I'm currently a 20 year old developer and very happy with my career so far in the UK, however I'm slightly worried about my future as I hear more and more stories about developers who get old and don't get hired again. I haven't seen it yet, as the two companies I've worked for have been great for that stuff and seem like they don't care about age when hiring.

I'm looking for advice on whether or not is realistic to have these concerns, and if so what potential avenues I have open in my career to mitigate these risks.

I'd say I'm quite blessed in having apt social skills, meaning I can talk to anyone, even less favorable colleagues, and I'm more analytical than inventive, meaning I prefer to analyse ideas, rather than come up with them. I'd like to work until I'm at least 65 and stay on competitive rates.

Ideally, I'd love to continue working in development, and aspiring to be a lead dev one day, however it feels like even if I get there, I can't really expect to still be hired at 50 years old, or maybe even 40. I'd also be happy to change role, but I'm not really sure what I'd try move into, or when I should start going for those sorts of career opportunities.

What should I should strive for in my career? Like should I move into management? Should I continue with dev? Maybe consultation? Or other options?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Sep 9 '20 at 14:42

It seems based on what I've heard that the industry as a whole is somewhat rife with age discrimination, and at a certain point you will no longer be hired for development roles with consistency.

I don't personally know anyone that was unable to work due to age discrimination. I worked in software until I retired at 61. At that time I was working with developers ranging from 20s to 50s.

If you are good enough, you'll always be employable.

My question is what should I work to in my career while I'm still young?

What I should strive for in my career? Like should I move into management? Should I continue with dev? Or other options?

Work at whatever suits your interests and goals, and is lucrative enough. Move into management if it interests you. Otherwise don't.

Figure out what you can do better than most - something that gives you an edge over other job applicants. Be a life long learner. Continue to stay up on the new technologies. Keep an eye on the market - understand the attributes that employers value at each point in time.

  • Thanks for the answer. How do developers in job roles with maybe one or two primary technologies gain experience in emerging industry technologies? Currently I'm a C# developer, but say I decide to learn React on my own time. I feel like when it comes to applying for jobs and they're like 'Do you know React?', and I say 'Yeah, I learned it myself on my own time', will that be good enough? – DubDub Sep 8 '20 at 15:33

I'm 53 and still get companies coming to me (with generous salaries)... it's about what skills you bring, and whether they way you are perceived fits what the company wants. Older developers could be seen as having a more stable life, less of a flight risk, more able to take charge of things, having solid experience to compensate for the slower learning, even though on raw code throughput they can't match the young graduates. And that means your career constantly pivoting to where the demand is; of course you'll go through times of dealing with mundane CRUD applications, working with unpalatable tech, working with difficult people.

The age profile of developers is skewed to the young, in part because those who are successful often go on to management, start their own businesses, make enough to retire/downsize early, or get bored and do something else. In bad companies it's also skewed to the young because they haven't yet realised that regular crunch and low pay is down to a management that sees them as expendable.

I'd like to work until I'm at least 65 and stay on competitive rates

The biggest point is probably this: don't make hard plans for the shape of your career in your 50s now. The industry has changed out of all recognition from the one I joined in 1993 and it will do the same between now and 2045 or whenever - we can have little idea whether it will be employing millions, or machines will do most of the coding and all but the chosen few at the giants will be redundant. It might be a pleasure to still be a dev, or it might suck beyond belief. Take it a step at a time and critically re-evaluate your options on a regular basis.

  • Thanks for the answer, I completely agree, I kind of have a long term plan with short term goals working towards that, and often review the plan to make sure it's still viable, that's kind of why I asked this question. You've got to stay flexible, right? – DubDub Sep 8 '20 at 15:18

I hear more and more stories about developers who get old and don't get hired again.

Older developers who "don't get hired again" are usually not getting hired for reasons that have nothing to do with them being older. It's usually other reasons that they prefer to dress up as being about their age because it's more palatable for them to relate as the reason they didn't get hired. It's not their fault that way IYSWIM.

Older developers absolutely still get hired (Source: I'm not going to say how old I am but it's substantially older than you and have frequently worked with people substantially older than I am now.)

'As long as I stay current, I'll still be hired', however I think that this may just be an excuse I sell myself.

While staying current is important, continuing to improve is more important. I'm easily a better developer than I was twenty years ago, and strangely enough I have an easier time getting hired than I did twenty years ago and charge considerably more for my services as well. And I'm not a rock star by any means - I've met and worked with devs who far outstrip my modest abilities who were both younger and older than me.

I'll just quickly clarify 'rife with age discrimination'. I think it's better for companies to hire young graduates, as it suits them in the long term, meaning older applicants are disregarded. I do consider this age discrimination, despite it being better for the company. I'd rather not discuss this point further.

Well if we're just going to make up own on definitions of things then I'm going to say that your definition is itself defined as "Complete pifflewaffle sauce with reputational glazing" and I'd rather not discuss this point further.

Ideally, I'd love to continue working in development, and aspiring to be a lead dev one day, however it feels like even if I get there, I can't really expect to still be hired at 50 years old, or maybe even 40. I'd also be happy to change role, but I'm not really sure what I'd try move into, or when I should start going for those sorts of career opportunities.

OK.. being serious here. Stop. borrowing. trouble. 40 is 20 years way for you, that's as long as you've been alive thus far. I highly doubt you came out of the womb with a fully formed plan of what your life was going to look like when you were 20 so why try and do the same now? I'm not saying you can't have an eye on the future at all (I mean save for a house, a pension that sort of thing) but this is extreme - and you risk paralyzing your ability to live your life now because you're spending all your time worrying about two decades from now.

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    Let me guess, you work at the same position for more than 10 years and aren't familar with hardships of job hunting while being on older side of average developers age. I'll be honest, I do not have first hand experience, but my older peers went through some ugly situations because they clinged to coding. Because they "liked the challenge of it" or were "mathematically minded", guess what ? HR doesn't care they want younger programmers who can work extra, are faster and and think out of the box. There are some tough challenges with age, and im just 28... – Terry Glebnerr Sep 7 '20 at 17:38
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    @TerryGlebnerr if someone does the job better and faster than you then it's not age discrimination, it's just reality of the market. Age may cause it for some people, but that's not universal or discrimination to prefer a better employee. – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 7 '20 at 17:50
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    @TerryGlebnerr At this point I would normally not responds to not drive this into off topic, but I have to point out that you are signing this with your real name and you have company name in your profile page, and stackexchange pages index highly on google. And I don't think any employer would be happy to find those comments. – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 7 '20 at 18:03
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    @TerryGlebnerr Nope, longest I have been in any role has been five years and the last time I was looking for a dev job (and was hired) I was more than a decade older than you are now. – motosubatsu Sep 7 '20 at 18:26
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    Thanks for the answer, a lot of value in here, basically saying just be good at your job and you'll get hired, I hope that's the case and I don't struggle in the future. Also I like your definition of mine, pretty funny. I thought I'd also mention that perhaps I'm weird, but I kind of had a life plan since I was 16, and it's going pretty well, I was hoping this question would give me some insight of what to do if something in that plan goes wrong and I start facing hardship which I hadn't previously considered before. – DubDub Sep 8 '20 at 15:02

A lot of the age discrimination is a perception that you are unwilling/unable to learn anything new.

A former HR person was willing to admit that in a PBS interview a while back. And if you watch the entire thing, in particular the bit about getting a B in computers, you will see why they have that concern.

And many developers fit that stereotype. Obviously they aren't struggling with general computers, but plenty of them do not learn anything new. You see quite a few developers complaining on Quora about age discrimination, but a lot of it is simply that they are C++ developers or Java developers who were used to developing desktop systems with crappy UIs. That just is not done anymore at anywhere near the scale it used to be done, so they spend their time complaining about the inefficiency of Electron and "JavaScript code monkeys", which replaced Qt and JavaFX in many cases or Java Spring on the backend.

I nearly got stuck in this myself a year ago when job searching as the SPA surge blew past me until two years ago. I should have been using React for years, but at the time it seemed like a battleship for fly-swatting. React is probably my most requested skill among recruiters now.

I know older developers who are currently unemployed and it is in large part due to them not being interested in moving beyond Java in a world where developers are expected to be full-stack and versatile about languages if they want good pay. They don't want to learn JavaScript. They don't want to learn React. They want to keep copy/pasting jQuery. They don't want to learn SQL to a high level. They don't want to learn Go, which is rapidly eating the backend world. They intend to finish their careers doing Java and often older Java. Java time has been out for 6 years now. Know people who still want to use Joda Time in 2020? I have a friend who works with such people.

A friend of mine did technical recruiting for a while and encountered the same thing. The older workers saw their existing skillset as their breadwinning skill and did not want to branch into other things.

There are plenty of juniors not that interested in learning either, but they never make it into the field or if they do, it is because they learned the hottest technology right away and so the need to learn new things did not come up early.

Obviously this is correctable. Just keep learning.

Some fields certainly have age discrimination like video games and the startup sphere. But a lot of that is also to facilitate exploitation. The pay in the former and often the latter is dreadful and they work you twice the hours. So they don't want the old guy as he can't handle 80 hours. But is that what you want to do anyway? As plenty of companies will pay a premium for 80 hours too.

  • When you walk into room/videocall first thing they see is your age, wrinkles, gray hair and receding hairline not Atom and go skills, and believe me first impression is huge part of interview success. I had interview recently, and easily passed through programming test, when it came to second stage, whatsapp face to face talk I got weird look, I understood that I wont get hired. I was like "ehh just another ageist interview I have no chances with". – ImmortanJoe Sep 8 '20 at 0:45
  • Thanks for the answer, out of curiosity, how do you keep up to date with the most current tech stack used in the industry?. – DubDub Sep 8 '20 at 15:15
  • @DubDub I read Hacker News. It is very North American focused, but the development trends take 1-2 years to get to where I am.Calgary startups are currently in the TypeScript for everything thrall and Go is popping up as well. – Matthew Gaiser Sep 8 '20 at 17:13

Age discrimination can start as early as mid 20s. There are some fields that are forgiving to older developers, like legacy maintenance, banking, embedded, hardware design and similar. These fields favor narrow, specific knowledge that will be useful for at least decade, but there are few positions, supply will be higher than demand. Average joe in tech wont be as lucky however, for example game development is ruthless, I wanted to attend gamedev centered hackathon/bootcamp 2 years ago and was told that im too old, and i was 24 back then. These are extreme examples but on average there is visible ageism in tech, most of it kicks in during early 30s. As rule of a thumb if you are visibly older than average age of team, you will get occasional stink eye or silent treatment by younger peers.

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    Can you provide sources for any of the claims you are making? – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 7 '20 at 17:30
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    @Tymoteusz My own experience mostly, and stories of my friends, some of them coworkers. I was isolated by coworkers until I did plastic surgeries to shave off few years. Not that rare tale where i work. – Ruth Steiner Sep 7 '20 at 17:49
  • This answer is very close to reality, however I wouldn't call it discrimination. Younger developers just work harder and faster. I got old and made way for younger guys. Now I work as leader, a position way more fit for someone who lost vigor in favor of wisdom. Nothing personal. – Axel Ekster Sep 7 '20 at 19:44

At your age I wouldn't worry a bit you are still in your prime and most doors are wide open for you. But in late 20s, boy it gets ugly, I dread day I turn 30. There is very clear discrimination against the older folks. It becomes harder and harder to take part in teamplay or socialize at work. There are ugly, self fulfilling stereotypes, coworkers, especially management assumes you are stuck in old ways and are out of the loop, you have to constantly "prove" that you can handle tasks related to stacks as platforms.

  • The snow glows white on the mountain tonight.. – motosubatsu Sep 7 '20 at 17:28
  • Why is this downvoted guys ? – Terry Glebnerr Sep 7 '20 at 17:42
  • @TerryGlebnerr - The multiple grammar mistakes was my primary motivation for downvoting this answer – Donald Sep 7 '20 at 17:50
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    I'm over 30 and have never encountered these issues. I have several colleagues who are older than me and are highly respected in their positions. Do you have sources to back your information up? – Draken Sep 8 '20 at 13:08
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    Again, you're just stating what you have encountered and believed when it is based solely on your own personal experience. I've just searched and found an article stating the average age of programmers is 32. This is one reason why you are being downvoted, because people are not agreeing with your opinions. You even have answers in "your story" stating it's nothing to do with age. Unless you backup your answers with evidence, if they are controversial, you will be downvoted. – Draken Sep 8 '20 at 13:34

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