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Cover image for What's my age again?

What's my age again?

moopet profile image Ben Sinclair Updated on ・5 min read

I'm Ben, I'm a developer, and...

I'm old.

Fuller disclosure, please!

Well, according to developers on the Internet, I'm old. I'm actually 451, which is mid-career for a lot of people in different jobs.

I recently read a post here called Forty and still a dev that got me a-thinking.

As a professional athlete, maybe I'd be past my prime. As a plumber? Not so much. Why does the world think that developers fall into the first set?

Ageism, schmagism

A local company once sent an email advertising a job to our local Python group's mailing list. We don't totally hate these emails if they're done infrequently and are relevant.

This one started:

We're an up-and-coming team looking for a young, enthusiastic developer to...

One of our older members hit reply-to-all on that one. I can still feel his wrath. It's so easy for people to stick in words like that. Young means sharp. Young means cutting-edge.

And slipped into a job spec, it also means cheap.

Respect

Some people say to respect your elders. Others say that respect is something that should be earned.

The people saying these sayings are dumb as shit2. Everyone should respect everyone else. Sure, you can earn more respect for doing something great, but as a baseline, just respect everyone. Just do it.

That newcomer in the office or your 3 o'clock interviewee? Treat them like they know their business, whether they're 18 or 80.

On the Internet, nobody knows you're...

Some of the places I chat to people, I'll talk to someone for weeks or months before a phrase like, "gotta go to school" brings the topic up and I find out they're 14. Or a wistful memory of a band they liked when they were younger turns out to be black-and-white on youtube and I find they've got another 20 years on me.

On the Internet, programming is still a meritocracy. For better or worse, if you can do it, you can do it. This means you might get a toe in the door with some open-source project or a remote interview leading to a work-from-home position. But in real life, face-to-face, it's a lot different.

People judge.

If you look young, does it matter that you can write a device driver in assembly? You'll be dismissed for not having the breadth of experience that comes with age.

If you look old, can you only write device drivers in assembly?

I saw tagged template literals in Javascript the other day and thought the editor's highlighter was broken because obviously that's a syntax error, right? Should I be put out to pasture? Am I too old to learn?

What can old dog like me teach a junior?

Mentorship, you say? Maybe that's what it is. I find that I have more to say on subject like work/life balance than I do on machine learning.

I was young once. I had some impractical ideas about life. I took Cybernetics at university because I'd just watched Terminator 2 and couldn't think of anything better to do. None of it matters.

  • you can go home at 5 (or 5:30 or whenever your contract says). You don't have to work late unless there's a genuine emergency.
  • you can go home at 3 if you need to be in for a delivery. Everyone has a real life that can get in the way of work, and people understand.
  • don't take your work home with you, even if you think it's fun and interesting. Seriously, pick a different hobby.
  • you don't need to keep polishing your portfolio.
  • help your friends out by making them a website if you want to. Do it free if you want to. We're not all designers and we don't have to fight against "doing it for exposure", but if it's for a company or friend-of-a-friend, charge them market rate.
  • look up market rate and try to get comfortable justifying it to people.
  • if you finish the work quicker than everyone else, it could be a sign that you're a rock star ten times ninja emoji developer. Except you're not, you just missed something out.

You can't do this for the rest of your life!

My first job was PC support for a bunch of literal rocket scientists. They built satellites and defence systems but were generally impressed when I fixed their printers, because those darn machines, etc. One day my boss asked me what I wanted to do as a proper job because, "you don't want to do this for the rest of your life".
I was kind of insulted: there's nothing wrong with PC support. I went back to it in later years, too.

I don't see most things as a progression from development, and I'm still not ready for that pasture.

Careering off the road: the management route

Some developers become leads in their niche, then team leads, then line managers, then technical managers, then CTOs and so forth.

I think this is ok, provided -

  1. that's what they want to do
  2. they're being pulled into management, not being pushed out of development
  3. they're aware that they won't do much development anymore
  4. they get management training

Point 4 is vital. Companies that "promote" developers to management positions as a reward for being good developers are dumb, and deserve to fail.

Interview people for management positions and employ the best candidate you can afford.
If someone internal wants to apply, let them apply. Coach them. Send them on training courses.

Give them all the support they need, because if they don't get it, they'll sink your project, and they'll be miserable about it all the way.

Management and development are two completely different skill sets.
I've worked with too many managers in my time who came up through development and who wistfully look at my IDE from time to time and say they wish they could get back to that. So do I. I'd be happy for them to scrape the rust off and get back to coding, because they're usually terrible at filling the role they're paid for.

Cover image by Fredy Jacob on Unsplash


  1. I had to use some kind of online age calculator to check that. After about 40 it gets hard to remember and when I do it in my head I get off-by-one errors because I wasn't born on the first of January. 

  2. Do you see what I did there? I am the funniest person alive. 

Posted on Sep 22 '19 by:

moopet profile

Ben Sinclair

@moopet

I've been a professional C, Perl, PHP and Python developer. I'm an ex-sysadmin. Back in the day, I had a geekcode which I'm not going to share with you. 418 I'm a teapot.

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Sure, you can earn more respect for doing something great, but as a baseline, just respect everyone. Just do it.

I directly hit like and unicorn when I read this line!

Awesome reading... thanks Ben!

 

Companies that "promote" developers to management positions as a reward for being good developers are dumb, and deserve to fail

I live and breath with this quote :-) The past 5 years people are keep trying to get me promoted, but I still refuse. I am 41 btw. Maybe when I get 50 Ill reconsider.

 

Management is a topic I feel quite passionate about right now. Mainly because I am on the verge of moving full-time into management, not because it is a career PROGRESSION, but more of a career CHANGE. A lot of companies blur the lines between the two when actually they are completely different careers. Currently, I am stradling both, but I would rather do one or the other.

On the subject of age, my old man is pushing 60 and still a developer for a damn good company. Age doesn't matter as long as you keep your knowledge updated.

Great article Ben 👏

 

I'm 43 and still relevant (well, at least still getting paid for writing code). I know plenty of developers older than me that I wish I had a fraction of their knowledge and skills (and I've been working as a developer for over two decades now - so believe me when I say I've learned a thing or two). In fact, when I think about it, I can probably count on one hand the number of younger developers I know that I really respect professionally (so, probably less than 32 of them).
Younger developers do have their advantages, don't get me wrong - It is easier to learn new tricks when you're young, it's easier to adjust to changes, it's easier to work long hours and it's easier to work for less money.

But IMHO, that's not enough to compensate for the lack of experience.

 

if you finish the work quicker than everyone else, it could be a sign that you're a rock star ten times ninja emoji developer. Except you're not, you just missed something out.

Love that sentence... there is soooo much truth in it!

I don't see most things as a progression from development

I am 41 and I love what I am doing! I cannot imagine myself, sitting there as a Team Director or such and not code anymore. Some go into "Architecture" and think about concepts, writing Word-Documents or PowerPoint-Presentations ... but when I think of an architecture and the (software-) design to it, my fingers itch and I want to make it happen.

Companies that "promote" developers to management positions as a reward for being good developers are dumb, and deserve to fail.

Yes, yes and YES!

 

"If you finish the work quicker than everyone else, it could be a sign that you're a rock star ten times ninja emoji developer. Except you're not, you just missed something out."

This made me laugh! Whenever I finish way earlier than expected, I think I'm amazing and the best dev ever - until I find what's broken the next morning. Ooooops!

 
 

I was promoted, even though I had only been coding a month or so, and got no training. I was eventually laid off. And now I'm becoming a junior dev! So even though it's a bumpy road, it's the right one. I know there is age-ism and I will do the best I can with it.

 

Been into management and thought to myself, how about learning serious coding even when am 40. This article gives me hope that my management experience can bring something to the table.

 

Re: management. I also think the wrong way to do it (for the kinds of teams I want to be part of) is top-down and/or micro-managing. Many people fall into this trap when they are promoted to management because it is the easier way to manage. You see, cooperative people will see the need to do something when the factors are explained to them. Even though it may be harder and take more time (than just commanding people to do tasks), the end result will be much better. The product will be more aligned with the executive vision and the technical team will be more engaged.

Also, a top-down structure makes it easier to hide malfeasance. So when someone is given a task that doesn't appear to make sense, there is always that question in the back of mind, and morale loss. Whereas when reasons are transparent and communicated, it keeps everyone more honest.

 

Is it even legal to advertise for a "young" developer?

 
 

I found someone older than myself!

Like you, I believe that a management position is not necessarily a progress to a dev position.

 

This was very well written and enjoyable to read, than you