Challenging the Myth That Programming Careers End at 40 (2023)

The question-and-answer site Quora may have strayed into a stereotype, when a user asked the loaded question, “Is software development really a dead-end job after age 35-40?

But some of the most convincing rebuttals came from people in their 60s.

One was Steven Ussery, who received his masters in computer science back in 1989 at Texas A&M University — and was still programming decades later, and loving what he did.

“I am a 65-year-old software engineer who has worked for Apple, Adobe, eBay, Microsoft, VMware, Cisco, FileMaker, XO Communications, 2Wire, Egnyte, Nexsan, and two other start-ups,” Ussery wrote. “I have been laid off five times in my career. I always find another job within three to four weeks — even during a recession.”

His years of experience gave him confidence for learning any computer language on any platform, and though he now needs more interviews to land a position, the outsourcing of jobs has never stopped him. “If you love it as I do nothing but death or poor health can stop you. All it takes is a determination.”

Challenging the Myth That Programming Careers End at 40 (1)

(Video) The Harsh Reality of Being a Software Engineer

Ussery’s inspiring answer — posted in 2018 when he was consulting at Cisco as a senior software development engineer — eventually went viral, and has now racked up nearly 15 million views and more than 24,000 upvotes.

Ussery wasn’t the only programmer who’d stayed in the game. His story received nearly 500 comments, including responses from other senior programmers.

Among the 400 answers to the question was another Quora user sharing the story of their 66-year-old father. He’d just fielded a phone call from a Google recruiter asking him to return to the company — after a long, highlight-filled career that had started decades ago, without a single programming course in college.

“While at Google, he wrote software in Java, a language that wasn’t even invented until he was 45,” wrote the Quora user. “One of the great things about software development is it’s all about your passion to learn and ability to perform, which is demonstrated by my dad’s career and the careers of thousands others.”

The biggest takeaway message may be that nothing can stop a programmer with genuine enthusiasm for their work.

And there’s an interesting epilogue to Ussery’s story. An update posted in 2020 said he’d finally moved on to part-time consulting and full-time retirement (though “I will still be programming and possibly teaching at the nearby Texas State University-San Marcos. I’m not giving up. I’m just moving on to a new phase.”) Yet according to his LinkedIn profile, Ussery’s semi-retirement lasted only about 15 months, until he took on yet another position as a MacOS developer for Logitech’s consumer electronics products.

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

What are the origins of the mistaken notion that middle-age somehow marks the end of a programmer’s career? Maybe to ask the question is to voice a more generalized fear about aging.

(Video) Career Change Myths After 40 - Retraining is absolutely necessary

But that’s also fertile ground for bias and mythmaking. Complaining about the lack of good talent, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once famously extrapolated that “Young people are just smarter. Young people just have simpler lives… Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.” And in 1996, Intel‘s president and co-founder Craig Barrett quipped that “The half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years.”

Did that harden into the dreaded “conventional wisdom”? In 2012 Bloomberg published an opinion piece from Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, arguing that Barrett’s aphorism was becoming all too true.

“The profession has devolved in recent years to one lacking in longevity,” Matloff wrote. “Many programmers find that their employability starts to decline at about age 35… Statistics show that most software developers are out of the field by age 40.”

But that same week, InfoWorld‘s Neil McAllister took issue with the entire premise, first challenging Matloff’s use of the word “most.” (“If that’s true, where do they go? Is there some Island of Misfit Programmers, where we send the burned-out, broken-down models to expire gracefully, out of sight of their younger brethren? Or do they get their real estate licenses?”)

Instead, McAllister believes that beyond the middle-aged programmers who carve out specialized niches, there are many others who go on to become founders. Even those who switch to life as a programming contractor could be undercounted in official statistics.

And then there are those who end up straddling the line between programmer and manager. (What about programmers who become project managers, or the team leads wearing both hats?) “Graduating to a management position on a software development team doesn’t mean you’ve given up being a software engineer.

“Depending on how the statistics were compiled, however, it might look that way.”

(Video) Software Career dead end after 40 (all software jobs)? | career path and advice | TestingShala

And while it may indeed take older programmers longer to find a job, maybe that statistic isn’t telling us what we think it is, McAllister wrote: “Perhaps mature workers take longer to find new jobs because their standards are higher?”

Ultimately he pointed out that there’s also just the widespread empirical evidence: All those programmer friends he had who were over the age of 40.

His biggest concern was that misrepresenting the longevity of a programming career might discourage the young coders that the industry will one day need.

New Challenges Daily

Yet the question comes up again and again, in all of its various iterations. How about 40, asked one Quora user more recently. “Is software development really a dead-end job after the age of 40?” Last month came an emphatic answer from Gregory Smith, who writes that he began his career in 1976 at the age of 14, and now, approaching his 60s, is still working as a software engineer/computer scientist at Agile Frontiers. “No. You’re not done at 40,” he wrote.

Smith did acknowledge one important caveat. While management tracks have continually ascending ranks, there are just not as many tiers in the world of programming. “Your options for upward mobility decrease rapidly once you become a Technical Lead. Often, it’s management or nothing.”

But that’s not the same thing as a dead end. In January, Rob Neff, a self-described software engineer and science nerd, supplied his own pithy answer. Is software development a dead-end job after 40? “Sure is, if you consider having a six-figure salary with daily challenges ‘a dead-end job.'”

Comment from discussion cojoco’s comment from discussion "Is Software Development Really a Dead-End Job After 35-40?".

(Video) Career Change Myths After 40 - Ignore the problem and it will disappear

In fact, to ask the question is to miss what’s really behind the statistic, argued software developer Dale Gulledge in January: “The reason there aren’t as many older software developers is simply that there were fewer of us entering the field then.”

The only downside to a lifetime of programming may be the ability to recognize when your company keeps churning through one new solution after another. Eric Litovsky, the CTO for StreamPC, posted in February that “The biggest frustration older engineers like myself encounter is the never-ending influx of new patterns, frameworks and paradigms… when every year we see a new way to solve the same old problems, we ask ourselves what’s the point…?”

But even he sees the value of an ongoing willingness to learn. “There are those who never truly outgrow their passion, though, and I envy them… These are the people who thrive in software development because to the right mindset, it’s a never-ending state of wonder and awe.

“They don’t mind putting in the extra time to learn new tech because they truly enjoy it.”


Is it too late to become a programmer at 40? ›

There is no age limit to be a programmer, it just depends on your skills and abilities to coding and innovate something new. As we know experience is also important. In every company, most of the employees are experienced and the companies also prefer experienced people in their team.

Is software development really a dead end job after age 35 40 in India? ›

In terms of Salary and Skills, it is not a dead-end. Salary will be raised as usual (depending on the company you are working for) and skills are constantly improving because every day you learn something and with new requirements, you will have to solve new challenges.

What is the most challenging part of being a programmer? ›

The 9 Hardest Things Programmers Have to Do
  • Explaining what I do (or don't do.
  • Estimating time to complete tasks. ...
  • Dealing with other people. ...
  • Working with someone else's code. ...
  • Implementing functionality you disagree with. ...
  • Writing documentation. ...
  • Writing tests. ...
  • Designing a solution. ...
16 Oct 2013

Can I learn Python at 45 and get a job? ›

For sure yes , if you have the desired skills and knowledge . No one will ever care about the age , there are plenty of jobs available in the field of python . Beside this you can also go for freelancing as an option.

What is the best career to start at 40? ›

25 best careers to start at 40
  • Real estate agent.
  • Proofreader.
  • Freelance writer.
  • Translator.
  • Consultant.
  • Job Recruiter.
  • Social media manager.
  • Project or program manager.
1 Jun 2022

Can software engineers retire at 40? ›

Early retirement in tech is fairly common; the retirement age for most software engineers is between 45 and 60. However, many senior technologists—especially those who were forced into “early retirement” during the early stages of the pandemic lockdown—are now considering wading back into the labor pool.

Can I start a career in it at 40? ›

It's never too late to pursue a career in tech. You don't even need a four-year degree to launch into it. All that's really required is a willingness to learn and a determination to succeed.

Is 40 too old to become a software engineer Reddit? ›

At 40, it's still not too late to start your software development career : r/programming.

What age are most programmers? ›

Interestingly enough, the average age of computer programmers is 40+ years old, which represents 69% of the population.

How old is the youngest programmer? ›

At the age of six when children are often engaged with toys and video games, Kautilya Katariya is already shaping the future of programming. Based in Northampton in the UK, Katariya was only six years old when he earned the Guinness World Record as the world's youngest computer programmer.

What age do most programmers start coding? ›

Software developers' average age when writing their first line of code worldwide 2021. The majority of software developers surveyed for this study wrote their first line of code between 11 and 17 years old. However, 14 percent of respondents wrote their first coding line between five to ten years old.

What are the challenges of being a programmer? ›

The 5 Most Common Problems New Programmers Face--And How You Can Solve Them
  • Getting set up. Learning to program is hard enough, but it's easy to get tripped up before you even begin. ...
  • Thinking Like a Programmer. ...
  • Compiler Error Messages. ...
  • Debugging. ...
  • Designing a Program.

What is the most challenging aspect of programming for beginners? ›

Not understanding the user and the solution.

This can be challenging for new programmers because they do not know what the users want without being able to talk to them directly. To solve this problem, talk with experience experts or designers to get insight.

What is challenging about being a computer programmer? ›

Completing projects can be a real challenge sometimes because programming is something that never gets over. Bugs will need to be get fixed and iterations will likely need to be made. Also, scheduling projects can be difficult too, because the timeframe to programming is vague.

Is 45 too old to become a programmer? ›

Becoming a programmer at any age is possible; all you've got to do is try. If you're interested, there's no time like the present to jump-start a meaningful new hobby, project, or career in coding.

Is 40 too old to learn Python? ›

You can still learn Java, C# or JavaScript. I kid, of course. I learned Python when I was 50 for crying out loud. It's one of the easiest languages to learn and there's no age barrier.

Is 45 too old to become a web developer? ›

The short answer is, yes, you can get a job in tech after age 30, 40, or even 50. To some, web development is a career choice with no boundaries.

What new skills can I learn at 40? ›

To get you started, here are some ideas on what you can learn and master, to excel even more at work and in life.
  • Negotiation skills. ...
  • Public speaking and presentation skills. ...
  • Assertiveness. ...
  • Networking. ...
  • Managing your personal finances. ...
23 Aug 2021

What should I accomplish at age 40? ›

Important Milestones You Should Reach By Age 40
  • Have at least six months of living expenses in savings. ...
  • Have a detailed financial plan for your future. ...
  • Have money stowed away for your children's future. ...
  • Have an idea where your career is heading. ...
  • Create a budget and actually stick to it.
10 Aug 2021

Is it worth doing a degree at 40? ›

If you're doing it just for you, definitely go for it. If you're doing it just to set an example for your children, definitely go for it. No idea if it will improve your job prospects - it may well do and in 3 years the economy could have turned around and there be more opportunities.

Is 40 too old for tech? ›

“Is it too late for me to make a career change into tech after 40, 50, or even 60?” This is a question we hear at Skillcrush all the time, from people of all ages. The short answer is that no matter what your age, you absolutely still have time to begin a fulfilling and lucrative career in tech.

Is retiring at 40 too early? ›

It's never too soon to start planning and saving for retirement. If you plan to retire at what Social Security calls your "normal" retirement age—66 or 67 for most people—you could have several decades to save. 1 But if you want to retire at 40, you're going to have to save far more aggressively.

Is 42 too old to be a software engineer? ›

There is no age limit for software engineers. You can become a successful software engineer at any age, provided you're committed to learning and keeping up with the latest technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age for software developers is 38.6 years old.

Is it okay to explore careers until the age of 40? ›

Yes, it is possible to start a new career at 40 — or 50, or 60, for that matter. It might take some extra effort, but it's never too late to set new personal and professional goals and live a life that feels meaningful. BetterUp can help you find the best way forward.

How do I restart my career at 40? ›

The basic steps for changing careers at 40 are:
  1. Think about the kind of career you would like and set a clear goal for yourself.
  2. Research the sector for roles that appeal to you.
  3. Find out what qualifications you will need and how to get them.
  4. Gain any necessary accreditation.
  5. Build a professional network.

Is it too late to learn programming? ›

The simple answer is, no. There are many job opportunities in tech for coders of all ages. Although it may take some effort to study relevant programming languages, there is no reason you can't learn to code in your 30s and beyond.

Is 40 too old to learn web development? ›

It's exciting to be part of something so dynamic, and it means that it's completely normal to be learning something new if you want to become a web developer at 30, become a web developer at 40 or even become a web developer at 50!

Can software engineers work until 60 years? ›

Yes, you can, provided you are comptetent enough to survive in such a higly competitive and evolving industry.

Are programmers still in demand 2022? ›

It's a fast-growing field, and 2022 year promises a lot of career potential for developers, with some of the highest salaries. Currently, about 250,000 software developer jobs worldwide are unfilled, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the demand for software developers will grow by 22.2% by 2030.

At what age Elon Musk started coding? ›

Elon started coding at a very young age. He taught himself BASIC at the very young age of 10, and that too in the days before the internet. At the age of 12, he created the video game BLASTER, sold the source code to a PC magazine for $500, and had it published.

Do programmers have a life? ›

The life of a programmer is hard.

However, making a living as a developer demands solid effort and consistent focus. Us developers work alongside marketers, designers, managers, content creators, and many others. But, our quirky (and rewarding) lifestyle is often misunderstood.

Do programmers retire early? ›

Many developers retire early and become a trainer for young developers.

What is the average IQ of a programmer? ›

According to a major study assessing IQ across various occupations, the average programmer has an IQ of ~110. The lowest 10% have IQ's of 95 or less, 25% about 100 IQ, 75% are about 125 IQ, and the top 90% around 132+ IQ. Because programming tends to be one of the most mentally taxing ac...

Is Elon Musk a programmer? ›

Elon Musks Career In Code and Business

Although Elon Musk never had a 9-5 desk job as a programmer he did play a major role in coding his original start-up, Zip2. A company co-founded by Elon and his brother in 1995. The software was used to provide a searchable business directory with maps of local businesses.

Who is World No 1 programmer? ›

As of December 2021, Gennady is the highest-rated programmer on Codeforces, CodeChef, Topcoder, AtCoder and HackerRank.
Gennady Korotkevich.
Gennady Korotkevuly
EducationITMO University
Known forProgramming prodigy; highly ranked sport programmer from an early age
5 more rows

Who is the youngest person to learn coding? ›

Highlights. Child prodigy Kautilya Katariya is the Guinness record holder for being the world's youngest computer programmer at the age of six.

Is 30 old for a programmer? ›

So, is 30 too old to start a new career in software? It's never too late to learn to code. People have learned coding skills into their 60s and beyond, and plenty of career changers have found new roles as software developers.

What is the easiest programming language to learn? ›

The 5 Easiest Programming Languages
  • HTML and CSS. HTML, which stands for HyperText Markup Language, is one of the most common programming languages for beginners, as it's often seen as the most straightforward programming language to learn. ...
  • JavaScript. ...
  • Python. ...
  • C, C++, and C# ...
  • Java.

How do you overcome programming challenges? ›

Break Down The Problem
  1. Make a flow chart or a UML for the problem at hand.
  2. Divide the problem into sub-problems or smaller chunks.
  3. Solve the subproblems. ...
  4. Connect the solutions of each subproblem by calling them in the required order, or as necessary.
8 Jul 2022

Is programming the most stressful job? ›

In general, coding is a fairly relaxing job. There is the flexibility of working remotely as a programmer, and in many cases there is the security of routine. However, as with any job, whether coding is stressful depends largely on the company you work with. Cultural pressures and tight deadlines can cause stress.

How stressful is it to be a programmer? ›

The job can be stressful at times, but computer programmers are compensated well for any anxiety they might experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects -9.9 percent employment growth for computer programmers between 2020 and 2030. In that period, an estimated 18,300 jobs will be lost.

How do you challenge yourself in programming? ›

Another great way to challenge yourself is to use a new programming language or technology to build a project. This will force you to solve familiar problems in a new and refreshing way which is perfect for getting better at problem solving.

What is the most challenging thing about teaching a programming class? ›

Debugging, distraction and diverse capabilities are key challenges. Firstly, anyone who teaches programming can tell you that my program is not working is the most frequently heard phrase in the classroom.

Why is it so hard for me to learn programming? ›

What Makes Programming Difficult To Learn? The major reason why programming is considered difficult to learn is primarily due to the complexity of the instructions that computers comprehend. You can't give computers instructions in English or any other human language.

What is the most difficult thing to be a programmer or about programming? ›

Any programmer will tell you that debugging is a skill. But one you can learn if you put in the time and effort. Debugging is one of the hardest problems to overcome for a few reasons. First and foremost, it's frustrating.

What is the most difficult thing to program? ›

It's a common saying that the two most difficult tasks in development are naming and cache invalidation.

What is the most challenging part of being a software developer? ›

One of the most challenging elements of being a software developer is the continuous cycle of tight deadlines. Often the timelines are decided by the leaders in discussion with the clients. The development team has no say in when they can deliver the product.

Can software engineers work after 40? ›

For example, Bill Gates is over 60 years old, and Linus Torvalds is over 50. And while they started their careers at a younger age, both continue to work in the field of software engineering. So if you're over the age of 40 and interested in becoming a software engineer, don't let your age hold you back.

Can I be a software engineer at 45? ›

Do you worry about finding a job? Surely you don't, if you can code. It turns out that even developers have something to worry about if you're 45 or older. In fact, the 2018 Harvey Nash Technology Survey showed 61% of all technologists over the age of 45 are worried age is limiting their career options.

Are older programmers better? ›

However, most people into programming know there are tremendous benefits to being an older programmer. In fact, a new study agrees that those older are better at programming because, generally, programming knowledge seems to improve with years of professional experience.

Is there a future for programming? ›

The Future of Coding is both No-Code and Code Augmented with AI. The future of coding therefore is a democratization of coding and developers more and more augmented by A.I. It's also a natural selection of dozens of programming languages usually monetized by BigTech firms that have their own interests around them.

Do programmers have a future? ›

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of computer programmers will decline by 10 percent between 2021 and 2031.

Is becoming a programmer worth it? ›

Programming is usually a lucrative profession. According to Indeed Salaries, the average base salary for a programmer in the U.S. is $56,587 per year, which is higher than the national average. The job also has a high earning potential, with experienced programmers usually earning much more.

How old is the youngest coder? ›

Kautilya Katariya became the world's youngest computer programmer when he was just six years old. Kautilya, now eight years old, is budding to become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs after developing his own AI software.


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