I’m one. We’re not exactly common on the ground; my profession, apparently not content with having excluded a whole gender, is mostly doing without the services of a couple of generations.
This was provoked by a post from James Gosling, which I’ll reproduce because it was on Facebook and I don’t care to learn how to link into there:
Almost every old friend of mine is screwed. In the time between Sun and LRI I’d get lines like “We normally don’t hire people your age, but in your case we might make an exception”. In my brief stint at Google I had several guys in their 30s talk about cosmetic surgery. It's all tragically crazy.
He’d linked to It’s Tough Being Over 40 in Silicon Valley, by Carol Hymowitz and Robert Burson on Bloomberg. It’s saddening, especially the part about trying to look younger.
I’ve seen it at home, too; my wife Lauren is among the most awesome project managers I’ve known, is proficient with several software technologies, and is polished and professional. While she has an OK consulting biz, she occasionally sees a full-time job that looks interesting. But these days usually doesn’t bother reaching out; 40-plus women are basically not employable in the technology sector.
On the other hand · To be fair, not everyone wants to go on programming into their life’s second half. To start with, managers and marketers make more money. Also, lots of places make developers sit in rows in poorly-lit poorly-ventilated spaces, with not an atom of peace or privacy. And then, who, male or female, wants to work where there are hardly any women?
And even if you do want to stay technical, and even if you’re a superb coder, chances are that after two or three decades of seniority you’re going to make a bigger contribution helping other people out, reviewing designs, running task forces, advising executives, and so on.
Finally, there’s a bad thing that can happen: If you help build something important and impactful, call it X, it’s easy to slip into year after year of being the world’s greatest expert on X, and when X isn’t important and impactful any more, you’re in a bad place.
But having said all that, Bay Area tech culture totally has a blind spot, just another part of their great diversity suckage. It’s hurting them as much as all the demographics they exclude, but apparently not enough to motivate serious action.
Can old folks code? · I don’t know about the rest of the world, but they can at Amazon and Google. There are all these little communities at Google: Gayglers, Jewglers, and my favorite, the Greyglers; that’s the only T-shirt I took with me and still wear. The Greyglers are led by Vint Cerf, who holds wine-and-cheese events (good wine, good cheese) when he visits Mountain View from his regular DC digs. I’m not claiming it’s a big population, but includes people who are doing serious shit with core technology that you use every day.
There’s no equivalent at Amazon, but there is the community of Principal Engineers (I’m one), a tiny tribe in Amazon’s huge engineering army. There are a few fresh-faced youthful PEs, but on average we tend to grizzle and sag more than just a bit. And if you’re a group trying to do something serious, it’s expected you’ll have a PE advising or mentoring or even better, coding.
Like I do. Right now there’s code I wrote matching and routing millions and millions of Events every day, which makes me happy.
Not that that much of my time goes into it — in fact, I helped Events more with planning and politicking than coding. But a few weeks ago I got an idea for another project I’d been helping out with, a relatively cheap, fast way to do something that isn’t in the “Minimum Viable Product” that always ships, but would be super-useful. I decided it would be easier to build it than convince someone else, so… well, it turned out that I had to invent an intermediate language, and a parser for it, and I haven’t been blogging and, erm, seem a little short on sleep.
Advice · Are you getting middle-aged-or-later and find you still like code? I think what’s most helped me hang on is my attention span, comparable to a gnat’s. I get bored really, really fast and so I’m always wandering away from what I was just doing and poking curiously at the new shiny.
On top of which I’ve been extra lucky. The evidence says my taste is super-mainstream, whatever it is I find shiny is likely to appeal to millions of others too.
Anyhow, I don’t usually wear a T-shirt, but when I do, it’s this one.