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Career Growth After 35: What Awaits Programmers?

What expectations, challenges, or opportunities come with career development in the tech industry for programmers 35 and over?

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integerman profile image
Matt Eland

The morning of my 35th birthday they wrapped me in a lined blanket and hauled me out to my back yard. There, before an audience of squirrels and a few neighbors, they placed an ornate crown built of poison ivy on my balded dome and proclaimed me the aged king of the nerds, decreeing that henceforth I must not bend my finger upon the rows of keys and all games must be played with "Dad mode" enabled.

Then I woke up and went to work for real.

Your career is what you make of it. For me, as I've gotten older I've become more interested in the people side of things. I've branched into AI / ML over the last 5 years to satisfy my curiosity and desire to continue to learn, but every year feels like additional "bonus levels" where you've mastered the mechanics and are layering in new skill points and experimenting in new ways.

Your career is what you make of it. Learn, grow, and invest in others. Invest in yourself, because the exciting changes in tech will continue. At 40 I found myself leaving an engineering management role to teach new developers. At 41 I found myself going back to college in the evenings to pursue a master's degree. Why? Because it opens up new avenues to teach others and new things to learn.

I'm now writing a lot, creating courses, presenting at conferences, and generally dunking on the areas I touch. It will fade over time as I continue to age, I'm certain, but for now I'm able to make a massive difference for my organizations - and I still write a lot of code while making that difference.

But seriously, the dad mode thing is real. You're gunna suck at games. that's okay.

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Ben Sinclair

If I ever join chat on any games, kids always ask how old I am and guess something "really old" like 20. And I tell them, and they tell me I'm lying. There's a real feeling with young people that when you get older you can't still be playing games.

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integerman profile image
Matt Eland

Well, that's what my parents and their generation told us when we were growing up in the 80's. That's definitely been proven to be a wrong assumption.

I will tell you that my skills decreased greatly moving into my 30s and then beyond, and nowadays I don't have as much energy to game, but I'm still interested in gaming. As a result, I watch Let's Plays of games at 2x speed as I'm winding down to get my story fix. I also still play a lot of simulation and management games I can casually pause and walk away from. Those are good ones for when my wife and I are just hanging out watching TV. But yeah, my usage of games has changed over the years in part because of skill, but more because of shifting priorities and what I choose to do with my focus time.

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overFlow

I like watching replays of ping mobile by some guy Called BuiBiu I find the game play intertwining especially since I don’t have a device to play with

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Trent Haynes

A game you can walk away from when you need to - that's pretty much my criteria for anything that I'm going to play more than once a blue moon.

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overFlow

I used to pubg-mobile a lot. And the same thing would happen. I would get asked questions about my age. I started wanting to play with my peers lol

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Karen Dillehay

Ha same, as a 38 year old female it's always astonishing to the youths.

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overFlow

You reach an age when you play for different reasons lol competitive or social lol I know I play Pubg social and competitively I would play justice league... no one can beat me on that. But on pubg these kids do head shots and cheats.

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Jake Lundberg

I'm 37 and have been in the industry for about 9(ish) years. Fortunately, I have't had to deal with this yet. But I have also had the privilege of working with some great engineers who are 40+ years old, and here are some of my observations:

  1. There is no one true path

For some reason, there's this stigma in our industry that great engineers should move into management to continue to advance their careers. I whole heartedly disagree with this sentiment. While management is certainly 1 path someone can take, it is not the only path.

I've had the pleasure of working with many outstanding engineers over the age of 40 who have shown me many other paths that can be taken...

Because they love it so much, several of them don't want to stop writing code, so they've simply remained as senior+ engineers. And are very happy doing what they do.

One of them built a SaaS product, sold it to a few large companies, and just maintains it himself.

Another one found passion in teaching tech and is now an instructor for a bootcamp, while helping to maintain OSS on their spare time.

And still another one moved into consulting. Now they get paid to travel all over the world to assess engineering teams processes and standards in order to help them become more efficient.

Don't let a false stigma control your career path. If you want to go into management, awesome! But don't think it's the only path you have available to you.

  1. Regardless of your age, the learning doesn't stop

Most of the 40+ year old engineers I've spoken to and worked with have had a few things in common, 1 of which is they have not stopped learning and keeping up with the industry. The old adage of "you can't teach and old dog new tricks" definitely doesn't apply to them.

I only mention this to say that one of the expectations for all people in this industry, regardless of age, is that we keep learning.

  1. Learn to get along with people of all ages

Regardless if you're an engineer, a manager, an accountant or a receptionist, as we get older, we will eventually start to work around people who are younger than us. Sometimes those people might be your managers, our clients, or even our CEO's. So a challenge that some might face is being able to get along with the younger generation.

I've met some people who have a really hard time being told what to do by someone 10-20 years their junior. Even just working alongside someone as equals who is that much younger might be challenging for some. So opening yourself up to this type of thing could really set you up for success as you cross that 35 year threshold.

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Michael Tharrington

As a 35-year-old, I'm particularly curious about what folks think here. Non-dev here to be clear, but still curious...

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Neil B

There seemed to be a gradual shift away from liking shiny tech for the sake of tech to just wanting tools that help accomplish bigger goals. Nobody cares about the brand of saw you use, they only care about the quality and craftsmanship of the furniture you build.

Challenges & opportunities? Stay away from IBM since the cokeheads there seem to think anyone over 40 is a dinosaur, and quit buying their products. Most other places seem just fine to let you work till you're 90 if you so desire. The career tree is the same as 30 or 25.

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chustedde

It seems like there's definitely a push to move into management and away from being a practitioner if you've been in the field for a while. I'm not sure how I want to handle this personally - I've been staying in a role where I get to be a mentor while avoiding some of the more official management duties, but sometimes I feel a bit stuck. Curious how others navigate this situation!

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Ben Sinclair

I don't see this al all in my field. I've worked for agencies for most of my software life.

By "agencies" I mean the people who do things like TV ads, branding, websites and so on for other companies, not like a pool of people who get rented out as coders.

Anyway, in agency life there's basically no "progression", certainly not from development to management. You might become a technical lead or something, but otherwise the two skillsets are completely different.

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qasim

Navigating the transition from a practitioner to a managerial role can indeed be a significant decision. It's essential to find a path that aligns with your strengths and career aspirations. Exploring opportunities to mentor while retaining your technology expertise can be a rewarding compromise. Hearing about others' experiences in similar situations can offer valuable insights and guidance.

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Matt Pogue

At age 45 with 26 years under my belt, I can say that I enjoy my career now more than ever. I'm the sole admin for a small organization, with my position being about 30% IT support (everything from PCs to security) and 70% programming (development on our internal project management app, along with software for a new business we're starting up). I have the freedom to explore the technologies I'm interested in. One piece of advice for anyone in this field - you must ALWAYS be learning. I spend at least an hour each day (on my own time) reading articles on either new topics or advanced info for the stuff I work on day-to-day. Since I'm the Solo Admin (thesoloadmin.com), I do both hands-on and budgeting/policy/management type stuff too. For any of my fellow devs/admins out there, yes, you CAN have a great 2nd half of your career after 35. I wouldn't change it for the world!

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jaustinUF

Just finished my fourth month of training in Data Engineering through mentoring from a working AWS Data Engineer. With degrees in Electrical Engineering and years of experience in software engineering I’m finding it hard work, rewarding, and very interesting to see and learn how the computer field has changed since my introduction to FORTRAN in the early sixties.

My point: there’s nothing special about me or my engineering practice change to Data Engineering at 82. Anyone can grow their career after 35, 45, or 75. It’s a matter of interest, intent, and (like life itself), focus and work. Maturity helps one see that work doesn’t have to be hard … just a matter of attitude.

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Trent Haynes

I have about 28 years in this field. I moved to an ML/AI company about 18 months ago, where I started using Python, Postgres and Spark for the first time. Enjoying the change - I work as a Lead Data Engineer and spend my time figuring out how to optimize the process of getting "code" from data scientists and making it a product. I still code, but I spend a lot of time thinking how to improve code quality and improve efficiency (from a process point of view).

It's really nice not building another OLTP related product/tool/service.

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Ralph Hightower

Jobs are available after 35. I was hired at 50 for C#, .Net software development. Even though I had no experience with C#, I have two decades of C, C++ programming.

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