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Co founder and CEO of JFrog the company behind Artifactory. Prior to JFrog, Shlomi was CEO of AlphaCSP, Israel's largest Java consulting firm. He has over 15 years of experience in management, software services, customer and community relationship. Shlomi has a CS Master from Clark University USA, and a BA from Ben-Gurion University IL. Shlomi has posted 20 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

The 10 Tech Commandments for Employment After Age 40

12.21.2009
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I'll be 40 in two months, which made me think about the ungrateful high-tech market that employs more than 15M software developers worldwide. At this age, software developers face the tremendous stress of being too young to retire, yet too old to continue in their profession.

These techies will find themselves and their families in a place that they need to get used to the fact that although they have much more to contribute, their position is under the threat of age. Now I know that you are thinking to yourself after reading the first few lines of this blog, "Well, there are anti-age discrimination laws." or "In the worse case scenario, I'll be back in a developer position." Nevertheless, believe me, time flies and before you can say "interoperability", you will find yourself trying to convince your HR department that you can take that open position published in your company's job portal.

If you're still reading this blog, it means that you either knew the guy in the next cubicle that didn’t show up after the age of 40 or that you are looking for a way to remain employable beyond this age.

For the past 10 years, I've worked in various management positions, all in the high-tech industry. I've held positions from senior HR to CEO in small-to-medium sized companies, and from start-ups to a huge IT services provider. Drawing on my experience, I've gathered the "10 commandments" of staying young and innovative while becoming older and wiser.

The 10 commandments of building a techie career – recommended reading before the age of 40

  1. Don’t marry the first one: Ill start with the toughest – by the age of 40 you should be ready for "marriage". You should come to this relationship after you have had one or two mates. In doing so, you not only gain experience, but you will be able to choose the right "mate" for you. Don’t misunderstand me; this first commandment does not suggest that you should move between companies yearly, but I strongly recommended that you search for a new place every 4 to 7 years. You might be lucky and even get promoted or learn new material.

  2. The Core: Be connected to your organizational core; don’t be in a position which merely supports other "important" projects or systems. Be there to create your company's revenue, be there to support the customer; think billable!

  3. Open your mind: Switch to another technology, at least once in 10 years. It doesn’t matter what you think about the software language you use, it’s a fact that software changes. Anyway, if you were good, you can always switch back. On the other hand, if you only know one language, you might find yourself trying to speak French, just because it was there before.

  4. Manager or Guru: Every software developer reaches a point at which he either chooses to be an architect or a technical guru within his zone, or leaves software behind and becomes a manager. If you have been a developer for more than five years and didn’t get to this point yet, get your resume ready for the age of 40!

  5. Tools and technologies: You must know more tools than what you use! I mean that it doesn’t matter that you are using FireFox, Windows, Linux, or whatever internal framework your company implemented; know them all, know the alternative; so it will generate activity around you in times of change and much more than that – you might lead a change!

  6. Open Source: At least once in your career be committed, or even better, create an open source project; you will be surprised at the amount of help you can receive from fellow developers, new ideas, and the quality of code you can create. In addition, it will help you to respect the following commandment…

  7. Networking: It's not about you, but the people you connect with, and NO, I don’t mean just your friends but their friends as well. Get into LinkedIn, Facebook, Naymz, or others to build your professional network – market yourself every day, and get more connected.

  8. Change management: Always be familiar with new technologies out-there, I remember when C++ or Cobol developers were laughing about Java saying "There is no need to know this Internet-oriented language" and they didn’t update their knowledge when it replaced the software at their bank or insurance company. You might ask yourself while reading this section if you know what Scala, Fantom, Objective C or Ruby are?!

  9. Social engagement: Keep going to the company's social events even though you sometimes feel too old for that.

  10. Stop saying "Cobol will be here forever"!!!  

Well, I'm 40 in just a couple of months; I'll probably write from an entirely different aspect in another 10 years. ;) Good luck!
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Shlomi Ben-haim.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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Comments

Andrew Arrigoni replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 10:42am

None of those suggestions seem like they should be limited to you old geezers. ;)

Pretty much any age of developer can use these tips. 'Cept for maybe number 10.

Lord Alfa replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 11:00am

I totally agree with your analisys, except for the "changing periods" you suggest. In my opinion 10 yers to switch to another technology is way too much. Also looking for another job once every 5-7 year seems too much. I would suggest going to those numbers only with time. I mean, when you're 18 you should really change your job once per year, and maybe switch to another technology once every 2. Going up with age maybe brings you to a 3 years permanence in a jobplace, and maybe a whole 5 yers to master a tech and switch to another. Anyway there is no such a schedule to stay on track, most of the time it's passion for your job that keeps you in play, also choosing which direction to go with your programming skills should come from your interests, not from a coin toss.. after all there are dozens of good technologies every time to get into, and there are a plenty of opportunities for each of them.

Shlomi Ben-haim replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 11:59am in response to: Lord Alfa

I have to say that you are more than right. What important is to make a point - don't stay there just because you find it comfortable...

Any how, the number of years represent the average in which I found technical guys move - upgrade them self - and still keep their good reputation...

Cheers,

Shlomi 

http://shlomis-sudden-thought.blogspot.com/

Scott Hickey replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 12:15pm

lordalfa: Your advice is horrible. Changing jobs every year is the surest way to guarantee no one will want to hire you in less than 5 years. Employees rarely bring the value they should until they actually learn something about the business as well the technology they are using which doesn't happen in less than one year. Additionally, changing technology every year means you've never mastered anything. Except for the rare person, for 99 out of 100 people I know, it takes *years* to become an expert in one programming language or operating system. If a person reading this doesn't believe this - I bet my mortgage you're not the expert you think your are. Bottom line, you should stay with a company for at least three to five years. If you don't think you want to do that, then don't take the job.

More than a couple of back-to-back jobs with less that three years at a position is a HUGE red flag to a manager with any kind of experience. They see devs like this coming from a mile away. They'll never be around to finish what they start and most of their work is so bad that it will be redone before their project ever makes it to production. They are the employee that blames everyone else for the project failing and bolt at the first sign they will be held accountable for the shoddy work they produce.

The deep dive I took into learning things like OS/2's resource management or pre-emptive multitasking almost twenty years ago still pays dividends when I have to reason about what the latest versions of Windows, Linux or Mac OS X is doing under the covers.

Employees are supposed to deliver value to their employers. This value proposition seems like its been reversed for the Y-gen that has always enjoyed an economy with more jobs than workers. Things may not always be this way. The best way to create a meaningful career as well as stay employable to is demonstrate you have the ability to be an expert in the business and technology that your employer hired you for. You'll deliver value for current employer that your colleagues can't match, you'll gain a richer understanding of the technologies you use and you'll gain an appreciation for the challenges in delivering technical solutions to non-trivial business problems.

Tony Childs replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 2:45pm

There is something to be said for sticking with a company for 3-5 years IF you are still learning something from the position and your goal is to climb the corporate ladder. I'd say you need to consider what the job is giving you vs. any perceived negative impact of leaving before 3 years.

Also, no one seems to be taking into account short-term consulting gigs. I'm on a 6-12 month gig right now with pay that "permanent" positions can't even come *close* to. I'm also working on cutting-edge technology and building an interesting product. Should I have turned it down for a more mundane permanent position elsewhere with some corporation because this project has a built-in end date of <= 1 year? No way! When complete, not only will I have some excellent experience under my belt, but also something I can point to as a demonstration of my work.

Now, I'm not suggesting that someone should go through their career doing only short-term contracts because, unless you are in business for yourself (consulting), that probably would be harmful in the long run. I'm just advocating not being afraid to take an excellent short-term contract opportunity in favor of something that is less suitable but just happens to be "permanent." I'm also advocating other options besides climbing the corporate ladder. Go ahead and do your time and learn what you can, but ask yourself if you want to be working for a corporation for the rest of your career or if you'd rather strike out on your own at some point.

Developer Dude replied on Mon, 2009/12/21 - 6:46pm

I am well past the age of 40 - it is pretty obvious from the length of my resume and the date on my degree. I have yet to have an employer be interested in me because I switched companies or technologies every so many years (been doing Java for almost ten years). I try stay current with the technologies that are in demand and use, not the technologies that are the latest fad. They also don't care who I know, just what I know.

Employers hire me for what I know, not what I am learning or interested in. They want me to hit the ground running. They need me because they don't have an employee who knows what I know. The smart employers don't look at my age, the stupid ones I don't want to work for.

I stay at a position as long as I like it and as long as the work interests me.

Lord Alfa replied on Tue, 2009/12/22 - 5:19am in response to: Scott Hickey

jshickey: I obviously don't agree. You are building your thoughts on the fact that you need more than 1 year to bring something good to a project, learn something, and then move one. This is so not true! In my environment ( europe ) the vast majority of the IT projects starts and ends within a 1 year period. Larger companies too, develop projects that are rarely going past the 1 year threshold ( at least for the developement part ). The world is moving really fast, it's not even thinkable to spend more than 1 year for an on-demand project, the customer would just move and look for another software house that will do the job in less time. The manwork market has to follow this flow, you cannot just allow yourself to sit on a job place for 5 / 10 years unless you're aiming for career ( which often leads you to the infamous balance of coding = 0% -> analysis = 100% ). In fact the most part of the contracts for the IT field are short term contracts. I have rarely seen long term contracts for people employed after 2005, and when that occurred it was always a compromise where people dropped their learning curves in favour of a solid social position ( well, solid unless your company is bankrupting .. in which case you're just framed ) I renew my point: youngster may change very often, changes should be less frequent as you grow up and choose your path. Learning never stops.

Kit Davies replied on Tue, 2009/12/22 - 9:17am

Good post, and as someone else has said, they really apply across all ages but I think you reap the benefits more as you get older (I'm 44, btw).

In particular, (2) really stands out. Your business is THE business, just as much as it is the software. Unfortunately you can't hide from it successfully. Also, as much as techies don't want to, facing the customer, especially under pressure, is actually really fulfilling, with the added plus that your face gets known by the management that matter.

I also recommend experiencing other tech role if possible, rather than just software. Eg. I spent a year working for an oil major as a system architect, ie. planning all aspects of implementing packaged solutions in their data centers. I think the experience I gained from that gave me much more authority when speaking about "enterprise apps" than my reasonable knowledge of J2EE.

Shaw Gar replied on Tue, 2009/12/22 - 9:18am

I would review employment every 6 months to check if I'm adding any value to myself. It's a good idea to switch once in 2 years. I think 3 years is a bit too much unless you're learning something great. People add value to an organization based on how good they are, so it would be narrow minded to assume you don't pick up enough in a year. Who knows, you could be the Rod Johnson or Gavin King!!

avishay halperen replied on Wed, 2009/12/23 - 5:36am

Very nicely put, spoked like the real Moses !!!

You forgot one more thing:

Make sure to surrond yourself with the right Spirit (you know which spirit I am talking about (-:)

Asiri Rathnayake replied on Fri, 2009/12/25 - 11:07am in response to: Developer Dude

@Developer Dude:

 Amen.

Jan Goyvaerts replied on Sat, 2009/12/26 - 9:23am

NOW I'm feeling old ! Next month I'm getting 40 too.

Where are the good ol' days of the punch cards ? :-)

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