Where do software engineers disappear after age 38?

Updated on : December 6, 2021 by Joshua May



Where do software engineers disappear after age 38?

Most software engineers work as employees. Being an employee provides some kind of continuity, allows you to start a family, etc.

After a while, you get a promotion. From junior you slowly become a senior. Then, depending on the company, you can become an analyst, officer. Those who really want to boost their career change companies (there are statistics that show that sitting in a company leads to a much slower career) and can become executives, associates and whatever. It is quite common that, after a certain point, you stop typing on a keyboard and become an administrator. That's where a lot of software engineers go

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Most software engineers work as employees. Being an employee provides some kind of continuity, allows you to start a family, etc.

After a while, you get a promotion. From junior you slowly become a senior. Then, depending on the company, you can become an analyst, officer. Those who really want to boost their career change companies (there are statistics that show that sitting in a company leads to a much slower career) and can become executives, associates and whatever. It is quite common that, after a certain point, you stop typing on a keyboard and become an administrator. That's where a lot of software engineers go after 35-40 years.

Then there are quite a mixed number of other software engineers that continue to develop throughout their lives.

Some do not have social skills and do not want to become managers.

Some are self-taught and take their own life paths.

Some become consultants or work in a "body rental" company (they hire teams of developers and send them out to code for their clients).

In my personal case, I have coded my first software at 12 o'clock, on a Commodore Vic 20. I am now 49 years old and I still love writing code!

I worked as an employee until I became an analyst, then I became a freelance consultant. I have moved to live on a tropical island in the archipelago of the Canary Islands. These islands are tropical but have a "western world economy", cities and services, high speed fiber optics, and so on.

I work from home for international clients around the world. I love my job, the views of the beach, the freedom that this job gives. I can work when I want to and I can study new technology without depending on the "foresight" of shareholder-driven executives and CEOs. I don't plan to stop coding anytime soon!

So here's your answer: software engineers "disappear" and become managers / executives or become self-employed and can move to tropical islands.

Here's one of my "tight software development cubicles." Photo taken with a cell phone.

Edit (10-Aug-2020): The question mentions "software engineer". By this I understand and mean a person who works in the software industry and not necessarily a "coder" or "programmer".


It is not really true. I am living proof. I have survived so far even though I lost a job 5 years ago. I got back to the rhythm, and very fast too. I was unemployed for exactly 15 days. But I can be considered as a generation in which for most of my career period, information technology and software was a booming industry with a few minor glitches in 2001, 2008. Things are different now, you could to argue. Fair enough.

Without a doubt the software e

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Edit (10-Aug-2020): The question mentions "software engineer". By this I understand and mean a person who works in the software industry and not necessarily a "coder" or "programmer".


It is not really true. I am living proof. I have survived so far even though I lost a job 5 years ago. I got back to the rhythm, and very fast too. I was unemployed for exactly 15 days. But I can be considered as a generation in which for most of my career period, information technology and software was a booming industry with a few minor glitches in 2001, 2008. Things are different now, you could to argue. Fair enough.

Sure, software engineers have been losing jobs in the early 1940s. But why is that? I can speak for India as I know the situation in India better.

The main phenomenon that I see happening in the Indian software house is that software developers turn to project management. Indian software developers find it degrading to work on development, testing and those entry-level jobs after 5-7 years. What they don't realize is that not everyone is cut out for the job. But even they don't have a real option. No team, PM, DM, management wants a developer who is 40 years old with 15-something experience. The pyramidal structure does not support it.

Therefore, people who are not designed to be PM and who would naturally have excelled in consulting, functional and technical roles, have no choice. But these roles are only available on the site; Offshore is all about low cost delivery, support, lights on, etc. 40-year-old software engineers have established their lives in India and cannot travel abroad, at least not for a long duration. When they take on software team management jobs, they can't handle the pressure. It is like asking a scientist to manage the production of the workshop.

In any client organization, the IT organization generally falls under the control of the CFO, who is in charge of controlling the middle line: costs. The CIO seeks to cut costs, get things done faster, cut deadlines, and expect quality delivery all the time. The IT provider seeks to meet these expectations. How can they deliver with reduced billing rates? Expand the pyramid at the bottom and reduce belly fat. So rookies and youngsters are added to the team at the expense of the experienced ones. Invariably, these people cannot meet the mark. Who faces pressure from the customer and from the management itself? The PM. This causes stress, stress-related ailments, etc.

Not only that. Not enough PM jobs these days. I have often seen clients refuse to pay for the PM, especially for a T&M type project, asking "What value is the PM adding?" Another factor is the scope of automation and new technologies. RPA, BOTs, Cloud has eliminated a lot of jobs: no system administrators needed, no DBA needed, no extensive development / deployment team needed, customer can manage their own reports using "drag and drop" techniques, etc. .

So some "belly fat" has been removed from the projects. What are these engineers expected to do? Management looks for value in these higher-paid middle managers. At my company, management told us that the sales staff will now search new fields only while the delivery team must cultivate the accounts for new projects. Easier said than done. How can deliverers, who often interact with the IT organization, generate new business, when the customer's IT manager is looking to downsize from all angles?

New business comes from the CEO's organization. This organization is responsible for its own sales and marketing, new initiatives, more research, etc. Businesses are expected to come out of these. But CEOs generally only relate to top consulting firms. The typical Indian IT service company has little to no influence here. This is the problem. Since 40-year-old software engineers, especially those abroad, cannot manage, they are "let go." Their annual evaluation reflects poor performance and after a short PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) they are asked to look outside for an opportunity.

You could say that the 40-year-old software engineer has been fired. Unable to adapt or learn new technologies, they are simply "spreadsheet managers." That may be true. But even if they learn new technology, nobody wants them on their projects because of the high cost.


What can be done? It's hard. Indian IT has fallen into its own trap: low cost services. It is not a lucrative career field as it once was. Cheap services are not something that will last. Sooner or later, there will be cheaper, better and faster services elsewhere. India did not establish parallel industries such as high-tech manufacturing. China took it from him. Low-tech manufacturing moved to Southeast Asian countries or Latin American countries. Bad policies, as well as politics, impeded growth and successive governments completely ignored to improve this, resting on the laurels of the IT / ITES growth story. It is not too late. But it may be too late for millennials, at least for some of them.

(I welcome more opinions on this).


Issue 2 (Aug 10, 2020) - Some of the Quorans contacted me in the afternoon and requested a consultation over the phone. I must add a caveat here. I am not a career counselor. What I said here has only been experience and hindsight. I answered two calls, but will politely decline in the future. I apologize for this in advance. But here are some additional tips.

One of the traps I realized later in life is how raises and promotions (in particular) are decided. At the beginning of the career, annual raises and promotions are standard, time-limited, and tied to past performance only. This suddenly changes the horses midway, in one's subsequent race. Coincidentally, this starts to happen exactly around the age mentioned here: 38 ~ 40 and then that's the pattern. From now on, past performance only matters to the extent that consistency can be demonstrated. Promotion to the next grade depends on whether you can show that you are ready for the next level and can fulfill that role. In a sense, one must already be performing to the next grade in the current role. Top management looks at this. You also have to show your hunger and ambition to rise higher.

Employees are often disappointed that they were not promoted despite having excellent grades at the current level. That simply means that you have met or simply exceeded most of the expectations. When this happens, employee morale drops and they cannot perform at the same level next year. This leads to a lower rating and the trap continues to grow. Always be aware of what the company or management expects of you.

It is a complete myth that software engineers disappear at a certain age.

What happens is that they seem weirder because the total number of software engineers is increasing exponentially.

Uncle Bob Martin explained in a presentation that the number of professional software engineers doubles every 5 years, as new people enter the profession (almost all are young).

This means that even if each software engineer remains in the profession, the number of these software engineers with 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. Years of experience decreases as a proportion of the entire profession.

In other

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It is a complete myth that software engineers disappear at a certain age.

What happens is that they seem weirder because the total number of software engineers is increasing exponentially.

Uncle Bob Martin explained in a presentation that the number of professional software engineers doubles every 5 years, as new people enter the profession (almost all are young).

This means that even if each software engineer remains in the profession, the number of these software engineers with 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. Years of experience decreases as a proportion of the entire profession.

In other words, if there are 16 million software engineers in the world †:

  • 8 million have <5 years of experience (50%)
  • 4 million have between 5 and 10 years of experience (25%)
  • 2 million have between 10 and 15 years of experience (12.5%)
  • 1 million have between 15 and 20 years of experience (6.25%)
  • 500,000 have between 20 and 25 years of experience (3.125%)
  • 250,000 have between 25 and 30 years of experience (<1.5%)
  • 125,000 have between 30 and 35 years of experience (<0.75%; I am currently in this group)
  • 62,500 have between 35 and 40 years of experience (<0.37%)

That's the best case, if none of them change careers, retire, or die.

Obviously, some people do one of those things before reaching 40 years of experience, but the trend of so many newer software engineers entering the profession is a much bigger factor that makes older software engineers seem weird.


† I chose that number just to make it easier to show the subsets by dividing them in half. In fact, the estimate for software engineers is much higher: IDC Worldwide Developer Census, 2018: Part-time developers lead the expansion of the global developer population

Bill Karwin's answer is spot on: the number of 20-year-old software engineers today is much higher than the number of 20-year-old software engineers in 2001.

The age of 38 is not random. People born 38 years ago started college around 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, where programmers made more money than almost any other profession. When this generation was deciding on their college major, they were much more likely to choose Computer Science than those who chose their major a year earlier.

That means the number of junior software engineers ent

Keep reading

Bill Karwin's answer is spot on: the number of 20-year-old software engineers today is much higher than the number of 20-year-old software engineers in 2001.

The age of 38 is not random. People born 38 years ago started college around 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, where programmers made more money than almost any other profession. When this generation was deciding on their college major, they were much more likely to choose Computer Science than those who chose their major a year earlier.

That means that the number of junior software engineers who entered the industry in 2000–2010 was likely many times greater than the number who started in 1990–2000.

Also, most of those who started working as programmers before the Internet age started their careers in languages, technologies, methodologies and industries that are not easily transferable to web development. Many of them stayed in those industries, so you wouldn't meet them at a relatively young web company like Google, Facebook, or Quora, or at meetings about the new fad framework that just came out.

They do not disappear; Either they open their own business, after making a ton of money, or they go to work for low-key companies, where they run most of the operations, while the youngsters get high and drunk during happy hour. My mentor is 58 years old and probably smarter than 3 recent graduates; although since he does not mind mixing with people, he prefers to do his work and then go home.

If you have a family or hobbies; usually you stay less at work and that is not liked by large companies; They want you there day and night, so they give you free food, alcohol, and throw a party. After a cer

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They do not disappear; Either they open their own business, after making a ton of money, or they go to work for low-key companies, where they run most of the operations, while the youngsters get high and drunk during happy hour. My mentor is 58 years old and probably smarter than 3 recent graduates; although since he does not mind mixing with people, he prefers to do his work and then go home.

If you have a family or hobbies; usually you stay less at work and that is not liked by large companies; They want you there day and night, so they give you free food, alcohol, and throw a party. After a certain age you have different interests besides drinking and being social, so of course it depends on the mental age of a person. If there were no engineers over 40, 90% of startups would close after a few years, as used to be the case in the past.

They go to the administration and offices you never see, they retire to their sailboats, they go into teaching, they start their own business, they burn out and continue with a long-term disability, they give up and dedicate the rest of their lives to self-employment. , painting, sculpting, playing music, writing poetry and making love on the beach, they stay in their cubicles and only go out to go to the bathroom and attend meetings that you do not, send them to the cornfield, or be desired in the Country of the wonders.

I think it covers the basic options (aside from the obvious one, but let's not get kinky).

It is exhausting work. They move out at some point, and it's easy because they've been well paid for years and haven't even had a chance to enjoy that money 😁

We don't See Bill Karwin's answer to Where do software engineers disappear after age 38?

However, why do some encoders move to non-encoded positions?

At some point you realize that around the technical problem there is a bigger problem which is: the forces that created the problem are still there preventing change. Those forces are human in nature, so they are more difficult to fix because wisdom requires experience.

The greatest impact in the world occurs through leadership, building and empowering the people who follow it. Our job as programmers is to submit working solutions, and only incidentally ac

Keep reading

We don't See Bill Karwin's answer to Where do software engineers disappear after age 38?

However, why do some encoders move to non-encoded positions?

At some point you realize that around the technical problem there is a bigger problem which is: the forces that created the problem are still there preventing change. Those forces are human in nature, so they are more difficult to fix because wisdom requires experience.

The greatest impact in the world occurs through leadership, building and empowering the people who follow it. Our job as programmers is to submit working solutions and just incidentally code. Therefore, some people heed the call and move into managerial roles.

Think about the impact trajectory of a SWE.

As a Junior SWE, you have a small (or even possibly negative) impact. Write the unit level code, according to the instructions given to you.

As a SWE, you start writing end-to-end applications

As a Senior SWE, you start writing and designing applications from start to finish.

As a SWE leader / director, you spend less time writing applications and more time designing and leading the rest of the team.

The next step is to move on to management, where you don't write any code, and fully focus on managing people and approving the application design that potential customers present to you.

Keep reading

Think about the impact trajectory of a SWE.

As a Junior SWE, you have a small (or even possibly negative) impact. Write the unit level code, according to the instructions given to you.

As a SWE, you start writing end-to-end applications

As a Senior SWE, you start writing and designing applications from start to finish.

As a SWE leader / director, you spend less time writing applications and more time designing and leading the rest of the team.

The next step is to move on to management, where you don't write any code, and fully focus on managing people and approving the application design that potential customers present to you.

Every step of the way, its impact is magnified. You can stand out as a leader / principal if you want, but most SWEs decide to start their own company or jump up the management ladder, where they can have a larger impact and 2-3 times their income.

They go to areas with less information load, I think.

Being a programmer means processing a lot of information every day. As with all machines, the brain of the programmer is wasting, mainly in the sense of consumed volume (memory). Each task requires building a context. The little-used context goes to long-term memory. Over time, the "matrix" fills up. I'm not sure there is a good enough method to clean memory.

Another point is that while accumulating experience year after year, a brain needs more time to mature the solutions found, due to the greater dimensionality of the context in use. Not that

Keep reading

They go to areas with less information load, I think.

Being a programmer means processing a lot of information every day. As with all machines, the brain of the programmer is wasting, mainly in the sense of consumed volume (memory). Each task requires building a context. The little-used context goes to long-term memory. Over time, the "matrix" fills up. I'm not sure there is a good enough method to clean memory.

Another point is that while accumulating experience year after year, a brain needs more time to mature the solutions found, due to the greater dimensionality of the context in use. That doesn't seem profitable today when a quick and cheap solution matters more than quality and cost.

This is why younger software developers dominate the modern market.

What's so special about 38? but anyway ... the good guys keep writing software (IMHO). those who really don't like software development (sell themselves and) become managers. which is something I personally don't understand as the skill set is completely different and it takes a long time to become excellent at either, and most cannot be excellent at both. But whatever. I personally see myself writing some kind of software until I'm on my deathbed, it's just what I do and I enjoy.

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