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How old is "too old"?

I'm about to start CS next year. I love both the coding and the mathematical aspects of programming. However, recently I encountered multiple rants about how it's impossible to actually be a programmer over 45, unless you're in a managing position or filling a very specific niche.

Any advice? I'm seriously questioning my career choice here, and would be grateful for some input.

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Aug 12 '11 at 17:03

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45 is old? 75 yes. –  Darknight Aug 12 '11 at 16:53
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There is no place for a programmer that is 45 and has lost interest in learning new things. But if you are the sort that wants to keep learning and keep coding for the next 5 decades, then there will be a place for you. –  Eric Wilson Aug 12 '11 at 17:06
    
Plenty of over 45 programmers. And who knows that far out if you will want to still program then anyway, don't make plans based on what you might want to do in more than 20 years. I've changed careers at least 5 times. –  HLGEM Aug 12 '11 at 17:06
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I was born in 1960 (making me 51 at the time you asked your question) and I still work as a full time programmer by choice. I have no intention of becoming a manager. I know my strengths, and managing people isn't one of them (leading, yes. managing, no). I also wouldn't say I'm filling a niche as I'm really more of a jack-of-all-trades kinda guy. I don't specialize in anything in particular. –  Bryan Oakley Aug 12 '11 at 17:36
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As a 64-year old programmer who has no intention of retiring (because I like programming too much), I'm getting somewhat tired of these "too old to program" questions. The company I work at has two full-time programmers, myself and my office-mate who just turned 60. I would be hesitant to work with someone younger than 30 or so because they wouldn't have enough real-world experience. –  tcrosley Aug 12 '11 at 20:27

3 Answers 3

Insteaad of fixating on age and whether or not you're too old for programming, you should focus on the fact that you actually do love programming and the aspects of it. As long as you have the desire and drive to get into the field and you enjoy it, you'll find something eventually.

Besides, worse case you can always freelance or become a teacher ;)

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do what you love, ignore naysayers –  Steven A. Lowe Aug 12 '11 at 19:02

In about 1984 before I started college in CS (1985) and probably before you were born, I read an article in Omni magazine that advised against going into CS because by 2000 there would be no jobs for programmers since it would all be automated. In about 2003, Omni was closed down and I have never regretted being a programmer. Tech related jobs can gainfully employ every human on the planet and will in some form over time. There are plenty of old programmers.

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There is some truth in the idea that older people (like me) can't easily do the jobs that young programmers do. That's because young programmers mostly lack the ability to think, and rely on mindless memorization of a huge number of facts and associations, and tools (like auto-completion) that restrict their choices enough to avoid the bulk of errors they would otherwise produce. We used to call this "canned programming" (like heating a can of soup or whatever for dinner, rather than real cooking), but today, since that's overwhelmingly what programmers do, it's a seldom used term.

Older people can't in general do this mindless kind of programming because (1) our brains have sacrificed the memorization ability for ability to reason (like, heuristics, example problems/solutions, so on), and because (2) it is to large degree a social thing, picking up hints about the latest ephemeral mayfly technology from one's multitude of friends & online activity.

Conversely, where the programming calls for some reasoning ability, older people are best.

Here's a science fiction book that is both fun and interesting, dealing with this problem:

Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge.

Cheers & hth., only my opinions of course,

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My condolences if the majority of young programmers around you is like that. I have seen enough amazing things been done by extremely young people to be sure that this is not the case in general, though. –  blubb Aug 12 '11 at 17:04
    
"young programmers mostly lack the ability to think" - This is a gross overgeneralization, and frankly, nonsense. Today's technology enables programmers to patch together a lot of code without understanding the underlying logic, but that doesn't mean that most young programmers can't think. –  BlackJack Aug 12 '11 at 17:04