Start coding career @ 50+

Looking for honest feedback from professionals working as front end / backend / app dev.

My scenario: I’m in my early 50’s Army veteran and have 23 years IT Networking / System Admin / Storage Admin experience. Never coded in my career. Due to health issues I became medically disabled the last few years. Bored as heck and wanting to make money again, I tried coding 2yrs ago & found it interesting challenge. I became discouraged because of the whole ageism I hear going on in IT. Once again I have the itch and began coding even if it’s just for a hobby. Although I’m very technically inclined being away from technology a few years in IT can seem like a decade. Btw I have no degree just some college education but many expired IT certifications. I’m self taught always.

My questions are:

  1. Had anyone with my general IT background switched to coding professionally and find it very difficult (burn out) especially my age doing it full time?

  2. Is ageism these days really an issue after age 40?

  3. Would my IT experience count at all at least salary wise to start above entry level for first coding? I do have significant server experience and light sql config of server but no db experience.

  4. What challenges (culturally / generation gap) can one my age expect fitting with those 20-30yrs my jr? Ironically many say I tend to look 10-13yrs younger & I’m certainly open-minded as well as people oriented. I have no ego of learning from younger people as I believe everyone holds a piece of the puzzle.

  5. Would smaller to mid-size companies tend to be better fit for seasoned adults than the Google, Apple, Twitter, etc… type?

Any suggestions, comments, questions welcomed.

Thanks in advance.

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Just notes (sorry, bit jumbled):

Re 5, IMO yes, as they would very likely want to tap into your sysadmin experience. Networking/sysadmin is gradually being supplanted by roles termed DevOps, leveraging code to automate/administer networks (whereas in the past it was much more of a manual job). With the larger tech companies, you’ll likely hit 2.

Re 2, yes, but its not quite as simple as ageism; If they hire someone in their early 20s [graduate], they can pay less and the person is likely to be easier to teach; bit more disposable as well, as lower expectations and the person is likely to have far fewer responsibilities outside of the job. With larger tech companies they can afford to do that, mass hire best graduates, understanding that they’ll leave in a couple of years (if that): hire them, eke as much value as possible, dump them. Other smaller (not specifically tech) companies need to be a bit more careful, find people they can hold onto.

It takes a while to get usefully good, 3-5 years imo for beginner, but that’s adjustable up or down by how much time can be put aside to learn. Deeply understanding networking is obviously very helpful. If you know electronics that would be transferrable as well - with programming you’re basically doing the same thing, but writ large.

Re 4, once you’re in a job I don’t think it matters too much. Maybe you might lose out a bit on social stuff? Maybe not though, everyone should understand that people have responsibilities outside of work. Everywhere I’ve worked, it’s been irrelevant, some taking the piss over how old people are (I’m 36 and get it a bit), but nobody actually cares. Plus older you are, the more interesting stories and experience you’ve accrued, generally. Key thing is getting past recruitment gatekeepers who look at CV: getting difficult nowadays to explicitly discriminate on age, so that’s less of an issue


Yes. It’s definitely not insurmountable. There is a skill gap, after all. I don’t want to discourage you, but ageism is an issue we’re dealing with in the tech industry.

Maybe if your experience is directly relevant to the job? If you would be interested in working for a defense contractor, your military history would be a major point in your favor though.

I’m on the other side of that divide, so I can’t speak to the experience of being older than one’s coworkers. I have worked with several peers in their 50s and 60s (and up) though. Probably the biggest thing there is just being at different places in our lives. You may be working primarily with people who might be single, childless, never have owned a home, still living with roommates and paying off student loans, etc. You also might want to think about how OK you are with having these people be your seniors at work. I’m sure that you have plenty experience working under with fresh 2nd LTs. It’s a different situation, but not a totally unfair comparison.

Probably, but I only say that because you’re probably less interested in working 90 hours a week. (Also the reason I never applied to any of the local branches of those.)

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  1. I’m in my 50s and am switching to coding. I worked in IT for years (not in programming and not in your roles), then was out for several years, initially by choice, then because of a medical problem which was finally fixed with surgery (meaning it won’t ever come back, so employers need not worry about that). When I started looking for work again, no one would hire me or even consider me because I’d been out so long. So for me, I need a skill so in-demand that employers will look beyond my age and the employment gap to the fact that I can meet their needs. Also, my skill will be current.

  2. Ageism is alive and well. Maybe not for people in their 40s, but definitely for people in their 50s. There’s also a stereotype that older people didn’t grow up using computers and so won’t ever really understand them, that they can’t learn to code. This is ignorance, and you can prove your ability up front with a portfolio.

  3. You may have to start at a junior programmer’s salary, but that’s 60 - $70K. If you get a job where your existing skills are relevant to the job, then you should be able to get more. Otherwise, I doubt it.

  4. Don’t expect to be their peer socially. Your tastes and theirs (say, in music or style) will likely be very different, though you may find you have things in common with some people. You’ll still be able to get along and enjoy working with them; they are your peers work-wise.

I personally think the whole issue of fitting in with younger co-workers is part of the ageism in hiring. ALL workplaces expect their employees to be able to work with a diverse set of co-workers. No one worries about whether American employees can work well with, say, H-1B immigrants from Asia; they just expect them to do it.

That said, not all companies or development teams are dominated by young people. Some companies have a good mix of ages, and some have mostly older workers. You can actually google to find lists of these companies.

  1. Google/Apple/Twitter are specifically top-tier IT companies. Don’t rule them out if you’re interested in working at one of them, but don’t lump all large companies - or even all IT companies - in with them. Companies such as IBM and Intel may not have a youth-oriented culture. Consider large financial companies such as Fidelity Investments or healthcare companies such as Cerner or Siemens.

Small and mid-sized companies will depend as much on the industry and company culture as the large ones. A startup may be formed of twentysomethings who only want people of their own age - or they may be thrilled to get someone who can offer extra experience. A small but longstanding web dev firm may be composed mostly of people in their 40s and 50s.

I guess I’m saying some companies are open to older workers and some are not, but it’s not correlated with company size.


You make some great points and I’m with you on them. Thanks for sharing.

I expect that hiring managers may have an issue with the employment gap of a few years especially in IT since the technology advances exponentially quicker these days than when I started but it’s expected. However, although my skillset may be outdated my technical aptitude is still strong which is what I’m working on to refresh what I had to an extent but with stronger focus and effort on coding. I’m starting with html, css, jscript to get the mindset in gear for programming logic before I consider doing other languages like a version of C or others. In addition, from what I’ve learned in my search backend may also be a good fit or as someone else mentioned DevOps could be a good step into the arena.

@jvel777, Javascript is harder for me than C++ ever was, though I only did one course in it.

My skills aren’t outdated, as I wasn’t in hardware or programming, but people are convinced there’s something wrong with you if you’ve been unemployed for too long. I have no tolerance for that attitude. I’ll explain the gap, but I’m not going to apologize for it. I refuse to live my life around a resume. (Of course, I have paid for this attitude.)

Anyway, I think you’ll do very well in programming, so don’t let your age hold you back.

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I’m not working as a developer right now but have many years of experience, here’s my honest feedfack on the ageism issue:

What’s the first rule of having a career/getting promoted in any business? Finding your replacement, right? This is generally a tough task in SW development, particularly if you’ve excelled at your position. So, naturally you first consider smartest mature people for the position. What’s the position about? It is sitting in front of a screen all day long constantly learning, analytical thinking, problem solving, forcing a sedentary asocial lifestyle which result in undue mental stress that you try to cope with excessive caffeine and sugary foods, for 80-90K at best with little to no benefits. The smart and mature person, naturally, starts negotiating: demands 150K for start, health benefits, a registered dietitician nutritionist, daily gym/exercise time, severance if/when the doc says “ok, he’s done”. And the employer, naturally, says NO.

So what are you left with if you can’t persuade the smart mature people?
Answer: smart immature people. That is “kids” (or man child, colloquially).

You put on sneakers, jeans, some hoodie, unshaven face, loud talk, hectic gestures, water gun fights in office, hug furry toys, make Sheldon jokes, mindlessly discuss Star Trek episodes, embrace the traits of a teenage in angst. Why? Because you couldn’t fool the smart mature person and your only choice is immature people who, by nature, are impressionable.

Let me also state that the recent made-up trend of “coding is a social endeavor” is blatant lie. It is not. Doing business is. Negotiating, demanding, knowing when to say No, reading body language, interacting with real humans, none of which happens when you sit in chair staring at a computer screen all day.

So, if you can manage to look like a gullible man child ready to say Yes to almost anything thrown at you and demonstrate some skills for the job, I don’t think ageism would be an issue.