5

I'm in school right now, and in a couple of years, I'm going to look for work as a software/systems engineer. The thing is that right now, I'm 32 years old.

With age being a potential issue, where is age less of an issue? What type of company/culture should be absolutely avoided? Any warning signs?

Some backstory, if you have the time. (TL;DR, I'll be an "old" man in a new job, and it could suck.)

I've got a couple more years to go before I graduate with a BS (Yes, I know degrees aren't everything, but I have none at all, except for an Arabic AA.) in CompSci, as well as several AASs (in Computer Programming, Web Development, and Comp Sci) and several certs (C++, Java, OracleSQL). Right now, I'm just not comfortable putting myself on the market because I don't feel yet I'm even an "average good" programmer, though I'm putting tremendous effort toward that.

On the bright side, I didn't start out software/tech ignorant. I was in the Marines for 8 years, finishing the last three in Special Operations Intelligence (Signals), and did contracting for a year in a company that specialized in networking centric geolocation. Got laid off and went back to school. Then was hired as a contract worker for Google for over a year and a half. I've had plenty of computer science exposure and OJT in programming (also UAS systems, remote sensing, GIS, database design/implementation, and SDRs), but have only really dedicated myself academically to Computer Science/Software Engineering in the last year, after realizing this really is what makes me happy, and where I seem to have the most suitable talents.

Thing is, I'm going to be a 34-35 year old entry level employee, working with 22-24 year olds starting fresh as well, but they are all shiny and new(and may actually have more experience in tech industry), which may make me look bad. People my age will have over 10 years experience and will not be my peers, likely having senior positions in company. I feel it could be a situation where it looks like I'm experienced because of my age, but when I behave like a new guy, which I will be, I'll be treated like an idiot, instead of a new guy. I've got a family to worry about, so this is really stressing me out.

  • 18
    Do not present yourself, or even think of yourself, as an entry level employee. You are a person with substantial experience in important fields who has recently added some further education and skills. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 12 '16 at 20:10
  • 2
    I don't think "too old" will even be on the radar as a concern. Perhaps if you were 20 years older you should worry, but not when in your mid 30s. Perhaps you feel a little self-conscious about being older than your peers in class, and are turning that into a fear of something that is not really there. – user45590 Jun 13 '16 at 9:50
  • 2
    FYI. IT has suffered from dearth of new graduates for about 15 years now. 32 used to be ancient in the field, but now it's young. your age won't be a factor – Richard U Jun 13 '16 at 14:17
  • 1
    I started as a "new" software developer at the age of 48. Age has never been an issue once I got to the interview stage (I noticed a much higher rate of phone interviews once I got rid of any age indicators on my resume). I used age as a plus in my interviews -- I'm old enough to act like an adult, and I know I need to deliver value for my paycheck. Four years in I still don't have problems, other than occasionally having to bite my tongue when some 32 year old co-worker complains about being old. ;) – Kathy Jun 13 '16 at 20:19
  • 1
    @Kathy lol, such a joker :) I think being the 'old' guy in the classroom may be what's giving me a distorted impression of the job field... And aches and pains from the Marines reinforce it! – NonCreature0714 Jun 13 '16 at 20:25
13

Firstly, you're not "old". Relevant experience counts for a lot, and you need some age to have amassed experience, which you seem to have.

Also, I wouldn't worry if you have Google on your resume, that should get a lot of employers interested in hiring you.

IMHO, in the IT world an on-line persona is as valuable as your resume. Consider:

  • establishing some reputation on stackoverflow
  • contribute to open source github projects
  • write a blog and get followers

and include references to these in your resume.

  • 1
    With your background the TLA's would be one option esp if you have in demand languages. – Pepone Jun 12 '16 at 19:20
  • Thank you both for your valuable input(Bohemian & Pepone)! – NonCreature0714 Jun 12 '16 at 19:35
10

I'll add another point on what an "entry-level hire" actually is.

An entry level hire, ESPECIALLY a programmer, still thinks work is school, that someone has an answer, and someone will come in and save the day if you are stuck. That is completely untrue. If you're assigned a task, most likely nobody knows what's wrong, only that "it stopped working, please look into it".

Whatever stupid habits that an "entry-level" hire has, I have full confidence that 8 years of Marines fixed all of it. Probably far more thoroughly than 8 years in the software industry (things like stubbornness and arrogance don't go away working in IT). If you have passion for the industry, you'll pick it up with minimal hand-holding, and any company worth working for will know that.

  • Also they think that work turned in 95% complete/functional should get an "A." In real life, that gets you a write-up. – Wesley Long Jun 14 '16 at 20:14
8

I'm going to amplify @Patricia Shanahan's comment and expand on it a bit:

You are not an entry-level hire.

In my experience as a developer, "entry-level" is used to refer to someone who is fresh out of school - whether that be high school or undergrad - and is starting their first career-track job.

You have significant experience in technology - at least five years' worth, three with the Marines and two in the private sector. I might even call that ten years, depending on what exactly you did with the Marines in your first five years. At worst, you'll be categorized as a "career-switcher" - someone with experience in one field who is switching to another field.

Yes, you only recently received a formal education in computer science. And yes, you may be applying for your first job where your title is "Software Engineer" or the like. You're still way ahead of the 23-year-olds in terms of life experience and understanding the world around you.

You may make some rookie mistakes in your first couple of months on the job. The difference is that you've made rookie mistakes before - in much higher-stakes situations than a corporate programming job - and know that the sky doesn't fall when you make them.

You're gonna be fine.

2

As someone who owns a development company and has spent the last 8 years looking to hire the "right" person, I can tell you that your "story" (the resume plus your career history and your commentary about it) would make you a top candidate on my list of applicants.

The issue will be (and is for everyone applying in a competitive field) how you position yourself when you write up your resume and especially when you interview. For one, if your age is a pervasive thought in your head that you can not shake, you should talk about it in your interview. Some people will suggest that you not even consider it an issue and never bring it up, but that could be impossible for you. If that is the case, I would comment on it. Bring up the fact that this is your second career path in life and because of that, you are more certain than any younger entry-level applicant that this is the path that you want to go down.

You can call on your previous experience in the military, which is always impressive, to show that you are dedicated and hard working. Commitment to a cause or company is rare in my opinion and your background shows that you are capable of that, so lean on that!

Once you actually get the job your age will be a non-issue. The scenarios you imagine where you are making typical beginner mistakes are not going to be really come in to play. People who make beginner mistakes will be corrected, and if the company you are working for is a decent one, they will teach you how and why and watch to see if you learn from it. From there it's up to you, like every other person in that position, to take the ball and run.

But seriously, I have been looking to hire a veteran programmer for some time! Just haven't found one. I think you'll do fine! Just go at it like any other person would.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.