Starting at 49. Stack advice?

TLDR content below…

I want to start this off by saying, “thank you”. FreeCodeCamp’s exercises are an invaluable resource and, as I dive deeper, I’m sure this board will be too. I am looking for advice on my situation. Stack selection, competition, salary, etc. But first, it may make sense to explain a bit about me. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

I have decided to switch careers at 49 and work toward an eventual full stack development or mobile app development position. I have been in marketing leadership for the last 20 years, but I am burned out and worry about ageism ahead. I love learning and solving business problems, so this switch felt natural, although late. I am hoping the following applied experience with the front and back-end could set me apart when I am ready to apply for my first Jr. Developer job.

I have significant experience overseeing multilingual corporate websites, hosting providers, developers, designers, vendors, third-party integrations, etc. I have also collaborated across all levels of the organization. I have a decent understanding of HTML, CSS, and Creative Suite as well as rudimentary Javascript and PHP. I’d like to earn my way back to a six-figure salary, but I am realistic about the humble pie I will need to eat until I get there (and beyond) as my early contributions will be meager.

– TLDR –
I am interested in both the front and back-end. So, I felt working toward full-stack development or mobile app development would be a good fit based on this. After reviewing online job ads and watching too many videos, it seems like these would be the logical languages to learn, in order. HTML, CSS, Javascript, Node, Vue/React, Python, and Java. Once I finish with the first three, I figure I will start building my own portfolio, lose some code wars, and dig into the GitHub community.

If you read this whole thing, thank you.


You could be building basic full-stack applications using HTML, CSS, Node.js, and React in as few as four months. As far as learning JavaScript goes, first you would learn what’s commonly referred to as vanilla JavaScript, using it to manipulate the DOM to make your web page/app more dynamic. Then you could learn a library/framework like the ones you mentioned (React or Vue). After that, moving on to server-side JS (Node.js) is pretty common. If you feel like things are falling into place quickly for you while you’re learning JavaScript, you could study TypeScript in parallel. You’re going to have to learn TypeScript at some point anyway; might as well get started with it as early as possible.

As for the age issue, expect that, when it comes to finding your first job as a developer, you’ll have to be a better applicant than people 15-20 years younger than you; all else being equal, why would a company hire someone older as a junior engineer when what a junior engineer is is someone who brings very little production value to a company upon hire, and will require a few years to become a truly competent engineer. And, after 5-7 years, when many people are senior engineers or moving into higher-level leadership positions (people typically somewhere between their late 20s and late 30s), an older developer who started around the age of 50 would be quickly closing in on 60! In making a hiring decision with all of this in mind, it would be hard to justify choosing someone who might be making regular trips to the doctor/hospital for various ailments, possibly including a heart condition or diabetes, when that person doesn’t stand out any more than other younger applicants.
But, if you have the mindset F@#k all else being equal; I’m going to make myself so good that it will be impossible to ignore me, you’ll have a good chance of finding a rewarding position with a good salary. It might be better to forget about junior dev positions and start looking around at what companies are looking for in a mid-level developer (from job descriptions), get in contact with senior developers at companies you’re interested in and see if you can’t establish a rapport with one or more of them. You might even be able to pick up a mentor. Find someone in the industry who could show you specifically what you should be good at to do the work they do. Given that you’re around 50, time is of the essence; you can’t afford to spin your wheels learning a little bit of this and a little bit of that hoping it’ll all click together and give you a skill set that makes you hirable.

Anyway, good luck. You can do this.

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Unless you are willing to relocate, you should base your decision of backend languages on the job availability in your area. Java and C# .Net tend to be used in enterprise companies which are good for benefits if you need those. PHP can be found almost anywhere. SQL goes with all of these. Node.js and MongoDB tend to cluster around tech hubs. With you leadership role experience don’t be surprised if web stack familiarity plus your experience puts you back in a management position.

@willjw3. Thank you for your honesty and detailed suggestions! I will definitely look into vanilla JS. I do understand the concerns you highlighted from a business’ perspective. It is my hope I will find enough leaders and hiring managers who will focus on evaluating my level of work and production against others. There is no reason my ability, learning curve, or work ethic would be any better or worse if the aptitude is there. I can’t imagine retiring for another 20 years if the money is good and I can keep learning.

Additionally, I have no problem competing with anyone of any age for a job. I have no problem being led by or learning from anyone either. If I can learn from others or be challenged by them, that is all that matters. Between remote, in-person, contract, full-time, and future demand (hopefully), perhaps there will be enough opportunities.

Am I wrong to believe companies do not expect to keep most/all of their Jr Developers? While some may have opportunities to be promoted, it seems like any other field… You have the good ones for 1-3 years and then they move on.

Thank you again. I really appreciate it!

@tlc35us. Thank you for your time and help! We are in Dallas to stay after relocating through a couple of other states. The good news is I believe Texas continues to be one of the best states for job growth and company relocations. I have looked into PHP and SQL. I wasn’t sure of their continued popularity, so it was good to hear your thoughts. I have also considered C#. But, I am trying not to get ahead of myself. I’m trying to find a logical initial stack to get really good at and showcase first while I continue to learn, improve, and contribute. I am hoping that if I build a solid portfolio “representative” of real-world needs while showing some diversity, that would be a big plus. So, not calculators and such. Basic principles. CRUD. Clean and responsive design. Scalable, flexible, and efficient code. Easier said than done. But that is my aim as of now. Hopefully, I am on the right track.

Thank you again. I really appreciate it!

They may have that expectation, but you would probably find yourself at a disadvantage for a Jr. position if you were to say to those in charge of hiring “I’m only here a for a few years, then I’m out.” Neither you nor any younger candidates would say that openly, but it’s likely a potential employer would expect a 50-year-old to be gone sooner. Again, this is largely irrelevant if you’re a more impressive candidate than those competing with you for the job. If they are impressed with you and expect that you would be meaningfully productive in a significantly shorter time period than the other candidates competing with you for the job, there’s a good chance you’ll get the job.

Definitely don’t major in javascript calculators. But you could make one as part of a website. Like this screenshot:

I counted 45 financial calculators on this site. The site should be relevant to an industry in which you hope to work . For example, Community Virtual Bank, make a nice home page. Maybe a mortgage page with a calculator.
I look up foreign exchange rates often. There’s a calculator there aka currency converter. BMI calculator on a health industry website.
The nice part is that the formulas are available online so you can look up the required calculations.

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