Torbjorn Zetterlund

Tue 07 2023

Mastering Modern Code: An Old Programmer’s Guide to Updating Skills

by bernt & torsten

I got back into developing software solutions about 10 years ago at age 55, as I saw an opportunity to contribute to a few internal applications idea I had. I have spent my days in project management, and management in the software industry since the early 1990s and during these years did not write any code, just working in managing staff.

I wrote an article a year back in 2021 titled 23360 days old and counting, as I have matured so have the technology, and technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it can be difficult for older programmers to keep up with the latest developments in the industry.

There are some hurdles – two issues came to my mind:

  1. Obsolescence of technical skills
  2. Potential age discrimination

When I got started in the software industry in the early 1980s, I worked with proprietary programming languages that we created internally in the company I worked for and the assembly programming language. we wrote all the code from scratch the idea of copying and pasting did not exist yet or going to Stackoverflow and finding the answer to a programming problem.

When I moved into Management new technologies emerged such as C++, SQL databases, since I got back into programming I have learned many new technologies python, PHP, MySQL, C#, HTML and CSS, and Google Cloud Platform.

If you follow software technologies, you may have noticed that the industry is marketed toward young people, being a bit older can be a battle of age discrimination – I have to admit that I engaged in age discrimination myself at a young age. When interviewing an older applicant – and these were maybe in their 40s – I would wonder, why does this guy want this job? and while hiring new staff we had a habit of invariably choosing young applicants, and each selection process team member ruled out the old ones independently.

Luckily for us, the software industry has changed, and you can learn new technologies online, you do not need to have a computer science degree or equivalent to join a tech company anymore, many companies now have realized that they can get great coders without the coders has a computer science degree.

The failure of Computer Science

I got into the software industry without a computer science degree, I took a 1-year course in administrative computer processing back in 1980, and the companies at the time were screaming for resources so finding a job was easy, but over the years we have made it difficult by demanding that new employees should at least have the prerequisites of a computer science degree.

If we go back to the 1980s, software programming was a new thing so first formed computer science departments at universities grew out of the math departments – simply because it was the math professors who first took an interest in computers.

The computer science programs that were developed during this time needed to weed out student applicants, so they landed on having prerequisites in math and physics. This is very funny to look at as you would know today that in some narrow circumstances, math has nothing to do with programming.

That is history that we still live with today, these computer science programs never adapted to the market and never grew to meet the strong demand for programmers. As the software industry demand increased for new talents, computer science programs did not keep up and were not always tuned to what the industry needed.

What do mathematics professors know about business?

Businesses that needed programming resources started to hire people from other countries which was far cheaper and quicker to hire a trained foreigner than to train a local. In recent years, there has been a shift and companies are hiring staff from online schools that have grown up to meet the hiring demand for web developers.

Another shift in the software industry is the world of freelance, online, work-at-home jobs, which do not demand how old you are, which opens up the software industry to all age groups.

Tips to keep relevant

However, with the right mindset and approach, it’s possible for senior developers to update their skills and remain relevant in the ever-changing landscape of software development. Here are some tips to help you master modern code and stay ahead of the curve.

  1. Embrace continuous learning: The field of software development is constantly changing, and the only way to keep up is to make continuous learning a part of your routine. This can include taking online courses, attending conferences and workshops, or simply playing around with new technologies in your free time.
  2. Focus on fundamentals: While the specifics of each programming language or framework may change, the underlying principles of software development remain the same. Focus on improving your understanding of data structures, algorithms, and design patterns to ensure that you have a solid foundation for learning new technologies.
  3. Work on real-world projects: The best way to master modern code is to actually use it. Seek out opportunities to work on projects that require you to use new technologies, or start your own side projects to experiment with different tools and techniques.
  4. Network with other developers: Surround yourself with other developers who are passionate about the industry, and seek out opportunities to learn from them. This can include participating in online forums or attending local meetups.
  5. Stay up-to-date with industry trends: Make sure you’re aware of the latest developments in the industry, including new programming languages, tools, and methodologies. This will help you make informed decisions about what to learn next.

While it may seem daunting to update your skills as an older programmer, it’s important to remember that the desire to learn is what got you into this field in the first place. Embrace the challenge, stay curious, and don’t be afraid to experiment. With the right mindset and approach, you can master modern code and remain a valuable asset to any development team.

I would encourage old programmers to get back into the software industry. If you have been away for a time, you will find that some of your skills have relevance. There are also soft skills of work ethic, organization, and reliability that may be lacking in younger workers.