely looking younger gave me more wiggle room to communicate with others.

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  • 50 percent of the world population of 26-year old males ? Source? – guest Aug 31 '20 at 14:55
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    Basically this was going to be my answer. Most people just throw in a towel about taking care about their looks in 30s. It Is surprising how much can being well groomed push you up on career ladder. Rigorous skin care and dressing sharp helped me to get promoted way more than coding skills. – Gurevich - SE Mods Censored Me Aug 31 '20 at 20:14
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While there's definitely a certain amount of ageism in IT, but businesses usually run on a simple principle - who and what can bring value to the business?

So, in my opinion, you should ask yourself - do your younger colleagues bring more value to the business than you do? And if so, why? Is it because they have better new technology skills than you? Are they more friendly or fit in better with younger managers?

If you don't understand some newer tools - don't hesitate to ask your younger peers to help you. Of course, you have to put in the time to learn them yourself first, but I'm sure they'd be willing to help if you're unfamiliar with something.

You also have to try and adapt to the current younger work culture. What sort of YouTube videos do they watch or what games do the play? Maybe you can invest some time in those things too, so you'd have more things to talk about both with your peers and potentially younger managers. While this might not bring extra value to the business, but having good relationships will help you adapt to others, who can then teach you more work skills (that you need) as well.

As a final point, the worst thing you could do is be ignorant and not open-minded to new ideas. Listen to your younger colleagues and don't do things "your way", even if you think it's correct.

Good luck!

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  • It's pretty hard to counter that younger employees just get paid less. Especially in the game industry, as pointed out in other answers, if younger employees are willing to work for very little then it's not a sustainable long-term field for anyone who wants to save up to retire someday. – user3067860 Aug 29 '20 at 11:43
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Ex game developer here:

Seniors are essential in game development, don't be worried or intimidated. In fact look at the younger programmers as a younger version of you. You'll automatically understand why they're excited, work long hours and have the opinions they have and don't hesitate to be friends with them. Once you're in their shoes, you will see very clearly what you can bring them and I can guarantee you they'll come to respect you and will seek your help more often than you can afford to spend time.

Yes, you are more expensive and work less hours as a senior, but any good management knows that you have an essential role. Mentoring and architecture are two obvious ones, but you'll also be one of the guys everyone goes to see when something complicated doesn't work. Without a couple guys like this on a team, things can grind to a halt regularly. There are many things very specific to games and these problems occur over and over from one project to the next, you're the guy that knows about it.

The reason you don't see as many seniors is that many move to management to avoid the long work hours. But, with experience you become really more valuable for the company.

I worked for all the top publishers and there was never a scenario where age mattered when it came to employment. It was well known that young people can be abused with low pay and long hours for a couple years until they realize what's happening to them, so they added some value there, but seniors were always very well cared for.

I used to have the somewhat depressing role of going from studio to studio to fix things. As a result I was never involved with anything going well, but always with the most late, expensive and broken problems the company had. A few of the seniors were doing the same firefighting tasks.

So, from an employment perspective, don't worry, you're needed. About fitting with the team, it's really about the efforts you put in, but remember that the younger people got in for the same reason you did: we're all geeks and we like games, and that's enough of a connection to bridge any age gap.

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(Wink!)

"At the end of the day, 'Old Age and Treachery' out-distances 'Youth And Vigor' every time!!" 🤠

Seriously – "talk to your manager, right away." This is the sort of "concern" that can absolutely drive you bonkers, until you confront it head-on. Because: "it's actually coming from you, not from the objective situation."

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There are two simple answers.

Never stop learning

As an experienced developer, you naturally have some skills already. But what other areas of the industry do you not yet know about?

In my case as an embedded software engineer, I started out knowing a fair bit about C coding. In my first couple of years in industry, I learnt about state machines, bit length and resolution as it applies to fixed and floating point processing, and how to read datasheets to interface micros with other things. At that point I was more valuable than a new hire, because I could do all that on my own.

Moving on, I learnt more about the switches, motors, and other things that could be controlled. So I didn't just know how to make the software work, I knew how to make the system work. New hires from mechatronics knew more about motors and B-H curves than me, but I could put that into a system context and they couldn't.

Moving on from there, I learnt about requirements value, regression testing, safety-related development, and design for test and manufacture. Then I knew how to develop software which was more likely to work first time, and which would remain working and remain testable in case anything went wrong. By now I could easily see some new hires knew more about new chips and new languages than I did - but I was at a point where I could put the whole system together, and they couldn't.

And more recently I've got more heavily into control theory. Now I absolutely know there will be new graduates who can do that better than me - I wasn't really very good at it in uni. If we do hire someone and they can teach me, that's brilliant. But I'll still be a better software engineer than them, because of my experience.

And train the next generation

Engineering isn't a zero-sum game. If there are good new people coming up, share what you know. You can improve your team's efficiency by preventing them falling into traps which you've already seen. This often involves a move to architect level, so you're more likely to be doing the overall design and reviewing than actually directly coding. Embrace this, because engineering a good system is just as valid as cutting code.

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    Answers like this are not only misleading but also dangerous imho. There comes certain point when employer stops caring about what you tinker with and turns you down because of your apparent age. – Gurevich - SE Mods Censored Me Aug 31 '20 at 20:28
  • @Gurevich I don't understand your point. If you're only "tinkering", then your employer might be concerned. If you're adding skills your employer needs, keeping yourself relevant, then there is no point where a sane employer would think less of you. Certainly if you're very close to retirement then your employer might think twice about putting you on a project you won't see the end of, but that's just common sense. I'd be surprised if the OP is past 60 though. A bad employer might make bad decisions, sure, but let's assume some competence to start with. – Graham Aug 31 '20 at 20:44
  • You are assuming only facet of tech job is skill. On larger scale there is some ugly decision making. – Gurevich - SE Mods Censored Me Aug 31 '20 at 20:50
  • @Gurevich I'm not assuming skill is the only facet, but it's a very significant facet, regardless of age. Simply the fact that your code tends to be right first time can make it cheaper for you to do a job than a new graduate who might only be paid a third of your salary but take five times as long to get it right. That affects company profits, and that is an important facet. I'm not saying ageism doesn't exist, but serious ageism tends to be a sign of somewhere you don't want to work anyway. – Graham Aug 31 '20 at 22:53
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    Youre right, but consider fact that team of middle aged techies will never attract as many investors as team of early 20s, straight out of soda ad students will. There are many forces at play, marketability, trends, and stressfulness of job. Skill is important but there is some ugly stuff up at marketing/management/political levels. – Gurevich - SE Mods Censored Me Sep 1 '20 at 7:22
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So, the first question is, I'm not sure if you are talking about Japan or about English-speaking countries (because the post is in English I'm assuming these are the two options, apologies to readers from other countries who may be offended). The answer changes greatly depending on which of those it is, because having worked in Japan and also in English-speaking countries, the work culture is very different. Since I'm from an English speaking country and my work experience is mostly in an English-speaking country, I'll answer from that perspective.

Firstly, it's illegal to fire people based on age in an English-speaking country. That's just not gonna happen. We do have "forced retirement", but that usually happens around or after age 60 so it's probably not on the horizon for you quite yet.

Other than that, why do you think your company wants to fire you? Have you heard stories from former coworkers like, "I got fired from the company because of my age"? If not, don't worry about it. Probably, your coworkers retired or moved to other companies, and your company hired young people to replace them. From the company's perspective, it's more attractive to hire young people, because they have more years of work to give and can stay with the company longer. Additionally, as a game company, they want to make games which are attractive to young people, and the best way to do that is to hire young people to make the games. I don't think it has anything to do with "our company hates old people".

On a different topic, the fact that you're worried about your finances is a bit worrying. It might be worth your while to change companies anyway, just so you can get a better salary and save more money. In English-speaking countries, software developers are very highly paid, but from reports I've heard, game developers are much less so; it might be worth your while to get out of game development and move to another company in a different field where you can make more money and not worry about it too much. That might help ease your fear.

(Note: The word in Japanese for "English-speaking countries" has a similar nuance to the term "The West" in English, to refer to first-world European/North American countries, which is why I chose to use that word over the word for "foreign countries" which could refer to anywhere outside of Japan equally without nuance)

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