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Derrick Koon
Derrick Koon

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The Imaginary Fear of Your Own Age

When I took my first project as a "professional"(whatever that means) developer I was 29 years old. I was already older than most of the workforce that I saw at the tech conferences around me. I heard stories of 16 year old wiz kids building whole libraries and people my age being forced out of the workforce by the younger crowd. I lived in fear of telling people my age even though I looked at the time at least 5 years older than what I was. My fear was that my capability had diminished, and stack that on top of an overwhelming case of Imposter Syndrome (Google it if you don't know...) and you have a recipe for a wallflower at any conference.

Flash forward a couple of years and I have started to see a trend, the number of gray hairs at the conferences as grown as the workforce in the US slowly accepts the march of technology. Career switchers, and bootcamp grads are a norm at the conferences. People have started to accept the "new kids" aren't always kids. I am not naive enough to think this is the case everywhere. I know there is still rampant ageism, sexism and bigotry running rampant in our field. But I still see the change happening, slowly.

Next year I turn 40, I have a wife and kids and we live a comfortable life on my salary as a developer. I still get anxious about my age sometimes. Especially when I attend conferences with my trusty Thinkpad under my arm while everybody else is carrying the newest MacBook Pro. But luckily my age and experience have taught me some things about the tech industry that set my mind at ease.

The first of these is that any industry values the young more. It's inevitable but not for the reasons you think. The main reason in my opinion is that young people are inexperienced when dealing with management. They often don't ask for enough money for their skills and they are more than willing to work long hours to "prove themselves". Some of the shadier businesses set expectations such as 80 hour work weeks and entice the young people to the door with promises of bean bag chairs and free pizza Friday. In exchange you are told to put aside anything resembling a life and soon find yourself at the end of the burnout cycle. A business's first priority is making a profit, everything else is secondary, please remember this. You are and always will be replaceable to them.

Next thing is that nobody has time to become an expert, the industry moves too fast. I knew lots of folks who were so called JQuery "experts" who now sit around wondering why they didn't jump on Angular when it came out. The reason is that all tech is going to become obsolete. If you are building something in ReactJS right now and using the latest and greatest technology I can guarantee you that in 5 years someone will open your files and go "ew, what idiot wrote this?" Why, because something better will have replaced it. Maybe an iteration, maybe a whole new framework or technology. And because of that everybody is on an even keel when it comes to learning things. Old and Young, as long as you can still learn you are on the same footing as the wiz kid. You just have to work for it.

So I can already hear the responses. What about getting hired, what about problems getting jobs. The easiest way to get around that is to be honest with the person hiring you. If you are 40 and walk into an interview in a hoodie and flip flops you can forget it. But if you look like your age (once again this is probably a controversial statement), you will be judged on that level. What about Google and Facebook? These places should be labeled what they are, the McDonalds of our industry, they take in brilliant young people and burn them to the ground. Then they dispose of the husk of a person and hire the next person proud to have a Google sticker on their laptop.

I leave you with this, I feel like age is seen in the industry not as a limiting factor so much as a question of money. A person who is 40 in my case is never gonna work at Google. But the fact is that I probably wouldn't want to, I would be out of place and more than willing to tell someone to kiss my A$$ if they asked me to miss my kids events to move a product out the door. Having never been a part of Google I may be off base. The industry has more work than people. That is a truth, and as long as you can learn you CAN make it.

Much love to the community for putting up with my rants.. I love this community.....

Top comments (2)

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

I'm almost 20 years older than you. As you get older, ageism does become a real problem. You realize this when you pass every phone interview and pre-interview test with flying colors but when you and your gray hair show up for the face-to-face, you are quickly shown the door. I had this happen more than once during my job search a few months ago.

That said, there are plenty of jobs around in the corporate world where age isn't a factor and someone who can serve as a bridge between old and new technologies is valuable. There's a lot of legacy code out there that needs to be supported and modernized.

0xyasser profile image
Yasser A

I'm no expert but it's a dream to get a job in one of the big 5 .. but lately I've read a lot of horrible stories about working there. My friend about to finish his first year on one of them and as much as he was excited about it at the beginning now he is telling me to never even think about it.
I'm still not sure .. I think it won't hurt to try and you can always find something else when you you cannot take it anymore.