Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Where do all the ‘old’ (experienced) software engineers go?

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day whilst in the kitchen area making a coffee. When they stated the following:

“You never see many engineers over the age of 40 working in a development environment, actually writing code or testing”

I thought this was a interesting statement and it made me think. I have been in the IT business for a long time and yes I am over 40 and I am still actively involved in cutting edge software development projects. However when really thinking about the statement, how many more people did I know or have known who work in software development as developers and testers are still actively involved?

We had a discussion about it and came up with some reasons why.

  • They move up further in the company (VP, CEO, etc) and take a less active role
  • They switch careers becoming technical architects etc.
  • They give up working in IT

One other point was made

“Software engineering is a young person’s career”

Quite a controversial statement!!!!

However could this be true?

Another colleague mentioned a point that as we get older we lose our mental ability or cognitive processing. However this article seems to debunk this:

The article does state that we do lose our attentional ability and processing speed – key elements for software engineers.

What did interest in the article was the following:

“In general, memory tasks that are complex and require manipulating a lot of new information quickly become more difficult with age. Facts, names, and events that are not often accessed may become more difficult to retrieve from memory. However, knowledge that has been accumulated over a lifetime, which is repeatedly accessed and expanded, is generally retained. Well-practiced skills and abilities remain intact. And vocabulary usually continues to increase throughout life.”

So we may become slightly slower mentally as we get older but we retain our well practiced skills and abilities.

One important point made in the article which is related to my discussions on the telling of stories and is a key skill of an excellent tester: “….vocabulary usually continues to increase throughout life”

So my question and the real point of this article is:

“Do companies make a conscious or unconscious decision to remove older software engineers?”

It would be a shame if this is happening since currently I feel like I am in my prime. I am still discovering new and wonderful things about software development each and every day. I still have the same passion for my chosen career as I did when I first started with the added advantage that I have years of experience to fall back on as well.

I would love to hear from other people who, once they look around their respective companies, notice the same trend. Or from anyone who has any more theories on this.