It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Code

One of the most common questions for any coding bootcamp is “can an older person change careers and get an entry-level developer job?”

It’s certainly easy to understand why: one Google query will deliver plenty of articles with titles like Tech industry job ads: Older workers need not apply, or Age Discrimination: Older Workers Worry About Hiring Bias, or even Age bias in IT: Should you sue?.

These articles tell tales of the difficulties older workers can have finding tech jobs. But those stories usually have one thing in common: they're talking about people who have been working for a long time who may have experience with older technologies. (Even then, being older may not be a problem if you're skilled with unusual technologies like FORTH, or in less-glamorous areas. Skilled mainframe COBOL programmers aren't easy to find anymore.)

In any case, if you're changing careers, those complaints don't apply:

  • you’re an entry-level employee, and
  • you will learn new technologies — like Ruby on Rails, iOS with Objective-C or Swift, or Android programming and Java.

The demand for programmers is far outpacing the supply. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. The main reason for the rapid growth is a large increase in the demand for computer software.

Being older has some real advantages, too. Someone older, changing careers, already has developed the habit of work, with all the little routines that implies. People changing careers tend to be more focused, since they have a very definite goal in mind. Older people are often more aware of their own skills and weaknesses, so they know more about how they learn — and about what hasn’t worked for them in the past, which is the first step to improving.

Older employees starting on a new career have a renewed sense of enthusiasm; it’s not the same old thing. Sensible employers — there are some, really — recognize this. And in development and design, your portfolio demonstrates that sustained enthusiasm with a roster of projects you've built yourself.

Best of all, career-changers know things. Saturday Night Live had a series of skits about “Middle-Aged Man”, who has “powers and knowledge that are far beyond younger men”. If you're a career-changer, by definition you bring other skills beyond coding to the table:

  • If you're a nurse, you know about medical records, medical procedures, the processes in a doctor’s office or a hospital.
  • If you're in business, you know about accounting, or business law, or sales.
  • If you're a rock musician you know about musical instruments, and bookings, and agents.

Take a career-changing nurse as an example: Under the Affordable Care Act, doctors are being pushed to adopt electronic medical record systems; this is now a major software market. Those systems are notorious for being hard to use. Bringing a nurse’s knowledge to medical record system development could be a huge advantage in the job market.

Of course your local insurance agent, the butcher shop, the local roofing company, your vet, all need websites. Tech companies aren't the only people who need developers.

Development jobs can also be more flexible. At Bloc, a large proportion of our students study at home and want to work remotely; many of Bloc’s employees, and all of our mentors, work remotely, from all over the world. There aren't many other professions where an Internet connection and a computer let you have your office anywhere you like. People who want flexibility can look for remote-work jobs on many sites, from StackOverflow Careers to Guru.com and WeWorkRemotely.com.

If you are inclined to work part-time, there are contract jobs, and freelancing is always a possibility. And while the big new companies, like Facebook and Google, have a reputation for looking for young graduates from big-name universities, there are literally thousands of startups — sources like AngelList can point you toward new companies looking for people who want to come in on the ground floor.

The point is, no one can promise you will certainly, without question, find a new exciting job. But when the market is as open as it is now, a career-changer with a good portfolio and good skills in modern technologies has a very good chance of landing a great job, no matter their age. If you're changing careers, have a look at the online resources available; you might be surprised how much of an opportunity there is.

Charlie Martin is a writer, software developer, and raconteur in Boulder, Colorado.