How to Stay In Demand as an Aging Developer
Now I don’t want to get sidetracked with “ageism” or the debate about whether it’s harder to be in the industry as a 40-year-old versus a 20-something.
I have a lot to say about that, but I’ll do it in another post.
It should be common sense that an older developer in the industry should seek to stay relevant and be proactive about keeping himself or herself in demand, and will probably have to put in more effort than a 25-year-old would.
In this post, I simply want to offer 6 ways that I think will help keep any developer in demand as they get older in this industry.
1. Actively Pursue Good Health
Your brain will only take you so far. Eye strain, arthritis, backaches, neck pain, etc. will surely shorten or complicate this largely sedentary career.
And what about your energy? Your sleep habits? Blood pressure?
Your health is just as important in keeping you in demand as your logical brain. Again, we spend most of our days sitting at a computer.
Thus, you need to have a regular exercise plan in your life. You need to develop good habits like standing more, eating better, and taking regular breaks (in your 8 hours and a vacation).
In my last job before I learned to code, I had a lady warn me about sitting all day and the damaging effects it had on her over the years.
Since then I’ve made exercise a habit: M,W,F bodyweight exercise and T,Th running. There are so many bodyweight plans out there and running apps that there really is no excuse.
About 6 months ago I actually bought some adjustable dumbells (I did my reasearch and these are the best in my opinion and now experience), a bench, and a pull up bar and went full speed ahead on an absolutely wonderful program called Bony to Beastly (yeah, cheesy!, but created by nerds like us 🤓). And I feel stronger now than I’ve ever felt. This program gives you a three day a week workout in 4 phases that last 6 weeks a phase. All you need are dumbells and a bench.
Do this three days a week and a mild jog on the two days in between. Simple.
Take control of your health. That’s step #1 in helping you stay in demand as an aging developer.
2. Continually Pursue Interests
I’m less of a “follow your passion” guy than I am a work-ethic and responsibilities guy. But in no way do you have to stay in a job forever that you hate. It’s 2021.
As you gain experience and maturity as a developer, you should be looking to shift into other companies that you are passionate about. You have that option.
It’s important to keep the coding spark alive. If you start to find your work dull, then make plans to move to somewhere that excites you again.
You will be much more productive and lively in this setting and that, in turn, will help keep you in demand.
I mean, what employer doesnt love a passionate employee?
3. Be Specializing
You will, by default, be a generalist because of the years and grit you’ve put in. You’ve worked on different projects in different languages and different environments, and have a good grasp of programming concepts/fundamentals.
People can depend on you.
This is valuable. This is maturity and wisdom that the industry needs from experienced developers.
But you should also be specializing in something whether or not you use it in your everyday tasks.
Having a solid specialization allows you to shift into other, more targeted, areas later in your career… like consulting. When you get pushback on your age at your job or at new job interviews, or if you are just looking for a new career path to take, being a specialist allows you to go and market yourself as an expert in those specific areas of interest and passion.
4. Be a Habitual Connection Maker
If you got laid off today, would you be able to pass a coding exam at an interview? Sure you know how to program well and build and architect software, but do you know linked lists and binary trees, and how to heap sort and all the other jazz that you will never do at your job? Sure, you may be able to discuss why these are silly and talk wisely about how things really are in the software industry, but the interviewer 10 years your younger is mainly interested in seeing you sweat, and at 40 years old no one wants to be patronized by a person old enough to be their kid.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a handful of solid connections to reach out to in your job search? Wouldn’t it be good to call a friend, say the IT manager of a software company, and ask directly if there are any positions open and have them vouch for your skill and abilities?
Sure that doesn’t always happen, but having connections is always beneficial in your career.
And it’s even more beneficial to make it a habit to always be creating them.
5. Become More "Business-Aware"
Most software developers fresh out of college just want to code. They don’t care about business financials, company meetings, or even often what the customer thinks. They are eager to build stuff, to make code commits and press on, full-steam ahead.
But you’re different. You’ve been through that.
At this next stage in life you want to become more “business aware.” You want to pay attention to the business-side of the company you work for. You want to be able to discuss more than code and add “business value” back to your supervisors.
This is especially true if you are looking to get into management or move into a more senior role.
Your coding skill will cap out at some point and you’ll be great. But so will the other devs you work with. To stay in demand and compete with others, become one who is acquainted with the business of the company (financial, manufacuring, etc.), what the other departments are doing (sales, legal, etc.), and how to interact with clients and customers.
This will add tremendous value.
6. Always Be Learning
The tech industry changes rapidly. Fads come and go.
To stay in demand as an aging developer, you need to always be learning.
Now, it’s impossible to keep up with everything. No one can do that.
But as much as you keep up with the latest news or latest Facebook posts, follow suit with tech.
Make it a habit to always be toying with projects on the side. Whether this is in your blogging or an app you create/manage, try to incorporate new technology in what you are doing. At least make time to read about it regularly.
Some of my own examples:
- I shifted my site over to Hugo so I could get more experience with static site generators and automated pipelines.
- I was asked to set up a GitOps solution with Flux for a customer. To learn it, I installed it locally on my computer to see how it works and get it functioning in my own K8s cluster.
- I bought a Raspberry Pi to toy around with facial recognition in my home.
These are simple examples, but I think you get the point.
You don’t have to go and build everything you read about but at least try to keep up with the conversation.
There’s more I could add here but I think these six are a good start and will help keep you in demand as your number of years increase.
So what are you doing to keep in demand as you age? Let’s discuss below!
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