Challenging the Myth That Programming Careers End at 40 (2023)

The question-and-answer site Quora may have strayed into a stereotype, when a user asked the loaded question, “Is software development really a dead-end job after age 35-40?

But some of the most convincing rebuttals came from people in their 60s.

One was Steven Ussery, who received his masters in computer science back in 1989 at Texas A&M University — and was still programming decades later, and loving what he did.

“I am a 65-year-old software engineer who has worked for Apple, Adobe, eBay, Microsoft, VMware, Cisco, FileMaker, XO Communications, 2Wire, Egnyte, Nexsan, and two other start-ups,” Ussery wrote. “I have been laid off five times in my career. I always find another job within three to four weeks — even during a recession.”

His years of experience gave him confidence for learning any computer language on any platform, and though he now needs more interviews to land a position, the outsourcing of jobs has never stopped him. “If you love it as I do nothing but death or poor health can stop you. All it takes is a determination.”

Challenging the Myth That Programming Careers End at 40 (1)

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Ussery’s inspiring answer — posted in 2018 when he was consulting at Cisco as a senior software development engineer — eventually went viral, and has now racked up nearly 15 million views and more than 24,000 upvotes.

Ussery wasn’t the only programmer who’d stayed in the game. His story received nearly 500 comments, including responses from other senior programmers.

Among the 400 answers to the question was another Quora user sharing the story of their 66-year-old father. He’d just fielded a phone call from a Google recruiter asking him to return to the company — after a long, highlight-filled career that had started decades ago, without a single programming course in college.

“While at Google, he wrote software in Java, a language that wasn’t even invented until he was 45,” wrote the Quora user. “One of the great things about software development is it’s all about your passion to learn and ability to perform, which is demonstrated by my dad’s career and the careers of thousands others.”

The biggest takeaway message may be that nothing can stop a programmer with genuine enthusiasm for their work.

And there’s an interesting epilogue to Ussery’s story. An update posted in 2020 said he’d finally moved on to part-time consulting and full-time retirement (though “I will still be programming and possibly teaching at the nearby Texas State University-San Marcos. I’m not giving up. I’m just moving on to a new phase.”) Yet according to his LinkedIn profile, Ussery’s semi-retirement lasted only about 15 months, until he took on yet another position as a MacOS developer for Logitech’s consumer electronics products.

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

What are the origins of the mistaken notion that middle-age somehow marks the end of a programmer’s career? Maybe to ask the question is to voice a more generalized fear about aging.

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But that’s also fertile ground for bias and mythmaking. Complaining about the lack of good talent, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once famously extrapolated that “Young people are just smarter. Young people just have simpler lives… Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.” And in 1996, Intel‘s president and co-founder Craig Barrett quipped that “The half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years.”

Did that harden into the dreaded “conventional wisdom”? In 2012 Bloomberg published an opinion piece from Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, arguing that Barrett’s aphorism was becoming all too true.

“The profession has devolved in recent years to one lacking in longevity,” Matloff wrote. “Many programmers find that their employability starts to decline at about age 35… Statistics show that most software developers are out of the field by age 40.”

But that same week, InfoWorld‘s Neil McAllister took issue with the entire premise, first challenging Matloff’s use of the word “most.” (“If that’s true, where do they go? Is there some Island of Misfit Programmers, where we send the burned-out, broken-down models to expire gracefully, out of sight of their younger brethren? Or do they get their real estate licenses?”)

Instead, McAllister believes that beyond the middle-aged programmers who carve out specialized niches, there are many others who go on to become founders. Even those who switch to life as a programming contractor could be undercounted in official statistics.

And then there are those who end up straddling the line between programmer and manager. (What about programmers who become project managers, or the team leads wearing both hats?) “Graduating to a management position on a software development team doesn’t mean you’ve given up being a software engineer.

“Depending on how the statistics were compiled, however, it might look that way.”

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And while it may indeed take older programmers longer to find a job, maybe that statistic isn’t telling us what we think it is, McAllister wrote: “Perhaps mature workers take longer to find new jobs because their standards are higher?”

Ultimately he pointed out that there’s also just the widespread empirical evidence: All those programmer friends he had who were over the age of 40.

His biggest concern was that misrepresenting the longevity of a programming career might discourage the young coders that the industry will one day need.

New Challenges Daily

Yet the question comes up again and again, in all of its various iterations. How about 40, asked one Quora user more recently. “Is software development really a dead-end job after the age of 40?” Last month came an emphatic answer from Gregory Smith, who writes that he began his career in 1976 at the age of 14, and now, approaching his 60s, is still working as a software engineer/computer scientist at Agile Frontiers. “No. You’re not done at 40,” he wrote.

Smith did acknowledge one important caveat. While management tracks have continually ascending ranks, there are just not as many tiers in the world of programming. “Your options for upward mobility decrease rapidly once you become a Technical Lead. Often, it’s management or nothing.”

But that’s not the same thing as a dead end. In January, Rob Neff, a self-described software engineer and science nerd, supplied his own pithy answer. Is software development a dead-end job after 40? “Sure is, if you consider having a six-figure salary with daily challenges ‘a dead-end job.'”

In fact, to ask the question is to miss what’s really behind the statistic, argued software developer Dale Gulledge in January: “The reason there aren’t as many older software developers is simply that there were fewer of us entering the field then.”

The only downside to a lifetime of programming may be the ability to recognize when your company keeps churning through one new solution after another. Eric Litovsky, the CTO for StreamPC, posted in February that “The biggest frustration older engineers like myself encounter is the never-ending influx of new patterns, frameworks and paradigms… when every year we see a new way to solve the same old problems, we ask ourselves what’s the point…?”

But even he sees the value of an ongoing willingness to learn. “There are those who never truly outgrow their passion, though, and I envy them… These are the people who thrive in software development because to the right mindset, it’s a never-ending state of wonder and awe.

“They don’t mind putting in the extra time to learn new tech because they truly enjoy it.”

FAQs

Is 40 too old to start programming? ›

Let's get this out of the way: no, you are not too old to program. There isn't an age limit on learning to code, and there never was. But all too often, insecurity and uncertainty compel older adults to put a ceiling on their achievement potential.

Is it possible to learn programming after 40? ›

Learning to code and getting a job in tech is never easy, no matter what age you are. But there's a reason people say that “nothing worth having comes easy.” You're never too old to code or to change your life, and if tech is something that ignites a passion for you, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.

Is software development really a dead end job after age 35 40 in India? ›

In terms of Salary and Skills, it is not a dead-end. Salary will be raised as usual (depending on the company you are working for) and skills are constantly improving because every day you learn something and with new requirements, you will have to solve new challenges.

Are programmers still in demand 2022? ›

It's a fast-growing field, and 2022 year promises a lot of career potential for developers, with some of the highest salaries. Currently, about 250,000 software developer jobs worldwide are unfilled, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the demand for software developers will grow by 22.2% by 2030.

Is 40 too old to learn Python? ›

You can still learn Java, C# or JavaScript. I kid, of course. I learned Python when I was 50 for crying out loud. It's one of the easiest languages to learn and there's no age barrier.

Can I learn Python at 45 and get a job? ›

For sure yes , if you have the desired skills and knowledge . No one will ever care about the age , there are plenty of jobs available in the field of python . Beside this you can also go for freelancing as an option.

Is no code the future? ›

No-Code Is The Future Of Software: Here Are Five Critical Things To Drive Success In 2022 And Beyond. Expertise from Forbes Councils members, operated under license.

What is the best career to start at 40? ›

25 best careers to start at 40
  • Real estate agent.
  • Proofreader.
  • Freelance writer.
  • Translator.
  • Consultant.
  • Job Recruiter.
  • Social media manager.
  • Project or program manager.
1 Jun 2022

What age are most programmers? ›

Interestingly enough, the average age of computer programmers is 40+ years old, which represents 69% of the population.

Can software engineers work after 40? ›

For example, Bill Gates is over 60 years old, and Linus Torvalds is over 50. And while they started their careers at a younger age, both continue to work in the field of software engineering. So if you're over the age of 40 and interested in becoming a software engineer, don't let your age hold you back.

Can software engineers retire at 40? ›

Early retirement in tech is fairly common; the retirement age for most software engineers is between 45 and 60. However, many senior technologists—especially those who were forced into “early retirement” during the early stages of the pandemic lockdown—are now considering wading back into the labor pool.

Can I get software job at age 45? ›

Do you worry about finding a job? Surely you don't, if you can code. It turns out that even developers have something to worry about if you're 45 or older. In fact, the 2018 Harvey Nash Technology Survey showed 61% of all technologists over the age of 45 are worried age is limiting their career options.

Is there a future for programming? ›

The Future of Coding is both No-Code and Code Augmented with AI. The future of coding therefore is a democratization of coding and developers more and more augmented by A.I. It's also a natural selection of dozens of programming languages usually monetized by BigTech firms that have their own interests around them.

Which programming language is best for getting job 2024? ›

According to TIOBE, the most popular programming languages are Python, C, Java, C++, and C#. Learning these in-demand programming languages will help build a career in technology.

Is it worth learning coding in 2022? ›

It is a good time to learn to code because coding is a highly sought-after skill in 2022. The tech industry is growing and advancing rapidly, resulting in high demand for software developers. With focus and lots of practice, you could end up with a tech job in Silicon Valley.

Is it worth studying computer science at age 45? ›

No, you aren't too old to study computer science. Every year there's a story about a 90 year-old completing a college degree. In fact, according to Zippa, those making a big career change are, on average, 39. That's the average; that means plenty of career changers are 40 and older.

Is 45 too old to become a web developer? ›

The short answer is, yes, you can get a job in tech after age 30, 40, or even 50. To some, web development is a career choice with no boundaries.

Is 38 too old to learn programming? ›

It's never too late to learn to code. People have learned coding skills into their 60s and beyond, and plenty of career changers have found new roles as software developers. But if you are learning to code after 30, there are certain things you should consider to set yourself up for success.

What is the hardest programming language? ›

Malbolge: One esoteric programming language is Malbolge.

The fact that it took at least two years to complete developing the first Malbolge code indicates that it is by far the toughest programming language to learn.

Is SQL and Python enough to get a job? ›

You can actually get a job because you know Python and SQL and despite you know Python and SQL.

Is Python worth learning 2022? ›

Yes, learning Python is worth it in 2022 because some of the hottest fields in tech – including machine learning and artificial intelligence – rely heavily on programmers with Python skills.

What age is too late to code? ›

The simple answer is, no. There are many job opportunities in tech for coders of all ages. Although it may take some effort to study relevant programming languages, there is no reason you can't learn to code in your 30s and beyond.

Will humans even write code in 2040? ›

Programming trends suggest that software development will undergo a radical change in the future: the combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and code generation technologies will improve in such a way that machines, instead of humans, will write most of their own code by ...

Will coding become obsolete? ›

The short answer is yes. Humans will turn over the bulk of programming in software engineering to artificial intelligence. Before you panic, consider this. Coders aren't making themselves obsolete by using automation tools—just more efficient.

How do you jumpstart a career at 40? ›

The basic steps for changing careers at 40 are:
  1. Think about the kind of career you would like and set a clear goal for yourself.
  2. Research the sector for roles that appeal to you.
  3. Find out what qualifications you will need and how to get them.
  4. Gain any necessary accreditation.
  5. Build a professional network.

How can I accelerate my career after 40? ›

‌10 Ways to Reinvent Your Career at 40
  1. Determine why you're considering a new career.
  2. List your current skills.
  3. Look into educational opportunities.
  4. Leverage military skills.
  5. Take note of musical skills.
  6. Seek support from Family and friends.
  7. Rebrand yourself.
  8. Try it out.
28 May 2021

What should I accomplish at age 40? ›

Important Milestones You Should Reach By Age 40
  • Have at least six months of living expenses in savings. ...
  • Have a detailed financial plan for your future. ...
  • Have money stowed away for your children's future. ...
  • Have an idea where your career is heading. ...
  • Create a budget and actually stick to it.
10 Aug 2021

At what age Elon Musk started coding? ›

Elon started coding at a very young age. He taught himself BASIC at the very young age of 10, and that too in the days before the internet. At the age of 12, he created the video game BLASTER, sold the source code to a PC magazine for $500, and had it published.

Do programmers retire early? ›

Many developers retire early and become a trainer for young developers.

How old is the youngest coder? ›

Kautilya Katariya became the world's youngest computer programmer when he was just six years old. Kautilya, now eight years old, is budding to become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs after developing his own AI software.

What age is too late to start programming? ›

The simple answer is, no. There are many job opportunities in tech for coders of all ages. Although it may take some effort to study relevant programming languages, there is no reason you can't learn to code in your 30s and beyond.

Can you become a software engineer in your 40s? ›

If you're wondering if it's worth learning to code at 40 then, yes, it definitely is! Learning to code at 40 years old can unlock a great career. You can even enter the tech industry when you're 50 or older.

Is 40 too old to become a software engineer Reddit? ›

At 40, it's still not too late to start your software development career : r/programming.

Is 37 too old to learn programming? ›

It's never too late to learn to code. People have learned coding skills into their 60s and beyond, and plenty of career changers have found new roles as software developers. But if you are learning to code after 30, there are certain things you should consider to set yourself up for success.

Can I be a software engineer at 45? ›

Do you worry about finding a job? Surely you don't, if you can code. It turns out that even developers have something to worry about if you're 45 or older. In fact, the 2018 Harvey Nash Technology Survey showed 61% of all technologists over the age of 45 are worried age is limiting their career options.

What age do software engineers usually retire? ›

Early retirement in tech is fairly common; the retirement age for most software engineers is between 45 and 60. However, many senior technologists—especially those who were forced into “early retirement” during the early stages of the pandemic lockdown—are now considering wading back into the labor pool.

Is 42 too old to start a new career? ›

Yes, it is possible to start a new career at 40 — or 50, or 60, for that matter. It might take some extra effort, but it's never too late to set new personal and professional goals and live a life that feels meaningful.

Is 42 too old to be a software engineer? ›

There is no age limit for software engineers. You can become a successful software engineer at any age, provided you're committed to learning and keeping up with the latest technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age for software developers is 38.6 years old.

Are older programmers better? ›

However, most people into programming know there are tremendous benefits to being an older programmer. In fact, a new study agrees that those older are better at programming because, generally, programming knowledge seems to improve with years of professional experience.

Is 40 too old for computer science? ›

No, you aren't too old to study computer science. Every year there's a story about a 90 year-old completing a college degree. In fact, according to Zippa, those making a big career change are, on average, 39. That's the average; that means plenty of career changers are 40 and older.

Can you make 500k a year as a software engineer? ›

Yes, a software engineer can make $500,000 a year.

However, $500,000 a year is far higher than the average salary of a software engineer. Software engineers typically earn a salary that falls within the range of $60,000 per year to $130,000 per year.

Can you make over 300K as a software engineer? ›

Yes, engineers can make $300K.

However, the only engineers who earn that much money have worked their way up the corporate ladder. In many companies, for instance, the only way to reach a salary of $300K is by becoming a vice president (VP) or a senior vice president (SVP).

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