Once software developers get over a certain age, they’ve been there, done that, and brought the t-shirt. If you remember things like dot matrix printers or CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) you probably fall into the category of older developers and may have been told you are “too old” for software developer positions.
Retirement age in the UK is on course to reach 67 by 2028. However, software development does not seem to be a viable career option past 35, how can developers build a career path that will ensure they can earn a living until they are able to collect their pension?
Why Are Most Coders So Young?
The vast majority of software developers are young. You walk into the office of any new tech startup and you will be hard pushed to find someone coding who is over 35. In fact, according to Stack Overflow Annual Developer Survey, the average age of a software developer is 28 years old. Their data was compiled from 26,068 participants, over 157 countries, and also found that only 4.6% of developers are between the ages of 40 and 50, and only 9.1% are between 35 and 39.
The Stack Overflow Survey only demonstrates what many people in IT and tech already know, young developers are in high demand. Older developers, on the other hand, find it harder to get new jobs in the software industry, especially in hip new startups, which make up a large part of the employment landscape in cities like London and New York.
Once a developer reaches the age of around 35 – 40 they start experiencing more rejections from employers. This can be attributed to varying factors such as not keeping up with the latest and most in-demand technical skills or, on the other end, being overqualified. There is also the cost factor that comes into play, as more experienced coders cost more money.
It seems that the stigma attached to older coders sticks no matter your skills, experience, or credentials. According to The Washington Post, Jeff Pulver, and entrepreneur is known for his part in Vonage, said the following at the American Enterprise Institute:
“I personally, with my current start-up, I was in Silicon Valley two years ago meeting a partner of one of the most famous VCs in the world and when he told me to my face, “Jeff, look, you’re not 25 years old having just left Facebook as a product manager, because if you were I have $5 million for you.” He looked at me and said I was worthless.”
There are many people now pursuing careers in tech, with coding appearing to be a great job option for many graduates. But is software development a dead-end job and what career path can a coder expect to take?
What is the Career Path for a Software Developer?
Technology has grown leaps and bounds in the last decades and this has shifted the typical career path of a Software Developer.
This is the position that most people with a career in development start with. It’s the ground floor position you can expect right out of university, or even as a first role if you are self-taught and can prove your abilities through testing.
Once you have been working in development for a while and have become more proficient in programming languages, you may move into a software developer position. This is a more senior role and is for developers who can build entire applications and write complex code.
Lead Developer/Technical Architect
A lead developer or technical architect role is for senior developers who want to take on more responsibility. A lead developer will often coordinate tasks and make decisions, but also still write code. A technical architect is responsible for designing complex systems for other developers to build. They will not code very much in their role.
Development Team Lead
Management is the logical next step for many developers. As a development lead, you would likely oversee your own team and large scale projects.
What if You Don’t Want to Manage People?
But what if you are a software developer who doesn’t want to manage people? Many software developers find it hard to make substantial career progression that does not lead out of development and into management. However, there are some alternative options that seasoned coders can take to ensure their career does not run into a dead end.
What Do Software Developers Do After 35?
Everything might seem all doom and gloom, and like you may as well give up after 35, but that’s not the case. While it is hard for software developers to continue in their positions later in life, some people do manage to do it. If staying a software developer into your 40’s and 50’s is not in the cards for you there are alternative options you can take.
Over the years of establishing your career in software development, you will have acquired numerous soft and hard skills that could be transferable, and useful in other career paths.
Skills you will have as a software developer:
- Creativity and innovation: You find creative and innovative solutions to problems.
- Interpersonal and communication skills: You will have collaborated with numerous other coders and teams of designers to create applications.
- Analytical skills: Coming up with solutions to meet users and clients needs.
- Concentration: Coding involves numerous puzzle pieces that fit together and the job does not allow for distractions.
- Data Structures and Algorithms: Understanding how to organise data and how it can be used to solve real-life problems.
- Source Control: Knowing how to manage and store code, being proficient in version control and able to collaborate with other developers. You may be familiar with version control tools such as Git which is popular with many development companies.
All of these skills can be applied to other jobs. By assessing your skills you can build a profile of your abilities and review other careers that they could be put to use in.
Innovative new recruitment platforms like PitchMe allow candidates to build up their profiles based on their skills and portfolios. Their recruitment team can also help advise you where these skills could be applied, and give you direction for new skills to learn to ease your transition into a new career. The platform also presents candidates anonymously, only showing their skills and experience so that factors like age can never stop someone from landing the job they want.
Careers a Software Developer Could Shift Into:
- SCRUM Master: A SCRUM Master manages an agile development team who liaises between the planners and the doers. With a history in software development, this is an excellent role to consider as your previous experience will be able to help software development teams build programs with minimal roadblocks. Technical programming knowledge, understanding of SCRUM and Agile systems and terminologies, and conflict resolution are all skills necessary to become a SCRUM Master.
- CTO at a startup: A startup CTO links strategy and tactics. This is a relatively new role, coming about in the tech and startup world in the last decade. Startups are often lead by non-technical founders or founders who move into other roles. As such, there is a need for senior management with technical knowledge to carry out tasks such as testing software and hardware to create a more productive team or getting hands-on with and apps code before it goes into production.
- Academia: Moving from software developer to programming teacher is another possible career shift. With the high demand for developers, programming has become a popular skill that many want to learn. Local colleges, Secondary Schools are starting to offer more courses in programming and need experienced developers to deliver classes.
Some coders go on to become freelancers, where you get the opportunity to work with a variety of businesses from startups to enterprises and collaborate with world-class experts. You can negotiate your price for services and your experience can allow you to brand yourself as an expert. However, building up a client base does not come overnight, and going freelance should never be considered an “easy option.”
If you’re a developer who is reaching your mid thirties, it may start to feel like the sky is falling. As you contemplate your future career trajectory, it may seem like you picked a dead end job. However, as a software developer, you will have acquired numerous skills along the way that give you plenty of opportunities to branch out and start your own freelance business, or shift into another career.