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Half Life of a Tech Worker: 15 Years 473

Hugh Pickens writes "Matt Heusser writes that when he went to work for Google all the people he met had a sort of early-twenties look to them. 'Like the characters in Microserfs, these were "firstees," young adults in the middle of the first things like life: First job out of college, first house, first child, first mini-van,' writes Heusser. 'This is what struck me: Where were the old dudes?' and then he realized something very important — you get fifteen years. 'That is to say, your half-life as a worker in corporate America is about age thirty-five. Around that time, interviews get tougher. Your obligations make you less open to relocation, the technologies on your resume seem less-current, and your ability find that next gig begins to decrease.' By thirty-five, half the folks who started in technology have gone on to something else — perhaps management, consulting, on to roles in 'the business' or in operations. 'Yet a few stick it out. Half of the half-life is fifty, and, sure, perhaps 25% of the folks who started as line technologists will still be doing that when they turn fifty,' adds Heusser. 'But by the time you turn thirty-five, you'd better have a plan.'"
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Half Life of a Tech Worker: 15 Years

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  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:34PM (#38250392)

    be read to improvise and adapt, as at least half of people have had their plans ruined by economy.

    • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:46PM (#38250478)
      Ability to flow with change is critical for knowledge workers. It is not easy, but who said it should be? Given the quality of life we have, I'm thankful that as hard as this job can be, I'm not melting solder off trashed PCBs in China.
      • by cshark ( 673578 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:04PM (#38251086)
        If you love what you do you'll keep adapting, evolving, improving. If you care about making a living, you will keep learning. If you're afraid of change, you will fail. I think that's pretty much universal in any field though.
        • by Bigbutt ( 65939 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:57PM (#38252024) Homepage Journal

          This, with spades. At 54 I still love mucking about with computers and I'm extremely valuable in Operations. I'm a mentor for my team. I know lots of esoteric technical stuff in part because I was there when it happened. Because I still love what I do, I spend my own time, and sometimes my own money (I paid for a Symantec class out of my pocket so I could get a preferred position in the company) keeping up on tech as well as time at work. Because I'm a bit on the older side, I help keep the other guys from burning out although I skirt the edge from time to time. My linked in "resume" has recruiters calling me or e-mailing me a couple of times a week. Management values me also because the three younger guys on my team all have young kids and are out sick or handling sick kids several times a month. I'm here, rain, snow, or shine.

          While I've taken a few "leadership" classes and have considered moving up to a Supervisor role (half manager/half tech), I'm still not there. The classes have given me an even better edge because I step up to take responsibilities to help my manager. My age seems to let me talk a bit more freely with managers, directors, and even Vice Presidents and they listen.

          As to moving, I appear to have pretty itchy feet having moved 45 times in my life so changing location isn't all that much of a hindrance to me other than packing up all my gear when it's time to move again. :)

          But mainly it's because I truly love working with computers. And I've been into computers since I opened the Sinclair back in 1980 and started keying in Life.


          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:13PM (#38252522)

            You and I started at the same place but that's about all we have in common.

            Being (almost) young and fresh in the 80s and 1/2 the 90s got me pretty far. Unfortunately my inability to control the rolling of my eyes when management announced 60 hour work weeks closed the door on my career, permanently.

            I wish you all the luck in the world, but I have come to the conclusion that People Were Not Meant To Live Like This. To me it looks like a mild form of slavery with all the bells and whistles.

          • by Rob Y. ( 110975 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @06:21PM (#38252952)

            At 59, I'm still going (realatively) strong. I too still like 'mucking about', but I must admit that the sheer number of 'latest things' out there makes it near impossible to keep up with them all. Thankfully, I don't have to, but somehow I doubt having dabbled in Android development to keep my skills up would serve me well should I need to interview again.

            In the meantime, I'm still employed based on a ton of knowledge specific to my employer. And you'd think that'd be okay, but they still tried to outsource me. It was a disaster, and now I'm technically a consultant to the outsourcing firm and doing the lion's share of the 'outsourced' work to make that project read as a success. So, in addition to ageism, anyone starting out in IT had better realize that they want you to be expendable. I'm sure that my employers think their big mistake wasn't trying to outsource a small group of long-time employees. No, they think the mistake was keeping those employees around long enough for them to become critical resources. Don't count on the next generation of corporate whizzes making that same 'mistake' twice.

        • by CptNerd ( 455084 ) <adiseker@lexonia.net> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @04:34PM (#38252296) Homepage

          Not a slam, just curious. How old are you? Because I've experience blatant age discrimination, and that was after being told I had exactly the skills they were looking for, but that I was "too old."

          What you said is great, and logical, and would be appropriate if all HR staff thought like that. Unfortunately most aren't interested in placing someone, they're interested in weeding out people that don't fit their perceptions.

          • by dohnut ( 189348 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:12PM (#38252516)

            That's why connections are so important. Completely skip HR and go straight to management, you know, the people that actually put in the hiring requisition.

            At my current job I knew several people that worked in the company. They talked to their manager, passed along my resume (no HR required) and the manager arranged for an interview with me. The interview went well and the manager told HR to hire me. If I went through HR I never would have got the job. I could tell HR wasn't even too thrilled with me when they did my orientation. F*ck 'em.

            Speaking of HR... Today if we want to hire someone we pretty much have to go out and do it ourselves. HR barely even attends to the needs of the currently employed (question about your 401k? vacation policies? medical insurance coverage? -- we'll get back to you on that), I'm not sure if they even have the ability to interview potential new-hires.

            • by tweenbean ( 1627021 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @02:53AM (#38255480)
              My situation: 59 yrs of age, started in electronics in 1979, migrated from hardware to software, no college degree (but some courses) I have found that working contract (temp) is a great way to open doors that might otherwise be closed. The company gets a good look at you, you get a good look at it. I've interviewed several times for a direct (captive) position at the place where I now work, and was shot down. This last go-round I hired into a temp position, (so the company has a low level of commitment) and I hit the street running. I *proved* I was up to the task even though I don't have the sheepskin (or much of the theory either - I just know how to make things work and get things done (using perl mostly :-)).
      • by Jookey ( 604878 ) <Jookey16@hotmail.com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:42PM (#38252698)

        "It is not easy, but who said it should be?"

        I say It should be.
        You might call me a whiner and complainer. I call myself someone with dignity and self respect.

        This is why America is screwed. This country [usa] is filled with simpletons like parent that have no self respect. They say at least its not as bad as the third world shitholes. Well I say it could be a lot better too. We could have a country with universal healthcare, more vacation time, more job security and higher employment rate. This isn't some utopian ideal It happens in the socialist countries of Europe.

        For Christ sake we put a man on the moon and the only point of pride you hear is: "[At least] I'm not melting solder off trashed PCBs in China."

        The reason that your not melting solder in a shanty town is not because of the grace of the business elites allowed it to be so. It is because in the past labor organized and demanded better working conditions, weekends and an 8 hour work day.

    • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:04PM (#38251084)
      I dont know... I mean I tend to view my IT job like a Doctor would view his. Constantly reading, constantly scanning, constantly updating my knowledge on all things IT.
      Much like a doctor who needs to keep up on medicine, we must keep up on technology.

      The other thing that both helps and hurts me is that I keep my knowledge general. I like all things IT, programming, database, networking, OS (Linux and Windows), and all the things those entail. I do not keep myself limited to one scope, because that actually prevents one from getting a job, but then so does not specializing when they are looking for specifically that person.

      So it is a catch-22, but it may actually work.
      • by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:39PM (#38251364)
        Speaking as an oldie: we all did that - it still wont save you! Train up as a plumber now, while you can afford it.
        • I have to concur. Although I am a compulsive nerd, and always keep up with the latest tech, getting a job in coding after the early to mid 30s becomes almost impossible, except for the occasional DB dev job, for pennies on the dollar, so it's usually almost not worth it.

          This reminds me of the same arguments to network admins gave me back in the early 00s, when they claimed they were "too valuable" with their companies, and I warned them that their managers really don't view reality they same way rationa

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I don't understand this. Killing yourself because you can't find a job, and NOT taking out the evil motherfucker who put you in that position? Before shooting himself, why didn't he go to the manager who did this and shoot him point blank in his kneecaps and elbows? Use a powerful gun so they can never fix it and he's a cripple for life. THEN kill yourself. That manager will never, ever forget that day, and he's gotten what he deserves.
        • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:30PM (#38252638) Journal

          Speaking as an oldie: we all did that - it still wont save you! Train up as a plumber now, while you can afford it.

          ...Because after 20+ years of sitting on your now flabby out of shape ass in front of a computer, with old bones starting to creak, that is the time to consider working in the hot sun digging trenches and wading through human excrement on a daily basis. What the fuck do you think a plumber does exactly? And who mods up such fucking idiotic bullshit?

      • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:02PM (#38251578)

        my knowledge general. I like all things IT, programming, database, networking, OS (Linux and Windows), and all the things those entail

        That's way too narrow a focus. You only have one scope. You don't know anything about electronics including analog systems, embedded controllers and their OS, power distribution and backup systems, high performance computing and distributed systems. What about the important OS that move the worlds money, like z/VM, z/OS, OpenVMS, MP, besides the Unix HP/UX, AIX, Solaris? heck, you don't even know BSD? Lazy uninformed git.....


  • by A10Mechanic ( 1056868 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:37PM (#38250408)
    If you feel you've become less viable to the nameless corporation you drone for, make the brave choice and work for yourself. Would that I had the courage or inspiration to have made that choice, but I didn't. I regret that every day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Every day gives you the opportunity to change your path.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I tried that. Trying to make myself heard from the thousands of other people who might be better liars is very tough. I farmed a contact list, but usually it didn't do much.

      The lesson I learned: My real MS-ITP and RHCE certificate numbers do NOT compare well to someone who says they have a CISSP, RHCA, all the MS certs and all the SANS certs, but don't happen to have any cert IDs.

      Screw the consultation business -- it might be lucrative had we had better times and no good ol' boy contracts. However, the

      • by DarthBart ( 640519 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:50PM (#38250994)

        I tried it too. I may be one hell of a programmer/admin/network monkey/guru/whatever, but I am not a sales person. I failed miserably selling myself. I'd usally end up taking on shit projects that I underbid myself on to get the job and the worktime versus pay wasn't paying the bills. It put a hell of a strain on me and my wife & kid. After a year of being able to survive only by selling my stash on ebay, I went back to "work".

        Nowadays would be even more of a joke. I retired on disability a few years ago but I still try to pick up a side job or two here & there to supplement income and those jobs end up being maybe one every other month. I simply can't compete with the "programmers" in India or Ukraine who will bid a project at $100 that I wouldn't touch for under $1000 despire the fact that the $100 project turns into $5000 after the overseas clusterfuck.

        • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:24PM (#38251236) Homepage Journal
          go to elance.com. upload your portfolio. do $5-10/hr bids and rack up enough reputation until you have 5-6 very good feedback in there. then start bidding for $15. you will be able to get enough projects to keep going. the majority of projects awarded will be by clueless people to $5/hr bids, but, there will be a minority who knows what to do and who to choose. these are generally people who regularly award projects. eventually you will be working regularly with one of them. after a period of time you will be able to do $30/hr. but, at that point, you will probably be working with at most 2 or 3 same clients regularly.
          • You can't be serious ... bidding less than the minimum wage? It's very easy to lower your price, and very hard to raise it afterward ... especially when anyone can look at your history and know you'll work for next to nothing.

            Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves - elance is you voluntarily slapping the chains back on.

    • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @06:28PM (#38253002)

      Independent IT consulting/programming is a difficult, thankless task with high risk and few rewards. I know what you are thinking: my employer pays independent consultants/programmers $150/hour! I could be making that kind of coin!

      A rule of thumb is that even a successful IT consultant (which most aren't) need to charge approx. three times what an employer would pay them for the exact same job to cover overhead, downtime, and benefits. You, and you alone, are responsible for all the stuff your employer handles now: sales, legal, marketing, sales, accounting, benefits, and did I mention sales? You need contacts, superior networking skills (of the people type, not the computing kind), and enough of a financial cushion to prepare yourself to be earning peanuts until you get enough business volume to make it off the ground, if you ever do. And don't forget that ALL vacation is unpaid vacation when you work for yourself.

      And entrepreneurs trying to sell a product have it even tougher; most new products fail because the creator over-estimated the market for them and/or didn't know the right way to sell them. The quality of the product itself has very little to do with selling it. You could bust your balls for a year working like a madman to recover the equivalent of half of what you'd get flipping burgers.

      When a new business works, it works. But even then, self-employment has a way of taking over the life of the entrepreneur; any of them will tell you that any notion of work-life balance goes out the window when you work for yourself.

  • I started at 33 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:38PM (#38250410)
    With a not so glamorous 15 year old technology no less. Been at it for almost 3 years now. Guess what? People who know what I know are very hard to find and I get paid accordingly. Much better than my previous 11 years in retail sales I must say.
  • by Mean Variance ( 913229 ) <mean.variance@gmail.com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:39PM (#38250416)

    At 43, I live with the senior software engineer title. I've been at the same company 12 years. While I consider myself well established, nothing is guaranteed - company could be bought, sales could suffer (I've survived 4 layoffs), I might piss off a boss.

    Many of us have grown up inside the company (we are a Silicon Valley tech company) so there are a number of 40-something engineers and a couple have crossed 50.

    But when I'm in a worrying mood, I do think about what would happen if I had to go into the interviewing machine. There is probably some truth to the tenet that it's harder to stay in development in later years, but I know peers who have done it, and we just hired someone in his mid-40's.

    If the employer can get over age and hire the best person for the job and if the 40-something can swallow and maybe be willing to take a pay cut, things can stay in balance. At least I hope so if I'm in that situation.

    • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:47PM (#38250486)
      Why not go on a few interviews and see how it goes? You are not established. That's an attitude that will set you up for major hurt. Get your resume together, and see if you're marketable. If you are, nothing lost but a day or two of paid time off to do the interviews. If not, you can make adjustments.
      • Unless his current company fires him for looking elsewhere. Don't think it hasn't been done before.

      • If you aren't seriously looking for a new job, don't waste the time of the interviewer. Sure, put your resume out there to see if you get any hits, but interviewing for jobs you don't want and don't intend to take crosses the line.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:49PM (#38250494)

      I'm 51, and have owned a technology consulting company for 20+ years now. We're small with only 6 employees; four of us are over 50 and one of my full time contractors is 60. Most of the IT directors I work with are fifty or older. Maybe the tech industry spits out older workers after they hit 35, but so what? The real world needs those skills and experience regardless of how many grey hairs are sticking out of your ears. Worry less and be flexible....

      • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:36PM (#38250878) Homepage

        Birds of a feather and all that. I suspect this is one of the many reasons a company fails after a certain time. They don't replenish the ranks with younger people, or, they hire all new graduates that are all fresh and willing to flee to the next gig with a case of ADHD. The retention of knowledge and the ability for it to be passed down from co-worker to co-worker is extremely important.

      • I'm sorta the same, only I'm 52 and working for a major aerospace company. Yes, I still do technical support for users (executives, to be precise), but in landing this position you needed a lot of experience dealing with a variety of users as well as knowledge on the hardware and software used in the company. A college graduate is not going to have that sort of experience in troubleshooting a laptop while an executive is needing information on a major proposal, or even being able to work under that sort o
    • by mdf356 ( 774923 ) <mdf356 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:51PM (#38250510) Homepage

      I suspect it's harder to hire someone who's older simply because the pool is smaller. That is, almost everyone at 21, or 23, or 25, whenever they finish college or graduate school, will be interviewing for a job. A lot fewer people at 40 will have a reason to leave, especially if they've become Senior and somewhat indispensable at their company.

      I left IBM three years ago to work for a company not far past startup days. At 33 (at the time) I was one of the oldest developers at the company. Now, though, as the company has grown (and been acquired), not only are there more older people at the company, plenty of people who were young when it was founded 10 years ago are in their mid 30s and now have spouses and children. Several senior people have now gotten married or had kids, so in that sense the whole company has aged up toward me in just the three years since I started (age is often as much a particular position in life w.r.t. how long one has been married or how old ones children are).

      And very few of these people now in their late 20s or mid 30s are looking for a new job, because they have one they like. So the pool of available interviewees continues to be heavily biased toward college graduates.

    • by morcego ( 260031 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:43PM (#38250942)

      It is a little more than that.
      In a CEO's head (or anyone in upper management/board), anyone over 40 who is STILL in a tech position is incompetent, stupid or both. If they were good, they would have been promoted to management, and would be making a lot more money.

      It is a sad reality, and even more sad that it is mostly true. Not the vast majority, but based on my professional experience (IBM, couple Japanese multinationals etc), I would say that is true for 60-70% of the cases. And for management/the board, 60% is more than enough reason.

      The thing they fail to see, and most of us who either are still in tech positions, or were forced to migrate to management even if we really don't enjoy it, is that not everyone is cut for management, even if they can handle it. And even if (if you succeed) you will make more money, the money you made as a techie was more than enough for doing something you actually enjoy, instead of doing twice as much for a job you hate.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        For the most part that's the difference in amature engineering company: they know what to do with people in the second 20 years of their career. IT and software development are still fairly new industries, so there are few mature companies in these industries. Actually, I guess afetr the wave of mergers there are few enough mature e.g. Aeronautical Engineering companies as well, but those tend to have a well-developed program for beign an engineer your whole life, as well as a fellowship for the best of t

    • I'm almost 60. I've been writing software for 40years. I've just landed a job that is pretty close to my dream job. Everything on my CV points to this job being 'the one'.
      Very few people under 50 would have anywhere near the varied experience needed for this job.

      • I hear you. I'm 45 and I've been a tech in comm test gear, avionics test gear, metrology, avionics, electro-mechanical QA & testing, industrial controls, Industrial electricity, database maintenance, IT networking, IT consulting, and am currently in a fun, growing, well-funded, start up full of "old-timer" refugees of the aerospace industry, doing R&D electronics, software, and machining.

        During the interview, the managers commented that they weren't used to seeing "CNC machinist training" next to "S

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      12 years and they haven't given you a better "title"? Usually that's the first thing a company will do to keep people around longer (it costs less to call you "Senior Member of Technical Staff" or "Software Architect" than give you a big raise).

      I (and I'm sure many here) hate arbitrary titles, but the problem is a lot of companies look at your previous title to determine what salary range you should be at in their organization. You should at least get your current company to give you a "promotion" (if you

  • Ageism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:40PM (#38250424)

    So, in other words, this is just a long winded way of saying what we've all known-there's a severe problem with age discrimination in tech.

    " Your obligations make you less open to relocation, the technologies on your resume seem less-current, and your ability find that next gig begins to decrease."

    All irrational assumptions that people just internally accept and contribute to the ridiculous amount of ageism in Silicon Valley.

    • I don't think it's direct ageism. I think there's a valid perception that older workers don't keep up. I work at a data center where the average of the technical staff is probably around 40. I know at least one who voluntarily left for another job and a few later was let go, allegedly because his claimed skills didn't pan out. I look at the rest of the staff and I see many of them cowering in their niches, whether that's basic switching and routing, Active Directory, or applications that don't have wide

    • Re:Ageism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:37PM (#38250890)

      Your obligations make you less open to relocation, the technologies on your resume seem less-current

      How is this age discrimination? If you are in this situation, then you are less likely to get hired, regardless of age. If you assume that older people are in this situation, and reject them based on their age, then that is age discrimination. But if someone actually is less open to relocation, and hasn't managed to keep up with newer technologies, and you reject them for those reasons, then it isn't age discrimination.

      Just like if you reject someone because they lack skills, and they happen to be from a minority ethnic group, then it isn't racial discrimination, but if you reject them because they are from a minority ethnic group and you assume that means they lack skills, then it is racial discrimination.

      I also would actually challenge the assumption that older people are less willing to relocate. I have known many young people who don't want to leave their families, the areas that they grew up in, their friends etc. It is a too big step for many. There are regions with chronic youth unemployment problems, where young people will complain that they are simply unable to find a job, and yet if you ask them why they don't relocate to an area which doesn't have these problems, they will claim that it is simply not possible. Ask them how it is possible that immigrants relocate hundreds, or even thousands of miles crossing international boundaries in search of work, and yet they are unwilling to relocate within even their own country, and they will justify their position with a sequences of excuses that apply just as readily to the immigrants. "I have family" - immigrants don't have family? "I was born and grew up here" - immigrants weren't born and grew up somewhere? "I have friends" - immigrants don't have friends?

  • Growth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:41PM (#38250438)

    30 years before IT wasn't big enough for many people to consider working in it, thus there aren't much people from that era.

    • Re:Growth (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:43PM (#38251404) Homepage

      How old are you? 15? Just because we don't come to your Xbox parties doesn't mean we don't exist.

      IT might not have been as "big" in the 1980s, but "data processing" (as we called it in those days) was already a substantial industry. Every college worth going to had a CS department, and every large corporation had a data processing center that needed to be staffed. Everyone knew that "computers" were the job opportunity of the future, and there was plenty of interest in it as a career. Believe me, kid: there are a lot of us from that era who haven't died off yet... there are even substantial numbers from the punch-card era still alive and kicking. We're just not finding jobs on the playground where you work.

  • If you actually RTFA, you'll see that the big barrier is that "workers over 50 may concern corporate hiring managers because they might resist change and generally command higher salaries than younger people"

    So, while older workers "might" (or might not) resist change, they definitely are perceived as costing more. And not just in salary, but also in health benefits.

    Now, again FTFA, throw in a dose of sexism:

    Nanci Schimizzi, president of the mentoring and advocacy group Women in Technology, said jobless women 50 or older generally "remain unemployed for years, to the point where many have more or less given up" or changed careers.

    That's pretty blatant misogyny. That it's illegal doesn't make a difference.

  • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:44PM (#38250458)

    Years ago I decided to move sideways into a position doing C systems development instead of Java web development. My thinking was that few people under 30 (as of 2000) knew C, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere. Did that for a while, doing a little Perl and such on the side. I've been making moves sideways and slightly up since then, moving out of the Unix/Linux world into Microsoft .Net most recently. If you go to high in salary too fast, you find your career path played out by 35 (how old I am now).

    By moving sideways, I've got a broad resume, with reasonable depth (just find challenging projects). I have a little headroom to move up salary-wise yet, and have a convincing story to tell that I a) am capable and willing to learn new technologies on the job, and b) don't mind making parallel or even slightly backward financial moves to find work, especially if it gives me exposure to new technologies.

    There is nothing brilliant or insightful about this, yet people still fail to do it. I work with people who have been in the same job for 25 years. If they get laid off, they are screwed. No one will see them as anything other than set-in-their-ways old people.

    The drawback for me is that I'm finding it harder to continue to get energized to learn new technologies. I can still do it, but it's becoming more of a hassle. Not so much the languages, but the specifics of frameworks and technology domains (i.e. web vs. traditional client-server vs. realtime). Probably more a personal limitation, I'm not the smartest guy in the world.

    • by mdf356 ( 774923 ) <mdf356 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:00PM (#38250568) Homepage

      The drawback for me is that I'm finding it harder to continue to get energized to learn new technologies. I can still do it, but it's becoming more of a hassle. Not so much the languages, but the specifics of frameworks and technology domains (i.e. web vs. traditional client-server vs. realtime). Probably more a personal limitation, I'm not the smartest guy in the world.

      This. It was a hard enough transition for me leaving all the various little office habits I had from 7 years at IBM. I had to learn new source control system, new way to build and install the OS, etc, in addition to spending several years where I didn't know intimately the details of the code I worked on. After 7 years I was a subject matter expert on a decent sized chunk of the AIX kernel. After two years at the new place, I finally felt like I knew enough code to say something authoritative about it. That was hard and frustrating.

      However, it's also left me feeling sure that the only way to avoid irrelevance is to regularly make myself uncomfortable, so that I don't get too attached to the comfort. At this point my personal feeling is that it takes 5-7 years for me to become saturated on what I'm working on and to need that new thing.

      Having kids taught me the same lesson too. As Kahlil Gubran wrote, "Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral."

    • by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:06PM (#38251104)

      The drawback for me is that I'm finding it harder to continue to get energized to learn new technologies. I can still do it, but it's becoming more of a hassle. Not so much the languages, but the specifics of frameworks and technology domains (i.e. web vs. traditional client-server vs. realtime). Probably more a personal limitation, I'm not the smartest guy in the world.

      There are incredibly smart guys who don't learn many new technologies. I have no doubt that the old school guys like Linus or K&R are very smart, but I'd also guess they are pretty unfamiliar with modern web and application development (AJAX, Rails, PHP). They probably wouldn't be considered experts in Java, .NET, or any of the other modern frameworks that recruiters want. They probably don't know that much about Android applications and the Dalvik API, or about developing iPhone apps. Of course, they could learn, and possibly faster than others, but they would lack specific experience. From a recruiter's perspective, their CV would be thrown in the bin ("No 10 years X experience?! Out.") To me, this is a flaw in modern IT recruitment, but to others, it makes sense.

      There are various reasons as to why older people tend not to learn newer technologies. Free time has a lot to do with it. As you get older, it seems as though, no matter how smart you are, the amount of time you can dedicate to learning new things decreases. The motivation also decreases. Once you can program in five difference languages, there is not as much reason to learn the sixth. Your knowledge is already sufficient to carry out the tasks you want to, and much of the difference is inconsequential - all of the APIs are slightly different, but you gain little from memorising them all. There is also a mental barrier - the "Why should I struggle to write this in a language/framework I don't know when I could write it in my old, familiar language in a fraction of the time?" feeling.

      Another important reason is that the software world is a lot bigger now. Once upon a time it sufficed to know C and Pascal. Now it seems like we need to know C, C++, Java, C#, Perl, Python, Ruby, Bash, PHP, HTML, Javascript, CSS etc. And for each of those, there are multiple frameworks in use. How many different ORMs are there just for Java, Python and PHP? There has been a framework explosion over the last 15 years, and this makes it difficult for a person to keep up. The world was a lot simpler when 90% of development only required knowledge of C and the standard libraries.

  • by mdf356 ( 774923 ) <mdf356 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:44PM (#38250460) Homepage

    Yes, I've noticed no one is writing operating systems or anything else in C anymore. I better learn the language du jour.

    Except that my experience with multi-threaded systems programming is still useful. Even when everything is virtualized, there will be C code running on the bare metal that someone needs to create and maintain. New hardware products will need drivers written in C, or entire embedded systems written in C.

    Sure, the next social media website won't be done that way, but for some of us writing that high a level of application wasn't that interesting.

    And didn't I just read that Facebook had to highly optimize malloc(3) to support its operations? What's malloc written in? Oh yeah, C.

    • by digsbo ( 1292334 )
      Yeah, exactly. Knowing how threads work, memory is allocated, all that is critical when you see a bunch of devs running about because their server can only handle three concurrent users. Asynchronous IO? They make a big deal of node.js because it has that. But it's been available in C via select() for decades.
  • by bignetbuy ( 1105123 ) <dirrtygsharp&outlook,com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:45PM (#38250466) Journal

    Was all set to blast the article with examples of old people in IT...but realized my own IT career ended when I was 38yo.

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:46PM (#38250482) Homepage

    So this grand theory is all based on one persons experience, at one company, and some aggregate statistic grouping together age related unemployment over a vast category of people, during the worst economic conditions since the depression? It's some interesting anecdotes, but I sure as hell am not going to make any long term career plans based on this.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:53PM (#38250534) Journal

    From my experience. I lasted about 17 years. I am currently on a different career track and loving it. My biggest frustration was the inability of people in IT/programming to learn. The same mistakes were made repeatedly. I think that is due to the field not having professional standards or best practices.

    I switched over to a field which requires "boots on the ground", preventing the job from being off shored, and gets me outside and getting fresh air and exercise. The last item is important since a network admin spent too many years in a cube, commuting long distances to work, and not getting enough exercise. He died at age 47 of a massive heart attack.

    • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:17PM (#38250706) Journal

      From my experience. I lasted about 17 years. I am currently on a different career track and loving it. My biggest frustration was the inability of people in IT/programming to learn. The same mistakes were made repeatedly. I think that is due to the field not having professional standards or best practices.

      Or its because all the people who made those mistakes last time have moved on to other careers - institutional memory is lost. Remember, experience is simply remembering what you did wrong last time...

      Fields dominated by young, fresh hires tend to have a lot of rookie mistakes - lack of veterans ensures the mistakes are repeated ad nauseam.

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        I experienced a large amount of resistance when I spoke of why a certain approach was a bad idea. It was the "your an old fart who doesn't 'get it' attitude". I tried to make logical arguments, point people to websites with resources, recommend reading etc. Few people I met took the initiative to pursue those resources.

        The lack of commitment to personal professional development was distressing. Doctors go through continuing by going to seminars, taking classes etc. As do engineers, dentists, lawyers, accoun

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @12:57PM (#38250548)

    Not simply with age, but all the commitments these "firstees" take on cost money - extra money. So the salaries they would have accepted as new entrants into the job market are no longer sufficient to support their lifestyles. While they may have gained some skills during those fifteen years (or not, there's not many ways to distinguish 15 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 14 times), employers don't necessarily value those skills - especially as the relevance of a skill has a half-live of somewhere round 2 - 5 years, depending on how "sharp-end"/leading edge your employer is.

    So what's happened is these 35 y/o's have believed their own CVs (resumes) and think they're actually worth the salaries they're asking for - simply because the company they wish to leave, or have been kicked out of, was prepared to pay at that level.

    What they should be doing is asking themselves: what can I do that a 25 year-old couldn't do? What skills do I have that actually make more money for my employer? The answers to those questions are tough and generally not what people want to hear. However there is some good news: at least they're not 50 and in the same situation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Most 25 year olds are clueless as to how a business really works and they are clueless about relationships & politics in companies. Companies want 25 year olds for the same reason they want to outsource to India - they can can slave drive you for less pay. Why pay 25 year olds money? Just give them useless stock options and get them to work like slaves and then revoke the options like Zynga did. As you get older, you realize that busting your ass from some company is not what life is all about. Those co

  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:12PM (#38250650) Journal
    How is consulting exclusionary from tech workers? I'm a tech worker and I'm 43. I was a consultant for the previous 12 years, made a lot of money, and just this year finally got enticed back to full-time with a fat offer for a principal position at a large (480 employee) tech company. If anything, consulting is the HEART of the tech world world because consultants are almost hired exclusively for their deep, intimate knowledge in arcane corners of the field.
  • I don't know. I'm entering the second half of my thirties; I just changed jobs. From the time I went "on the market" I applied for four places, got four interviews, and received three offers. Over a period of about one month. I took an offer with a startup and didn't need to relocate - and I'm not the oldest hire they've made. So much for that half-life, reduced options, or inability to get hired because of being "too old" for development. (Yes, it's a development position and not management).

    Most companies really do value experience and proven ability over youth. Most of them appreciate that the experience and (sorry to use an HR-approved word) diversity of background and knowledge that experience brings.

    Keep your skills up to date. Keep networking. Like any other skilled profession, you'll find work if you're demonstrably good at what you do -- and I think in an economy like this one, us old dogs have an advantage with our experience. Companies are looking for folks to hit the ground running after they're hired, and 15-20 years of experience makes it a lot easier to do that.

    Personally, I never even considered applying to a company like google, because I know that they want you to dedicate a significant portion of your life to their company -- something that typically only younger folks [with fewer commitments] are willing or able to do. I'm not going to decide I have an absurd "half-life" -- I just won't apply to places that I know aren't a cultural match for me.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:18PM (#38250712)

    I'm 45 and work at a consulting company. I'm fortunate enough to have a senior position here, but I'm also married, with a 1st grade son, a house and all the trappings that go with it.

    I feel a lot of competition with the junior guys -- I was talking to one of them and he was griping about making a 4:30 PM help desk appointment but that once he got home about 7 PM he was going to really dive into whatever it was he was also working on. A couple of days later he was yakking about some work he was doing at 11:30 at night.

    I just don't have that kind of free time. For one, there's shit to be done at home in terms of childcare and parenting, the wife doesn't want to work full time and do it all herself.

    I think my advantage, though, is that I work a lot smarter -- I don't brute force solutions, take stupid risks or buy into a lot of technology BS that amounts to lots of work and little payoff. My clients tend to be more stable and have fewer glitches. I get grief from time-to-time for not deploying every gee-whiz feature, but not by the clients, by sales people.

  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:24PM (#38250768) Homepage Journal

    If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I'm 49 and surviving by trading with "techs of color" overseas. There is a huge aftermarket for older / used / lagging edge technology in "emerging" and "converging" markets outside of the OECD. I can't keep up with the newest display technology. But I can buy and sell what I know about. During the past decade, internet access grew fastest among people in nations earning average of $3500 per capita per year. They aren't buying tablets or twittering about Tahir Square on their IPhones.

    The biggest threat to this has been American and EU ignorance of the 6 billion people in non-OECD markets - grouping 6 billion people together under a single "non-OECD" label. They are too frequently depicted as wire burning monkeys in the press. http://tinyurl.com/6thbtf5 [tinyurl.com] If you are willing to do your homework and differentiate between the lowest run / price-cutting technology buyers overseas, and the "fair trade" lagging edge and secondary markets, you can find some great partners. Oh, and by the way, they tend to have a lot of respect for seniors in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

  • by RetiredMidn ( 441788 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:30PM (#38250822) Homepage
    57 and still kicking ass!
  • too annoyed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:31PM (#38250838)

    I'm 50 and have found few interviews, lately (sf bay area) even though I've been doing C programming since my early 20's. I also design and build my own hardware (most pure software guys can't do this) and so I'm not just a coding guy, I also can do full system bring-up, device drivers, up thru app code. can I find a job? no. not in a year of trying, I can't. its like I'm blacklisted. it really feels like I'm stuck in a 1950's mccarthy era movie and my name is on a list, somewhere. the 'too old, too expensive to hire' list.

    suffice to say, getting older and having years of experience 'not matter' (coding is coding, really; years of doing coding *is* experience) sure seems like the social contracts are broken. work hard and you will have a position in our company. ha! and while companies ding you on any short-stays you have in your employment history, what about all the companies who simply decide to downsize to make a faster buck at your expense? where's the 'short stay' at the company side, ding? there isn't one, folks. they get to make the rules and you get to be judged by it.

    and while its bad for us in my age bracket now, just WAIT for 30 more years and see what the tech (western employment, I mean) world is going to be like. I shudder to think how much worse it can get. the movie 'logans run' does enter my mind; and like orwell, it was *supposed* to be a story, only, not reality.

    my only bit of advice: please be a little compassionate and understanding when 'older guys' show up at interviews. we all know that you young hot-shots have all the classic algorithms stored *recently* and freshly in your minds. for us, well, we have had 30+ years of stuff to save and sort thru; and its harder pulling specifics (during interviews) out on-demand and at seconds and minute-level expectations. to you it may seem a disadvantage that we are not 'walking ROMs' but maybe give us the benefit of the doubt; and if our resume is filled with coding jobs, please don't assume that we can't code *now* because we aren't up to 'live performances' and coding-on-the-spot challenges that are more and more common in interviews.

    it used to be that people could get jobs they couldn't do. now, there's a wealth of people who *can* do jobs but can't get past the damned interview process! and you folks in the interview loops don't seem to see or care; as long as YOU have your jobs, you are mostly insensitive to those of us who are not so fortunate.

    you will be in this position in 20 or 30 years. karma is a bitch, remember that. be kind now.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:35PM (#38250866) Journal

    Welcome to realizing that life is complex. You don't go into a field and then stagnate at the "cool underling" stage forever. You get more responsibility, you understand more than just your little field you studied in school. You have the ability to take in the bigger picture. And you get promoted and coach the younglings, or you shift your career to what you're really good at, or what interests you now. Not surprisingly, it's usually not what you were doing when you left school.

    Sure, there are exceptions. But, really, for most of us we are constantly refining who we are, and that rarely is a static job that matches what we were doing when we were 25. Don't worry, if you play your cards right and make careful decisions, you'll end up really liking your new, post thirty-something world.

  • by efalk ( 935211 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:49PM (#38250982)
    Never stop learning. You never know what skill you learn today might be the hottest new thing tomorrow. This week I learned Autodesk Inventor. Will it ever help me get a job? Probably not, but you never knew. Three years before that, I learned to program Android, and now I can't get the recruiters to leave me alone. You just never know.
  • by cshark ( 673578 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:50PM (#38250998)
    Dude, what the fuck? You're actually more likely to be getting a job at 35 than 19 because you have the experience. Sure, you have to have a plan and keep your resume current. You ALWAYS have to keep your resume current. You ALWAYS have to stay up on new technologies, and you ALWAYS have to work at getting better. Age has nothing to do with it. If you don't have a plan or stay up on new technology, you're as fucked at 25 as you are at 55.
  • stay agile (Score:4, Insightful)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:50PM (#38251000) Journal

    I think part of the problem is that people expect that the inertia will just carry on from their first job, or that whatever line of work they started with out of college will simply continue. That's often not true, unless you're lucky enough to get a government job.

    I've lost track of all the major career shifts I've gone through since college. I started out in communication hardware design, switched to computers in time to ride the dot com boom, first as a designer and then (because there were more jobs) as an administrator, and then a manager of administrators. When IT started to be massively outsourced, rather than live off the crumbs that were left, I got out. I still do some admin on the side (people always need help) but I'm in the business management side now, and business is good. In fact, this is the first recession since the Carter administration that I didn't have to ride out on unemployment and savings. The magic "35" was over 20 years ago for me, and my last career shift was three years ago. Of course, I'm not doing as well as at the peak of boom.dot.bust, but who is? That was a time that we will never see again.

    The point is, you can't assume that your line of work will always be there. IT changes too fast, not only the technology but also the structure and career choices. I would argue that complacency is what limits people's careers.

    What has worked for me over the years is to always step up. If there's a new opportunity, be the first to explore it. This puts you head and shoulders, both in perception and skill set, above the people who just want to keep their heads down and manage machine patching schedules, and you're much more likely to be retained when machine patching duty moves to Mumbai.

  • by karmaflux ( 148909 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:52PM (#38251012)

    50% of your body hasn't wasted away by the time you turn 35. You're lucky if the opposite doesn't happen.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @01:59PM (#38251052) Journal

    and made it to 45 YO before the push to management/marketing started in earnest. I had no interest in either so tried to stay in engineering. Layoffs ensued. I went back to school and now I'm a dentist.

    I think the half-life of tech workers int he US is going to get even shorter. I'm not suggesting to my son that he study engineering as I did. He doesn't seem to be interested and I don't think it is a secure way to make a living any more. Instead I am advising him to do what my brother did- start up your own business of whatever type interests you. My brother distills Vodka and Gin. I figure he's got about 10 more years at the rate he's going until Seagrams buys him out with private-jet money.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:01PM (#38251072)

    Many corporations like the twenty and thirty year old engineers/programmers/whatever because they are useful as cogs in a wheel. Here's the job. Get it done. Don't cause trouble. Granted, the first few years out of college, most people are useless. Once they get some OTJ training, you can hand them assignments, which (given the development of a bit of work ethic) they can do.

    But one someone has been in an industry or two for a decade or so, they start to process their gained knowledge and apply a bit of inductive reasoning to it. And they try to change and improve things. Now, the culture of the company one works for and the type of job becomes important. Work under hierarchical, top down type management and making changes (particularly from the bottom) isn't going to fly. Some people can manage to sit back and do the same thing the same way for 20, 30 or 40 years. But these aren't highly motivated employees to begin with. At about 35 to 40 y.o. your best producers become your trouble makers. Time to shuffle them aside and hire in some new (naive) blood. OTOH, work in an industry or business that needs to evolve and they'll welcome some process improvements. The people most likely to make such improvements are those that have spent a decade or so gaining experience and insights into their job processes. The 35 to 40 year olds.

  • by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:03PM (#38251080) Journal
    For those in the sciences, it seems like the trend is more that older people are more productive. Consider the fact that the average age physicists produce their nobel prize winning work is 48 [northwestern.edu], or the average age at which a biomedical researcher receives his/her first R01 grant is 42 [oxfordjournals.org].
  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:04PM (#38251092) Homepage Journal

    Google is an aberration. I work with many different companies, and the average age can vary greatly according to culture. Google has a very young average age, heck I think half the males there can't even shave yet. Startups also tend to be very young. But then go take a look at medical technology companies. A much higher average age. Animation studios: very young. Petroleum engineering: higher age. Financial trading: somewhere in between. Military contractors: much older. Other miscellaneous companies I've seen have also ranged from the very young to long in tooth.

    I am talking about the SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS in these companies.

    I think the two factors that push the average age downwards are: 1) The trendiness and hipness of the company. Kids want to go work for Apple and Google, and not for IBM or Oracle. Older workers shy away from these because they feel uncomfortable. Then there's 2) the cultures at software companies that emphasizes newer languages, technologies and platforms. "Newer" being relative of course.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:17PM (#38251186) Homepage

    Google's giant R&D operation is starting to look like a huge flop. Google has never originated a successful post-search product in-house. The ad system was acquired from DoubleClick. They had to acquire YouTube because Google Video was a flop. The hard part of Gmail, the smart filtering, came from Postini. The Android software was acquired from Android, Inc. PIcasa was acquired from Picasa, Inc. Google Earth was acquired from Keyhole, Inc. SketchUp was acquired from @Last Software. Google Voice was acquired from Grand Central.

    In-house, they produced Google Answers, Base, Lively, Knol, Buzz, Wave, Gears, Page Creator, etc - a collection of cool hacks, all now discontinued.

    They're good at improving and scaling up stuff. That's what smart junior people are good for. Google is terrible at developing new technologies. They don't have enough people with experience to do so.

  • Silly FUD. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by theNAM666 ( 179776 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:24PM (#38251238)

    This is silly. It's (somewhat) like saying that the half-life of McDonalds workers is 3 years, and you don't see anything but teenagers behind the counter.

    First, I have a lot of friends at Google. Guess what? They went to Google in their twenties, and they're now working at Google in their 30s. Think about it. The OP has said nothing; peoiple in their 20s are more likely to go to a startup like what Google was 10-plus years ago.

    Second, line tech is line tech. It's somewhat the bottom of the pole. People naturally move on, either to supervisory or management positions, or outside. New blood is, as in the example above, naturally younger-- you don't hire old guys like me, because there are fewer of us applying, and our experience (those "old technologies" on our resume) makes us valuable elsewhere.

    (Aside: find me a COBOL guy with experience in medical systems. I'll kill for as many as you can find. I don't give a damn if they know anything "newer"-- every hospital I know, has chosen to preserve its legacy systems and layer them with APIs, and experienced COBOL guys are gold).

    Third, if you don't plan, you plan to fail. Nothing profound here.

    OP is FUD, bottom line.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.