Am I still a developer at 40?

If you think 40 is too much, you are wrong. Imagine: you come to the office early. Throw in your backpack and go to the kitchen. You tried to persuade the children to sleep at midnight, and they woke you up early. Now you need coffee. With a mug of coffee in hand, you notice three developers talking in the kitchen. It is now 9 am. They just came early, you decide. But you notice the same clothes on them as yesterday. They were here all night. Damn it! Something didn’t work out ?! Now what ?! The CEO, smiling from ear to ear, sweeps past you. She jumps to the group, gives the guys five and lets out a victory cry.

“You guys finished him off,” she says.

Your first thought is, “I couldn’t possibly stay last night.” A predictable trouble happened, sometimes life is like this, the children did their homework. And you feel like the object of jokes. You didn’t get into the gang because you can’t last the whole night. Many of us experience this terrible nightmare. It is scary to leave work because of old age. Has the industry knighted young people as technology stewards? It’s natural to doubt yourself and wonder if you can do your thing. Leadership rewards heroic nightly efforts, but what about productive work? What about the experience you bring? You want to compete with the youth, but not at the expense of your family. But how to compete with them sleeping in the office?

Well, there is good news. Exceptional craftsmanship is not limited to age. But this does not relieve 40-year-old engineers from problems. In situations like this, I survived more than once and did a little research.

Is a developer career at 40 a dead end?

Ridiculous question. I know that individual developers make over $ 200,000 a year. They are over 40 years old, but they continue to keep pace with the development of software. Companies prefer programming skills, but they also need experience, intuition, and mentoring. An experienced developer’s contribution is different from that of a younger colleague. Both are valuable in their own right, but together they cannot be stopped.

At 40, you were “there, doing that.” Your ball of predictions, that is, your experience, reveals something to you before it happens. When shit is thrown on the fan, you roll up your sleeves and do something about it. I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and I know that individual participants contribute regardless of age. Without them, there is simply no company; the company will not experience success if they imitate Lord of the flies

Colleagues press, and information is lacking – in management this misleads experienced engineers. There is a feeling that this is how it should be, because experienced engineers are behind the times. In fact, this is a typical pattern: if you feel that you cannot compete in programming, it seems that accepting a position in management is exactly the right thing to do. Look: a survey on StackOverflow shows that the average US programmer experience is 14.1 years. For respondents who attended school, this means they are 36-37 years old.

Screenshot of the author from poll Developers on StackOverflow in 2019

The point is that there is a successful group of engineers for 40 years who continue to develop high quality software. Here’s some more data I googled:

This age category seems to be fine with tech giant Amazon.

Should you steer your career towards management?

Only if you want it. Management is a different skill set. To excel in leadership, you need experienced instructors and mentors. It is a common misconception that a person becomes a manager because he does his job for a long time. If you choose the leadership path, treat it as a new profession or skill. Go through the training and shadow follow those you respect to understand how these people work. Obi-Wan Kenobi Is your best friend. I recommend completing coursework with an experienced professional who understands what and how to teach leaders. Management is not elephant cemetery from the cartoon “The Lion King”, but a fascinating direction chosen by professionals. For those who want to program professionally, even after 40 years there is hope. According to a 2019 StackOverflow survey, 51% of respondents believe transitioning to management is necessary to make more money.

Screenshot of the author from poll Developers on Stack Overflow in 2019

Any age group has many options. The software industry is young but huge. When I worked at Symantec many years ago, they had a concept that returned to the profession: chief engineer. These engineers are respected people, this position is on the same level as managers and vice presidents, but the focus of these people is solely on engineering. Whether you are a chief engineer, architect, or other professional, the programmer has tons of opportunities to keep working. If your company does not have this position, suggest it. At IMS, I created the Chief Technology Officer position to migrate to the cloud.

How many years can a programmer work?

Work as long as it’s fun and until you fall. The demand for talented engineers remains high. The key to success is being productive. It is generally accepted that we retrain every four to six years. There is no specific age limit, it depends on the person. When I was 30, I worked with a 67-year-old engineer who did much better than everyone else. He was exactly the person who solved the most disgusting problems in the subsystem.

Bill was quick-witted and helpful. He wasted energy wisely. He helped with problems in the production environment, but he spent most of his time keeping us out of these problems, feeling that many engineers were being encouraged to work at night to fix a bug. He put it this way: “Imagine that I break a window in front of you, and then get a raise for repairing it.”

What should an engineer over 40 do?

Foundations are immortal. Stay persistent

Skill and talent are always rewarded. Any good leadership team will continue to work with the best people it can find. Oddly enough, I don’t know a single software engineer who doesn’t work, regardless of age. Investing in the basics allows you to dive into technology when you need it. To master any technology, I use basic principles. I read like crazy, try something all the time. Programming is my hunting spear. I can always write code if I have the professional qualities that save me.

Don’t let trendy technology pass you by

Colleagues think you’re old if you’re unfamiliar with the latest, cutting-edge technology. It doesn’t matter when you were born, it is important how timed you are. I remember talking about containers with a younger engineer. He lectured me about Docker and didn’t know what i was working with containers since the dawn of this technology. Without hesitation, I taught my lecturer a history lesson. Then it occurred to me: you need to be aware of the events, and it doesn’t matter how I look at some kind of technology stack. I mean, what else am I spending my time on as a tech guy? Stay up to date with the latest trends. To be a professional at the right time, you need to have a deep enough understanding.

Learning specific skills

Many employers require specific skills. In this regard, I noticed a small benefit to be gained by focusing on N years of Angular or another technology stack. It’s not about age; it’s about being in tune with the times. It is believed that forty-year-old engineers do not keep up with the latest technology. This is confusing because 83% of all web applications use REST. The vast majority of these applications call some kind of CRUD interface. CRUD APIs are far from lunar landing technologies. The point is, there isn’t a huge skill gap. It pretty much comes down to perception. My advice: stay in the know, be active. Make sure your immediate environment understands that you are still up to date.


Skilled engineers fall into the trap of believing that an invisible age barrier limits their value. Some people do have preconceived notions about what you can do at 40, but those are their boundaries, not yours. Planning, interaction, and pure desire will enable you to overcome age misconceptions and continue to thrive as an investor.

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