Training or job searching for middle aged folks and tech
June 17, 2019 11:05 PM   Subscribe

What to do when you're older, unemployed and looking to get into tech?

What resources are available for someone trying to break into technology who is older (i.e. middle aged man in late 40s) with experience in tech sales/accounts)? I have a friend who is struggling and I honestly don't know how to help him. He lives in New York and dropped out of a good art school and has done audio production, music gigs and working on and off in film, mostly small unofficial contracts. His professional career in doing account management roles was about 5 years ago, when he stopped to deal with a health issue. That gap in full time work is really hurting him; even though he's been running events and a record label for the past 4 years, it's hard to look marketable or make the case why a tech company would take a chance on him. He's been doing online training in AI, learning a bit more about Python with the hopes of working at a tech firm, maybe a startup either as a junior coder or perhaps doing sales again, this time with a better understanding of how to sell these newer technologies. I guess I'm wondering if there are apprenticeships that can help defray the cost of training for AI and any of these newer areas, or what his job search strategy should be. He goes to meetups and tries to network and outreach to get referrals to companies, but the combination of of gaps and age and non-formal tech experience aren't helping and he's depressed, understandably. Startups don't seem to be responding and his cover letter and resume just get sucked into the system and he never hears back. I'm trying to look into career counseling and his resume is well written (results oriented), but if he has the gap there's little ways to hide that, and I feel like people might just see him as 'musician' and read 'flaky, won't hire'.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I'm told that there is a large demand for Salesforce professionals. Here is a sample search on This could suit a person with a combination of technical and sales/account management skills. Being a cloud platform, their training is entirely online and you can start for free over at the Trailhead training portal.
posted by McNulty at 2:22 AM on June 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

They're not in NY yet, but Apprenti is an organization trying to create an apprenticeship style path into tech jobs: They're rapidly expanding so NY might be on the way.
posted by spindrifter at 2:43 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

One thing he could do that might help is to spend some of his time learning Python by contributing to open source projects. There are likely lots of open source projects that need help converting Python 2 code to Python 3, or just maintaining things.

This will do a few things:
- Help pad his resume with work he can show to prospective employers.
- Help with networking and building a name with companies who hire people with open source backgrounds.
- Undercut the idea of "flaky, won't hire" with "great contributor, we want him on our team."

A bit of solid contribution to known open source projects can replace formal education in some circles. But, everybody wants to work on the new shiny. AI is the new shiny. Startups are new shiny, and a bad bet anyway. Fewer people want to do maintenance, but it's what companies really need. Somebody who's competent who wants to show up and do the grunt work is valuable. (Bonus points if he also contributes to the documentation of such, or things like release management that are always more difficult to find good people for.)

You also mention sales - has he been hitting up the non-startups as well? There seems to be an insatiable need for enterprise software sales folks. It's not a job I would want to do, but his experience doing events and running a label might translate well.

Also - another way to get a foot in the door with a tech company might be through events or similar. Those are going to be lower-paying jobs, though, and would be working with a lot of junior/younger folks.
posted by jzb at 4:25 AM on June 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

He should consider other industries that employ tech workers, but are not themselves tech companies or start-ups, which specifically tend to value a younger workforce. There are plenty of companies that have IT divisions to run their e-commerce, internal websites and systems, and whathaveyou, and are not as invested in looking for newly minted rockstars. It also wouldn’t hurt him to go back to school for some formal education, not just because it would put him on the same playing field as the other candidates against whom he is competing, but because it would obfuscate his real age.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:54 AM on June 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

Also, if he went to art school, was he an artist or was it for music? If it was for art, perhaps UX would be a better fit. And it’s easier to stand out in that field vs. programming.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:00 AM on June 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Two impressions off the top. 1) It sounds like his attempts to learn some "tech" are not well focused and 2) it's usually easiest to get a job that's connected in some way to what you have done before.

Expanding on McNulty's mention of Salesforce, one way to get a job is to ally yourself in some way to a particular software product. It could be Salesforce, or PeopleSoft, or SAS, or MS Project, or Photoshop, or any of hundreds of others. This tends to make getting the required training easier.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Running events? He needs to become a project manager! It's a great field to enter as a newbie and, from my experience, people with lots of life experience plus some tech experience tend to make the best PMs. He can go ahead and get certified while he's looking for a job and he can start going to agile and other PM meetups.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:36 AM on June 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

He could also look into education, both K-12 and higher ed. They'll need tech help at many levels.
posted by conscious matter at 8:49 AM on June 18, 2019

Trying to jump into AI in middle age without a background in development or math/statistics is not likely to bear a lot of fruit. Most companies aren't at a point where they're doing anything profitable with AI at any scale yet and those that are are driven by top people in the field, not tinkerers. Playing with AI is something that's fine to talk about during an interview when asked about interests but focusing on it at his age and experience level is going to hurt his chances.

Startups aren't likely to touch him at this point.

If he wants to get into development, he should learn front end development and focus on non-startups. Building a Javascript interface for a B2B web site isn't sexy but it's a lot more realistic for him to learn how to do.

The suggestions of project management or management software like the afore mentioned Saleforce are good.
posted by Candleman at 8:50 AM on June 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

I hate to be the wet blanket, but I would not hire him for anything less then a help desk job. Maybe from there he could work his way up. I've hired many people over a 40 year career, but help desk, maybe. AI is like fusion energy or quantum computers. I would ignore that. Some Python, well, so? sorry. If he had some open source chops, then I'd consider.
posted by baegucb at 5:16 PM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I agree with baegucb that what you have described isn't going to impress if he's looking for a job as a developer. He needs to focus his efforts on something that has a realistic path to career payoff.

He might be better off looking at training as a software tester.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:15 PM on June 18, 2019

I have seen a few people around his age make this transition successfully, including one with a previous career as a professional musician. All of them pursued some kind of formal education or training, either a BS/MS or post-baccalaureate program. A software development bootcamp program is an option as well, but be cautious of those as they are prone to exaggerating employment success rates for graduates. Self-paced dabbling in learning a bit about Python and AI is absolutely not sufficient—and a caution about AI specifically, it's pretty buzzwordy right now. For data science and machine learning work you also need a solid grounding in software development, statistics, and research methods in order to do well.

There is a myth that tech startups are desperate to hire anyone who can do even a little bit of coding. They're actually less likely IME to take on very junior developers and also less likely to have support and mentoring structures in place to help people getting started in the field. All but one of the people I saw make this career transition got their first tech job at a larger, non-tech company (e.g., banks, aerospace). There is plenty of unglamorous but respectable IT and software dev work available outside of tech firms, especially if he is willing to take contract positions.

As a tech hiring manager I would be reluctant to consider a candidate like your friend. It's not just the lack of relevant tech work experience, it's what comes across as a general lack of commitment. He got into a good art school but dropped out before finishing. He worked on and off in audio and film. He did some account management work but that was a while ago, and how he is doing a little bit of self-study and expecting to get hired as a developer? Sorry, but no. Anything he can do to show a commitment to a career path and to completing a formal education or training program would be helpful.
posted by 4rtemis at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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