On Being An "Old Dude"

Some thirty-year-old just put a post up on theJoel On Software Forum: Should I get out of tech while I’m reasonably young?

Now, our youth-obsessed North American Culture bugs more more than a little, and I took the time to reply. I’d like to share a bit of that reply here:

When Steve Yeggae is on Stack Overflow, complaining that he is old because he saw the original “transformers” cartoon movie in the theater, we’ve got a problem as an industry. The fact is, we’ve got a job where you sit at a desk and your experience grows with age. People continue to be olympic athletes, and competitive at it, well into their forties. “It’s a young man’s game” is something people should be saying at seventy-two, not thirty two.

All this reminds me of the Muppets. Yet, the Muppets. My family is currently watching the first season of the Muppets via NetFlix. Each show has all the muppets plus one guest. The guest is actually /established/ in the entertainment field.

Of course, back then, you couldn’t really get started until you were early 20’s, so all of the entertainers are in their 30’s at least, with the occasional Bob Hope who was in his 50’s. Not an “over the hill” joke in the bunch, these folks were finally ‘making it’ when they hit the muppet show, just beginning to get to the top of the ladder at 35.

Because it took them ten years to have done anything of substance and be recognized for it.

It’s taken me something like that long to be recogized in the field. (Yes, last month “Creative Chaos” made the top 100 blogs for dev managers.)

Those first ten years are the beginning of the story, not the end. And the reality is that I’m not an old dude; it’s only a bizarre culture change that said so. It is also a recent culture change – the muppets certainly didn’t feel that way in the 1970’s.

Now compare that to the britney spears/ justin timberlake / christina aguilera / 20-is-over-the-hill culture we have today.

The problem with the 15-year-old teen idol, is, well, they haven’t really done anything yet. And that’s the problem with the 15-year-old coding genius. Sure, one is in a million is Shawn Fanning.

The rest … aren’t.

The Mickey Mouse Club is getting old too, gosh, they must be 24 now. hmmm … Taylor Swift?

I think you get the point.

3 comments on “On Being An "Old Dude"

  1. Being an “old dude” myself, I feel as though we should expound upon “your experience grows with age.” Sure, I have experience in AutoCoder, COBOL, PL/1 and the IBM 360 MFT. But overall, that experience doesn’t help me, and I believe it actually hinders me as I try to grasp the concepts of something like, say, Functional Programming.

    These days, when people ask me if they should enter the programming field, I tell them that I don’t even believe it will exist by the time they’re 30, it certainly won’t be the same, and if it does exist it I believe it will be on par with being a Wal-Mart greeter.

  2. This goes to most jobs in Western society and in general – we prefer the young over the old. It’s everywhere as you more or less mention. The stereotype is that young people are fresh, eager, motivated, fast, innovative, do more for less, are better looking (we have way too many biases based on physical appearance), healthier, etc.

    It’s no secret that the Hi-Tech industry prefers hiring young people over older people. There is a certain truth in it since younger people are exposed to way more technology at an earlier age and thus seem to be better and faster at it. Having said that, they do obviously lack other kinds of experience that matures with age such as people skills, but go tell that to the HRs.

    I’m relatively young, just under thirty. I’m self-employed at the moment, but I can’t help but wonder what will happen if I’ll need to find a salary job when I’m older. The Hi-Tech industry is very fast paced and unforgiving, so I’m prepared that I may have to make a career switch someday. Who knows.

  3. “It’s no secret that the Hi-Tech industry prefers hiring young people over older people.”

    Douglas Coupland wrote in “Microserfs”:

    “The “job-as-life phase” lasts for maybe ten years. Nab ’em when they’re
    young, and make sure they never grow old.”

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