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#1 jobseeker_95479   User is offline

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Career advice for middle age software developers

Posted 12 July 2015 - 08:22 PM

I hope I am at the right place.

I am a software developer in my mid-40s. I have been doing software development for nearly twenty years now, starting from embedded programming in C and assembly language then to Object Oriented programming in C++ and finally to the current position of .NET and C# in Enterprise software. I did reasonably well academically when I was in school and I went into the software because I pride myself to be a good problem-solver with above average analytic skill, even though I am far from being computer savvy.

I did okay professionally with my capability and I am not ashamed to say that I am quite apt in troubleshooting and debugging, which has kept me gainfully employed throughout my 20s and 30s. However, the last few years I fear that my strength can no longer keep me competitive as I slipped into middle age. I feel that in my position, instead of just being a problem solver I am expected to be more creative and innovative, to think outside of the box that would keep defect from gestating. My performance review is usually that I meet the companyís expectation most of the time with the work I was assigned, that I am a diligent worker and good at following direction, but there is also the usual criticism that I didnít make myself visible enough and lack of ambition. Such review although didnít exactly put me in the bad light it certainly doesnít make me stand out.

Recent restructuring in the company had reshuffled me to tool development in release engineering team which made me feel that my company is giving up on me, they just couldnít find a good enough reason to let me go only. I have thought about exploring outside opportunities but I fear that my skill sets do not measure up to my experience and salary. I tried to pick up newer technologies on my own but I constantly feel that I am just playing catch up. Besides, without actual professional experience I donít think I can sell myself convincingly. Understandably I am wrecked with occupational anxiety but the worse is I donít know who I can turn to. Whatever technical insecurity you have you can never show it at work. I hope I am just being paranoid but I feel that one should always have a certain level of crisis awareness.

So here are the questions I have
1. Do you think there is room in the industry for middle age software developers that might be a little short in inventive and ingenious ideas nevertheless that are very capable in problem solving?
2. I understand that to survive in the industry we have to constantly update our skill sets. However, in our industry new technologies are evolving rapidly, often these technologies are competing against one another. It is just impossible to pick up everything. However do you decide which is technologies would give you more job security over the other?
3. In a desperate measure I will be working with a recruiter in the software industry. He and I will be meeting to get a deeper sense of my projects and where my skill set lies. I want to know how honest I can be. I mean during job interview you should never let any insecurity show but what about the recruiter you work with?

Thank you for your patience of a long and rambling post. Any input will be most appreciated.

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Replies To: Career advice for middle age software developers

#2 astonecipher   User is offline

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Re: Career advice for middle age software developers

Posted 12 July 2015 - 08:36 PM

I am not really sure where your worries lay either than personally. You have an edge over the majority of people asking the question, being as you have quite a bit of time already doing what you want. Sadly, it is a common occurrence now where developers need to leave a company to move up.

Be completely honest with the recruiter. But try without them as well. Remember that part of your salary will be for paying the recruitmentagency for finding you.
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#3 tlhIn`toq   User is offline

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Re: Career advice for middle age software developers

Posted 13 July 2015 - 05:33 AM

I agree with astonecipher, in that I don't know what you're worried about. I'm a 50 year old developer with a couple decades in the industry and no degree so I'm in that same boat with you.

My biggest challenge when job hunting is that I don't have a degree. When I started out nobody cared so much about having a degree. They only cared if you could actually do the job. Being a vet with cryptography experience seemed to impress enough. Home computers were new and we were the crowd building the industry before there was an industry. If I were starting out today I would get the degree. I don't think a degree does a damned thing for real world capability and in many ways hinders the rookie because they think they actually know what they're doing and want 100,000/year right out of college. But having a degree seems to be a deal-breaker for a lot of companies so you need the piece of paper to not be eliminated from interviewing. But that's not the case for every company. Many look at your history of 20 years doing the job and consider it proof of capability.

Let me ask you this: How much effort do you spend on your own time to keep up with the latest software technology and trends? Software development is a moving target and one has to make a conscious dedicated effort to stay in the front of the curve. Its not your bosses job to educate you. A car mechanic buys their own tools and stays up on latest engines and their controlling electronics. They maintain their certifications. You have to do the same thing. For example, you say you are a "C# .NET developer" - Does that mean old WinForms or have you kept yourself relevant for TODAY by knowing WPF/MVVM? Or does that mean ASP.NET? "C# .NET" is a really broad vague term. Do you have one PC at home for doing your checkbook? Or do you have 5 machines running various OSes including Win10? Do you sit in front of the TV when you get home, or do you loving programming so much you work on personal projects that mesh with your hobbies like WiFi weather stations, or building your work workout tracking software? Can you only do as you're told or can you architect an entire solution on your own include the Data Access Layer, EntityFramework or some other OR/m system, web site interaction... Are you proficient in handling gestures on a touchscreen - Yes today's desktops and laptops have this, as well as tablets that run full versions of Windows. In other words, have you made an effort to keep yourself relevant in today's market?

Taking on your points in order
1) I sure hope there is room for older programmers because I'm one of them <laugh> - Everyone I know that is actually good at engineering software is NOT under 35 years old. Under that there are many good coders. If you give them the spec for a module they can bang on the keyboard to create it; but they can't actually architect all the modules into a working well-designed program.

2) To compete you must be competitive. No you can't learn everything, but you do have to keep your skills current and forward ready. So you have to learn what you need to know to do your job better than the next guy. If your company makes Windows software it really doesn't matter how well you can make Macintosh software. If you company is having a hard time breaking into the mobile market does that mean few of your competing co-workers know much about it, and so if you knew more you could lead the pack? You have to look around and decide what will make you stand out, be needed, be the man with the plan.

3) Always be fully honest. Everything always comes out at some point. There is no shame in saying "I'm strong at x but weak in y". We all are strong in some areas and weak in others. I'm strong in desktop applications, especially where they interact with devices (cameras, PLC's, sensors, RFID etc.) in the physical world. I'm very weak in website development because I just really don't like it. I have no interest in making eCommerce and shopping cart systems. But just because I don't like making web sites doesn't mean I can't interact with web services. Let the web site guy deal with the data I send him.

Be honest with yourself. What do you WANT to do? Do you want to make games? Do you want to make web sites? Do you want to make mobile apps for scheduling dog grooming?
  • Figure out what you want to do that would make you happy.
  • Then figure out what skills you need to do that and still put food on the table. If you don't know check the job hunting web sites like Monster and CareerBuilder. Look at the job descriptions that call out to you as something you could be happy doing for the next 20 years, and read the requirements.
  • Then assess your skills HONESTLY about your ability to do what you want to do. Take the time to actually make what it is you want to be hired to do. If your dream is making diagnostic software for car engines, then build it for yourself. That will help you determine what you don't know. If you want to make state park websites then make one, using your back yard as the imaginary state park. All of these things you build for yourself can then be part of your portfolio showing finished work and creativity.
  • Fill in the gaps.

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