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The general question

Do older people (> 40 years) who have successfully retrained as developers stand any chance to be interviewed for junior level positions, and if so, how do they maximize their chances?

Background to this question

Over the last few years I've been helping an acquaintance learn software development and programming, specifically C/C++ development. He has a pretty solid background in science and has had experience programming in a domain-specific language, so it wasn't too much of a stretch for him to learn. He has come to a point where I would consider him a good hire for an entry-level software development position, and I'm sure he would do very well.

The catch is that this guy is 45-50 years old, with a masters in Mathmatics. He had been made redundant from his previous job which was in a very specialized field. It would be almost impossible for him to find a similar job in the UK, and he's not really willing/able to leave his country.

Over the last few months he's applied for numerous software engineering jobs, but he's never been able to get a single interview. I'm fairly certain he'd do very well if he managed to get an interview, but nobody seems willing to give him a chance.

So my question is, is there any hope for someone in his situation? If so, what can I suggest he do to get interviews from prospective employers, and how can he make his resume more attractive? My only idea at this point is that he start a portfolio of projects, which would showcase his skills, but I'm not sure if this would help.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Oct 2 '15 at 14:54
  • You say hasnt gotten a single interview. He doesnt have an IT degree or IT work history. He is competing with graduates with IT degrees, many of whom have been programming their entire life. He is going to have a very hard time getting his foot in any door. – Keltari Oct 13 '15 at 3:03

10 Answers 10

29

This is a variant of the "portfolio of projects" idea.

Look for a popular, widely used, open software project in C or C++ that relates to one of his areas of domain knowledge. He should join the project and start contributing to both discussions and actual development.

At the best, someone needing a developer in that area will pick him out for maturity of e-mail discussions etc., and ask if he would like to be interviewed for a job. Even if that does not happen, he can use it as an example of how he would fit into, and contribute to, a development organization.

22

I had no problems getting interviews (and job offers) as a junior dev with little experience at age 46 (in the US), but my undergrad degree is in a related field and I had started studying for my MS in CS.

I'll echo the "portfolio of projects" recommendation, which should be listed on the resume. Also, don't lie on the resume but don't highlight the age. For example, my resume lists my previous work experience in other fields, but without years -- only my CS experience has years. (This overcomes a fear HR departments have that my CS experience is not current.) Same for my education -- only my MS has years on it, showing that it's recent.

Also, have a professional who is experienced with resumes check out the resume and then take the recommendations to heart. Too many times I see qualified people with bad resumes wondering why they don't get interviews. Yet they actively resist any changes in the resume, despite plenty of evidence that the resume isn't working.

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    I think it is easier for females to get interviews for tech jobs because most companies would like to improve their gender diversity in the IT Department. That's not to say it is easier to get a job being female, just the interview. I would not even argue with claims that it was tougher. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 30 '15 at 14:40
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    Unfortunately, that's a subject that has a lot of anecdotes based on small sample size, and far too little solid research. (Even the research I've seen has been based on only certain types of employers). I've definitely experienced recruiters cold calling based on my gender, but after a few minutes conversation you can tell they just want names for their story of "we tried getting women to apply but they aren't interested in interviewing". – Kathy Sep 30 '15 at 15:41
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    Try applying directly to the companies. Every resume we got with a female name that might have qualified we interviewed even if we did not have an opening for them. I think its different in California but in the midwest and on the east coast I know that many companies struggle to get to 10% – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 30 '15 at 15:49
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    I am heavily recruited by larger tech firms because I'm a female E.E., and my experience is that it wasn't just to sell the story that they don't get enough qualified female applicants, although I am more experienced than a junior dev might be. Many companies want their workforce statistics to reflect gender diversity because they've stated increasing that sort of measurable diversity as a goal to their shareholders. For example, blog.linkedin.com/2015/06/08/linkedins-2015-workforce-diversity – ColleenV Sep 30 '15 at 17:56
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    Sorry I didn't make it clear in my answer. I wasn't talking about large firms calling, but instead independent recruiters who are trolling sites like SO and Linked In, looking for names to check off without having read the actual resume. (And fwiw, I'm now a senior dev with experience, but that wasn't important to the answer.) – Kathy Sep 30 '15 at 18:31
11

I can give you a note of hope here, my dad did exactly this. After being a teacher for over 20 years the stress and government interference finally became too much and he decided to leave at a similar age to your friend.

He'd been doing a lot of hobby programming over the years, was very strong in a number of languages, and he went after jobs where his specialist experience would be useful. He found a job fairly quickly and from there went on to have a successful programming career.

Your guy has a masters in mathematics. That's great. So he should look for roles where that is important.

  • 3d gaming
  • all sorts of science and modelling
  • encryption/security
  • video processing
  • financial packages (algorithm trading etc)
  • data analyst type roles
  • and so many more...

Basically he shouldn't just write off his scientific background and his maths knowledge - he should look for jobs where those will be a positive benefit and help him stand out from the crowd.

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    BIg data jobs too, they pay well and are having trouble finding qualified people – HLGEM Oct 1 '15 at 20:40
7

Focus in a cover letter on the experience with a domain specific language and the recent learning of C++. It would help to have a project and display the code online. Indicate this was a decision to make a career change and not a desperate attempt to find employment because you can't find a job in your current field. There are too many programming applicants that aren't qualified and choose to do it just for the money.

Leave out other experiences that are not related other than, a job history for the last 8-10 years. 20+ years of experience that isn't relevant is a distraction and just says you're old and couldn't keep your last job.

Just have a college degree is enough for many jobs, so I don't think a lack of CS degree is a deal breaker in today's programming world.

Make sure this person has solid references who are willing to go out of their way to either send an email or make a phone call to a prospective job.

5

Lots of good answers here, but something in your question stuck out to me: he's having trouble getting an interview. Most of these (very good) answers are most useful once you are sitting across the room from (or on the phone with) a real live person.

Paying someone to review your resume (as @Kathy suggests) is absolutely worthwhile for this, but I'd go a step further and find a talent recruiting agency. They get paid (usually by the hiring firm) any time they place a candidate. As a developer the US, I've been denied for jobs by the hiring firm's HR department but had recruiters contact me for the EXACT same position (via LinkedIn) and fight for me and get me further along the process than I could get on my own.

At the end of the day, especially in larger firms, you need an insider to bring your resume to the manager's attention. If you have a personal connection in the company, use that. Otherwise, recruiting companies get paid by the hiring firm to do exactly that.

4

My understanding is that testing is a growing area in IT.

I know of some training centers in the U.S. that specialize in training older, highly educated professional immigrants in the latest testing approaches and tools, then cut them loose on Silicone Valley with high % of graduates receiving employment offers.

Testing could be a great segway into development, and even if he ends up a tester and not a developer, he would still get to apply his C++ knowledge, earn good living and have room to grow professionally.

Age should not be a concern here, due to the growing demand. However, your friend might benefit from going through a well-regarded training program in testing (not sure about length but guessing anywhere from 3-12 months) in order to earn a recognized credential to formalize his education experience, catch up on latest technology, and increase his marketability. Good luck!

  • Thanks for this! Testing as a career leading into development never crossed my mind. – Il-Bhima Sep 30 '15 at 17:22
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    @Il-Bhima If you try the testing approach, consider getting ISTQB certified tester (istqb.org) or something similar. When I first started my job search and put my resume out there, I got 10 times more offers for testing positions than for development, just because I had that certified tester foundation level on my resume. And you won't need 3-12 month for that. A good book and an hour every day for a couple of weeks should do the trick. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Sep 30 '15 at 17:33
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    +1 I'll second that. I started my career as a tester and my coworkers came from various backgrounds like call-center or film sound engineering. I hear that after a couple of years the call-center guy became a project manager with the company. The sound-guy was in his fifties when he started as a tester. – Pavel Oct 1 '15 at 12:14
3

I don't think your friend will have any trouble due to his age-- especially due to being too old. It has been my experience that software developers believe that the field is a meritocracy, and care very little about age. At first blush, I could see a young-ish (30's) team-lead/manager being concerned that a 45-50 year old developer may have trouble assuming a junior role to someone 15-20 years younger than them, and that's something your friend will have to be careful about in his first interview (likely on the phone).

I think his chances depend almost entirely on his personality. As an employer, I'd be concerned that your friend would undermine more senior (but younger) developers by implicitly or explicitly demanding respect due to his age. Your friend should be aware that he will work with developers who are much younger but much better than him. He should do everything in his power to appear teachable and humble (which is advice I'd give to developers at every age and seniority, actually). I would also recommend that he be as passionate about this career change as possible-- if he seems at all like this is a last ditch attempt to find employment they'll hire someone else who seems "hungry" to impress, learn, improve, and contribute. Junior developers who obviously don't like developing are a liability; junior developers who want to be great can be catalysts that make the entire team better; they remind the grizzled veterans of when they were junior devs who believed they could program anything. It won't matter that your friend is a grizzled veteran in a different field-- though he may find he has a lot more in common with the senior devs than you might think.

If the interviewer believes that he is teachable and realistic about his own experience-level, AND he's asking for a salary appropriate for that experience-level, I would be surprised if he had any trouble at all getting a job. If it were me or one of the interviewers I've known, I would favor an amiable older candidate with a good job history (even if it was barely related to software) over new college-grads because 1) he has shown he can hold a job and 2) I'd be more confident that he has the soft skills to deal with people well.

HOWEVER, I would highly recommend that your friend choose a different language-- whatever is most popular in his geographic area. C++ is an incredibly hard language to develop in. I recommend .NET (C#) or Java, but in some places Python or Ruby could be appropriate.

Some have mentioned testing (also known as QA) as a field that might be suited for him and I agree. Plenty of people make the transition from QA to development, especially at an older age. Another really good thing he could do is learn HTML/JavaScript/CSS/jQuery and try to get an entry-level front-end web development job-- since his domain-specific language experience was likely using a scripting language, he might be able to pick up web development much easier than C++/C#/Java.

3

I got an entry-level job at age 52. I began learning to code, rather casually, at age 47, and began coding daily at age 50.

Yes, it's harder for people in this age group than for the young, but I am evidence that it's possible and would say persistence was the most important factor in my case.

I had a pretty big portfolio of projects by the time I got hired, but I don't think it played any role in getting me a job. However, building that portfolio certainly enabled me to improve my skills, and it was a tangible expression of my level. Confidence in my level is part of what got me hired.

Taking part in an open source project was often recommended to me. I joined one late in the job-hunting process, actually just before getting hired; it played no role in my getting work, though.

It's also important for the candidate to make use of the skills from their prior experience. Your friend's degree in Mathematics means that data science and numeric programming are much stronger possibilities than others.

And of course networking widely increases one's chances very starkly. I don't think going to Meetups and conferences was very helpful to me. Two batches at the Recurse Center (2) established a phenomenal personal network for me, and that network gave me a lot of support and got me a few interviews, but not a job. What worked for me was to contact people I already knew (mostly in fields other than programming) and ask whether their companies have programming positions or whether they were close to any engineers whose companies had programming positions. In the end that was what worked for me — the husband of someone I hired long ago is an engineer and recommended me internally. But relying on one's network is slow; it worked for me because I was able to persist long enough.

People in this age group are part of the neglected long tail of the job market, and I take seriously my responsibilities toward other people in the group. So I'd be happy to speak to your friend, if that would be useful. I can be reached at the email address your friend will find at the bottom of this link.

1

I got an entry level job at age 49. I was hired base on my enthusiasm, curiosity and by getting my hands dirty creating my own asp.net websites. (or at least that's what I was told). Don't feel pressure to have an in-depth knowledge of C#, SQL, etc. Learn them, yes, but don't feel you have to be an expert. The best route, I believe, is create. This will give you real-world experience in development, because you'll run into common scenarios, bugs, etc. My opinion is the ASP.Net stack is easiest to learn quickly, and it doesn't cost a thing. Learn C#, SQL, and HTML/CSS/Javascript, then you'll pretty much learn the call stack. Choose either WebForms or MVC, because both are here to stay. Go to YouTube and do the Pragim Technology free vids. They should contain most everything you need. Learn how to Google your questions and use Stack Overflow, etc. Learn how to debug with Visual Studio. I've taken some classes. The weeklong Microsoft crash courses are way too fast-paced for beginners -- and others. No way you can learn everything in a week. I've had a couple good classes through colleges or training schools, usually depends on whether the teacher cares about the students and is willing to interact with them and help them, and again, you're not trying to learn everything in a week. Finally, I sought out tutors, those in the industry who sat down with me and explained what goes on in the working world. Even at $30 to $50 a session, it's much better than thousands for a weeklong crash course that will only frustrate you. Hey, it wasn't an easy road. I had many interviews where I thought I had the job, and I had just about given up when I landed a job. Now with a year in, my opportunities are many.

  • Hi, and welcome. Thanks for deciding to contribute here. We are a bit different from other sites. We are looking for general and supported answers, rather than personal anecdotes. Please have a look at The Tour which will tell you a bit more about how things work here. – DJClayworth Oct 1 '15 at 16:19
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Make him get a professional to write his CV. Some people have real problems writing a good CV. Especially if they’ve got a job for lifetime or thought so and never had to write a CV. The CV makes all the difference. Some CVs won’t even be read. That’s where a professional charging £200 to £300 makes all the difference.

I have helped people doing this. I was given a CV, read it, asked the person “would you hire someone with this CV” and they answered “no”. I rewrote it sentence by sentence, everything perfectly true, but putting the person in the best light. Got the job without problems.

Writing good CVs isn’t in the skill set of most mathematicians. So get someone who knows how to do it.

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