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I've been told that to be taken seriously as a job applicant, I should drop years of relevant experience off my résumé, remove the year I got my degree, or both. Or not even bother applying, because no one wants to hire programmers older than them.1

Or that I should found a company, not because I want to, or because I have a product I care about, but because that way I can get a job if/when my company is acquired.

Or that I should focus more on management jobs (which I've successfully done in the past) because… well, they couldn't really explain this one, except the implication was that over a certain age you're a loser if you're still writing code. But I like writing code.

Have you seen this? Is this only a local (Northern California) issue?

If you've ever hired programmers:2

  • Of the résumés you've received, how old was the eldest applicant?
  • What was the age of the oldest person you've interviewed?
  • How old (when hired) was the oldest person you hired?

How old is "too old" to employed as a programmer?

1 I'm assuming all applicants have equivalent applicable experience. This isn't about someone with three decades of COBOL applying for a Java guru job.
2 Yes, I know that (at least in the US) you aren't supposed to ask how old an applicant is. In my experience, though, you can get a general idea from a résumé.


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You should stop coding when you stop loving it – altern Jan 5 '12 at 16:00

30 Answers 30

up vote 59 down vote accepted

Having just got a new job at nearly 50 in the UK I can say that it's possible and you're never too old.

There are two approaches - both rely on your skills being relevant to the job.

  1. Stick with what you know and become a guru. This is risky as the number of jobs requiring "old" technologies are becoming fewer and further between as each year passes. However, as people retire from such jobs there will be openings.

  2. Keep refreshing your skills. I moved into Silverlight last year, which is what got me this job. That and my previous team leadership roles which my new employer saw as relevant.


I'm 52, and Technology Director of a company I co-founded 15 years ago, and this is a question close to my heart. I spend about 40% of my time coding, mainly developing existing and new products and I truly hope to be doing the same thing in 10 years time.

I'm intrigued by the notion that older programmers are uniquely hampered by irrelevant skillsets. I find that this is the problem with younger developers - if I want an Flash Programmer, or a Flex Programmer, that's easy. If I want one with proven enterprise database or network skills, or with a track record of commercial product development, that's much more difficult to find. Older programmers can talk more articulately about design choices and software lifecycle issues simply because they've had a lifetime of experience of successes - and failures.

The problem for older programmers is not that they are losing their intellectual capacity, but that they've been seduced by the notion that they should become 'managers'. In my opinion a good programmer with decades of experience can earn more developing software than by climbing some ill-defined management ladder, provided they find (or start) an organisation which rewards innovation and ability.

In a world where millions of developers with the same skillsets are available via the internet, the idea that youth alone has value is simply dumb.


You never have to stop programming, ever, as long as you are enjoying what you are doing. However, your organization might have a ceiling that you reach, and you simply can't go into a higher position or obtain a greater salary unless you leave the company or leave programming and move into a leadership role as a manager or technical lead.

And even though there are time constraints, I doubt you would ever be in a position where you are forbidden to write code. – JeffO Jan 5 '12 at 14:12
@JeffO That's probably true, but from what I've seen, many managers and leaders don't have time to develop software at work, with their other responsibilities. Some still work on personal projects at home, though. It depends a lot on your organization and duties. – Thomas Owens Jan 5 '12 at 14:15
There are also many open-source projects to which you can contribute. – Neal Tibrewala Jan 5 '12 at 19:01
My boss is the Product Development Manager, and despite a lot of demands on his time, he takes responsibility for the codebase of our most business-central apps. HIS boss, however, is the CTO, and I've never seen him code a single line. So, I agree; there can certainly be a ceiling beyond which you won't see much coding work. – KeithS Jan 5 '12 at 19:48

I got my first programming job at age 37. So that's not too old to start, if you are bright, eager to learn, and willing to accept the salary of a junior programmer.

Yay! Nice to hear a positive/success story. – JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 8:51
Back when I was in management, I hired more people that were older than me, than people that were younger than me... – Brian Knoblauch Jan 12 '12 at 21:18
W00T. I just happen to be 37. Thanks for putting a smile on my face :) – James Poulson Jan 31 '13 at 3:37
Glad my experience was encouraging to you. I'm forty now, still really enjoy programming, and no longer have a junior salary. Hope it goes well with you. – Eric Wilson Jan 31 '13 at 15:28

When I was working on finding my current position, I attended a workshop where I was the youngest person by at least a decade. A number of the other people in the workshop were 50+ and having a very hard time finding work. A few of the observations on why this is were:

  • A lot of employers assume that since you're older you're also looking to score a couple last years of employment before you get to retire and when looking for a candidate they really want to eek out every month they can get.
  • In the current economy and job market, a lot of VERY experienced and VERY qualified people are applying for jobs that are well beneath their qualifications. Employers tend to be either suspicious assuming that you're somehow damaged goods or they figure you'll jump ship the minute you can. Another worry is often related to your expected salary in relation to the job posting.

Ultimately employers are looking to score the biggest bang for their buck and all too often, they associate experience and maturity with "old" and figure that they'll go with someone younger and rougher around the edges but they figure they can train them for cheaper and keep them longer than they can someone with more experience and maturity.

In my current team our Scrum Master and Team Leader is a guy who is in his fifties and he is invaluable in smoothing out rough spots and dealing with our upper management. On the flip side, I don't mind that he doesn't write much code because the bulk of his coding experience has all been from at least a decade ago and so it feels more like VB6 than PHP.

Personally I think that older programmers make great mentors and team leaders because they've got great experience with every aspect of development. It may be for that reason that people have suggested that you look more to managerial roles. Employers recognize this too, I think, and are more likely to hire someone with lots of experience in a managerial role than as another coder.

As a side note - Most people with experience in the hiring industry recommend that older candidates avoid dates, or adjust the work experience portion of their resume in order to deemphasize their age.

One last thing to consider is whether you are getting in for interviews or if your resume is simply being rejected. If you're getting into the interviews then your resume is probably not the problem.

Funny thing about that is I suspect the guy right out of college won't stay nearly as long and the cost to train him up may be much higher than for someone who is productive right away. False assumptions are often in play in the hiring game. – HLGEM Nov 8 '10 at 22:42
@HLGEM, exactly. The question to ask a place that thinks you'll retire too soon is: How long have your other developers been here? How many have been here more than a year, or two, or three? Unfortunately, in most cases of age discrimination, one won't ever get the chance to ask this question. – Kyralessa Jan 12 '12 at 22:30


This perception comes from programming having a huge surge of new entrants over the 1990s and onwards. Until the 1980s it was a fairly small, niche profession, but then suddenly in the last 20 years it exploded - and barring some older career changers - most people who went into it were young.

So basically: the average age of programmers will go up as this initial bulge of 1990s+ entrants to programming gets older. Obviously some will move on to management or change careers, but not enough to prevent this inevitable demographics shift. Also: after the dot com bust fewer young people were studying programming, which means that the entry of young blood slowed down somewhat.

Think of it like the demographics of a developing country: huge birth rates, high death rates, huge bulge of young population. When the country gets more developed, people start living longer and generally having fewer children.

So anyway, if you are 35 now, by the time you're 40, 45, 50, etc - the average age of programmers will have followed you up towards these levels as well. It's a temporary demographic blip, not a permanent fixture of programming as a profession.

+1 excellent point, shedding a new light on things. (And I hope for my own sake it is correct :-) – Péter Török Sep 17 '12 at 15:57

While acting as team lead, I've had several occasions to have someone over 50 (and one over 60) working on my team. I can only tell you the experience was good. What I would question is if I saw someone with the last 10 years as a manager or architect trying to apply for a dev job. They may have gotten downsized and are just looking for a job. But if they've been hands on, I wouldn't question it at all.

By that age, all the wanna-be managers and architects are managers and architects... anyone still coding wants to code.

Count me in the "want to code" group. 50+ and still no desire to manage. I was hired by someone younger than me in this job and my last, FWIW. I love writing code and I'm good at it. – Bryan Oakley Jan 13 '12 at 0:20

Look at the case of Grace Hopper. She continued to work with programming until her death at 85. I remember seeing a 60 minutes special on her many years ago, she was a fascinating person. If you have a passion for doing something, then age is not a factor.

For what it's worth, I'm over 50 and see no reason to stop doing what I enjoy. There is still always a lot to learn and I enjoy that.


One thing to consider is how many will hire a 50 or 60 year old programmer? If all you do is code I don't think there are nearly as many jobs available for an older coder as compared to a early twenties to late thirties coder. One reason I know this exists (I have asked others in charge of hiring) is that a 40 year old manager is a bit weary of someone 15 years his senior. Will they follow my directions? How set are they in their ways? Will other gravitate and follow this grandpa coder?

Almost all of the job offers I get these days (I am 43) do require me to fulfill a certain amount of managerial/supervisory duties.

So I do think at a certain age it would be wise to change your focus from "only coding" to coding and taking on more supervisory roles. It is simply expected in this world of ours that older people will take on a more leader type role. And, like I stated above, many seem to naturally defer to older people.

So you may be able to only focus on writing code but keeping and getting new jobs will become at least a bit harder as you age.

Getting new jobs in any field is harder as you age. However, where I currently work we several of our strongest programmers are over 50 and any manager who refuses to consider the stronger developers in hiring due to age is an idiot I wouldn't personally care to work for no matter what my age. My current boss is almost half my age and has no problem with that nor do I have a problem with him being significantly younger than me. – HLGEM Jan 5 '12 at 15:32
@HLGEM You must be an exception case. Most managers are terribly insecure about their precarious positions of power (Alliteration Badge!) and most feel uncomfortable about a subordinate who possibly makes more money than him/her. – maple_shaft Jan 5 '12 at 15:59
@HLGEM I'm impressed that your boss is that open-minded - what's the age range of the last three programmers he hired? – robrambusch Jan 5 '12 at 16:33
Why should it matter how old the programmer is? Don't all programmers outrank managers anyway? – psr Jan 5 '12 at 18:35
I'm about to turn 65. I have no intention of retiring. Except for right after the dot-com bust 10 years ago, I have never had a problem getting work. I get calls from head-hunters probably every week. I love to code and have never had a desire to be a manager. My current manager on my on-site job is 50 and is also the architect. He tries to code too but has trouble getting enough time to do so. The other firmware programmer is also over 60. – tcrosley Jan 5 '12 at 21:07

I'm a freelance programmer (doing mostly embedded C, also some PHP and C#), and am over 60. I currently have four active contracts. In many of my jobs, I never even meet the people I'm working with. I don't list any dates on my on-line resume older than about 1990.


Everyone's career works out differently becasue we have different needs and make different choices. I know plenty of over 50 programmers, I work with a good number of them because we try to hire talent not age and frankly we place the highest value on in-depth experience which the younger people just don't have.

As you age you have to make choices. You can stay a programmer, but that comes at a cost of generally lower salary. You can transistion to a tech lead which generally still includes some programming but also some management tasks. You can become a specialist (BI, architecture, systems analyst, database, etc.) which often pays better but is limiting in terms of overall jobs avaliable. You can move to a project management role or business analyst role and leave programming entirely. You might even decide to open a restaurant or buy a farm and leave the corporate world behind entirely. All of those options are open when you are young and eventually your choices will limit which ones are viable for you.

I personally have noticed that if you haven't transitioned to management by your mid-30's it is much harder to go there. But that may not hold true in other locations.

But the point I'm trying to make is that you control your career choices. You don't have to do what others do just because most people do that. Do what is best for you. And never think you have made an irrevokable choice. I have changed careers 5 or 6 times, life leads you to unexpected places sometimes. What you want at 20 is not likely what you will want at 50 and that's ok. Sometimes we make choices to keep food on the table and pay for our children's education. There are alot of programmers who have become managers for the pay. There are others who don't care how much they offer, they feel the stress of management is not worth it. And others are pure programmers who can't ever even consider anything else because it isn't so much what they do as who they are.


There was an interesting article recently - the Deep Dark Secret of Silicon Valley

Basically it says that the Valley prefers younger candidates who will put in allnighters for lower wages, and advocates that experienced programmers move into management positions after they hit a certain age. The problem is there aren't that many management positions to go around..

I don't work in the Valley, but my personal experience is that experienced programmers can still code and are valuable because of their experience, and in my neck of the woods there are companies who will hire them.

There is definitely an advantage to hiring inexperienced/junior guys that don't know that 60 hours a week is working too much and that 20K GBP is not earning enough. The career development opportunities of a big name on your CV is worth doing a couple of years' "Tour of Duty", IMO. – JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 8:50

I sit next to a couple 50+ year old C# developers. There's no inherent "Too Old," just perceptions on the part of the interviewers. As such, you may have to go the extra mile in convincing people that you're knowledge is up to date.

Or become soylent programmer. Either way. :P


No one wants to hire programmers older than them

TooOld = Interviewer.Age + 1

My boss is half my age. – HLGEM Sep 17 '10 at 14:37
My coworker doesn't even know Simple Minds... – Pierre Sep 20 '10 at 10:37
Hey, I was quoting the asker! this was a joke! – DavRob60 Sep 20 '10 at 12:14
while(true) { Interviewer.Age++; } //should have made that private! mwuhahaha! – blesh Apr 12 '12 at 19:36
We hate fun here apparently. Shame on you for joking! – pwny Jun 19 '12 at 19:26

I'm 59, and have worked as software developer every day since I retired from the US military in 1994.

What I've found is after about 45 there is no point to even trying to get a job with a company that has an HR department. HR people are afraid that if the new older hire didn't work that they would be on the receiving end of an age discrimination lawsuit. So they practice age discrimination up front.

The best bet for an older programmer looking for a job is to look for a small start up, preferable started by a former colleague, or at least a company small enough to not have an HR department. If you can talk to the actual development team there is a reasonable chance that they can see past your gray hair. At least this has worked for me.

I plan to continue as a developer until I get tired of the job, which hasn't happened yet. My present gig is pretty stable, but if it goes away I'll either find another job or make my own job.

+1 For making your own job. But if you do that you will probably need some organizational and/or supervisory skills. – ElGringoGrande Jan 5 '12 at 20:30
Are you sure HR screened you out because of your age? Is there a chance you lacked the proper "buzz words" on your resume? I ask because I know I've prob worked in places where HR screened out loads of great (older) coders because they didn't have "AJAX" on their resume. For the record, I've been in the IT game just a few years now, and am really starting to appreciate the "been there - done that" attitude of my older colleagues who can spot fads and trends before I can. – Graham Jan 5 '12 at 20:43

It depends on the individual and the type of intensity. I noticed as I've gotten older that I have less patience for long hours or crappy working conditions, but I can still endure it. It can vary from person to person, but things like pulling all-nighters do take a greater toll on me. I can do it but it takes longer to recover than it used to.

If by intense you mean lots of all-nighters and high stress, then I think that would tax anyone but yes, it's quite possible older people would struggle more. If by intense you mean that there's lots to learn, then I wouldn't be as worried about it. Everyone learns differently and they'd just have to evaluate it as they went.

However, if I could impart the experience I have now to a younger version of myself, I'd tell him, "Be careful about doing many unreasonable things even if you are young...corporate America will gladly use you and leave you nothing to show for that effort."

Repeated demands for long hours are a sign of a broken project in a broken organization, and I won't do it anymore. When the car is in the swamp, continuing to press on the accelerator doesn't help. – kevin cline Mar 25 '11 at 13:41

Personally, I wouldn't want a job that I had to get by hiding how old I was (Full disclosure: I'm 27, so that isn't an issue for me).

Or that I should focus more on management jobs (which I've successfully done in the past) because… well, they couldn't really explain this one, except the implication was that over a certain age you're a loser if you're still writing code. But I like writing code.

I think you have 2 things working against you:

  1. Older programmers have more experience and cost more money.
  2. I think that software shops in Silicon Valley (if you'd consider that Northern California) have adapted an "up or out" mentality. If you've reached a certain age and you haven't started your own company or at least taken on a leadership role in one, then you must either really not be passionate about the software business or you must not be that good at it.

I'm not saying these lines of reasoning are correct or that I agree with them. I'm just saying that's the way it is. These two issues are going to be a big deal if you want a startup job, but they will probably be less of an issue if you are finding a job for a more established company.

Lastly, have you considered applying for a Tech Lead or Architect job? They're "more advanced" positions that aren't necessarily management gigs.


I'm working in Korea. In this country, over 40s are too old as a programmer. So the board want them to be a manager. But only few of them can be a manager. Rest of them should be retired. So they find a new job like a own business. It is why most korean programmers want to go abroad.

What an idiotic way of managing a software company! Without the elder experience younger devs will continue making the same mistakes forever. – Gary Willoughby Jun 19 '12 at 18:53

I will be 34 when I graduate, and at the age of 32 I was able to get a 12 month internship, with another one offered to me and several others at advanced level interview stages. My point is that, in my experience, age has not really been a factor. It's about the skills you have, are they current? And, very important, it's about your soft skills, particularly communication.

To make myself 'stand out' is the reason I took the intership, also I have started Open Source development, all in an effort to counter the possible maxim of ageism and to prove that I am dedicated and enthusiastic (extremely important) about programming.

I was previously a customer services manager, and I believe this has worked for me both in getting interviews/offers and in my own confidence when dealing with interviewers.

I am in the UK, i'm not sure if this is the same where you live?


Speaking as someone who has interviewed developers. The only thing I care about is if you can do the job, and if you'll be a good fit for my team.

Older developers have a chance of reaping more benefits than their younger counter-parts for same amount of work because of the experience they posses.


I'm 46. I started programming back in the mid-1990's. These days most employers value certifications more than resume content, which is sad, but that's what I see along the East coast at least. Keep your skills current. It's a pain. But that's what you have to do if you want to remain in the "hands-on" part of this industry. Otherwise, like you said, pursue management positions. Not as fun or interesting but these days a job is good to have.

I don't think you can make a blanket statement about certifications. I've never worked for anyone that thought certifications were worth anything at all. Maybe I've been lucky. – Bryan Oakley Jan 13 '12 at 0:23

There are always jobs for capable developers. Show some energy and problem solving ability, and you will find a position. I may be naive, but I think that in hiring people are considered to be as old as they act. I know two guys in their 50's who just got VC funding for their web startup.


I'm 30, and I've interviewed people who appeared to be as young as 20 or as old as 50, or maybe a bit older.

I try to not care how old people are, but I admit I'm probably biased. I've worked too many jobs that were entirely white male 22-26 college graduates (CS degree, math minor) with an obsessive love of old sci-fi and hyper-rational personalities. If you are different from this in any way, I'm already more interested in you.

That said, I don't think there's much subjectivity in our interview process. I've got a standard set of programming questions, and you get a whiteboard and markers and have to write code. If you can do it, that's great, and if you can't, that's too bad.

You could argue that the format is dumb (it probably is) or the questions are silly (they probably are) but I think it's fairly typical for software companies today. My questions basically range from "if you were awake in CS 101 for the first week you will laugh at me for asking something so simple" up to "this is pretty representative of the things we actually work on". I may get more excited at the prospect of hiring somebody who doesn't look like the rest of my coworkers, but my final yes/no just comes down to whether you can write code.

I'm sure there are companies that aren't anything like mine, and want to only hire young people. If you run into them, keep looking. (Or start your own. On the internet nobody knows if you're 100 years old!)

Two caveats I can think of:

If your resume makes you look experienced enough that you'd ask for a significantly higher salary than we can pay right now, your resume might get filtered by HR before it even gets to me. Now, if you really would demand much more than we can afford, it's a good filter. But if you wouldn't, then you might want to find some way to indicate on your resume that money isn't that huge a deal to you.

We know that older people have more experience and better judgment, but younger people seem more likely to have used specific technologies we're using, and we like people who can hit the ground running. It's never happened to me yet, but if we had one slot and two applicants it might be tough for us to pick between "young and used our technology stack before" versus "more experienced but never used this". Fortunately, this is easy for you to solve: spend a little time building something with a hot new technology. (You've been programming for 30 years, and you just built something in Rails last month? Nice!) In fact, that's good advice for anyone.


"Should" is a vague, shifty expression. The useful thing to ask when making that decision is: What will happen if I stay anyway? There are a number of things I could think of.

  • I will gradually lose my touch and become unemployable if I ever lose my job. That's a tough one. No one wants to believe it could happen to them, so maybe it's true and everyone in the field is denial? On the other hand, Donald Knuth can program rings around me and you put together, and he's 73. This ties into the next point:

  • People (employers, colleagues) will think I am losing it and make work life much less enjoyable than now. That is also iffy, but easier to test: ask around! What do people who are younger/older than you have to report?

  • I will eventually get bored of the field altogether, because there is nothing new under the sun. I doubt that one very much, but if it happens, at least you can make a transition gradually without being under a lot of time pressure. (Unless it's in a direction that also discourages experienced individuals from joining...)

Overall I can't think of many reasons to quit the occupation preemptively, then.


Think about your weekend.

You leave work on Friday, drive home, have dinner, and relax. On the weekend, maybe you do some work around the house, travel a little, partake in some hobbies. Basically, you enjoy your time off work and find other things to do.

Now, how do you feel on Sunday night? How does the thought of driving into work Monday morning make you feel? Do you get a sick, sinking feeling in your stomach at the thought of having to spend the next five days pounding out code?

Or, after having had a nice refreshing weekend, are you looking forward to getting back into the office and tackling some of the problems that remained unsolved when you left on Friday? Do you look at Monday as a chance to review last week's code while refreshed and revigorated?

If the first scenario is you, then perhaps it's time to get out now. If programming doesn't continually challenge and intrigue you anymore, you're just not going to be happy doing it. Simple as that.

If, however, you are constantly thinking to yourself "I can't believe I get paid to do something I love", then there's no reason to ever quit.


I asked a very similar question on Stackoverflow a while ago, and the response the I found most accurate is that it's more about you just being overqualified for most positions.

You really need to know the position you should be in at this point in your career I think. (I posted a similar question this evening)

@icc97 - Thanks, but it's not much of a shame. My question was about strategies to manage your career as you get older and aren't hired as a 'programmer' anymore. I was expecting; be an architect, manager, authority figure, etc... but the question was percieved as whining about agism and devolved into a an open/close battle. I quickly regretted posting it and am happy it's finally dead and gone. My comment above, about being overqualified for most positions, summarized the final conclusion though. – John MacIntyre Mar 27 '13 at 20:23

I tend not to hire anyone who no longer has control over their bodily functions.

If you strip away stereotypes about lacking energy and dynamism and so on (which are generally as worthless as any other stereotype), the only genuine factor I can think of is how close is the person to retirement and how long before they leave you.

Given that it's not uncommon for a programmer of any age to move on after 2 - 3 years, this is basically a non-issue so long as the person is smart, knowledgeable and hard working I wouldn't consider it.

Oh, and in the UK at least as an employer I should probably mention that considering someone's age as a reason for hiring or not is illegal - though obviously very hard to prove that that was the reason.


I'm going to jump in here and suggest mobile app development. It's a new field where very few developers have more than a couple years more experience than someone starting out, and many of the people I see at mobile developer gatherings are not "spring chickens". A couple successful mobile apps on your CV, and companies in need of mobile developers won't care about your age, gender, national origin, eye color, etc. And there's currently a reasonable possibility you could use this skill-set to start your own business.

Of course, mobile apps could just be a bubble near its end. But you might be able to use your life's wisdom to pick out the next growing specialization as well or better than a lot of CS students.


The average age of developers where I work is 50. Some of the best programmers I know are way over 50. I've seen that kind of stupidity in other countries (not naming names here) but here so far so good (fingers crossed).


If you love what you do why whould you ever stop doing it? If you don't like it you better stop today. But I guess there is no age or level of experience that will force you to stop coding. With so many new things to learn each year it will go on forever.


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