Each year, 600 coders gather to talk shop at a conference in New York called PyGotham. The organizers know how male and white the tech industry is, so they make a special effort to recruit a diverse speaker lineup. They promote the event on mailing lists for women and people of color who code, and they run a workshop for women in tech to encourage them to submit talks. The organizers ask speakers to fill out a demographic survey so they can track the progress of the conference’s diversity.
I serve on the conference committee, and after PyGotham ended this year, I realized I had made no effort to reach one group in particular: older coders. Compared to the underrepresentation of women and minorities in tech, the scarcity of programmers in their forties and beyond has mostly escaped notice. There are no Meetups or mailing lists for them in New York, no prominent advocacy organizations devoted to them. Although I will seek older programmers to speak at PyGotham next year, I don’t yet know where to look.
The software industry is overwhelmingly young. The median age of Google and Amazon employees is 30, whereas the median age of American workers is 42. A 2018 Stack Overflow survey of 100,000 programmers around the world found that three-quarters of them were under 35. Periodic posts on Hacker News ask, “What happens to older developers?” Anxious developers in their late thirties chime in and identify themselves as among the “older.”
I turned 40 this October, and I have worked seven years in the same job at a database company called MongoDB in New York City. Many programmers my age have gone back to school to switch careers or have become managers. I am committed to a lifetime as a programmer, but my career path for the decades to come is not well-marked. I know disturbingly few engineers older than me whose examples I can follow. Where have all the older coders gone, and what are the career prospects for those of us who remain?
In 2007, Mark Zuckerberg, then 22, said out loud what many in the software industry think: “Young people are just smarter.” Twelve years later, the lack of older programmers is still little studied compared to other…