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How Old is Too Old? 223

NewtonEatPalm! asks: "I started college back when I was too young to carefully weigh options about my future. I entered a prominent art school at age 17, coasted through, and was spit out at age 22 with a film degree that I don't really want nor do I feel qualified to use as the basis for a career. Three years on, I'm still working at my mundane college job, though one thing has never changed in all this time- my love of and devotion to technology, keeping up with hardware news and the intricacies of powerful software through daily reading of sites like Slashdot and lots of home-brew system building and amateur web development. I've decided that I'd like to pursue a second degree in Software Engineering at one of the major Cal State U's, but that would place me in the tech job market at nearly 30. My question is, how old is too old? Are severe changes in career direction in this sector commonplace/successful? Or have I truly already let my best chance for entry pass me by?"
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How Old is Too Old?

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  • Thinking Radically (Score:3, Insightful)

    by (1+-sqrt(5))*(2**-1) ( 868173 ) <> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @11:46PM (#15886665) Homepage
    From TFQ:
    Are severe changes in career direction in this sector commonplace/successful? Or have I truly already let my best chance for entry pass me by?
    It's true that the neurons harden as your mind differentiates itself (much like a fetus' maturing organs); on the other hand, if you're violent enough to pursue something as “worthless” as art, you're much more likely to shake up the software world with radical ideas.

    If your radical ideas happened to be annealed in post-hoc math, you may just carve out a niche for yourself; feral engineers are too goddamn down-to-earth for my taste, anyway.

  • You want advice? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @11:46PM (#15886667) Homepage Journal
    Carpe Momento
  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Thursday August 10, 2006 @11:50PM (#15886686) Homepage Journal
    Everybody's life and goals are unique. You shouldn't try to judge your progress based on what you think others are doing and have accomplished. Sometimes that can be useful. But you should just ask yourself one question. What do YOU want to do with your life and what do you think you need to do to accomplish that.

    Some people "start" their life at 15 and burn out when they are 30, some start at 30 and continue on until they die. Everyone is different.
  • by KingK ( 148438 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:00AM (#15886724)
    Ok now that I got that out of the way...

    I finished my EE degree and entered the engineering workforce at 28. If anything I found my age may have helped me. Most of the people you end up working with won't know when you finished your degree, so they end up looking at you as someone who is probably more experienced. Throw in the fact that in a technology job you have to stay current and not everyone does. Coming fresh from university you'll most likely be current.

    Age doesn't matter it's your skills and drive, boy. (And stop asking questions that make me feel old)
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:07AM (#15886765) Homepage Journal
    *sigh* It's not supposed to be funny. It's a philosphy: SEIZE THE MOMENT! Don't sit around waiting for the next thing to happen. Take stock of what you want to do, what you know you already can accomplish, and the possible paths of reaching your goals.

    For example, you've already got a degree. About 90% of the people I have met have their degree in something other than the field they ended up working in! So get off your thumbs, and see if that degree plus your personal coding experience can get you a Junior level programming position. You'll need to supplement your personal experience with some good learning materials (you can never go wrong with the classics like Richie, Knuth, and Tanenbaum!), and you'll need to apply yourself to improving your analytical abilities.

    But at the end of the day, if it's something you love doing, DO IT! Don't poke around with 10 more years of college. If college has drilled anything into your brain, it should be, "Never stop learning!" After all, college is just a resource that provides the materials and contacts you need. To actually get anything useful out of it, you should be pulling the information yourself! And with such a wealth of awesome written information on Computer Science, how could you not be learning if it's what you're interested in?

    Again, SEIZE THE MOMENT! Do whatever it is that excites you the most. If you're driven in your love for it, others will take notice.
  • That isn't old (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EZLeeAmused ( 869996 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:10AM (#15886774)
    I finally went back to school and got my bachelors in Computer Science in 1999 a month before my 38th birthday. I immediately got a job with a major corporation in the industry. It certainly helped that I look a good 10-15 years younger than my real age, but if you can do the course work and prove in an interview that you have what it takes, mid to late 20s is certainly not too old to change careers.

    You should however be certain of where you are going. Building PCs and doing light web development are not what most software engineers do in their day jobs. Teach yourself Java or Python or something and try your hand at some more substantial software development. And that is good practice - in most software engineering classes, the focus of the class is more about basic concepts and you are expected to teach yourself whatever you need of the language du jour to implement projects.

  • by TTK Ciar ( 698795 ) * on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:11AM (#15886780) Homepage Journal

    You're too old to do it when you personally cannot do it.

    A friend of mine is in his early 50's, and he recently landed his first "real" (paid) linux system administration job. Prior to this he had worked in construction his entire life. If he can do it at fifty-plus, you can do it at thirty. If you can't, there's a reason for it other than age.

    People generally have more power than they think they do, and are limited not by what they can do, but by what they allow themselves to accomplish. So, be bold! Thrust your trepidations aside and throw yourself in the direction you want to go. You may surprise yourself.

    -- TTK

  • by Antony-Kyre ( 807195 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:19AM (#15886822)
    I happen to agree about the comment you made regarding when someone starts their life. In my opinion, "Age is nothing more than just the number of times you traveled around the Sun."
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:20AM (#15886827) Journal

    I'm 50, and I think I'm as creative and sharp as ever in coding. Since being laid off after twenty one years, I have written two major applications on my own, and hope to market them successfully.

    But, as for companies, they're interested in how much you cost, not how old you are. Unfortunately for those over forty who have accrued knowledge, experience, and expertise, that usually comes at a premium. A premium on paper many companies are willing to forego for the "cheap" labor.

    A more correct question would be: how little are you willing to work for, and how many benefits are you willing to waive compared to the competition? Competence? Expertise? Pshaw. That's not the most important part of the equation for most companies. It should be.

  • by CaptainPuppydog ( 516199 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:25AM (#15886851)
    Look at it this way: how old will you be in 4 years if you don't do this? What will you be doing then? (nb. the answer better not be "posting another 'Ask Slashdot'... ;-) )

    Too many people use the excuse that they will be 'x' years old when they get out of the schooling they need to pursue the job they really want instead of the fry-slinging they are presently doing. Do yourself a favour: get the buy-in of the significant people in your life, take a deep breath, and pay the first year tuition all at once. Then instead of having an excuse not to go to school, you will have an excuse not to skip/stop.

  • by Colonel Panic ( 15235 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @12:55AM (#15886975)
    If 40 is the new 30, then 30 is the new 20.

    Seriously, 30 is not too old. Given the current economic trends (global capitalism) we're all going to need to reinvent ourselves every 10 years or so anyway - yes, that probably means going back to school in your 40's and again in your 50's... maybe even later.
  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:28AM (#15887115) Homepage
    45 and back in school because I enjoy learning, will I succeed in my new carreer, if not, well then my old one is still there. You know when you're too old, 24 hours past dead, 48 if your willful.
  • by Pinback ( 80041 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:03AM (#15887213) Homepage Journal
    In ten years, you'll be 40. When you look back, what you did for a living may not be as big a deal as you think. Your relationship(s) may be a bigger solace.

    If your parents are still living, see them at least once a year for the next 10 years.

    After 28, you can't rely on your metabolism to keep you in shape. If you don't already have one, pick a physical activity you won't get bored with, preferably something not too dangerous.

    Do you play any instruments? If you start practicing now, you should be able to play by the time you're 40, and even better by the time you're 50.

    Sometimes the best job is one that lots of people aren't after. Yes there are lots of jobs for coders, but there is lots of supply too.

    If you don't keep a journal, start. Some things in life are cyclic, and you won't notice them unless you can review what happened in past years.
  • Inch Time Foot Gem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 11, 2006 @03:45AM (#15887512)
    A lord asked Takuan, a Zen Teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office & sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others.

    Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters & gave them to the man:

    Not twice this day
    Inch time foot gem.

    (This day will not come again; each minute is worth a priceless gem)
  • I'm 'old' (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Inda ( 580031 ) <> on Friday August 11, 2006 @05:58AM (#15887810) Journal
    I always remember a careers evening I went to with my father 16 years ago. The careers adviser stood at the front of a large hall and asked all the parents "How many of you are still doing the same job that you did when you left school?". Out of 200 parents only a small handful of them raised their hands.

    I left school at 16, took an engineering apprenticeship and slaved away at that for another 8 years. When redundancy called at the age of 25 I decided a change was needed. Many people told me that my 4-year apprenticeship would be wasted if I left the industry; I ignored them.

    I too have always been interested in computer and suchlike. I had some HTML knowledge under my belt. I also had some knowledge of the core MS Office applications. An office life for me this time!

    Once in a low-skilled role I learnt some Javascript to complement my HTML. I spoke to people and they said "learn how to store and retrieve data from databases and you're laughing" so I did. My manager learned of my new skills and asked me to build a few simple business applications. "What about VBA?" he said. "No" I said. He then sent me on some courses to learn that.

    These days I write small browser based applications that help the business no end, crappy Excel spreadsheets, crappy Access databases - someone's got to do it. If I had the motivation to learn more then I could progress more.

    I am 32 and I have another 38 years left of my working life.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @07:43AM (#15888037) Homepage
    In all seriousness, most of the really happy old people I know are still learning things, still finding interesting uses of their time, and getting out into the world for as long as they physically can. For example, one guy I knew was playing and teaching violin up until the month before he died, despite arthritis. Another who falls pretty thoroughly into the "little old lady" category is still giving talks, doing research, and travelling the world well into her 80's. Another interesting thing I noticed several years back is that something like half of the people hiking the Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine) are retirees in their late 60's or early 70's.
  • Carpe Diem... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @08:25AM (#15888177)
    But at the end of the day, if it's something you love doing, DO IT! Don't poke around with 10 more years of college. If college has drilled anything into your brain, it should be, "Never stop learning!" After all, college is just a resource that provides the materials and contacts you need. To actually get anything useful out of it, you should be pulling the information yourself! And with such a wealth of awesome written information on Computer Science, how could you not be learning if it's what you're interested in?

    I have to disagree with that. Getting a degree always helps. A degree will help you get into the final select group of 10 or so people that eventually get past the 'evil director of human resources' and are invited to an interview. If you are only self educated and experienced you stand less of a chance of getting into that group each time you apply than if you have a B.Sc. degree and experience, if you have an M.Sc. degree and experience your chances of getting an interview increase even more. Degrees are frowned upon by a lot of people, I have even been told they are pretty worthless, but degrees and other academic credentials one of the key methods used by many human resources people to sort out the interview candidates form the ones whose application gets dumped in the paper shredder. To many PHB's a degree still represents a certain baseline guarantee that you are able to perform the function you claim to be qualified for. After you are hired you can still turn out to be a bad bet because you are lazy and stupid but a degree will still make that less likely since you don't make it through 4-6 years of University if you are lazy and stupid. The same pretty much goes for certificates. A PHB will, for example, prefer a person with an MCSE degree for a Windows sysadmin job over somebody who has no qualification other than his experience and a person with a computer related degree and an MCSE over the guy who just has the certificate. As for being to old I don't really think that is the case. I graduated as an engineer at 26 years old and 30 is no death-warrant as far as I am concerned. My advice to the guy who asked the original question is to go ahead and get his second degree. If he is enterprising and ambitious the fact that he is a little older than the other Junior programmers will not matter all that much if he proves he is able and industrious. Just expect to have to put up with some pretty shitty jobs for the first few years. I do agree with you on one thing: "...Never stop learning!...". To to stay on top of developments in the industry you have to stay current by sacrificing some of your spare time to muck around with Linux or Windows programming, for example, to gain experience with stuff you don't get to gather experience with at work.
  • by berbo ( 671598 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:13AM (#15888800)

    almost 30 /gasp!/ do you have your AARP card yet?

    dude, I didn't get my PhD till I was 33. I left the academic game behind at 37 and started my career as a software engineer. No I don't have a degree in 'software engineering' (not there's anything wrong with that), but I did have lots of programming experience, in lots of different environments.

    Do what you really like, do it well, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. You've got at least 30 good years of employment ahead, make it work for you.

  • by Captain Sarcastic ( 109765 ) * on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:19AM (#15888833)
    <nodding in agreement>

    I got my first programming job when I was about 21, with a small company that didn't really want me to finish community college. 11 years later, I thought that maybe I was tired of programming, so I finally got my degree in mechanical engineering... just in time for a big slump in the engineering field.

    However, since I had the magic piece of paper, I was able to get a temporary programming job at a manufacturing company that wanted someone familiar with 3-D geometry, and I still remembered enough of my calculus to satisfy them. So I was back in programming.

    Looking back on it, my age and small-company experience helped - I had more work experience than Danny Newbie just out of college, and was willing to be paid the same (it was nearly half again what I had been making!). And after that, I was back to being a programmer - just a better-paid and better-treated one.

    Since then, I've come to the conclusion that I probably would've made a competent engineer - but I'm a happier programmer.

    To quote Arthur C. Clarke, "There may be a moral here. For the life of me I can't figure out what it is."
  • by StopSayingYouSir ( 907720 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:32AM (#15888913)
    Although you may not realise it, your attitude is somewhat elitist - you suggest that someone who's only dabbled in the field does not truly understand things, and is clearly not motivated enough to make a good go of it.

    That's not elitist. It's good, practical advice, and an important point to consider. Just because a person likes computers and has some aptitude for programming does not mean that they will enjoy a career in IT.

    When I decided to stay in school and get a second degree in computer science 11 years ago, I already had a lot more programming experience, from the sound of it, than this person does. I enjoyed programming as a hobby, and I enjoyed my coursework and excelled in it. But truth be told, I have never really enjoyed working in IT, and there are plenty of times when I hate it.

    I think that at the very least, it would be a good idea for this person to learn some serious programming on his own, before he decides to invest time and money into getting a degree. That still won't be any guarantee of future success and/or happiness, but it's a start.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:18PM (#15890079)
    A good friend in University was roughly the poster's age when he began. He had done another career first, was quite good at it, but didn't seem to enjoy it. So he started a Computer Science degree.
    He killed most of us in school. He was there because he really wanted to be and he knew it. He had the maturity to focus on the school and learn - while the rest of us were distracted by beer and such. He did really well and, when he graduated, he basically skipped doing the entry level code-monkey/minion bit and quickly got into project management - again, older, more experienced, etc. helped move him along. Sure, he lost a bit of time getting the degree, but he didn't start from zero and now he actually enjoys going to work each day.

    If you want it, do it.
  • by kyliaar ( 192847 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @03:26PM (#15890907)
    It really seems that this guy has mis-interpreted the reasons why interviewers dropped him. As a hiring manager, I look for people who can objectively look at situations and make knowledgable and logical decisions. There is no problem with asking questions and looking at the fine print, as long as it is relavent. However, if you are looking for all the in-and-outs of how an employer can screw you and asking your questions from this viewpoint, it comes across quite clearly and an intelligent hiring manager will know that you will be someone who will be very difficult to with as you lack any ability to have any trust for management in a business environment.

    It is never in an employers best interest to screw over its employees. If an employer does think this, his company will not suceed as he will just drive away his best employees. On the same token, each employee does have some responsibility to watch out for his own interests, demand just compensation and deliver value back to the company to justify any raises in compensation.

    As to the original poster questions, it is never too late to attempt a career change, especially if it is something that you are really interested in. Just keep in mind that you will be starting at the pay scale that someone in their early twenties would be getting. Is your life style going to accomodate that?

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault