Friday, December 11, 2009

The Myth of the Aging Developer

I question that I've heard throughout my career is, "What happens to older software developers?" The danger with this question is when the discussion turns to the implied version which is "The lack of older developers means that it is a young persons game." Nothing could be further from the truth..

My wife and I are both developers. We have both been working as developers for 15+ years. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of people working as developers who really shouldn't be, they didn't have the aptitude, interest or sometimes even the background. It would be easy to dismiss the problem as a lack of proper education but that doesn't explain the developers who lack a CS degree but who can code circles around veteran devs. Those folks usually decide that programming is not for them and move on to different job. Some go into management, some become analysts, while others change careers completely.

What's left? The ones who are passionate about development and are interested in doing it right. They love learning new stuff and don't gripe about how things used to be in "The good ole' days." They might be grumpy but they usually know their stuff.

The main problem would be in finding management who doesn't have a pre-conceived notion about what makes a good developer. If they feel that only the younger ones have the stamina to keep up with the pace, I'd wonder whether those same employers were the same ones who believe that the 'Deathmarch' style of project management is standard operating procedure. They'd rather grind through fresh-meat developers (Code-Monkeys anyone?) than listen to the experienced ones and change their development process much less change their management style.

Lastly, I've noticed that doing nothing but coding holds less business value than being able to communicate with customers, users, management, and vendors. One reason you start coding less is because finding answers to ambiguous requirements takes more experience and provides more payback to the business.

My advice, to those who worry about their coding future, would be to find a place where they need experienced developers to help with the overall task of creating or maintaining software, that also gives you the opportunity to code regularly. That way you can have the time to keep up with industry changes while taking advantage of your understanding of software development.
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