Thoughts of an Aging Programmer

I “m still under 50, and during the last 25 years I work as software engineer (the title does not really matter because most of the time I work as a consultant). What “s next?

Software Engineering is a very competitive profession. The question is if I can compete with a 30-years old software engineer from Bangalore? Should I move over? As of today, I do not have problems with employment charging at least five times more than most of the young offshore programmers. Will it last? Yes, for a while. I “m a down to Earth person and realize that if you lock me in the room with a 30-years old programmer and give us 30 minutes and an assignment to write a program that uses linked lists without using Google, I “ll loose. They are faster. They type as typists… Fifty characters at the speed of sound, then 30 hits on Backspace…and then another 30 at the speed of sound…They know the names of the classes and methods in these linked lists, but they are not always sure when to use them. They pass technical interviews easily by studying the API. I wrote a “bestselling ” article with these kinds of interview questions that was read by about half a million readers. What a success! But read the feedback to this article – it gives me goose bumps.

Do I want to become a young programmer again? No. I “ve been there already. I “ve been programming at 25, at 35 and at 45. I “m better now. I “m wiser now and I “m happy to move forward, not backward.

Yesterday, I “ve been doing my taxes with my accountant who is older and wiser than me, and somehow the same question came up ndash; do you want to be young again?

He said, “Young – no, but I want to be 40 again rdquo;.


“I just like the look and feeling of myself at 40. rdquo;

But you can exercise now and improve your look and feel.

“I know, but at 40 I did not need to exercise hellip; rdquo;

Once in a while I started getting rejected by employers. Ten years ago it was never the case. Getting a job interview ALWAYS meant getting a job. Now situation is different. These days I “m being offered jobs without being interviewed. I have a big mouth and just googling my name generates lots of materials (noise too) that often gives some managers enough reasons to hire me right away. But once in a while I “m getting these multi-person technical interrogations with poking needles under my nails. Recently, I went through two hours of interviews with a large financial firm. To my own surprise I still knew the answers to all the questions. And they have not been shy. This was a Java interview, but the guy asked me, “What would you do if you had to send a message using MQ Series, and you have a message in the ASCII encoding on one end and EBCDIC on another. How do you like this under-the-belt question? Anyway, I knew the answer, and said that since we ‘re using JMS on the Java side, we can cast a generic TopicConnectionFactory to IBM “s implementation and set a parameter (do not remember exact name) to specify that there is non-JMS reader on the other end of the queue. I know this because I did it back in 2000. The interviewer exclaimed, “Did not you guys have MQ administrator? There is a configurable parameter that they could have set on the queue, so you would not even need to do it programmatically! rdquo; Then he revealed that he “s working with MQ Series from version 1.0 (more than 10 years). What can I say hellip; I know, I did well on this interview, but I was rejected. The guy who sent me there simply said, “They decided to hire someone else rdquo;. I can think of two reasons ndash; either “my failure rdquo; with the MQ guy was crucial, or I just was too expensive comparing to other candidates. No sweat. I have more projects on my plate than I can handle. Moving on hellip;

So why employers still hire me over the younger and less expensive candidates? Because they want to have insurance. If everything goes as planned, young programmers have no problems. Now raise your hand if your last five projects went as planned hellip; I “ve been working with well trained young programmers, who just panicked when they needed to provide a solution to a production problem in a high-pressure situation. Employers want to make sure that the project will move on if something unexpected happens down the road. They want insurance because a failure of the project may hurt their career too. That “s why they hire me, and I “ll do my best to make sure they succeed. This is THE ultimate goal of any seasoned consultant ndash; make sure that the hiring manager succeeds.

All right, this is good enough for this morning, it “s time to get ready for work.

Disclaimer: I wrote this blog after reading a small and very smart book called Tuesdays with Morrie . My 12-year old son has read it by accident and said that adults can read this book too. I highly recommend you to read the book, and then you might want to re-read this blog again.


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