What alternatives, career-wise, does a 50 year coder have?
March 23, 2018 9:16 AM   Subscribe

My husband (who knows I'm asking this) will be on the job market again soon and I suggested that he might look for something other than coding positions. He's been coding for 20 years. It's all he knows. He can't even think of another position to apply for. Is there a direction I can point him in?

We moved to Seattle about three years ago because we were informed that this was the place to be for coders and that's what Mr. Patheral is all about. He's been in the business of coding for 20 years -- as mentioned above the fold. I dunno if I can link to his website, so please remove the link if it's not cool, it's opusgames.com, that should give you an idea of what he knows, code wise.

Anyway, the reason I suggested he look for something aside from coding is because since we moved here three years ago, he's had three contract jobs and one job that hired him for coding and expected him to "grow into a supervisory position" -- something that was not mentioned in the interview nor the year he worked there by the way -- so he left that job within a year. Anyway, there's been a period of many months between with no work between jobs. We're both in our fifties. We're getting too old for this kind of job hopping, but it seems to be the way things are done.

Also, Mr. Patheral is an extreme introvert (which is why I'm asking this question). I suggested that he create an account and ask but the mere thought of asking online strangers for help... He's okay if I do it though. :) This is why he did not take the supervisory position. Anyway, I think he's reached the height of what he can do in coding with his pay grade and might need to look elsewhere. Also, maybe not focusing on coding jobs could open up different opportunities for him.

So, what else can a 50 year old coder with twenty years of experience do? I don't know this field. I can't give him suggestions. I'm hoping y'll can help me out. He's the only breadwinner in the house. I'm unable to work but not on disability for reasons that aren't important to this question. What is important is that he can't start at the bottom again though it is just the two of us. He's just kind of stubborn when it comes to "I was making this much here, I don't want to step too far backwards."
posted by patheral to Work & Money (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Could you elaborate on why he doesn't want to do that work anymore? If a job came up that was a better cultural fit and made reasonable demands of him would he stay in the industry?
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:26 AM on March 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He'd totally stay in coding if the right job came along. I just want to offer him alternatives so he can expand his job searching net.
posted by patheral at 9:29 AM on March 23, 2018

I'm not a developer, but I work with web developers as a content guy. I've worked with a few delivery managers who are former developers and love the change in pace and focus. It might be worth considering if he's worked in agile teams.

It's a role in high demand as more industries (even outside of software development) adopt agile working practices. My organisation (UK public sector) is desperate to hire them – but it requires people skills.
posted by Ted Maul at 9:39 AM on March 23, 2018

Uh, what I would also say, reading the question a little more closely, is that if he's going to turn down promotions when they're offered (I assume that's what "grow into a supervisory position" means, rather than some job description bait-and-switch), he's making a rod for his own back in terms of staying employed and maintaining his income.
posted by Ted Maul at 9:49 AM on March 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

If I were to go back and start again I might choose to be a tradesman, some kind of handiman or electricition. Pretty easy to get a 6 month thing and the age would add credibility to his work. Just a thought.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:59 AM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I promise I'm not thread sitting... but I worded it awkwardly in my question. It was a bait and switch. They hired him to code and when his review came up they expressed their disapproval at how he had not taken on the supervisory tasks they'd hoped he would, though they never told him they expected him to be a supervisor.
posted by patheral at 10:00 AM on March 23, 2018

Introversion is something that is out of favour with many companies, especially in fields where there is already an over-supply of introverts and they are looking for dynamic team players. However, you seem to be more introverted than him, can you work together as a team? Him going freelance with you spending time chasing leads, massaging clients' communication, billings, bookkeeping, marketing, networking etc while he does the actual work? I know a few couples that do this successfully, basically both working part time (or, if they choose, full-time) to make a shared combined income. You mentioned your disability, which sometimes means being unable to fit into the traditional work-world but is doable with self-employment where you can create your own accommodations and work around appointments/flare-ups.
posted by saucysault at 10:01 AM on March 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

At least in theory, coding can be a solitary pursuit, although working as part of a team is often a requirement. There are not many professional jobs like that. Most professionals are expected to take on supervisory/admin or mentoring responsibilities sooner or later. If that is a deal-breaker, I second the suggestion of freelancing, with you taking the client-facing role (assuming that either you are competent to discuss project specifications or your husband can bring himself to do it once you have found a client). Being a freelancer could also mitigate the issue of ageism in tech that makes it hard to land traditional jobs, unless one has specific rare skills or is looking at senior-level positions.
posted by auctor at 10:24 AM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Mr. Patheral actually plays well with others in the office -- he's okay working with a team because he knows that's par for the course. Of course, I only know what he tells me as part of our "how was your day?" conversation, and he's never complained about his office mates or working with people. Dealing with the day to day is okay for him as long as he knows he can come home and de-stress. In other words, he can fake 'til he makes it.
posted by patheral at 10:30 AM on March 23, 2018

Best answer: The thing is, changing careers, especially at our ages (I'm your age) is mostly a people skills thing. You have to be able to convince somebody that 20+ years of slinging code is relevant to, whatever. That is basically a sales job, and quite frankly, is kind of a difficult sell. If he's not willing to put himself out there odds are the attempts at changing careers are not going to go well.

Software development is sometimes a young person's game, but there are plenty of companies out there that appreciate a developer that brings more maturity to the table. I think his issue is more of finding the right cultural fit than trying to change directions, especially as it doesn't sound like he is particularly motivated to change anyway.

Unfortunately, short-term gigs are how a lot of software gets made these days. You might just have to suck it up and accept that those are the jobs that are available.
posted by COD at 10:40 AM on March 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

I swear i say this every time this kind of question comes up, but he might consider looking more in the embedded space, especially at a smaller company and extra especially in the linux embedded space.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Maybe product management if he was able to find companies where his code and industry knowledge was relevant and if he is interested in that type of work.
posted by typecloud at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2018

Best answer: Ok, two things:

1) The most introvert-friendly thing you can do in software is be a salaried staff programmer for a large corporation. Any kind of shift to contracting*, program/product/people management, etc is going to involve a lot more person-skills-heavy interaction.
*Assuming this is freelancing where you find your own clients; if you're at a contracting agency where they place you, it's pretty much the same as being a staff programmer in terms of interaction.

2) Seattle has a zillion programming jobs right now. The ladder for getting a job is like first you get in touch with a recruiter, then you send a resume in, then they call you for an interview, then you pass the interview, then you see if the compensation is ok, then you get the job. You (or your husband really) needs to be clear about where in this process he is falling off the ladder. If he's not getting a bunch of recruiter contacts, he needs to get his resume out more (or put it on job sites or whatever) or reach out directly. If he's sending in his resume and they're not calling him, he needs to fix up his resume - he needs to be clear about what he's been doing, he might need to do some side study on some current technologies so he looks up to date, he might need to make sure whatever keywords he's using are ok, he might need to trim down his resume. If he's getting called for interviews and not passing, he needs to buy and study Cracking the Coding Interview. If he's passing interviews and not getting the compensation he's looking for, he needs to interview better or target better - he's not going to get $150k or $200k comp at a junior engineer job, but he can certainly get that at a senior/principal level, but you have to interview at a higher bar to get that kind of job.

I assume he won't be interested, but I'm happy to talk to him in person if he wants some more specific guidance - email address is in profile.
posted by inkyz at 10:56 AM on March 23, 2018 [15 favorites]

Is higher ed a possibility? It might offer more job stability. UW has almost 100 openings tagged as "Computing and IT" right now.
posted by baseballpajamas at 10:59 AM on March 23, 2018

Response by poster: I seem to be really bad at wording questions... I either give too much information, not enough, or word things awkwardly.

Look, all I'm looking for are suggestions to offer Mr. Patheral while he's job hunting as to what he might look for aside from coding.

I mentioned the fact that he's an introvert to rule out something like retail or customer service.
I mentioned the fact that he's been coding for 20 years because that's what he knows.
I linked his website to give y'all an idea of his skills.
I mentioned the previous three years for a "why I'm asking this question".

But I really just wanted suggestions.
posted by patheral at 11:12 AM on March 23, 2018

Fwiw, I'm 27, reasonably happy to talk to people, and still have no idea what I'd do if I wasn't a software engineer. I think you're not getting many suggestions because no one else knows either.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Perhaps DevOps engineer positions?
posted by needled at 11:56 AM on March 23, 2018

If he's really serious about doing something else, it's better to move toward something than away from something. The library will have a ton of books about careers, changing jobs, identifying skills and preferences. Spending the time to research and think about it can be very helpful, and sometimes it leads in a new direction, or renewed appreciation of the current career. It's also very useful to research employers. A good employer makes a world of difference.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, I want to counter the idea that introverted coders need to buck up and just get people skills already. I am an early-retired software engineer, I have people skills, and I am such an extrovert that I enjoy job interviews and political fundraisers for chrissakes. I've always been offered promotions into team lead, manager, and so on, and I've always refused them on the basis that it's a sucker's deal: long hours, more stress, and less job security once you've forgotten how to code - all for a small pay increase, no thank you! I've declined probably a good dozen promotions in various jobs over the years and I think it was the right decision every time. I've always just said that I am interested in the technical path and not interested in the management path and I was never penalized for this in the short term or the longer term. So personally I think your husband is smart to want nothing to do with there offers.

Now, a specific suggestion that would be my move if I hadn't retired. I think when you get older it's good to pick a niche and really deep-dive into so it becomes your thing and the Amazon infrastructure is one such niche. There is a big demand for AWS support and there are a couple certification paths that you can take - specifically, a devops path and a software architect path. Your husband can take a look at the actual jobs in your area to see if this is something he wants to do, and he can also do a few AWS tutorials (offered by the AWS team) just to see if he likes the knowledge domain itself before he commits.
posted by rada at 12:02 PM on March 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm a software engineer the same age, and I've been doing it for 25 years. If I had to give up coding, for some reason, I'd probably look into being on the product side of things, as I've amassed a bit of experience in what does and does not work when building web applications.
However, product owner is going to be a communication heavy position. Most positions at my career stage entail heavy amounts of communication, or mentoring, or management. Pure coding is easy to get straight out of college - the people skills take years to develop, and so that's what older candidates tend to get judged on.
If your husband has any hobbies he's passionate about, I might look to see if there are ways to combine them with coding, or otherwise provide service in those areas. It probably involves a cut in pay, but an increase in satisfaction, plus if you love something it is usually not too hard to level up quickly.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:03 PM on March 23, 2018

I also agree with picking a niche as mentioned above - look for what skills he has most improved over the last 20 years to find good prospective areas in which to focus.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:07 PM on March 23, 2018

My husband was a coder for 20+ years. He applied for a coding position at a large open source company, and they hired him as a sales geek (solution architect). He goes with sales people to meet customers and generally keep them from lying.

It was a big leap of faith, but he loves it.
posted by heathrowga at 12:55 PM on March 23, 2018

Best answer: I think the best answers to the original question (jobs that are not coding) depend on what areas of business knowledge he has picked up through the years. Has he learned about insurance, or banking, or GPS location, or CAD/CAM, or virtual reality, or what? And there is the secondary question of what is he interested in as far as academic interests, hobbies, politics, etc.

The suggestion by rada seems realistic to me. I have a math/management science background, and during a long time on the bench between consulting assignments, I did a self-guided tutorial on SAS in order to expand my toolkit. It triggered enough interest that I'm pretty sure it would have worked, though in the end, something else came up and I didn't pursue it.

So what I'm suggesting is that if the tools and subject matter are sufficiently comfortable and/or interesting, Mr. Patheral might be willing to entertain a slightly wider range of responsibilities.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:13 PM on March 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (This is my first comment, I hope it helps)

Unfortunately I don't have any suggestions regarding switching careers, but since your husband seems open to staying in programming I have a couple of points that might help.

First, you might consider asking for advice on some other relevant websites. Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) has a very high concentration of programmers and a dedicated section for asking questions. So that might be a good place to seek advice. Fair warning, the site is run by a startup accelerator, so probably some people will really want him to start his own business, which may or may not be a good fit. But it also has a lot of very smart and experienced programmers who aren't biased towards startups, so it is probably worth checking out.

There's also reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions, which is another place you might ask specifically about the programming side of Mr. Patheral's career search. I've only sporadically browsed it, but the discussions seem very active and most of the answers seem to be high quality.

Second, I think it's great that your husband has a website showing off some of his code, but the site itself has some room for improvement. Right off the bat I noticed that the design of the website looks a bit dated. I know that's a superficial critique, especially since your husband's expertise seems to be in game development rather than web development, but unfortunately many companies will use such dumb criteria as excuses to throw a resume in the trash.

On a related note, the organization of the code samples could be a bit better - make sure the most recent code is featured most prominently. The GBA games are really cool, but no longer relevant to most modern software development practice. On the other hand, stuff like the Unity and iOS games demonstrate skills that are very much in demand right now. So he should consider featuring the modern stuff very prominently and perhaps make the examples using older technologies slightly less prominent (but still visible).

Another thing is that he appears to be distributing the source code of his examples in zip files. Does your husband have a GitHub account? If not, he should get one and move all of his sample source code there, since it is a much easier way to share open source code that is very widely used by programmers. Distributing code via zip files, unfortunately, may bias potential employers against your husband since it makes it look like he is not familiar with more "hip" ways to distribute code such as GitHub.

Anyways, I hope some of these suggestions might help. If your husband decides that he really does want to switch careers then you can safely ignore everything I've written. But if he does continue applying to programming jobs, creating a more polished online portfolio could substantially improve his chances at landing a good job.
posted by jv776 at 4:54 PM on March 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

Coming in to +1 what Rada said. I've spent my entire career waiting for that stable job in tech, keeping your head down and doing a good job. That doesn't exist as far as I've seen it on the west coast. I gave up and leaned in on business and strategy skills.

That said, a lot of vendor companies I've interacted with in Seattle have the culture that should fit your husband's needs. And there's a ton of work. The elephant in the room is whether he's keeping his skills fresh. It should be said too that the skills are regional - there are exceptions, but Seattle is still a Microsoft (and increasingly, Amazon) town. Languages and platforms are going to skew that way.

I know you've re-oriented the question, "but what if?" My wife is in her 50s, non-techie (i.e. content) but laid off from local tech firm in 2014. Has found no work since. This region has some structural unemployment problems masked by the massive influx of young coders. And ageism is absolutely alive and well. Don't switch horses mid-stream. His best bet is to stick with coding.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 4:56 PM on March 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The ladder for getting a job is like first you get in touch with a recruiter, then you send a resume in, then they call you for an interview, then you pass the interview, then you see if the compensation is ok, then you get the job.

Friend of mine (also 50+) is currently in the thick of this process, and one of the things he's been finding is that passing an interview in 2018 has much more to do with being able to solve bullshit Google-interview coding posers than with being able to demonstrate a solid history of writing clear, correct, maintainable code.

It's such crap; essentially, fizzbuzz gone completely barking mad. Major universities actually offer courses in how to pass Google interview questions now.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 PM on March 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Friend of mine (also 50+) is currently in the thick of this process, and one of the things he's been finding is that passing an interview in 2018 has much more to do with being able to solve bullshit Google-interview coding posers than with being able to demonstrate a solid history of writing clear, correct, maintainable code.

Yeah, we found that out the last go around. It's very frustrating for Mr. Patheral. He hates those tests with a fiery hot passion because they don't *prove* anything except that one can look up the answers on Google.
posted by patheral at 11:05 PM on March 23, 2018

Revamp the resume? Revamp the website?
I see things like shockwave on the website - if I were a hiring manager I would worry “is he behind the times?”

This is an industry that is all about hotshit tech, esp in a hotshit tech city like Seattle. So make your shit look hotshit.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2018

Consider removing the website link from this — if the link is used during interviews or on resume this discussion very well could come up.
posted by friendofstone at 8:20 AM on March 24, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. I've shown this question to Mr. Patheral and he says he will take your suggestions about finding a niche and revamping his resume and website to heart. He never meant for that website to be anything more than a personal website -- a alternative place to store his stuff before there was "the cloud" -- which is why it's so kitschy.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestions, y'all have at least opened my eyes to the fact that coding is probably the best thing for Mr. Patheral to do. It's what he's good at and what he knows, and sometimes new isn't always better. So thanks for that.
posted by patheral at 9:53 AM on March 24, 2018

If he has an interest in continuing in coding and needs to find a new job. he should be working on his own projects. Hiring managers love to hear what you're working on and what you're so passionate about that you do it for fun.

I would also suggest lots and lots of meetups if you're in a location that has techy meetups. Even if he doesn't talk to anyone he'll learn names and start finding familiar faces.

Definitely update that website - squarespace or wordpress. Add a github address and a "personal website" address to his business cards. Probably no one will check them but if they're on his card people will assume that you've worked hard on them.

I'm 47 and graduated from (React/Redux) code school in September. After three-and-a-half years of unemployment I got a fantastic dev job in three months.

Stuff I learned:

- Keep up with your independent projects. If you're a coder but you're not coding can you still call yourself a coder?
- Keep up with current tech
- Meetups
- Meetups (I'm pretty introverted and after a week or so of multiple meetups I couldn't *stop* talking. It's definitely exhausting but as long as you leave when you need to it's OK.)
- Make distinctive business cards. (The card I was handing out during my job search was black with all the info in 80s terminal green. My job title was a JSON object and I had a screen shot of the "Promise Rejected" error line on the back.)
- Get LinkedIn Premium
posted by bendy at 12:33 AM on March 26, 2018

Best answer: I want to revisit and reframe my earlier feedback and suggest making more of a chronologically ordered website to show what he worked on in the distant past, what he worked on in the not-distant past, and what he worked on in the last five years. Right now it’s more like “he can do anything!” And that may be true! But better to focus on the niche things that exist on the market today that he can get hired for, esp if maintaining high pay is a priority.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2018

Response by poster: So, just to clear up some misconceptions, even though I marked this as resolved. If you re-read the original question, you'll see that I am the one that thought perhaps Mr. Patheral should look to other fields. He never had that thought at all. He has always been about coding, coding, and nothing but coding. Y'all have clarified his position on this. But reading some of the answers, it looks as though y'all thought that he was looking to change careers (maybe because I mentioned that he knew I was asking this question, I dunno), and that's simply not true. It was always me. That's kind of clearly stated in the original question and the follow ups. I thought he might find something in a field more... steady I suppose. But it is what it is.

Anyway, he's going to update his website and we'll see where we go from there. Thank again for your answers.
posted by patheral at 2:16 PM on March 26, 2018

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