Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50


Quarterback and place-kicker George Blanda was a rarity in his sport. He played professional football for a record-breaking 26 seasons, retiring in 1976 at the age of 48. Most athletes would have long since transitioned to a post-football career as their speed, strength, and recovery diminished.

Luckily, software engineering is nothing like football. It doesn’t take superior genetics to stay in the game past the age of 40 or even 50. If you’re an older software engineer struggling to find work, the problem often isn’t a matter of diminishing skills but of employer perception. The challenge is leveraging your strengths and experience to remain in demand despite economic downturns, poor hiring decisions or age discrimination.

Always Be Learning

Database administrator and software consultant Roger Ruckert started his career programming in Fortran and COBOL. He balanced delving deep into the Oracle database (in which he now has 30 years of experience) with picking up new skills. Databases on the backend all look pretty much the same, but as a contractor, Ruckert, who began his career at Medtronic in 1982, had to make sure to keep his skill set current. He learned to code in Java and HTML and PROC and other technologies, all with an eye to how they related to the database.

“I’m a contractor, so when the contract’s up and I start looking for new ones, the big thing for me is to make sure that my skills are up to date,” he said. “I spend quite a bit of time investing in myself. I go to technical conferences, user groups and meetings. I stay current with my certifications. I think that’s important, so that you can show prospective clients that you’re relevant and investing in yourself.”

Tim Jahn, co-founder and CTO of Matchist, a company helping businesses find quality freelance Web and mobile developers, agreed that with the sentiment. “My advice would be for people of that demographic to always be learning. Stay up to date on recent technologies using niche technology forums or message boards, blogs, and trade publications,” he said. “Go to relevant meetups and networking events in your local area to learn more about the technologies and also about how people are using them in your area.”

Leverage Your Experience

Having a few decades of experience in the industry is a strength, not a weakness. “If you’ve been programming in Java for 10 years and are competing against someone who’s younger and doesn’t have that experience, you should be able to use that as an advantage” for a Java job, Ruckert said. In other words, don’t be afraid to play to your strengths: “You can cite different programs you’ve written, applications you’ve been involved in and projects you’ve worked on.”

Additional experience in the industry also gives you more of an opportunity to network, which Jahn recommends for software engineers of all ages: “Whether you’re 55 or 25, your network is always your strongest asset, and you should never stop meeting new, interesting people. You never know what opportunities you might exchange with them at some point in the future.”

Pace Yourself

The best strategy for software engineers in it for the long haul is to invest in themselves. “If you’re in it for the long haul, you don’t want to be exhausted and wear yourself out,” Ruckert said. “You want to pace yourself. I take three to four weeks of vacation a year. You have to live, too.”

8 Responses to “Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50”

  1. Becoming a consultant is not an easy task, requiring lots of process like setting up a business and paying quarterly taxes and handling billing ..unless you work for an agency that takes most of the money and doesn’t pay you benefits.
    Working as an employee gives you some security but you tend to stay in the same technologies for longer periods and the skills may not transfer to the next job as easily so you start competing with kids getting out of school so education is important but not cheap so your hourly rate gets higher and companies are less likely to pay those rates.

  2. I’d say that becoming a consultant and setting up a business, is the easiest of all of this. Remember that consulting only have one product, which is hours.
    Except for wait times with the different government agencies, you could have a business up and running over a weekend. You’d spend more time designing a business logo than filling out the forms.

  3. John Pittaway

    This article pretty much nails the obvious. Here are a couple things I have learned as one who has been peddling coding skills since 1990 and following Dice when it was a contract programmer’s bulletin board using FIDO.

    1) Stay in coding, not management. If you can make it go, they need you.

    2) Color your hair, eyebrows, and beard if applicable. Don’t remind your management that your children are older than they are.

    3) Use Dice to see where to focus your skill sets. Microsoft marketing will scare the out of you, if you let them. Check with the Dice board to determine if anyone is ready to pay you for this new, hot, MUST HAVE skill.

    4) As a contract programmer with dated skills you have an advantage. India won’t have the expertise that you have. For instance VB6 and COM+ skills hard to find. Schools aren’t teaching it. Management would rather pay someone to tweak an existing custom application then replay it.

    5) The older you are, more you will need to contract. If you W2 through an agency, you will need to know your rate. I divide the annual salary for my skills by 2,000 to get the hourly. If you are going to go with 1099 or corp-to-corp, multiply the hourly be 1.3 (30% more) to cover expenses. That’s a ball park, of course.

  4. 1) Easier said than done. I have multiple graduate degrees, program in SAS and R, and have earned more than a dozen certifications in the last year – colored hair and beard – irrelevant.

    2) I’ve found that “overqualified” – whatever that means – is a euphemism for “over 40”.

    3) One commenter said that being a female or minority is a disadvantage. Not what I’ve seen – quite the contrary. I lost a job to a less experienced, less educated female minority.

  5. John Pittaway


    Overqualified can also mean that you are threat to the manager’s career plans. Managers are leery of hiring their replacement. You might consider contracting in lieu of looking salary and drop the education from you resume.

    Assuming you have paid experience in programming, you don’t need a degree in most positions. Defense requires it, but that’s chicken one day and feathers the next. When I was in my very late 40’s I asked my boss why he didn’t ask for my educational background. He said, “I didn’t care about a 20 year old report card; I only care about what you have been doing in last few years.”

    I am in agreement with you statement about minorities and female employment. I prefer contracts to salary, so I have held a lot of positions over the years. At least of a third of my managers have been female or minority.

  6. I agree with Surak on minority’s and female employment. Empirically I’ve seen advantages in a number of companies I worked at to being a minority and/or female when it comes to job flexibility and layoff times

  7. Interesting comments that I’ll take into consideration. As I approach 60 I’m glad laws were passed in the U.S. against age discrimination. If you are someone who is doing hiring you need to seriously consider the legal ramifications for your company if you discriminate by age as a rule. The best hiring practice is just don’t do it.