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Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva

Joining The Half-Century Club

Folks,

This post is almost a year overdue since my 50th birthday was in September 2020. But I just kept forgetting to post it. Ba dum tss. This is my first “senior joke”, ha-ha!

No, I am not losing my marbles. It’s just a variety of unrelated factors that made me feel unmotivated to write this post. I had big plans for celebration, finally updating my circa 2013 profile picture with a new professionally done photo, etc. But then 2020 happened… So, here we are, with suddenly more important concerns.

50 is an interesting age. At 40, you still look at the average life expectancy and think “hey, it’s not so bad, I might have almost as much time ahead of me”. But at 50, it really dawns on you that it’s way past mid-life point, and the time is ticking. Even society’s perception of your potential demise changes. Death in 30s: tragedy. 40s: taken too soon. 50s: well, you had a good run.

In the media, we might still see some “40 under 40” lists (with emphasis on “under”). After that, there are no more lists. No one cares to read about “50 over/under 50”. In all fairness, that would be a pretty long list and kids these days have short attention spans.

When I was a kid, I thought about older people who had important jobs like presidents or top managers: how are they so wise and not afraid to make important decisions that can affect the whole world? Well, the truth is somewhere deep inside every adult is a scared and confused 16-year-old. The wisdom means learning to surround yourself with trusted advisors and knowing when to listen to them. The fear of decision-making kind of wears off: do it that many times and you get tired of being afraid. Some people just never grow up. And then they end up being elected a president of the United States. That’s the real mystery.

Also, when I was younger, I used to look at the celebrities and sometimes felt like a failure. Britney Spears was born in 1981. When “Oops! I did it again” came out in 2000, I thought wow, she’s so young and already rich and famous while I have nothing to my name. Well, look how that turned out… (I still think Britney Spears is an amazing person though and wish her best of luck. #FreeBritney)

For women, aging is different than for men. There is no female equivalent of comfy “dad bod” and no hair color “with a touch of grey” to appear more worldly and wise. On the bright side, due to newly acquired wisdom, I don’t care. Jennifer Lopez is a year older than me and she looks incredible. But looking good is what she does, so why wouldn’t she be good at her job? No disrespect but I bet her ABAP skills suck. So there is that.

Hashtag Ageism

In the recent years, we’ve seen the rise of great movements to end discrimination and social injustice, such as BLM and #MeToo. But ageism has not had its hashtag moment, at least not yet. Which is strange because most people will never change their gender or race but everyone ages. However, ageism lives on as if everyone believes it will not affect them. Oh, it will.

The first generation of programmers who worked with the punch cards and wore white coats in 1960s-70s has already retired and a bigger wave of Gen-Xers, followed by a tsunami of Millennials, is moving in the same direction. But it seems that IT and software industry still have not figured out what to do with the mature professionals. And if you think that by “mature professionals” I mean just the old fogies in their 50s or (gasp!) 60s, think again. “What happens to older (over 30) programmers?” inquires a random Quora user. “Is software development really a dead-end job after age 35-40?” ponders another.

In his great article on this subject, Jason Gorman writes:

“[…]I’m becoming only too aware of this predilection employers have for younger – cheaper – developers. […] The net effect of this – aside from throwing great talent and experience on the scrapheap – is we’re a profession of perpetual beginners. Young people entering software development are very lucky if they’re exposed to industry veterans in any practical way.”

I’m not sure in what profession “perpetual beginners” would be considered a good thing… Unlike doctors or engineers, rookie mistakes of software developers are not as apparent. But they are out there and becoming increasingly more difficult to conceal.

Elephants and Buffaloes

At the same time, the mature developers are thinking not only how to stay afloat but what are the next career steps for them. Many developers are feeling pressure to move to the management positions. But as Peter Wiggle’s blog post Career Paths for Ageing Software Developers notes, this is not a promotion, management is a completely different job. And most developers are worse in it than Jennifer Lopez in ABAP.

Lack of motivation also puts some developers at risk of becoming a Grumpy Old Programmer, as Peter calls it:

“If there is little reward in putting in the extra effort, many people just give up. Instead they focus on job security, trying to keep being valuable to their employer not by bringing up great new ideas but by being the guy (it is usually a guy) that knows everything about the old business critical systems. This usually means they actively or passively fight against any new ideas brought up by younger colleagues. They have become the Grumpy Old Programmer.”

There ought to be better opportunities for the developers who wish to continue their work successfully even past the ripe old age of 30. Ideally, a technology career track with jobs like Lead Developer, Solution Architect or even Chief Nerd. The organizations that do not provide such opportunities will see their top talent scooped up by those who do in the times of Great Resignation.

In a recent Mindset Nebula podcast episode, SAP Mentor and my current teammate Ethan Jewett questioned whether a career path even needs to be the thing. What if someone doesn’t want to be on any path? If someone is happy and productive in their current job, then it’s perfectly fine to continue the same line of work. (And in many countries, it’s a legally protected right.)

In his 2012 blog post The Most Balanced Piece I Could Write About the Stupidity of Ageism, SAP Mentor Thorsten Franz mentions how the matriarchs in the African elephant herds lead the group to the best food sources. Even though comparison to an elephant matriarch is not the most flattering one, it is a noble endeavor to lead new generations of developers to where the juiciest SAP fruit is.

There is another expression from the animal world: “the herd moves with the speed of the slowest buffalo”. There is no number of years of experience or grey hair that gives one the right to be that slowest buffalo and create obstruction for the whole team. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel unable to go on, to learn and accept new knowledge, to support others, staying behind is a brave and honorable thing to do.

I hope that this does not happen to me for quite a while but if you hear me say “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, please pack my bags for a trip to the farm upstate. 🙂

Thank you for continuous readership and cheers to another year!

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      Author's profile photo Pierre COL
      Pierre COL

      Thank you so much for this very wise and inspiring blog post, Jelena!

      I joined the Half-Century Club 8 years ago, and I'm used to say "I'm 33 with 25 years of experience" because this is exactly how I feel!  😉

      And being a "double survivor", my only advice to you and other club members is Carpe diem! 😊

       

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Pierre! And thank you for the blog link, enjoyed reading it!

      Author's profile photo Vicenç Xavier Lozano
      Vicenç Xavier Lozano

      I'll hit the half century the next year. But I cannot be considered mature by any means. I'm just a fat kid with white hair and slow reflexes.

      But I can wipe the floor with any youngster in any "find the solution to this tricky problem" in development almost for sure. My brain is still young (around thirteen if you just hear my jokes), and I try to keep it that way. By making more childish jokes basically.

      I'm not the best developer around, and I'm a worse programmer even, but I'm still good at it, and I still have fun working on it.

      So I don't plan on a career change. If my company allows me to retire here, I'll do it. Because I have fun working here.

      Thast the way (a ha a ha) I like it.

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for the comment, Vicenç! I'm glad you enjoy what you do and it looks like you're not at risk of becoming The Grumpy Old Programmer. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      Jelena - congratulations!  I think there's a certain freedom after fifty, at least for me, "what you think of me is none of my business".

       

      I agree with a lot of what you said and always enjoy the way you say it.

       

      Enjoy the time - I like to think of it as the best time of life, really.

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Tammy! Yes, this is definitely the good side of the "happiness curve". 🙂

      I suspect I'll loose the last inhibitions around 70 and will eventually turn into one of those old ladies that just randomly shouts out things everyone is thinking but afraid to say out loud. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Matthew Billingham
      Matthew Billingham

      We're the same age. You're fifty. And I'm fifty-two. 😀

      I think wisdom is the accumulation of knowledge and how to apply it. I find I'm better at learning now than I was twenty years ago. I understand more deeply, and I've more knowledge of other things so it all gets tied together. That's coupled with "oh - that new tech, yeah, that's a reformulation of xyz. Did that in the 90s". Been there, done that, the t-shirts have long disintegrated in the wash.

      I'm very happy to take on new ideas. I was saddened that at one place, the guy I was training up to replace me suddenly decided that my knowledge and experience was worthless and classes full of static methods were the way to go. "You don't have to instantiate, it's great". He'd allegedly learned C++ at university. Well, he might have learned the syntax and hello world, but he apparently had learned nothing.

      I'm very glad to be in a company now that's full of people in their 40s and 50s, and older. And young people who are also really good to work with. 

      At the beginning of the year, we did one of those online escape room things. Overall we scored far higher than any other company they'd had do it, with one team within our group scoring the highest ever score by quite a margin. Modesty forbids mentioning who the leader of that team was... 

      #wisdomisunderrated

       

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      There was an episode of Brain Games series where they demonstrated exactly what you're describing. The younger group might have sharper reflexes but when it comes to problem-solving, the past experience and ability to connect the dots between new and old knowledge wins hands down.

      I totally understand why a traditional ABAPer would like static methods but someone with C knowledge out of college... That's just bizarre.

      Author's profile photo Matthew Billingham
      Matthew Billingham

      I gave up on the college lad. I had a few months to go, knew there was no chance of renewal and just didn't have the energy or motivation to break down his resistance.

      A traditional ABAPper might like static methods at first... but hopefully, they've the wisdom to figure out why they're not great.

      Just spent two days make static methods into instance methods, defining the public ones in interfaces, all so that I can make test doubles and test the existing code.

      Then I can safely add the new functionality!

      Author's profile photo Michelle Crapo
      Michelle Crapo

      I agree - I'm fifty-two.  Same age as you.  😉

      I loved reading this.  A long time ago I came to the realization that,  "Oh well - I don't need to get to the next level."  I just need to find a job where I'm happy (and paying the bills).  Why?  Because if I figured it out hour by waking hour.  I spend a lot of the time working.

      Oh BTW - Totally agree with you, Success doesn't equal the amount of money you make.  I could write a book on that.

       

       

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      And I forgot to add, we're all still younger than Madonna (who looks fabulous by the way).

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks, Michelle!

      I feel there can be a lot of pressure to keep moving to the next level but it's one of the advantages of advanced age that we can withstand it better and not feel as it's some sort of failure. I liked the advice in one blog: compare yourself to yourself. 🙂

      Tammy Powlas OMG, Madonna is 63 and Cher is 75.

      Author's profile photo Matthew Billingham
      Matthew Billingham

      Success doesn't equal the amount of money you make.  I could write a million dollar best selling book on that.

      Fixed it for you.

      Author's profile photo Andrew Fordham
      Andrew Fordham

      I’m 51 and have been fighting against moving to “the next level” for the last 25 years! It gets harder every year, with the “but we can get 5 young, offshore developers for what we pay you” getting trotted out more and more often.

      Experience isn’t just about how quickly you can get things done, but steering the solution in the right direction in the first place. Despite all the technical advances in the last 10 years, I can’t shake the feeling that end users aren’t benefiting as they should be because not only coding but also designing is getting left to the cheap, new guy.  They only want to pay well for the “ideas” guys.

      I’m still clinging on for dear life, but I’m not sure how much longer I can last!

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for the comment, Andrew! "Cheap, good, fast - pick any two". Companies that pick "cheap" have to sacrifice either "good" or "fast" and, sadly, most time end up sacrificing both of them.

      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English

      One of the reasons I see for the use of young software developers is their naivete and lack of experience in real world management / politics; in simple terms

      • Management do not like people who say "It's going to take 6 weeks effort, and I'll work 6 normal weeks of 8 hour days to do it " i.e. 240 hrs over 6 weeks
      • Management love people who say "it's going to take 6 weeks effort and I'll work 16 hour days including weekends, so it's done in 15 days" i.e. 240 hrs over 15 days

      Spoiler Alert: the first person produces a better result, the second person sets the expectation that this is the norm.

      hth