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Developers over 35?

> Anyway, had a wake-up call yesterday applying for a new job. Speaking to a recruiter, he said "the client wants to know your date of birth." I told him, but said that under EU law, a company isn't allowed to ask. Recruiter replied with "well, company's policy is not to recruit developers over 35." 35!!! So, it looks like 7 years left in the industry.

That would be illegal in Canada too. It may be tough to prevent people from discriminating if they want to though (for example, if they see you were at university in 1980, or have more than 15 years of experience). Other types of [illegal] discrimination sometimes happen too, for example an employer might prefer to employ married people (they're more stable, less likely to change jobs).

Is there a[ny] sensible reason for the "not over 35" policy? Is it a widespread practice? If it's a real problem, are there work-arounds (apart from staying healthy)?

I have been hearing the myth of 'programmers burn out early' since my earliest teens.

Anecdotal coincidence: yesterday I met a man, visibly older than myself, who works as a "flagman" (works on a construction site, carries a flag, helps trucks/lorries to back up) who said he used to be an "AS/400 programmer".

Christopher Wells
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I can't think of any sane reason for it.

The main thing I've found so far in the industry - after about 10 years - is that it needs a few less testosterone fueled alcoholic children and a few more adults. It far too closely resembles daycare without the mandatory supervision levels.

A few slightly grey-haired people who say things like "I can remember the last nine times we were promised a silver bullet... they never worked either" would be useful.

Chap who sits next to me has a daughter old enough to go to university - I'd guess that puts him at 45-50ish. Doesn't seem to have a problem keeping up. I'd rather have these guys around than some of the wired generation who can't see the value in making software that works ALL the time. [That's boring after all...]

Oh god, I'm starting to sound old myself...

Katie Lucas
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Actually, having thought about it, I can see how working on a construction site would seem like a nice quiet sensible job after being in IT a while.

After all, when people say "Hey build this" they don't tend to also pick completely inappropriate things for you to build it out of - "A big long wall, right, only since we already own a load of custard, you reckon you can build it using that? Someone told us cement wasn't safe.."

Katie Lucas
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I have had interviewers ask me how old I am, if I am married, or if I have kids. I said these were all illegal questions. He said didn't want to break the law, he just wanted to know if his small company would be a "good fit" for ME. Needless to say, this guy was a slimeball.

He also insisted that all new employees work on a trial basis for four weeks without guaranteed pay. If he does not like you at the end of four weeks, he keeps your work and does not pay you. He said that a good engineer would never have a problem with this arrangement, because he would not want to hire people who don't think their work would pass his scrutiny.

Now that I have (finally) found a job at a real company, maybe I call him back for some crank-call interviews.  ;-)

Banana Fred
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I'm sure these geniuses have fine reasons.  I'll guess:  Younger people are more pliable to accepting their (tenuous) authority.  And bad decisions.

Banana Fred, if you crank call that company, try using the name "Donald E. Knuth."

Greg Neumann
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Don't forget - a lot of younger workers will work longer hours for less pay. This changes as people get 'real' lives.

Jeff Pleimling
Thursday, February 28, 2002

> Banana Fred, if you crank call that company, try using the name "Donald E. Knuth."

Greg, when I crank call people, I prefer to not use my real name..

Banana Fred
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Don't forget younger programmers often make mistakes that take days or even weeks to unravel, and frequently come with long term costs.

Don't forget younger programmers often take 5-10 times as long to write code as a more experienced programmer.

Don't forget younger programmers often need more supervision than older programmers, taking up more managerial bandwidth, perhaps requiring more managers (who are typically older, and typically better paid).

There's certainly a place for young programmers, but not at the expense of older ones.  Hiring them because "they'll work longer hours for less pay" is foolish, and makes the incorrect assumptions that programmers are interchangable, and that time spent on the job is actually a reasonable metric for output.

James Montebello
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I don't know what the EU equivalent of an ambulance chasing lawyer is, but you need one. Sue, sue, sue. Force the company to give up all the resumes ever sent and file a class action suite.
Enjoy the payoff, take a nice long vacation.
My belief is PHB managers hire youngsters because the newbie does not know bull shit when they smell it. The kid will never challenge the way things are done.

Doug Withau
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Hiring young people is like hiring H1-Bs over native-born.  Some companies abuse on the system so they can get short-term indentured labor.  On the other hand, there are good companies that do it only for specific reasons (like, the person really is more qualified for the job than anyone else).

razib khan
Thursday, February 28, 2002

A lot of BS flowing here. Younger programmers are generally much, much better hires. No family or life. No ingrained thought. Raised on PCs and the internet. Little push-back. The list goes on. You'll never hear a young programmer saying, "At my last job we did it like this" or "I don't think that's possible", the least two favorite phrases in a growing company.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

>You'll never hear a young programmer saying, "At my last job we did it like this" or "I don't think that's possible", the least two favorite phrases in a growing company. <

So instead of drawing on experience it is better to reinvent the wheel all the time?

Experience is a wonderful resource.  So is a creative mind that isn't bogged down in old ideas.  A mix of both is a really good idea for any team.  And of course smart is assumed.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

" Younger programmers are generally much, much better hires. No family or life. No ingrained thought. Raised on PCs and the internet. Little push-back. The list goes on."

I was wondering if you were being sarcastic until I got to

" You'll never hear a young programmer saying, "At my last job we did it like this" or "I don't think that's possible", the least two favorite phrases in a growing company. "

Do you think that's a bad thing? A good team needs balance, and people with good skills AND teamwork ability, which you won't get if you hire people because they are young or old or white or black or christian or muslim.

Why am I bringing up these other groupings? Because lets face it, we're talking about people who are bigots.

Robert Moir
Thursday, February 28, 2002


No family or life.

This week 2 of our younger programmers have taken sick days for thier hangovers.

Ged Byrne
Friday, March 1, 2002

I'm 26, and I have to say that I'm very reluctant to say "I don't think that's possible". On the other hand, I don't have a problem saying "I've never done anything like this before, and have never seen anyone else do it. So I don't know how long it'll take for me to do it, or how much it will cost. Do you want me to spend the next week putting together a rough estimate?"

Dave Rothgery
Friday, March 1, 2002

The best software teams I have ever been involved with have had no programmers under 30.


Ron Perreault
Friday, March 1, 2002

LOL.  Sounds like Logan's Run where we should all be put to death to make room for the new breed. 

Oops, I guess I gave away my age.

Ah, you know as much as we'd all like to believe it to be many things:  Don't you all think it's all about the money?

Young is cheap and naive.  Old is valued and experienced.

Sorry youngsters!

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Strange arguments here.  Doesn't Mythical Man-Month have an odd study that concluded programmers' productivity does not correlate much with experience?

There are certainly many programmers whose thoughts just sort of spiral away confusedly, and I don't expect them to age like good wine.

I think this whole "debate" frames everything into an artificial war.

That said, there is certainly strategic value in having old-timers.  Sometimes managers need to be told No, like good sysadmins do when the boss thinks the company Needs Microsoft Exchange.  A good, rare manager is grateful for the extra choice to revise her opinion, even when she ends up not taking it.

Mr. Rogers
Saturday, March 2, 2002

I am 32 and have been coding quite some things.

I have to say that being a developer was cool but at a given time it was not enough.

Doing more strategic thinking and teaching others on technologies and modelling became something I wanted to do.

Also, spending insane hours for little pay when you can get way much more by carrying other kinds of tasks is not very appealing (even if you are young - there are lots of other things to do in life and they are eye opening).

In short, I found that it was better to develop money-making skills through strategic positioning, marketing and teaching than by merely coding.

Bah, all that to say that I started my own business and that insane hours generate cash for my pocket, not other's.

Philippe Back
Saturday, March 2, 2002

How many people would refuse to go to a physician or hire a lawyer who is over 35?  The various stories of age discrimination may just be another indication that software development is no where near being a profession yet.

This topic concerns me.  I am well over 35 and I recently find myself the oldest developer in the teams I work with. Has software development been growing so fast that the old timers are relatively rare, or is age discrimination that significant.  I plan to keep working for at least 20-25 more years. 

This topic should also concern anyone in college and trying to decide on a career.  Does it make sense to select a major that will get you a high paying, high stress job with lots of overtime but will last only 10-15 years, followed by 30+ years of underemployment.

This topic gets discussed here and on USENET and even in IEEE publications.  But I haven't seen much hard quantitative data.  I would really like to see a study done.

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Informal survey: Who's the oldest developer here? And what are you doing?  OK, I'll go first.

Age: 56

Title: Senior Software Engineer

Age when last hired: 55 (<1 yr at this job)

OS/Languages, etc: Unix, C++

General job description: Requirements analysis, design, coding, testing for custom software, engineering oriented (e.g, satellite control systems, not business web pages).

First OS/language: MTS, MAD

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Wanted to tell you that one of the best programmers I have ever known was about 70 years old. Worked for a local hospital system writing coode for the mainframes and he was incredible. But on the other hand, a friend of mine who is about 17 years old was also very, very good.

Age is less a factor than you might think.

I am 18. Had a job when I was 15 writing code. Still up at Check out the message boards. The code is fundamentally unchanged. I can write code well, but I do not  have experience in certain areas (Visual...).

Truth is, a company is better off with a mix of employees simply because a man who has years of experience can apply it to the innovations of youth.

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Age discrimination is indeed rampant in the IT industry. However, the discrimination is most rampant in the area which sucks the most: junior to mid-level grunt coding positions. I'm not sure why mature smart people would even want these jobs. I've made a pact with myself to take the cyanide pill if for some reason I'm still working on ecommerce systems 5 years from now.

I don't think programming is much different than any other industry in that regard. If you are mowing lawns for a living it is highly likely that you will eventually lose your job to the 14 year old next door. However, if you become a recognized Botanist with a specialization in grass types for PGA golf greens,  there is little chance you will be competing with children for employment.

Midlife Crisis
Sunday, March 3, 2002

I think it's terrible judement on anyones point to assume that a young kid fresh out of college with a few C/S classes under his belt and little practical experience will be a much better asset to a company than a matured/experienced software developer over the age of 35!

I read this somewhere -- "Wisdom = information coupled with experience tempered by humility"

Guy Incognito (24 years young)
Sunday, March 3, 2002

I think the age thing comes from the rather anarchic idea of company culture.

Companies used to want to get staff young, so that they could be moulded into the companies culture.

Problem is, I think that whole company culture thing disappeared with the idea of 'Job for Life.'  Now, if you hire a programmer at 30 he is unlikely to be around at 35.

Ged Byrne
Sunday, March 3, 2002

Here I've never discriminated on age grounds, however there may be cultural reasons for doing so:

a) Older people dislike having a 25 year old boss, this may have caused friction in the past.
b) Corporate culture is youth orientated (Say at games company) and they want folks who will fit in.

In "Programming" terms I can't think of any reason to discriminate, but I can think of plenty in "Team spirit" terms which may cause problems.

Peter Ibbotson
Monday, March 4, 2002

Macinac says, "Does it make sense to select a major that will get you a high paying, high stress job with lots of overtime but will last only 10-15 years, followed by 30+ years of underemployment."

Sounds kind of like professional sports!

Monday, March 4, 2002

Peter wrote:
>In "Programming" terms I can't think of any reason to discriminate, but I can think of plenty in "Team spirit" terms which may cause problems.

Well, I do not think that this is a question of age, is it? I agree that there might be older programmers having problems with a younger boss being in charge (even though I never met one) or younger bosses fearing for their authority over older employees. But there are lots of other autority related problems that can occur between boss and employee that have nothing to do with age.

And as far as "company culture" or "team spirit" is concerned, I just don't get it. Do older programmers really make worse sports than the younger ones? I think it is very much a question of personality (and of company policy of course), how well the members of a team fit together.

Currently I work for a company where the youngest programmer is 24, the oldest is 49. Most of us have a life and like to do a 9-5 job, some of us do not and tend to stay a little longer. I can think of no situation when this caused problems. (I am 30 in case you wonder, I do not know if this makes me old or young for your standards)

We work well together and we have a lot of fun together, too. When personal problems turn up from time to time, they are, well, personal, and surely not age related. The range of knowledge and experience is rather wide, maybe the "old timers" tend to have a little more experience in low level programming while the "youngsters" come fresh from college with new ideas how to do things and some knowledge on newer technologies. Both things taken together make up a pretty good mix.

I think no company does itself a favour by hiring only young people or only old people. And setting a fixed age like 35 seems rather stupid to me.

Have fun,

Jutta Jordans
Monday, March 4, 2002

Yeah, I'm one. I wasted the first 12 years of my career programming for sucky employers on a variety of platforms - COBOL and CICS on mainframes, Visual Basic on PC's, Hypercard on Macintosh, etc.  During that time period, I came down with tendonitis, a common programmer's affliction. After putting up with it for a few years, it became so bad I had to quit (without compensation of any sort, of course - the doctors absolved the State of Washington of any guilt in that undertaking, like it did for all repetitive motion injuries of the time. :-P)

Anyways... if I could take back all those years, I would. I've found what I love doing most, and am now making an online multiplayer game similar to the early King's Quest adventures of the 1980's. I could probably stiffen my lip, and cudgel another 2 years worth of full-time employment out of my wrists, but I'd rather starve for my art, and eat macaroni and cheese the rest of my life, than go back to working for 'da man.'

Do what you love - joy is its own reward. :-) How did this relate to the topic? >:-D Sucky employers will drain the life force and will to live right out of you without a second thought, leaving you physically injuried and unable to support yourself. Don't let them - fight back!

What I could have done to fight back, had I been smarter when I was younger:

1. Insisted on ergonomic working conditions, with the correct keyboard tray, desk setup, and chair height.
2. Refused to work overtime for 'the learning experience it provided.'
3. Refused to take on the work of 3 fired people 'because the State was in a hiring freeze, and in a bind.'
4. Refused to carry two beepers, two cell phones, and a couple of card keys to do callback on multiple systems for no pay.
5. Worked slower - designed more, coded less.

Remember - on their deathbed, no one ever wishes they had spent more time at the office.

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Although there are directives in the EU about age discrimination there are no actual laws.  Certainly in the UK it is still legal to discriminate on the basis of age and they can still ask for dates of birth.

However, I always refuse to disclose my date of birth as an irrelevance.  It wouldn't take a great deal of intelligence to surmise from my CV that I am likely to be over 40.

One agency that asked for it (for the cover sheet), I told them that I did not want any abstraction or editing of the details I had given them and that if they wanted such a cover sheet filled out I would do it.

Another said that if I didn't give a date of birth that their system would use its default value.  I informed them that then that would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

In any event I would not wish to work for any organisation that was interested in employees age as a qualifying measure.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Age discrimination is illegal in the Netherlands, but companies do it anyway. They just don't write it down, instead they'll just make up an excuse. They will tell you face to face however.

I'm just glad my dad was finally able to get an underpaid job as an AS/400 programmer. At least he now doesn't have to sollicite anymore (being turned down 1000x is not good for your self-esteem) and doesn't have sell the house. And he likes the job.

Note that my dad didn't start out as a programmer, I think it's easier if you have been programming all your life. Although companies here tend to downsize the elderly first. Well, I'll stop rambling now.

Just a guy
Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Oh yeah, a friend of mine who used to work at Microsoft on Powerpoint, claims that its a well known fact that high-level abstract math and logic skills begin breaking down in the brain around 35. He claims it to be a FACT and swears by it. He is also a bit of an oddball though, and maybe HIS brain has started to deteriorate.

Tim Boucher
Monday, March 11, 2002

> Oh yeah, a friend of mine who used to work at Microsoft on Powerpoint, claims that its a well known fact that high-level abstract math and logic skills begin breaking down in the brain around 35.

That may be testable, by looking at the output of high-level abstract mathematicians, e.g. the number and quality of their published papers. That's the theory which I heard in my early teens, that was extrapolated to programmers. Also it's said that people take longer to remember things as they grow older ... which may be counterbalanced by their having stored more that's worth remembering.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, March 12, 2002

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