I’m 39, with no background in computers, just a long history of mostly pretty menial jobs (I’ve always focused on making art and music and refused to grow up!).
I started learning front end web development using online resources 18 months ago. As a previously non-technical person who was a late adopter of most things digital, and as an older learner whose brain doesn’t absorb new things as well as it did when I was a young 'un, I have found it pretty difficult. Mostly because other things in life (like making a living, for one) get in the way and slow things down to a snail’s pace.
However. I’m on the cusp of being a success story. Well, a modest success!
I landed an internship at a small local design agency where I get to just turn up when I can, sometimes only one day per week depending on my job schedule. This is going to lead to a full paid position soon, and I’m gaining loads of experience which would set me up for working elsewhere if I wanted to move on.
I’ve done this through dogged persistence. Whenever the going is tough (or just slooooowww) I remind myself that I’m a little smarter than average (going on IQ tests, academic ability back in the 90s, and my perception of how I compare with friends, family, colleagues), so it is inevitable that I will become skilled enough in this field EVENTUALLY, provided I just keep going.
So then, you just keep going.
I have had to reconcile myself to the prospect that ‘eventually’ may be several years, worst-case-scenario. I accepted this because:
- I can’t dream up many other jobs that I think would suit my character and abilities as well
- I can’t think of many jobs that a regular dude could get that have such good working conditions (freedom, flexibility, a nice warm creative office environment etc)
- I can’t think of many jobs that are so well paid considering you don’t need any expensive formal training (just use free online resources plus maybe a cheap subscription to Lynda or Treehouse)
- You get to build cool stuff for your mates while you are practising your skills and building a portfolio of projects (make them a website, they’ll love you, spread the word to prospective clients or employers about you, and quite possibly pay you!)
- It’s not an easy skillset to attain. This is good. It means that most people (your competition) won’t do it. Because they are too lazy to try. And therefore you can mentally turn every barrier you encounter while learning from a negative to a positive!
- There will be paid jobs in programming and other digital fields within my lifetime. How many other industries can you confidently say the same about? Not many, and even fewer that you fancy working in.
Finally, with regard to ageism, I simply kept telling myself that prospective employers are as interested in people than in their skills. They might not always say that (“I just need the job done, the thing made…”) but in practise they will naturally gravitate to candidates they can see themselves working with, someone nice, someone who communicates, who is reliable, has a strong work ethic, is self-motivated, who is a rounded individual.
This is where you and I have an advantage over a techie millennial kid (no offence y’all, we just have different backgrounds). The folks at my internship could have taken on a young person who grew up using computers and already knows way more code than me. Instead they chose to invest in bringing me along because they figured I’m a good person to have around with my relative wealth of soft-skills and life-experience, and my proven track record of showing up to work every day (never mind what the job was) for 25 years straight and giving to the team.
Not that many people would suit getting into programming or web development at 40 years of age. Many people’s sense of self, of identity, kind of calcifies long before then. They protect themselves psychologically by doing and saying the same old things they’ve always done and feeling secure and even authoritative within their own little comfort zone. This zone will become stale and eventually obsolete. If you can pick up something new and forward-thinking like learning to code, and really dive into it, then you’ve proved that you’re the type of open-minded, dynamic character who can thrive in an industry where you need to continually grow, adapt, change… and be a perpetual student.
Confucius — ‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.’