Plip's Weblog

Phil Winstanley - British .NET chap based in Lancashire. Enjoys tea and tech. Working for Microsoft.

Placing your trust in youth

    "There are no good programmers under the age of thirty - they've just not experienced enough of life as a programmer."

I'm twenty three years old (twenty four in March) and I've recently become self employed after six years of full time employment. Prior to full time employment I didn't attend University and my time at College was closer to nine months than the two years I was supposed to do. I've learnt my trade by getting my hands dirty; not from classes and acedemia.

During my time as an employee I've worked along side developers ranging from their mid twenties up to those in their fifties and wanted to share some of the stories around "age issues" I've run in to over the years.

In this post I'm not going to explain the points I make, because this post isn't to educate those whom I believe are descriminating against young developers but the young developers themselves. People need to know it's not them - it's the industry. It can be so easy to become downtrodden by negative comments from those whom you consider your seniors, I want the youth to know that they are not alone in experienceing this.

Ageism

    "I've been a developer for over twenty years"

Over the years I've experienced ageism; often ageism is associated with the elderly, but it's equally as much of an issue with youth.

Perhaps I've been unlucky with the colleagues I've worked with, but from experience I can say wholeheartedly that the worst developers I've worked with have all been twenty years my senior.

Developers are arrogant at the best of times, when talking to younger developers this arrogance can take on a form of agression a struggle for dominance and power. If you're a younger sibling you might know what that's like from a young age, if you're not, then it's a very scary thing.

I've found the best way to "be a young developer" and get on with everyone around you including those agressive older developers is humour.

Experience

    "You are wet behind the ears!"

Often experience counts for very little, especially I've found when speaking to people signifigant older than you. To ask someone else for help can be difficult at the best of times, when that someone is twenty years younger than you, it seems to make the task all that much harder.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the ability of some people to be so blind to what is around them in terms of knowledge, experience and creativity.

Can't teach an old dog new tricks

    "Historically we've never done it that way."

I'm sure you've looked at someone else's code and turned to someone nearby and said WTF!?. On asking for an explaination for the code the conversation might have gone something like this: -

You: "I don't understand, well, I understand the code, but I don't understand why it's been done this way...?"

Them: "Ah Historically we needed to make sure the system was flexible..."

You: "But this code doesn't work..."

Them: "Ah, yes, we changed the way we were going to use the application."

You: "When did it change?"

Them: "Two years ago."

You: "So none of this code is used? I'll delete it then."

Them: "No! Don't do that, we might need it!"

You: "But it will never be used - it's just making things more complicated and slowing the application down."

Them: "We still need it."

You: ?!?!?!?!!?!!?!?!?

I've found it very common that the older someone gets, the more closed they become to change.

Enthusiasm

    "You are not paid to think; you are paid to do."

That was something that was said to me once after I'd come up with an idea of how to do something a little differently.

Another thing I've noticed over the past few years is that a portion of older developers become very arrogant towards their code and knowledge.

Their way is right, there is no otherway, and if there is, it's wrong.

"That's someone else's job."

There seems to be a group of developers that as they become older they also become deliberatly obstructive.

They feel the world owes them something and that they're not getting it, but they're too settled to do anything about it.

In their work life they will use the rules and regulations to get out of doing work and those same rules and regulations to ensure they only do the work they want to do leafing the rest of the team, and usually the junior (younger) developers to clean up the mess the older guys have created.

Youth has it's advantages

I'm not expecting the world to change, and nor should you. Ageism is part of our societies and it is not going to go anywhere, so use it to your advantage.

As a young developer there are things you can "get away with" that older developers could not (or would not dare) attempt.

Youth allows you to make mistakes, age does not. Use it to your advantage, experiment, play, have fun with your code. If you make a mistake, you can learn from it, if a more seasoned developer makes a mistake they (generally) will attempt to avoid it or work around it as opposed to admiting to it, they feel as though their pride will not allow them to be "wrong", certainly not publically.

You have free reign to be adventurous with your code, and there's no better time than now.

In Conclusion

So is being older advantagous in the programming world? No.

Is being young any better? No.

Middle aged developers clearly have it best!

Comments

pjwigan said:

Well said!  Tho' it's not only developers who will recognise those scenarios.  From personal experience, electronic engineers and pub landlords suffer similar attitudes.

Most workplaces most of the time are sociological arenas.  Whether they actually produce anything is kind of irrelevent to the players...

# August 27, 2006 3:56 PM

Dave said:

I knew it all along. All that grief you give me about being old and now I get recognition. I won't let you forget it.

# August 27, 2006 6:06 PM

James Shaw said:

lol, you can be an arrogant bad programmer at any age :D

# August 27, 2006 9:06 PM

Graham said:

Glad to see you are putting your Sundays to good use with a bit of wider nerdism.

Also glad to see that Omar is almost as blatant as me at trying to suck traffic from your blog... Good work Omar.

# August 28, 2006 6:05 AM

Douglas Reilly said:

Plip,

I expect you can be a good or a bad programmer at any age.  I did an article some time ago about trying to continue as a coder over the age of 40 (I just had my 50th birthday).  I know many folks forced into management by their age, in order to be able to continue up some corporate salary scale.  I became self employed full time some years ago to ensure I could continue to code.

I think ASP.NET or Web development in general is dominated by younger folks.  Last ASP Insiders event, I recall sitting around the table realizing that everyone was younger than I, and in many cases, about the age of my children (25 and 26).  Very strange.

# August 28, 2006 12:21 PM

Wim said:

There's a lot of guys out there with 20+ years experience that most of us (including me, I'm only 31...) can learn something from. And even within that particular demographic, there's people that aren't arrogant but love to teach others something without being smug or patronising.

I do agree with your main point, yet at the same time I don't think there's any substitute for bags and years of experience.

# August 28, 2006 4:15 PM

Shane said:

I read your post with a smile, Phil.  Having worked with you for about two years, I know exactly the type of people that you talk about.

We've now both moved on to pastures new, but some of your comments remind me of some of the ignorant and stupid things that some people have said.

I think some of the older people that we've worked with have become disinterested in technology, and no longer have the passion that we, and perhaps they, once did.  Of course, technology moves on, and their methods become antiquated.

They probably feel threatened at the younger guys coming into the organisation.

I say we give the oldies a big hug and tell them it's all going to be alright.

Shane.

Aged 31 and 3 days (getting old.)

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