Middle aged academic looking to move into a tech career

So, I looked through this forum and there’s a lot of questions along these lines; I’m asking anyway, because I feel my situation is a bit specific and I wouldn’t mind some more tailored guidance.

It has come to my attention that I am unfortunately middle aged, having reached the unfortunate age of 32 pursuing a career in academia which earned me a PhD in a field (communication) which I unfortunately don’t think I can apply outside the field. Because I went “off track” in academia (failed to complete a tenure track, it’s a thing) my chances of ever accomplishing much there are more or less burned, and with the ongoing COVID crisis making education a rather unpleasant place to work as an instructor, it’s not something I feel I want to go back to at this time.

So, I’m in one of those resume gap situations, and, frankly, I considered coding instead of academia when I was young, chose to “pursue my dream” (when honestly I probably would have enjoyed coding just as much) of being a professor, and I wish I had. I have all the time in the world, and motivation, to study. Most of my friends who chose to work in programming/IT are very happy and live in places more like where I want to live (I’m stuck in rural America and wouldn’t be able to in-person network much even if it wasn’t for the pandemic situation). I guess my point is, I feel like I’ve probably lost a lot of career potential in IT, but that if I don’t start now I’ll never have a shot, and I’d like to do what I can to get up to speed in terms of what could land me a potential career.

I’m not looking for miracles or easy fixes. I’ve read job ads and I know a lot of even “entry level” positions want years of experience, and many want computer science degrees. I know people will tell me not to try to specialize in something I’m not passionate about, but at this point, I’d like to develop a passion in something I have a reasonable chance of landing work in, within the IT field, preferably in a major city.

I’m working my way through tutorials here and on other sites, reading books, and talking to contacts in tech like my friends and social media contacts. In terms at this point purely of what I should work on learning, though, what would you prioritize if you were me? I’m gonna try to work through every dang thing on this site, but I know I have to do it in various orders.

A couple of notes I think are worthwhile:

  • I’ve done coding before; I know a little Python, a tiny bit of Javascript, and a long time ago I took Visual C++ classes when that was a thing. I also know quite a bit of HTML and a little bit of CSS.
  • I have run a web forum and know a bit about SQL databases in that sense, but I can’t say it was professionally done. I could see myself being happy learning to do sysadmin work.
  • I did some graduate work in quantitative analysis and I feel like I might be able to frame my academic experience as relevant to jobs if I learned r or data-oriented Python.

When did 32 become middle aged?


So, I’m a math academic who is becoming a coder. My experience is closer to coding than communications, but I’m also making the jump from academia.

If you want to shoot for the data analysis route, go for Python. R is a hellscape of poorly written spaghetti code. Depending on your interests, it could be useful to learn the GPU packages since that’s hot right now. In any case, brush up on your statistics to go the data analysis route.

HTML, CSS, databases, etc is more the full stack web dev technologies. I can’t speak to that as much, but FCC will set you up well with a good foundation.

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So you don’t think you’ll make it past 55 :slight_smile:


As someone a year older than you, let me just say OUCH.

You talked about why you want to try a career change into programming, but not what you want to do. You asked what you should focus on learning, so here are a few different pieces of advice based on some of the things you said.

You mentioned “IT” a few times. Generally speaking, that term tends to refer to jobs like technical support, corporate technology infrastructure, system administration, etc. If that’s what you’re interested in, then the good news is that it’s a field that has more concrete qualifications than programming. There are various official certifications for system and network administration.

You talked about doing quantitative analysis. If that’s something that you are interested in and want to pursue, you’ll want to focus your studies on the “data” related fields, which could include areas like machine learning. Languages to focus on would be Python and R.

Your PhD is in communication. I only have a piddly BS but that was my original degree as well. You have a lot to offer in the areas of User Experience, Usability, and Product Design. One of the hardest parts of creating technology is creating it optimally to be used by people. There is a lot of work that goes into questions like anticipating your user’s assumptions and previous experience, communicating information in a way that is non-obtrusive, finding the balance between giving enough data or choices to be useful without having your user shut down from to much “noise”, and so on. This is a hard problem in all areas of technology from the physical design of hardware to the text on a website and there are awesome people whose full-time job is user experience design. If that’s something that sounds interesting to you, then there are some really useful resources dedicated just to good UX. There are many UX/Product designers who are not developers. I don’t know if that is appealing or if you would rather sling code, but in either case I would suggest building some technical chops. The technology I would suggest here is the same one I would suggest for a general “I don’t know what I want to do, but I think I want to learn to code”: JavaScript. JavaScript continues to broaden its realm of influence, making it a good default first language. In your case though, it is also the best option for UI (user interface) development.


Thanks to everyone who replied! Obviously my comment about being middle aged was meant to be read as somewhat self-effacing, apologies if it offended anybody.

I used the term “IT” rather generically; I think “coding” is what I’m interested in, and I think I agree with @ArielLeslie that JavaScript is a good place to start. I’m working through this site’s tutorials on it as well as various other resources (Humble Store has a deal on game development focused Javascript stuff, but it comes with a full unit on just learning React and Javascript frameworks, so even though the game industry isn’t my target at this time, I’m gonna go ahead and get that as a supplement to work through).

I also agree that I think I could contribute to user experience and product design in a number of ways (from a data science angle too - I would love to learn how to analyze what works for users from analytics data, etc.) The big challenge as far as front end design for me is that I have absolutely zero artistic or drawing talent. Is that something that can be worked around?

Roles vary from company to company, but UI/UX designer don’t have to mean artistic flair. A lot of it is pretty analytical: questions like “How can we balance giving enough information to new users with making it quick and simple for experienced users?” or “What are the most common patterns for user behavior and how can we leverage that?”

Good luck on your journey. I hope you’ll be hanging around out community watering hole.

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Okay, so this will obviously be a question that will have a certain reception, but I am trying to make the decision and I figure it’s worth getting as many people’s input as I possibly can.

I’m seriously considering a paid (online) coding boot camp. The reason is specifically the ones which have hiring contacts and provide active assistance in trying to help place people. I understand that they can’t get me a job, but accurate or not, I worry self-teaching will get me nowhere without some sort of credential.

I can afford a paid boot camp; I’m curious if there is anyone here who has had experience with same. Again, I’m sure that I could self-teach the material - but my goal is to get on the job market as quickly as possible, I’m going to be looking in a geographic region I don’t live in, and I need some sort of network.


Quincy’s Coding Bootcamp Handbook has a lot of good points to consider when researching bootcamps.

Apparently I’m not allowed to make more than one thread and I’m really having a rough time here, I hope reposting in this thread doesn’t get me banned or whatever.

I just had someone on Quora advise me it would be 2-4 years of self teaching before I could think about interviewing for a job, and that boot camps are useless. I’ll be 36 in four years. I don’t know if I can express the despair I feel at contemplating remaining in this tiny town where people like me are hated, for 2-4 years. Coding is my only prospect.

I have to know I can be job ready sooner than that. I will do ANYTHING. I will study/code 80 hours a day, I’ve done projects like that before. I have my own projects and I’ll contribute to FOSS repositories. If there are credentials that cost money, I’ll pay for them.

But there has to be a way to do it in less than 2-4 years. Please tell me there’s hope. Please.

If you are looking for a job in software, you will be competing with people who have 4 year CS degrees. You can develop comperable skills in less time if you already have a technical degree, but it’s impossible to say how long it will take any single person to gain comperable skills using online resources and self study.

I’d focus on completing a single course, like freeCodeCamp, and adapting your goals and learning trajectory from there. You can focus on working faster, but there is still a certain volume of learning that needs to occur and cannot be shortcut.

Regarding age, plenty of us here started in our 30s or later. It’s fine to start in your thirties. I hear that life usually continues for several more decades after your thirties :slight_smile:

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I’m 32 and I have spent my entire life in the rural Midwest. There HAS to be some way for me to get out. Like I said, if it’s working 80 hour weeks studying/making a portfolio, I will do it. If it’s taking a nothing but crunch job working 100 hour weeks for normal pay, I will do it.

But I have to have hope that i can be out of here before 35 (I’m 32 now). I’ve wasted so much of my life, I can’t waste any more :frowning:

There is no silver bullet. People have started careers in tech in their forties or, fifties or older. It can be done, but you have to do the work.

It’s been 10 days since your first post. It will take more than 10 days of work to get to the point where you are competitive for jobs.

Like I said, pick a course, like freeCodeCamp, and put in the hours. Once you have completed some freeCodeCamp certificates, you will have a better idea of how long it will take you to become a competitive candidate compared to other STEM folks with 4 year CS degrees (+internship experience)

I apologize if I came off rudely. I obviously understand I’m not competitive for jobs after working at this for ten days. I just had heard some extremely discouraging advice, panicked, and sought reassurance.

it’s not coding related, more of a general thing. But you could take a look at Cal Newport’s “So good that they can’t ignore you” and “Deep Work” books

In a world where most people are distracted, focus is a rare and sought after skill.
Where everyone maybe keeps “just a quick look at my inbox”, checking phone for messages etc
And loose focus, loose cognitive capability

In learning, and then building software, focus is a rare and precious skill


I apologize for starting more than one career thread. I just keep getting conflicting advice, on how to break into software development, and so many of the pieces on why not to do boot camps also basically say it’s impossible to be hireable on a boot camp time frame and that’s… this will sound irrational, but it’s not something I can live with. Someone said I can maybe consider looking for a job in 2-4 years of self teaching… My youth will be over then. I’m LGBT and live in a rural town where people like me are hated and I’m scared to go outside. I’m willing to work 80 hours a week, spend whatever money I have to, contribute to FOSS projects… But this is my last lifeline. I’ve failed one career, I have no prospects beyond software development, and I can’t live with a 2-4 year timeline.

Someone please tell me that there’s a way to do it faster. My soul is literally dying as I age in this horror show of rural America I’ve been trapped in. I need to break in, at any cost. Please advise.

there are some bootcamps that will be payed by your salary - so they garantee a job so they can be payed

I know they exist, I don’t know how easy or high quality they are

but, that could be something for you to check out.

you could start looking at job postings of where you are interested moving to, so you know already what are the most used technologies, and on what to focus

the fcc podcast has testimony of many people transitioning to tech, could be something to listen to while you do other stuff (like chores maybe)

with a communication background, wthout loosing that background, your career capital, UX/UI designer is something that could work for you. maybe start reaching out to people in those positions, start networking

Hey Ellie,

nice to meet you.

So first of all, I don’t think that you failed one career. I have a degree in one of the most useless fields (job-wise), Social Sciences. When I decided to do this, it was probably the right decision, so I think this wasn’t a failure.

I also think that a lot of CS graduates feel butt-hurt, because they studied for 4y, paid 6-figures and want to stay in their walled garden. That’s why you will see a lot of comments about “bootcamps are bad” and “you can’t become a self-taught dev in x months”.

There is some interesting evidence that time frames, once known, lead to using these time frames. This is why like 95% of graduates need exactly 4y for a 4y degree, because they expect it to need 4y. When they are ahead of their schedule, they will slow down.

You already have career capital and skills, that’s very valuable.

Looking forward to seeing your journey :slightly_smiling_face:

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The realisation you are getting old is scary; you’re now fighting against time. I think I understand why this fear is so acute for you, and how much it is maybe driven by a need to escape to a cosmopolitan city before it’s too late? It’s think it’s a sensible fear for you, anyway.

You’re definitely panicking a little bit, maybe take a step back here. You need that urgency to drive you, but controlled. As others have said, how fast you learn is different for different people – you have serious experience and serious drive, so that’s gonna help enormously. But be careful not to jump into the first thing that you see: software development-related work covers a very wide gamut, so you need to avoid blind alleys.

It’s easy to be quite cynical of bootcamps, but in your case it might work well if you have the money. You have serious qualifications, so just those + an ability to be given and execute programming tasks on your own makes you pretty attractive from a employer’s perspective. You’ll need to do a lot of research into a. what you want to focus on, and b. the bootcamps themselves (their reputation , what they can offer &c).

Re. moving to a city. Being in a city will mean vastly more resources are available to you to help you acheive your goal (both w/r/t learning and w/r/t networking), but that then throws up a Catch-22 – you need a job to support living in a city, but to get a job in the city you’re better off living there. So you have to be able to support yourself. With that in mind, for certain communications-related jobs (particularly for large organisations) you are clearly highly qualified. You are likely to have a deep understanding of critical subjects important to PR of large corporations, for example. As most large organisations have at least offices in major cosmopolitan cities, would it be worth you looking at jobs related to communications as a bridge toward where you want to be?

edit: correct me if I’m off base OP, but to other people commenting on the thread, I think being older as a developer isn’t the core issue here, rather it’s the very real and very pressing fear of OP not being able to enjoy the benefits of [relative] youth somewhere where they are fully accepted for who they are, whilst being able to support themselves via software development. Access to certain parts of life does stop as life progresses. Baggage accrues, responsibilities grow, avenues close, looks crumble. Just don’t panic OP, you have time.


Hey Ellie. A friend of mine switched to coding at 38, got a 2-year degree, and is currently a very well-compensated developer. I am 45 and am attempting to pivot from my former career, guitarist.

If you’ll pardon unsolicited advice from someone at the other end of “middle-aged,” your life is not over at 32. People who can stay in the same career, an ever-ascending path of higher salaries and satisfaction, are the anomaly, not the norm. Changing at 32 is not weird or a failure in any fair sense of the word. And so switching is not a bad thing, and don’t forget to experience and enjoy your life as much as possible while you’re living it. Sorry, old person privilege taken!

I have seen stories of people getting a job immediately in tech, but it’s not something one can count on–I think? What about breaking your plan into parts: 1. get out of Peoria.* 2. prepare for your next career.

*Not saying you’re in Peoria. I went to school there–I can certainly empathize for getting out of the Midwest ASAP.

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