There's a saying:
"No one retires from IT: Either they die or they change careers"
One of the things people claim is younger people are less set in their ways and have fresher ideas. Think "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" There's a "Messiah's Handbook" which has a lot of good advice: "Argue your limitations, and sure enough, they are yours
Besides, I've never been to a "Blue Sky" meeting where the younger people (I'm 46) did not necessarily have some super power for tossing ideas on the table. It's generally because I have a thick skin and really don't think how funny someone else thinks it is.
Several years ago, I stumbled across a quote - from someone here should know & love:
"Some critics have amused their readers with the wildness of the schemes I have occasionally thrown out; and I myself have sometimes smiled along with them. But such sparks may kindle the energies of other minds more favorably circumstanced for pursuing the enquiries
You do have alternatives where neither require four years of paper, nor working for someone who worries about such things: yourself:
1) head out on your own - as a "software whore". Do good things and repeat business is eas(y,ier).
2) head out on your own and create a startup. And no one says you have to do this instead of a full-time job. People spend enough time at a keyboard during off-hours, why not apply it to an idea or two? If this is a moonlight project, don't quit your day job. And certainly don't interfere with your day job.
One of the things we have here in Indiana is a "21st Century Technology Fund".
Put together a business plan +
... and make a pitch for money without the interference of someone you've signed your first-born to. You can pass the hat when you really need to. If you don't need a lot of bucks to get going, then do the obvious thing: start small.
Another source here are university/college schools who have competitions - not necessarily big schools - I graduated from a school with fewer than 2k students - surrounded by corn fields. It's one of the most popular because of how well put together & fun it is.
If you choose to go this way (startup) and your work will involve the general public, I recommend creating your own Knights of the Round Table
. It doesn't require rounding up enough people who can fill a football stadium. Take them out to supper - or just meet over a couple of beers after work -- for the purpose of soliciting feedback. You want honest people: the ones who will tell you if you need to either brush your teeth or take a shower.
Oh, I thought of something else -- small business:
STTR: Small Business Technology Transfer Program / (SBIR) Small Business Innovation Research Program.
Gov't bodies submit a list of things they want and John Q. Public submits proposals. (If you end up with some patents, you own them. The only exception is the gov't. They get to use it/them royalty-free.)
If you find some things interesting and are are intimidated by the paperwork, there is a shortcut: there are groups who will help you get a proposal ready. If you win, they get 10% of it. If you don't, then you (and they) are out the spent time. I found out about SBIR/STTR when one of those 10% groups has passed through town - ca. $75 per seminar.
One project I watched a few years ago involved the amount of time it takes to reload pop machines on large, floating ships/boats. The goal was to provide a mechanism which would make it possible to leave stacks of cans where you could stick a can of soda in it and and cool it within ten seconds. Tell me this wouldn't be cool! (pun intended) Incredible testing with beer...