Old Programmers Don’t Die, They Just Fade Away

Feb 26 10

Old Programmers Don’t Die, They Just Fade Away

Paul Weinstein

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
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?