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Is ageism in software development based on anything other than bias?

I have been a software engineer in the U.S for about 10 years now and I am already in my late thirties. I still have the passion and dedication for this industry and I am still trying to improve myself every day at work.

For family reasons, I have to relocate to another state where I need to find a new job. Since I am a pure technical guy I would still like to find a software engineer job. However I am a bit worried about my age since I am already in my late thirties. I am confident about my past experience and my technical strength however the age factor is something beyond my control.

My question is: Will I be discriminated because of my age when looking for a software engineer position? If I am really as good as I think, would the employers be interested in hiring me anyways?

Any comments/suggestions for improving my chances of being hired are also welcomed! No suggestions like “try to become a manager” please, since I am not interested in any management related jobs.

Thank you!

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marked as duplicate by JeffO, Walter, Caleb, Justin Cave, ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 16:54

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Um...don't you have 10 years experience? That's what your question says. –  Rig Mar 2 '12 at 3:38
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There will always be "software sweat shops" who employ armies of developers in their 20s, pay them a pittance, and work them 60 or more hours a week. They rely on their staff not knowing any better. An older person will have difficulty getting a job at a place like this; but I imagine you wouldn't want to work there anyway. Other than these "sweat shops", I would believe that your experience and wisdom would be a positive, not a negative, for any employer. –  David Wallace Mar 2 '12 at 9:17
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I couldn't possibly add anything more constructive then what has been added, but based on some real life experience I do know this; when I worked for Symantec, they hired developers in their 50's. The product was written in C++ and it had been in production for about 20 years I believe. A single software developer can pump out huge amounts of improvements to a product in less than a year, so provided you've got good experience, ageism makes no sense to the employer. –  Kieran Senior Mar 2 '12 at 9:58
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I am currently delegated with the responsibility of screening incoming CVs at our company; we're trying to find a good senior dev. Given my experiences so far I'm biassed towards hiring older developers, simply because they're likely to have the experience and maturity to deal with our pathological codebase. I can't be the only one in this situation, either. –  mcfinnigan Mar 2 '12 at 12:48
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This reminds me of the question a few months ago from a 13-year old wondering if he's too old to become a programmer. So CUTE! –  Dan Ray Mar 2 '12 at 13:08
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11 Answers

Heck I'm 60 this week and still work in a startup as a line C++ developer!!

I started as a developer at age 42 after 20 years in the military. That was 1994, when anyone who could fog a mirror could get a job, and I had made sure I had real experience by the time I got out of the service. Like you, I don't want to manage, I got enough of that in my past life.

Its harder to get hired now.

Once you get past 45 or so you'll get hired by people who know you. It'll be hard to get interviews by sending a resume in over the transom.

At 40 you're OK, you are viable. Most employers would break a tie in favor of the younger candidate, but you'll get in the door for an interview if your resume is a good match, even if they don't know you personally.

Once you get close to 45 to 50 any company large enough to have an HR department will filter your resume before it ever gets to the technical staff. They do that because they don't want an old geezer to sue them if he gets fired for otherwise legitimate reasons. They won't admit it, but remember, HR is there to protect the company from law suits. That's why you see so many jobs asking for '3-6 years' of experience, rather than 'at least 3 years'.

Yes, your age (in the US) isn't on the resume, but your work experience and probably your education is. HR will figure out about how old you are.

You'll find a gig at your new location, and once there you really want to get out and network just in case.

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You don't need to put the paper route you did 20 years ago or the year you got your degree on your resume. You can't do much about how old you look at an interview; but there's no need to put ancient history that would make you a target of ageist resume tossing on paper when initially applying for a job. –  Dan Neely Mar 2 '12 at 13:35
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@DanNeely - I had a phone interview and they asked me what year I got my degree. My response was, "Why don't you just ask how old I am?" Didn't get it. Didn't want it. –  JeffO Mar 2 '12 at 15:08
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Got a programming job at a multinational corporation at 48. There are a number of older workers here (networking industry). The resume got past HR without a problem. In fact I didn't even get to pull in the driveway after driving home from the first interview before I was offered the job. There are still plenty of opportunities for older workers. –  Bill Mar 2 '12 at 15:21
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I handle interviews for software developers in my department, and I can assure you, age doesn't factor in the equation, especially since your age wouldn't even be mentioned on your resume anyway. Most importantly however, the vast majority of the candidates I've interviewed (and I've interviewed A LOT) are so weak anyway that you can easily distinguish yourself by being a good programmer and knowing your subject. If you make it past the phone interview to the in-person interview/exam, you will hopefully have stood out enough that something would have to go very wrong for your age to be the deciding factor.

As long as you know at least one or two "popular" languages you should have plenty of opportunities.

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Approximate age can be easily deduced from the resume, even if there's no birth date. Graduation date, first employment date... –  quant_dev Mar 2 '12 at 9:05
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@quant_dev: you don't have to specify your graduation date and you don't have to specify each and every position you held (as long as there are no gaps) - makes it easier to fit on two pages as well. Still deductible but not so obvious. –  Den Mar 2 '12 at 9:36
    
@Den "you don't have to specify your graduation date" That would look suspicious (as if you were claiming a degree you don't have). "and you don't have to specify each and every position you held" So you're giving up one of your attributes as a seasoned developer - work experience. –  quant_dev Mar 2 '12 at 10:32
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@quant_dev for what it's worth, I've never mentioned my graduation DATE on my CV, just the name of degree, the grade, and the university. I've never had an issue with this. As I get older, some positions will drop off the end of my CV/resume, or be reduced to 1 liners. Here in the UK it is very common that only the first 2 pages of your CV/resume get read (if that!!). Most people recommend not going past 2/3 pages. It may well be different in other countries. –  Ozz Mar 2 '12 at 11:42
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People graduate from school at all kinds of different ages anyway. In the US, we're lucky to have the ability to go back to school whenever we want (figuratively speaking). Not all countries have such an open system. I'd argue recruiters will look at years of experience much more readily than graduation date. To me a 40 year old with 1 year of experience is just as malleable as a fresh graduate, but probably presents a number of other advantages. –  Phong Mar 3 '12 at 5:04
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Maybe I'm just lucky, but I'm 51 and every software job I've had, I've sent in a resume through normal channels, no networking or inside contacts. Of course, since I was 38 when I got my bachelor's degree, and I leave off all previous work experience, I look like I'm 32 or so on paper. Also, every place I've worked, I've never been the oldest. I'm almost always older than my bosses, but there have always been other developers older than me. Perhaps the perceived age discrimination issue is a Silicon Valley / Puget Sound thing? I've never experienced it in Idaho, Eastern Washington, or Arizona.

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Being in my 50's, I've found it matters with some companies and not with others. Therefore, it will depend on the kind of programming work you do and where you want to do it.

In general, I've found companies that do a lot of public facing web development, mobile apps, online games and packaged software to be the most likely to discriminate on age as well as a number of other factors, including race and cultural background. Of course, this is illegal in the US but clever HR departments find ways to hide the corporate biases.

In-house development at your average non-tech corporation tends to be a better chance. That said, I have encountered one non-tech related company that had a age problem so it does depend on the specific company. I've also found that tech companies that do a lot of B2B service work to be more open to the older developer than the 'hot' companies.

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No, I used to have colleagues who are in their late 40s and early 50s doing coding job in C++ and Java. Here are some tips I heard from them:

Make sure you're up-to-date with the current trends in Software Engineering.

The key is just to never stop learning and be open-minded. Given the amount of experience you have, and the attitude towards learning, you'll surely land on a decent job.

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I agree 100%. The older you are, the more important it is to be able to show an interviewer that you've kept up with the times. –  Jim In Texas Mar 2 '12 at 18:10
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Late 30s with 10 years' experience is pretty much the sweet spot as far as finding a good job goes; you have enough experience to be immediately useful, the maturity to fit in well, yet still be flexible and agile enough to pick up new techologies and techniques easily, and you're probably still not that expensive. Trust me, you are exactly what plenty of organizations are looking for.

I will hit 47 this week with 22 years' experience under my belt, and just started this current job a couple of months ago. At this point in my career I'm a pretty expensive resource, yet I still get random pings from people asking if I'm looking for new opportunities and who are willing to pay what I ask, and I'm really not that awesome a code monkey - I probably fit somewhere in the middle of the bell curve.

As long as you're good at what you do, your age really isn't going to a problem; there's enough demand for good software engineers out there that it won't be an issue for a while. Put another way, anyone who would discriminate against you based on age would probably not be a good place to work anyway.

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Not gonna lie to you, age sometimes matters. I've seen many times in recruitment situations (both hiring and consultants) where younger candidates gets picked over older even though they do not have the same level of experience.

The fear, I believe, is primarily that with an older candidate with 15 years experience, the actual experience is going to be with 10-15 year old technology and methods. Sometimes this is true , oftentimes it's not but some people just lose the drive to learn new things at some point, which is where the age-bias comes from.

That being said, late thirties is not "old" in my world and I would not factor it in if it were me hiring. Still, I'm not going to say it's not going to happen. You may well find yourself in a position where a 29-year old got a job you feel you were better qualified for. Maybe he didn't ask for the same pay, maybe the employer truly has a bias against older people. This is the world after all and it's not always fair.

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In my experience (which is exclusively in the UK) there does tend to be a bit of bias against older developers, but not so much that it will actually stop you finding a job. The main problem I've come across is that there are so many less-experienced developers who have lower salary expectations that it can be difficult finding a job that pays what you think you're worth. However, if you concentrate on roles that require a lot of experience, or your specific experience, or both, then you should be fine.

Of course, a) those roles are less common than the "at-least-3-years-experience" roles, but that's to be expected when you look for better paid jobs, and b) you might be expected to take on a bit of leadership/mentoring as part of the role, but hopefully that's not a big deal for you, as long as it's not full-blown management.

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Thanks! I am comfortable with some leadership/mentoring duties, just don't want to be in a "full-blown management" position. –  Four Season Mar 2 '12 at 4:45
    
I lived in the UK in the late 80s. At that time it was common for employment postings to specify a desired age range as well as experience level, and CV's were expected to include birthdays. Is that still the case, or has the UK since passed any sort of age discrimination in hiring rules? –  Jim In Texas Mar 2 '12 at 6:37
    
We have Age discrimination rules now... –  Bill Michell Mar 2 '12 at 10:38
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I am on the latter half of 30 also and a couple of years ago thought about what it would be like to 'write code' past 40 and beyond. I think that is only natural to worry about job prospects mainly since at this age you are most likely married, have kids and a mortgage, which means job security becomes important. It seems like age is a factor considering so many young people are in the industry (I was one of the oldest consultants in my city office of 40).

I have however realised that I bring a whole world of experience and I can discover solutions more quickly cause I will not go down the wrong path as much (like I did when I was less experienced). I can mentor the younger and also communicate on more level terms with management as they tend to be of the same age (and older).

If you come across as a team player and demonstrate valuable skills for a future employer age won't matter. Just stay sharp and keep learning. I am sure in 10 years there will be a lot more 30 and 40 somethings in the industry for this to be a good industry for the middle aged.

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I think a common misconception with youth vs age is that younger employees are likely to stick around for a long time, or the company will be able to get more years out of them. Hence sometimes interviewers might be biased on age.

If that was the case in a company you were applying for then don't worry. You wouldn't want to work for them anyway. Just consider it they saved you the trouble of getting into a job that you found out later was a bunch of crap (so to speak).

In this day, I think an older person is an even greater asset. As long as they are willing to adapt and learn new methods and ways of doing things (sometimes a stigma of age can be an inflexibility to change which can put employers off). Make sure you show your keenness to continually learn new things, a willingness to take on and learn from others, and a desire to change to make yourself a better developer.

Some things I looked for in a potential employee (regardless of age):

  1. Are they likely to stick around? To be honest, in this day younger people are more likely to jump ship, go on an OE or grow tired of their position I personally believe than slightly older more settled down people.
  2. Make sure you exude freshness and vitality in your interviews that would belie someone of your age. Although old in age, you can still be young in mind.
  3. Do they fit the role and kind of traits I am looking for to complement my team. They may be brilliant at something, but not the right fit for the team.

Essentially, I think it's possible you might be discriminated by your age. But when you get to an interview I think it will more likely be the interview itself that makes you not get a job, not any age factor.

That's of course assuming the people interviewing you are any good themselves and pick the right person.

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Nobody hires young employees expecting them to "get more years out of them". They're hired with the expectation that they'll accept lower wages and worse working conditions than people with more experience and a life outside work. –  Michael Borgwardt Mar 2 '12 at 8:16
    
Yep, I agree. But I also believe that young people can be hired because of a unfair percieved expectation that they will be at a company longer than those of considerable more years. –  dreza Mar 2 '12 at 8:49
    
I think the idea that you "get fewer years out of" older employees makes sense for new hires with less than 5 years until their legal retirement age. Investing time into a 63-year old when you know he'll leave in two years is always a hard decision. Other than that, I completely agree with your post. I never understood why some companies don't hire 50-year old developers (assuming they bring the right knowledge and experience) –  nikie Mar 2 '12 at 13:07
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I think your technical experience and willingness of staying technical is going to help you find the job sooner. It would have been difficult finding a good job had you been in the management, simply due to the fact that there are so few management positions and so many managers (all developers become managers sooner or later, it's just a matter of time before they give up).

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