Being a middle-aged junior

Tomas Forsman
Jan 5 · 3 min read

I thought I’d share my experience of being an unemployed junior programmer at the age of 40. It’s not a very inspirational tale, but perhaps it is one some can relate to.

I started programming 34 years ago, at the age of 6. Writing code has been part of my life in different ways throughout my life. 18 years ago I worked as a web developer, building advanced systems in ASP, but being a person with ADHD and a mind that couldn’t rest while there were problems to be solved I started working 16 hour days and 7 day weeks and it wasn’t long until I found myself faceplanting that famous wall. It happened because I had forsaken most social contacts in the pursuit of becoming rich and successful. I was on the right track to succeeding, bringing in more money each month than I’ve done in any 6 month period since, and yet I crashed. I ended up laying in bed for three weeks, only leaving it to care for the most basic of needs. Then one day I woke up and made one of the most important decisions of my life, I stopped caring about money, prestige and what I at that point viewed as being successful.

During the next 16 years I shifted focus and focused on work in areas that included human interaction. I’ve worked in education, both as a student assistant, teacher, and lecturer. I’ve spent years as a computer game journalist and e-sport event manager. I’ve lead projects for unemployed youth, projects exploring art in 3D worlds and other equally unrelated areas. I drove an ice cream truck for a year, I worked in a home for people with Autism, I had my own marketing company and I’ve started two non-profit organizations. I have done a lot of things and during all this time I’ve been an unemployed programmer.

Now I’m 40 years old and I’ve decided I want to get back to doing what my brain is built to do, program. I figured that the market is screaming for coders and I’ve been coding all my life so I should be able to get back into it without much hassle but with no formal education in programming and no current work experience in programming I find myself being a 40-year-old junior and that is not the greatest selling point. After a year of struggling with catching up with the market and almost getting a job several times I find myself doubting. I doubt my skills, I doubt my capability, I doubt my worth and I struggle to keep writing code.

Most of the jobs out there aren’t for companies that need you but for staffing companies, and they are looking for a product that is easy to sell and a newly graduated 22-year-old is more attractive than a 40-year-old with varied work experience.

I’m afraid this piece doesn’t have an inspiring conclusion or a pearl of deeper wisdom to impart on you. I hope that I soon will be able to write that article though, the article that tells you that perseverance wins, that it’s worth sticking to your dream, that if I can make it, so can you. Now I’m going to open Unity and Visual Studio, code for a few hours, spend time with my wife and kids that is the reason I’m not afraid of hitting that wall anymore and tomorrow I’ll send out another batch of job applications.