Age Discrimination in Programming

I’m 57 and started programming in 1976 at school on an O’ Level in my final A-Level year and went onto Uni studying computer science. Since graduating in 1981 I have been working as a programmer so I’m well into 35 years full-time and still going strong.

I never fancied the traditional career path of programming then management. My career can be summed up as 20 years financial software development including derivatives and commodity trading, ten years in computer games, two years as a software engineer in aviation and the last three years doing mobile development for a small company.

Does Age Discrimination Exist?

Oh definitely. Even though the job market has changed enormously since the early 1980s when there was no web, no mobiles and all software development was done by programmers. You applied for jobs in newspapers or the UK’s weekly computer publications Computing and Computer Weekly which were big thick magazines chock full of job ads. Job applications were printed CVs with a covering letter. You sent them off and waited and waited, and sometimes they even replied and said sorry. Anyway three months after graduating, I got my first job.

My first brush against age discrimination came in 1991 when I phoned up an agency about a job in the City. I was told I was too old, at the tender age of 32! Now it’s illegal in the UK to discriminate on the grounds of age, race etc but that’s only in the last ten years. However it still happens just not so obviously.

Agencies to blame!

These days even large companies use agencies to handle recruitment i.e. acting as gatekeepers. I’m convinced that they sift through CVs tossing a coin to pick whether the CV gets filed in the recycling bin.

When you’ve 50 CVs to sift through to winnow out say five candidates for interviews, it’s all too easy to find a reason to bin them. “Ugly font, horrible layout, too old.” I’m convinced that often age is a reason to bin. There’s no one going to say you can’t do that, no punishment for illegally discriminating, it’s a consequence-free act of discrimination! No one ever tells you why you didn’t make the cut.

I’ve been on the other side of recruitment when I was once asked to recruit a developer to the team. We got 120 CVs back, with only a couple of duplicates sent in by different agencies. I read each and every CV and selected nine candidates for interview and technical testing. Three were useless but clearly had a future in fiction writing, three were average and three shone. Two of the best three turned up for interview and technically the two were on a par. Except one was 28 years old and the other 60. It wasn’t my decision to make and the younger guy was taken on.

I later managed to get a job in a bank aged 48 but only because I had a skillset they needed and they took me on as a 6 month contract to perm. That way they could try me out for six months then ditch or recruit me. Thankfully they kept me and I stayed there six years. Some investment banks apply a subtle form of age discrimination by recruiting just from new graduates or postgrads.

Changing Job Market

Web and mobile development both now eclipse “traditional” desktop development. According to the StackOverflow developer survey for 2016, web and mobile add up to 50% while desktop is just 6.9%.

So the skills that older developers have may not be in much demand. No one has asked me for Turbo Pascal or C development in the last ten years though I did get a Delphi contract three years ago. These days C# is more likely to be used in web development or mobile than desktop.

It’s easier for younger developers who might not have girlfriends or families to learn new programming languages and technologies. Few firms provide training these days so this is your best way to keep yourself attractive to the job market.

Finding spare time for side projects gets harder with age. How many GitHub projects have you created or done commits to? Some recruitment agencies are now starting to look at these to pick between candidates. So it’s a bias towards younger developers but still the same result.

Is there Hope?

Yes, if you’re not stuck in your ways and still acting as if its 1994 then stretch your brain and keep it young by learning new skills. Here are a few tips to help you in getting a job.
Learn at least one version control system. Subversion or better still Git.

If you don’t know Linux, learn it. If you have an old PC, even with just a couple of GB of ram, you’ll find you can install a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu on it. Just burn it on a CD or USB memory stick and boot/install from that. If you have a Windows PC with 8 or 16 GB of ram install the free VirtualBox and then install Ubuntu on that. Make sure you learn the Linux commands. Such as mv, ls, cp, rm, apt and sudo for starters. Just type the command and – -help like this to see help on the commands.

ls --help

You’ll need sudo a lot for installing new packages such as ipython, numpy and scipy. Why those? You’ll need them if you learn Python.

As Linux includes Python, learn it if you don’t know it or if you do then learn a completely new programming language (to you) such as Rust, Go, JavaScript or Swift and create a side project or convert an existing program in a language you know to the new language. That’s often a better way to learn a new programming language as it focusses your effort.

Now create an account and put your side project on Github and learn how to update it, commit changes and so on. Better still repeat that and get two or three projects on there. The more the merrier, to impress recruiters.

Finally If you have a legacy skill such as Fortran, Delphi, even C++ these days then you may find that someone is looking for developers and contracting can be lucrative and more importantly age blind.

Comments

One Response to “Age Discrimination in Programming”

April 08, 2017 at 11:47 am, Stuart Banks said:

Absolutely correct, all employers and especially their gatekeeper, recruitment consultant agencies are age discriminating. Why ? Because there is a perceived judgement call that younger candidates are more attractive to employ. Because they are more up to date with the latest technology flavor of the day in terms of programming language, vogue software applications, identification of program faults and errors, learning new and developing existing technology. To quickly meet the companies system of control in terms of new product development and introduction. Overlooking the fact that older, more experienced and mature candidates have usually got greater familiarity with what actually works and what does not, higher and greater stability of emotional intelligence. A wider appreciation of where to look for the unnecessary commands, errors and faults which prevent compatibility, cause an overload of system memory and slows down internal and external communications.

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