Saturday, December 20, 2014

Do people lose interest in programming as they age?

Some younger programmers expect that older programmers are slower, make more mistakes, and would rather be doing something else such as managing programmers. Are they right to think so?

Rod Johnson 
Written 14 Dec.

In my experience, ability and attitude is what differentiates programmers, not age. The IT industry suffers from rampant agism, which deserves to be called out. Somehow agism is considered more acceptable than sexism, when it's equally wrong.

Regarding whether people appear to lose interest in programming, I think it often depends on whether they had real interest in the first place. A lot of people become programmers with little passion, and many of them realize that they also lack real aptitude. Such people will jump at a chance to move into management: Where they will often also fail, but may have a better chance of getting away with it.

However, it is true that many passionate, competent programmers (like myself) move into business or management jobs as their career progresses. I can think of several reasons for this, most of them nothing to do with advancing age:

  • Necessity. Often someone emerges as a natural leader in a specific project, and it's the best thing for all concerned for that person to take on more and more management responsibility.
  • Opportunity. For example, when a programmer becomes an entrepreneur.
  • Concern about encountering age discrimination. While great programmers will always be employed, regardless of their age or the state of the economy, average and even good programmers can start to be frozen out as they get older, and they change track to avoid the problem.
  • Unwelcoming environment for older programmers. I have mid 40s friends who are starting to find working as Google engineers uncomfortable, despite being good at their jobs.
  • Desire for career variety. I personally could not imagine doing the same thing--even something awesome like programming--for my entire career, any more than I could imagine living my entire life in the same country or spending my entire career at the one company.
  • Desire to do a more people-centric job, at least part of the time. I loved (and still love) writing code, but also get a huge buzz out of working closely with people and talking about human, rather than technical, issues.
  • Discovery of new areas of passion. In my case, I discovered, initially to my great surprise, that I found many business problems intensely interesting, and enjoyed management.

Having said that, I don't think a passionate programmer ever loses the buzz programming can provide. It's addictive. It may just become a hobby rather than a day job.


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