Old Programmers Don't Die, They Just Fade Away

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A few days ago I came across this Infoworld article entitled "The painful truth about age discrimination in tech" via Slashdot and have been wanting to comment on it ever since. While I have had no reason to cry foul on any company I've ever interviewed for, I have to say most of the issues certainly ring true to me.

One of the frustrations I feel a lot of tech works have is how to communicate experience. Way too often I fell I've talked to recruiters or HR personnel who are either looking for an exact word-for-word match between the resume and the job opening or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, are looking for just one keyword to hit.

Alas, it seems all too true that "hiring managers are unable to map how 10 years of experience in one programming language can inform or enhance a programmer's months of experience with a newer technology."

Which of course doesn't help when, in the world of technology, the field is evolving at such a rapid pace, with a huge focus on "The Next Big Thing".

True, writing CGI scripts in Perl yesterday doesn't automatically translate to writing custom modules in Joomla. But there is a road that gets a developer from first writing a CGI script in Perl to learning Object-Orientated programming to understanding design patterns such as Model-View-Controller that does provide one with the basis for working with Joomla.

Luckily this is an issue that can be taken care of with a little education.

More troubling for an experienced developer is that "only 19 percent of computer science graduates are still working in programming once they're in their early 40s."

Granted the source of that statistic is a government study that's at least a decade old. But still, the high turn-over I've experienced working in the tech industry - my average is about 2 years at any given company - I can see many individuals would take the break as motivation to look for something "better". Heck, I've even felt it myself, having gone back to school for a Masters in Business Administration at one point.

Invariably when talking about business, a sports analogy tends to make an entrance. Sure enough, Inforworld's article compares the IT industry to that of professional sports, "at some point in those career arcs, the assets that made workers such hot properties -- youth, the ability to devote lots of time to their vocation, comparative inexperience -- diminish. And the marginal utility of what's left -- experience -- is not as strongly valued."

Yet that of course is not true, well at least it isn't true in professional sports. All you have to do is think of all those managers, coaches and scouts, most of whom at one time or another played the sport itself. Perhaps they never made it to the "bigs" or they did, but found out that their talent wasn't above average. Yet found a way to contribute, to use their experience as a way to give back to the sport that gave them a job, as the saying goes.

Which begs the question, where are those jobs, the managing, coaching or scouting positions in IT?

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About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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