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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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closed as not constructive by GlenH7, Thomas Owens May 2 '13 at 14:39

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31 Answers

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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.

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There's no rational reason for disciminating programmers because of their age. In fact, even admitting that the age is taken into accout in recruitment process can be assumed as the violation of anti-discrimination policy. There are the programs untertaken to counter such distrimination, such as anonymous job applications: Anonymous job applications may help combat discrimination.

The only thing that really counts are the skills of the future worker. This is what the rational employee should take into account.

There are, however, many companies, that write that they want to hire "for the young, dinamic team". This means, in fact, that they want to hire very young people. But from my experience jobs in that companies have little value. They want to hire young people, that have little experience, weak position on job market and will accept poor salary and bad working conditions (stress, overhours, usually not paid).

I haven't yet met with age discrimination in company, that want to hire an expert (and offer salary worth the qualifications they desire). At least not in Poland.

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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.

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I don't think there is an age limit but you really need to decide if programming is something you enjoy doing. It isn't easy, it certainly isn't glamorous or even particularly healthy. It often involves long hours, working weekends and you have to think about very abstract ideas - a LOT. It is definitely not for everyone.

However, if you don't mind the drawbacks and enjoy a good challenge, then it is worth getting your feet wet.

You will be overcoming two hurdles: 1) lack of experience, and 2) age. Age alone is not enough to discredit you, provided you have the experience to back it up, but you will essentially be joining the market and in direct competition with college grads. I don't mean to discourage you, but facts are facts.

To over come the lack of experience, you need to get some, which means diving in. Get a feel for the languages that might interest you, get a book and start learning them. You will need this because pretty much every technical position requires that you pass a tech interview. Next step would be to find someone that would be more willing to hire you, which means almost certainly applying at consulting companies as they have a more regular need for programmers. This is usually a horrible job, but stick it out for 2 years and you now have the real world experience to move somewhere else.

To overcome your Age will take some sales work on your part. Your competition for most of those jobs are 22 year olds willing to work long hours for very little money. You will need to convey your specific advantage to potential employers, i.e. stable person, doesn't spend all your time partying, kids grown, etc..

You certainly face an uphill battle but if this is the path you want, simply keep trying and you'll get there.

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No.

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.

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+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
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No, I don't think you can be too old. I do think, however, that as people get older they tend to move on to different career paths for a multitude of reasons:

  • Natural ability for design or management.
  • Inability to keep up with new technology at a low level.
  • Change of pace.
  • More money.

Only one of those reasons would seriously prevent an employer from taking an application from an older developer seriously. That of course is the inability to keep up with new technology. Overcome that perception and you should be golden.

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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).

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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.

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Certainly. It's never late. And I believe that you'll become a much better programmer than many active ones. That's because back in your time people knew how to write small and efficient programs, due to the limited resources of their systems.

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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."

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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
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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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In my very limited experience, I think hesitation to hire older developers is mainly due to stereotypes of (a) less energy/motivation and (b) less up-to-date skillset.

The older developers who have the biggest problems are the ones who are perceived as playing into those stereotypes. For instance, a dev in his 50s who speaks and tackles interview problems more rapidly than the average 20-year-old will probably have no problems. A dev who speaks slowly (even if he thinks quickly), or who has unusual gaps in his knowledge (even if those gaps would be easily closed within days of hiring), is likely to have more difficulty getting hired.

Now get off my closure. ;-)

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  1. The year you received your degree shouldn't be on your resume anyway. You have one, end of story.
  2. "Too old" is a state of mind. "Too old" is when you stop caring about your craft and stop learning new things. Or start acting like a cranky old developer. ;)
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"Too old" isn't in your control. How you feel about it isn't relevant. It's whether the interviewer thinks you're too old. All the passion in the world won't save you when your interviewer's an idiot for thinking you're too old. –  Frank Shearar Oct 14 '10 at 5:47
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I find there is much more prejudice from 20 something programmers and 30 something middle managers than from the higher ups in the company.

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There was an interesting article recently - the Deep Dark Secret of Silicon Valley http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/28/silicon-valley%e2%80%99s-dark-secret-it%e2%80%99s-all-about-age/

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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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
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I don't think there should be an age limit on development, simply because any development shop worth working for would screen their developers and see if they have the competency to program to the standard required.

If anything, experience should be valued by the software industry as much as it can be in management, business, etc.

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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.

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Yay! Nice to hear a positive/success story. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 8:51
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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
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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)

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Along these lines: hbr.org/2010/12/the-myth-of-the-overqualified-worker/ar/1 –  Jason Baker Dec 5 '10 at 8:04
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@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
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If someone was apprehensive about hiring a programmer that is older than them, they must have a reason for being that way.

Maybe past experiences taught the manager that older programmers are sometimes pedantic (more so than others) and (more) difficult to manage.

I think that the way you carry and conduct yourself speaks volumes. I would not want to work somewhere where every resume of someone older than 35 got trashed without even being read, especially since I'm about to turn 35 :)

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No one wants to hire programmers older than them

TooOld = Interviewer.Age + 1

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

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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
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@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
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