I would say that it definitely depends what job you want to be working in four years. If you want a public sector full time employment (FTE) job, you pretty much need the paper. Competition for those jobs and even promotion is done so "fairly" that the best people on paper will always get them over better practitioners that don't qualify as much on paper. These are jobs with a lot of down time, red tape, and job security. A lot of people want that. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a more challenging and dynamic programming job at a private company or as a consultant; then experience, know-how, and reputation of those are what keep you in rolling in the dough.
As a hiring manager with a FTE staff and that hires consultants, I can tell you that for me, age has nothing to do with it.