Being A Developer After 40
Adrian Kosmaczewski
7.3K518

I’m an (almost) 57 year old self-taught developer. It’s my 2nd career. After 10 years as a sound engineer and editor for major feature films, digital technology shrunk the jobs in film post-production in the 90s. A career counselor told me: “You have computer experience. There’s something new called ‘The Internet’ — why don’t you try that?” Right, I fed punch cards with archaeology data into a mainframe in college, tackled early digital synthesizers (Synclavier, and Music 11 at MIT), and a video company I formerly managed had a Convergence editor that could ingest offline edit lists dumped from a PC.

The suggestion sat in the back of my brain until around 1996. I was in the public library with my daughter, and I saved a web page about Lou Reed to my floppy disk to show my wife. At home, with no browser and no internet on our IBM PS/2, all I saw was HTML — but I immediately understood it was structured markup.

Learning HTML led to learning JavaScript. CSS came along and I ignored it, since I was already manipulating the DOM and layout with JS. After a while, I had no choice but to embrace CSS. Around 2000 I started freelancing as a web developer on Craigslist. My clients started asking for database-driven apps with PHP and SQL, mostly dating sites. I also worked in ASP.NET and I built Adobe Flash apps. I partnered with a small dev company in India to send them .NET and Flash work, so I could focus on PHP and DHTML.

Around 2005 I came across Drupal and chose it as my preferred platform, and it has been a very good horse to ride. It opened the door to consulting for Enterprise organizations, the pay is good and the work is interesting. As a senior developer for complex apps, I use web services, API development, data architecture design, DevOps, cloud hosting and CDNs. Drupal 8 embraced Symfony and Twig, so to stay current I will have to add those to my toolbelt.

I learn something new every day. One of my Drupal clients also had a complex reports app built in node.JS, so I grappled with a very different programming paradigm and eventually mastered it. I don’t do much work with node.JS, but I have been asked to contribute blog posts about it for a node.JS agency that spun off a Drupal agency that I know.

Solving a problem for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of NYC, I came across CORS (Cross-origin Resource Sharing). I have been contracted to write a book about CORS. It’s a comprehensive look at how the W3C specification is implemented in CMSs, JavaScript frameworks, in the cloud, in Windows applications and more. As a senior developer, I am able to read and explain the code snippets across many different platforms.

I have tempered my occasional arrogance with humility. I learned to say “I made a mistake” — usually followed by “and here’s how we’re going to fix it.” I mentor my junior team mates. I am also volunteering as the deus ex machina developer guru for a team of high school AP programmers. I have volunteered my skills for a few worthy causes.

I meet people my age who are already retired. I don’t plan to retire, I love my work. Someday when I can’t type anymore or can’t see the screen, I may have to stop working, unless I can figure out a technology workaround.

I have wanted to settle down, but my clients typically hire me for a specific project, or they run out of work for me in the pipeline, so I move on as a Drupal Gun-for-Hire. In 2015 I worked for 5 clients. In many industries, a 57 year old employee would be pushed towards retirement and marginalized. My current client promises ongoing work for a large healthcare organization, so I may have finally found a place I can hang my hat.

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