The saying “30 is the new 20” doesn’t always hold true — in fact, it seems to be the opposite for those in the software development industry. While some professionals are just beginning to hit their stride at age 30, the future for an average programmer can appear pretty bleak after 29.
The problem sparked a lengthy conversation in a recent Hacker News thread, where developers voiced their concerns about what happens once they hit age 30.
One even suggested that the solution to being “too old” at 30 was simple: developers should retire at 40.
Developers often skew young because older staff can grow tired of relearning their skills each time a new platform comes out. Second, and more importantly, companies frequently hire younger, inexperienced programmers to perform the same work for a cheaper salary.
This leaves veteran engineers with the option of moving up to a managerial role, which may involve overseeing other developers rather than actually programming firsthand. That work can be less creatively fulfilling than building an app with your bare hands.
“If all you do is ‘write code’ then you have to be prepared to ‘write the same code’ in a new paradigm several times,” one commenter, ChuckMcM, wrote.
“Relearning most of your job skills every few years starts to get annoying the [twentieth] time you’ve had to do it,” another commenter known as “bane” wrote.
The issue isn’t necessarily new to the software development community. Vivek Wadwha, an entrepreneur that has given lectures at both Stanford and Duke University on entrepreneurialism and public practices, wrote back in 2010 that tech companies prefer to hire younger programmers with less experience. Citing statistics from the Bureau of Labour, professors Greg Linden and Clair Brown wrote in their 2009 book titled “Chips and Change” that salary increases for those working in the semiconductor industry slowed at age 40.
But the problem extends beyond the hiring preferences of today’s tech companies. Some developers feel stifled by the time they hit age 30, as game designer Michael O. Church wrote in a blog post from 2012.
“By 30, most of us have decided that we want to do something else: management, quantitative finance, or startup entrepreneurship,” he wrote.
It’s unclear if this trend is expected to change, but aspiring developers are advised to prepare for the future.
One ancient — ie 35 year old — developer advised that the best thing to do is plan to retire by the time you’re 40:
I’m probably going to become stale and outdated in another 5-10 years, … but I’m fine with that and don’t have any drive to advance more. This can work because I’m also on track saving aggressively enough to just retire from full-time work by then.
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