The world of programming is full of fresh-faced coding prodigies barely out of their teens, dealing simultaneously with buggy code and acne. Or this is the reality that films and Netflix shows would have us believe.
With this in mind, is there a place for “older” developers in the workforce? Is it too late to change into this field once you’re 30 or above?
According to a 2023 Stack Overflow survey of 89,184 respondents, the largest chunk of the workforce, at 37%, are between 25-34 years old. The next biggest (23%) are between 35-44 years old, having overtaken the 18-24 age group from the year before!
Statistics aside, you might be wondering if this field is for you. Is transitioning into web development once you’re past university age realistic? Let’s go over some challenges older web developers might face. We’ll brainstorm ideas to overcome them, and discuss what unique strengths older developers bring to the market.
Feel free to click the heading below to jump right to a specific section.
- Challenges of being an older web developer
- How to overcome age-related obstacles
- Benefits of being an older web developer
1. Challenges of being an older web developer
Feeling up-to-date with programming trends and technologies
The field of software engineering is constantly evolving. What you learned 10 years ago might no longer be relevant today. This can be frustrating for any engineer, regardless of age. For older developers, there might be a frustration of the “sunk cost” of your previous education. There may even be some resentment that this rapid digitization has closed off other past career paths.
Feeling left behind also has a social aspect. What if your colleagues are all connecting on TikTok and you’ve never been on the platform before in your life?
This challenge has two sides. The first is the mental barrier accepting that there is a lot to learn, letting go of past trends and habits. Grieve if you must! Especially if you invested a lot of time and/or money in technology or education that is no longer relevant. Of course this is frustrating.
The other side is finding ways to stay up to date. It’s true in tech that there is a lot of information to absorb. Embrace it. The evolving nature of the web development field means you’re unlikely to ever find work boring! And hey, there are even studies showing that an intellectually stimulating job can help prevent Alzheimer’s!
How to overcome this: How to stay up to date? Sign up for some email newsletters, follow blogs (such as Stack Overflow’s The Overflow, for starters), podcasts, or YouTube channels about web development. This will help you keep track of new trends and technologies in the industry.
Connecting with younger employees and colleagues
Trying to fit in with your younger colleagues might bring back traumatic high school memories. Trying to figure out who to sit with in the cafeteria is never fun. In reality, your younger colleagues probably feel just as interested (and awkward about) connecting with you, too.
How to overcome: Find that common ground. Break the ice! Ask questions when you don’t understand a comment or trend. People like talking about themselves. Don’t assume your younger colleagues aren’t interested in you and what you have to say.
More everyday responsibilities and stress
As an older developer, you might have more responsibilities to come home to. A partner, pets, kids, car payments, household chores, a mortgage. While your younger colleagues are feverishly working their way up the career ladder with little responsibility at home. .”Been there, done that” you might think.
How to overcome this: You might just be a great example for your younger colleagues in terms of work/life balance! Being aware of your energy levels and time constraints is not a bad thing.
These skills of organizing your time and setting boundaries are a great way to lead by example.
2. How to overcome age-related obstacles
Let’s focus on the things we can control here. Of course, if someone is dead set against hiring someone older, there’s nothing to be done. In most cases, ageism in the tech field is more focused on how people perceive you, not so much on your actual abilities.
Remember that both sides of the interview process are human. It’s more about finding that common ground. Self-awareness, perspective and preparedness can go a long way when preparing for interviews.
Getting past mental barriers
Imposter syndrome. We’ve all heard of it. Even the most senior developers struggle with imposter syndrome. In a field that’s constantly growing and changing, it’s impossible to know everything. This means learning to tolerate imposter syndrome will be a continual process.
Make sure you don’t disqualify yourself. What does that mean? Feeling awkward about your age, or deciding a company will reject you before even sending out that application. If you don’t believe someone should hire you, it will be hard to convince them they should.
When taking big risks, our brain often fights against change as a way to “keep us safe”. “You’re still alive with what you’ve been doing thus far”, says your brain, “so why change it?” This might be echoed by friends and family, projecting their own apprehension about change onto you.
How to overcome this: Try to find a supportive community. Accountability buddies and role models to look up to are a great support. If not in real life, look online. Surrounding yourself with others working towards the same goals can be hugely motivating. Seeing others a few steps ahead of you succeed helps you believe in your own chance of success.
And don’t worry—the support won’t end when you make the leap. CareerFoundry graduate Mark, who quit his 15-year youth work career for web development, confesses that he still doubts himself from time to time:
Of course, I did have the moments of thinking, “am I good enough to be doing this work?” but luckily, I had a fantastic team and manager who always assured me I was on the right track.
I think impostor syndrome arises whenever you learn something new, but fades away when you get the hang of it.
Some places to look for support: Facebook groups, forums of online coding courses (don’t be afraid to make a post introducing yourself – best way to find your people!), meetup.com, all good places to start.
3. Benefits of being an older developer
While you may not have as much experience in the specific syntax of the code you’re writing, but there are many other aspects to a job. Office politics, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and a deeper perspective are skills you may possess that your younger colleagues lack. Let’s dive into some things older developers might bring to the table.
Adjacent industry experience
So you haven’t worked in tech before. You worked somewhere, though. No matter what field that is, it’s likely you learned something there. If you worked in a specialist field, consider finding tech companies under that same umbrella.
If you were a teacher, consider looking for jobs at e-learning companies. Another idea are SAAS (software as a service) companies offering products to schools and universities. Products like student management systems or online student platforms.
If you were a lawyer, look into legal tech companies. Worked in finance? There’s a whole field called Fintech. Human resources? There’s tons of HR software out there. Think of what software you used in your previous field.
Worked in customer service? You have a deep understanding of the customer experience. What annoys them and what services they wish were available. With some creative thinking, you can work almost any previous work experience into your narrative as a strength.
Prepare your narrative
The first step of any tech interview process is the recruiter call. This is usually 20 minutes or so and focused on some form of the question “tell us about yourself”.
As a newbie without much experience in the field, this can be intimidating. As you’ll be repeating this narrative over and over again, it’s good to be prepared for the recruiter screen.
Open a blank document or notepad and write down all your previous experience. If you did anything technical at these jobs, like working with databases or digitizing any processes, write this down. Look up companies related to these areas. Think how your past experience might offer some deeper perspective. How does your past work motivate you to contribute to the field in a new way?
Consider what brought you into the tech field. Your projects from your coding bootcamp/self-learning, etc. and what you learned from them.
Try to find a way to connect your past experience to your present. Don’t be afraid to throw in a silly anecdote or two about your journey. Test it out on some friends to see if it makes sense. That’s your narrative!
Ageism in the web development field is certainly out there. Though it needn’t prevent you from embarking on an intellectually rewarding (and well-paid) career path! A willingness to learn, and some creative thinking to tie in your past experience goes a long way.
With more and more people transitioning into tech with alternative backgrounds, there’s certainly room for you to make your mark. After all, a larger variety or perspectives can only improve any software product.
If you’d like to read more about getting into the world of coding, check out these articles: