Older Programmers May Be Down, But They're Not Out

Posted by

If you’re a software programmer with a “few miles on the odometer,” it can be tough landing a job in this tight economy.


One anonymous programmer offered some sobering observations. "Many programmers find that their employability starts to decline at about age 35. Employers dismiss them as either lacking in up-to-date technical skills—such as the latest programming-language fad—or 'not suitable for entry level.' In other words, either under-qualified or overqualified. That doesn’t leave much. Statistics show that most software developers are out of the field by age 40. Employers have admitted this in unguarded moments. Craig Barrett, a former chief executive officer of Intel Corp., famously remarked that 'the half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years,' while Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has blurted out that young programmers are superior."


Massimo Sutera, 45, a microprocessor engineer who was laid off from video chip maker Zoran Corporation, noted that the job market “is not the same as it was years ago.” After Zoran was acquired by the British firm CSR, it reduced its operations in Sunnyvale and jettisoned its digital TV "systems on a chip."


Yes, web-based companies like Facebook and Google are on the prowl for new software talent, but many older tech workers have faced the cold, hard fact that their skills are no longer in demand. Analysts place part of the blame on a growing number of technology manufacturers who are being replaced by Internet-based firms.


Application software is king right now, particularly programs that serve mobile apps. The trouble with these jobs is getting older programmers up to speed in specific industries. Luke Melia, co-founder of NYC startup Yapp, notes that regulated industries like finance present "a pretty steep learning curve" for developers outside that domain. Yap, which offers software for consumers who want to create their own mobile apps, says that when hiring developers, they won’t turn away candidates without consumer mobile app experience, but will insist on passion, the right attitude, and the willingness to master new tech and business skills.


Melia observed that software developers tend to operate in two domains. "The first is the technology platform and the skills they bring to that. The second is the domain of the problem you are solving," said Melia. In a perfect world, the best job candidates will have both technology skills and industry experience. "As a developer, you can overcome the barrier to switching industries," he said. "But you cannot overcome it accidentally."


If you’re an older software engineer, your options may be limited, but not gone. There are still companies that value what you have to offer. Passion, the right attitude, and the willingness to master new skills can help you land that next job.


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Dave G.
    Dave G.
    A very informative article. If you are a male and over 40, there is no room for you in this industry. There is biased and racism against men that never gets attention. It's sickening.
  • Alex Kecskes
    Alex Kecskes
    Thanks for all the real-world feedback. It helps those starting out.
  • Amanda L
    Amanda L
    I think this is bullshit. It is hard to get into the field again. We are human and need to money to survive.;My husband get lay off and to spend 4 years to upgrade but only fresh grad and get a contract job at IBM and that's end. What is alternative? He is working as a security guard! Is there really a fair market?
    I think that the only reason articles like this get written is so that websites have material to fill their pages. The points made were obvious to anyone who works in the field and no solutions were given for those looking to stay active in the job market. What a waste of time save for the fact that it gives those of us who want to comment a vehicle to do so.
  • Christopher J
    Christopher J
    Great article with pertinent information.
  • Jon M
    Jon M
    I was a sub-sub-sub-contractor brought in to find the cause of a 10 million increase in COBOL run-time costs with no increase in transaction activity.  I found it - a misunderstood compiler option - but was then not extended after arguing that they needed a test bed that was measurable, i.e., efficient and effective. Micromanagement struck again!
  • Dennis S
    Dennis S
    I have been laid off in 2002 from my IT job and I have not been able to get my IT career back on track.  Why?  I believe that it is due to the fact that a majority of the companies are using COTS packages and if you do not have job experiences with that packaged software, you'll never get a chance to interview much less a job.Even if you have gone back to school for staying as current as possible, it does not matter.  Because one can only get that COTS experience on the job.And now that I have already lost my house and have to live a nomadic lifestyle, it is a major life changing experience and very embarrassing one at that.Low end retailing jobs just won't cut it.
  • Henry W
    Henry W
    If you can get past the idiot recruiters who filter out people they think aren't right for the job, but most of them don't know anything. I have programmed in a dozen different languages, on windows, Unix, proprietary operating systems, and embedded systems. I have learned more new technologies than most developers can even imagine.But can I get a job? Just because a few years have past while looking for a job, now I am out of date. You don't forget how to design and program that quickly.Anyone who things younger programmers are superior is an ignorant, bigoted asshole.
  • Mike M
    Mike M
    A number of points are valid in this article but as an IT pro with over 40 years of experience, I can tell you there are just a few things in the way of staying employed. Money (bill rates), money (cost to retrain), and money (overall project budgets) to name the top three. Next would be the negative impact of foreign workers on our job market.
  • William S
    William S
    I just landed a new job at IBM after ten years out of the field.  I am 54, and feel like  I'm 21 again.  The thrill of getting back into programming has me excited as a school girl!
  • Phil H
    Phil H
    To young and old: Keep learning.  Never stop.  And don't let yourself be defined by those who have no idea who you really are.
  • Todd B
    Todd B
    Yes Sir,  55 + recent IT degree, unemployed and hoping to somehow survive until I can draw social security.  T minus 7 years and counting...
  • John k
    John k
    Keep up with java and c++
  • robert M
    robert M
    Its not just programmers that are affected by this AGEISM its all IT job titles. Unless your managing this wiz kids you're out the box folks. I'm looking into welding as my second career.
  • Sarah R
    Sarah R
    Great artical; I've been in IT since 1982 started out as a Computer Operator than in 1991 I received my undergraduate in Computer Science and started programming. Since then I've done testing, designing, developeing, and supporting accross several platforms which include ETL, EDI, and Mainframe. My point is; in order to for us "Old Timers" to stay on top; we must do what ever it takes to learn new tools and positions. I learned by taking risks and willing to learn new task on and off the job. Another trick to learning new tools and task is when you are done with you work; don't just sit around doing nothing, observe the team and find out what they are doing and be willing to jump in and help out even if it means learning something. The important thiing for us :Old Timers" is that we can just be willing to just do what we know; we must break out of our comfort zone even if it means taking a Data Entry job in a Health Industry at least you are breaking into HIPAA which is very hot right now.
  • John k
    John k
    Unless you have recent exp. You're in trouble. Try to use java and c++ to keep up with new mods.

Jobs to Watch