40 years is too old in the tech industry?
First of all, a bit of context and why this subject matters to me. I coded since I was 12 years old and until I reached my thirty. Then, I switched to a production engineer role with less coding and more system installation or configuration.
I worked as such for 10 years and evolved within a manager role. We may indeed say that I was lucky, in fact, all my career was self-chosen and never constraining, all my path was minded and fitted my will. I really enjoyed my role (hiring, mentoring, thinking, speaking, etc) even though I often heard that a long time manager loses his skills and becomes obsolete, sometimes I even heard that a manager has no skills at all.
Now that I’m close to my 40 years old, what would I become if I continue working as a manager? Should I roll back to coding? Am I too old for this industry?
A. Jesse Jiryu Davis wrote on an article
…old coders never die, they just become middle managers
It can be true if they wanted to, but some (maybe most) of them don’t feel like being a manager, they will continue working on operational features and point their career as individual contributors. Companies should create a qualitative role for their most senior individual contributors and many possibilities are available.
We should give to old coders a clear development track. Hopefully, many companies already have a split between a Manager and an Individual Contributor. They understand that a good engineer doesn’t make a good manager. The opposite is also true.
A senior employee should generate and promote new theories, concepts, principles, and methodologies within his area. They are an authoritative expert within a specialized field, providing consultation to management or mentoring to junior engineers. They also can ensure all parts of the technical work well together and coaches people outside of her team organization in the best ways to collaborate. They can have a track record of evangelizing cross-team initiatives and a role model for others in terms of initiative and autonomy or enable others to take initiative.
Since they are long in the industry, they might understand market trends globally and use that knowledge to deliver awesome products. They can oversee the testing of critical areas to mitigate risk and propose new test practices.
The path for senior engineers is just following an IC track with the same level of expectations than others. Why need to change or find another path? Same people, same expectations.
The power of experience
Proven engineers who occupy the most senior roles should be deployed in the smartest way: technical mentoring, design advisors, or incident commanders for instance. We have a lot of ways to do so.
I was badly surprised recently that few US and EU companies fired some of them because they are from their point of view not up to date. It’s a miscalculation and a lack of innovation. Older coders are powerful, innovative, adaptive, they are a big asset for a company. They have accumulated years of experience, a deep understanding of the businesses, and a learning curve. They do not have necessarily documented everything they saw or have done, for sure. Trust them, experience matters in this area.
A junior can’t be a senior in 2 months. A junior doesn’t have the same way of doing things. The power of experience, diversity of people, framework, culture, organization, and technology they had seen in the past can’t be explained or trained in a few days or weeks. It takes a long time, at least years.
Age is not an issue. You can have some young people already skilled as older and the opposite is true. It all depends on the people's profile and personality, not age.
Get IT Story like History
Older coders who stay in the industry long enough pass their knowledge. Cultivating lifelong coders will ensure that the lessons learned today are still remembered 50 years from now.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
observation by philosopher and writer George Santayana.