Looking for young programmers to tell me about age-defying older programmers

I’ll be giving a keynote at ACCU 2013 on this topic: “Cheating Decline: Acting now to let you program well for a really long time”.

(Any resemblance to my own looming decrepitude is entirely non-coincidental.)

My premise is, roughly, this:

  • We know that age causes cognitive decline. There’s some evidence that it begins well before a typical person’s working life is over.

  • Programming, like mathematics, seems to be a field where that cognitive decline hits hard and relatively early. (There are all sorts of caveats around that statement, but let’s leave them for the talk.) Old programmers are thought not able to keep up with young programmers, to be wedded to old solutions to new problems, to be [fill in your stereotype here].

  • Nevertheless, some old programmers notably defy this trend. Some are superstars who (unexpectedly) didn’t burn out young. Some weren’t superstars, just good, solid, eminently employable programmers when they were young, who (unexpectedly) turned out to still be good, solid, eminently employable programmers today (once they get past the prejudice).

  • What’s special about those who smash the stereotype vs. those who reinforce it?

To answer the last question, I want to reach out to self-identified young programmers. If you believe you know someone who’s a stereotype smasher, I’d like to:

  1. … interview you about what’s special about that older programmer (with attention focused on behaviors and habits rather than innate qualities).

  2. … interview the older programmer and invite him or her to talk about the same topic.

If you are willing to participate, mail me.

3 Responses to “Looking for young programmers to tell me about age-defying older programmers”

  1. dmarlow Says:

    I’m 30 and I’ve worked with people of all ages. At MS, two programmers whom I consider the most talented I’ve come across are “old”. I now work at a team of 4 developers and one of my coworkers is next on that list and he’s 29.

    I agree that there is a stigma out there about technology and age. I used to be a network admin and I saw it more there than in software development. After being mentored by the two MS masters, I let go of any prejudices that working as a network admin impressed upon me.

    I’m actually now an advocate for “old” talent. From what I’ve seen as of late, a lot of the ‘young’ talent out there don’t know what encapsulation and polymorphism are. They’re usually script kiddies looking to build a ‘web app’.

    I’ll take a seasoned veteran who has the basics down and can master any technology than some youngster who can build a cutting-edge-mess, half engineered from Google searches, any day.

  2. dc0d Says:

    I am 38 full (in my 39) and I am coding for 23 years now. Ten years ago I read about that programming is like football; when the time comes you have to quit and for sometime I had the worry, that useless burden …

    In short: In last ten years my employer company had interviewed hundreds of brilliant young minds and at least 8 candidates succeeded to join our team … and all of them left: no one could follow the projects at my pace.

    Now I believe that I will code for at least 30 years from now; that’s obvious to me like the sun itself.


    I started programming at, let see…1991; on a Commodore 64: Assembly, Basic, Quick Basic, Sprites; There was Spectrum 128 which I used briefly and I found a Sony MSX which no one could use it at my high school but I succeeded to find someone and trading some mails (yes mails in pockets!) and I learnt that it has an interface pretty like XT. Next year I learnt C.

    And still pressing a key on keyboard and looking to screen and following them as they appear there is like a deep trance to me and when my code works it’s just an orgasmic phenomena.

    I safely say that my generation of developers (at least those who still code) are “Die Hard 2013″ (coming soon “Die Hard 2014″)!

    I am not saying you can not find really good lads now; but they are really hard to find and most of them are too soft)

  3. jmattison Says:

    You mention that the second point of your premise has some caveats, but I’d argue that in fact it’s flawed from beginning to end. You say that old programmers are thought to have various problems (though even that is, I think, a generalization), but assume from that that older programmers are in fact suffering from cognitive decline. There is no evidence that this is so, and a far more likely explanation is that the people who think that older programmers have issues are prejudiced and simply incorrect.

    I’m not sure how old you think “old” is but I am 42 and am finding that recruiters are beating down my door.

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