Saturday, October 6, 2018

How can I become a Software Developer at 41?

How can I change my career and become a SW developer at age 41?

Dear Readers – We've been having a lot of fun on recently. For those who are new to the social media platform, I've found it to be a place for high-level discourse about (among other interesting topics) engineering strategy and software process improvement. Below is today's response. Enjoy! ~ the CMMI Appraiser

That’s an excellent question!
I myself was a late starter. My first career was in music, and I was in my 30s before I picked up my first computer. Now, at 58, I’ve been a developer, analyst, project manager, architect, CTO, VP, and CEO - all in the software business - so it’s definitely possible!
It’s hard to break into this business as an older person. It’s definitely dominated by young, bright, energetic people, so it can be intimidating.
Obviously, you’ll need to gain some competence in coding and analysis, and this can be done at your local community college, or even through self-study and sites like Kahn Academy, which offers college level courses for free. Strive to be the best - because competence will be your most valuable asset.
I would start by building some of your own software applications right away. Just pick something simple, and just write some programs. College courses are good, but nothing beats actual development of a working app!
It’s going to be tough to walk into a job where you’re competing with younger folks that have experience, but let’s focus on the things you’ve probably learned along the way:
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Complex problem solving
  • Controlling your ego (that’s a big one)
  • Pacing yourself for the longer-term
  • Understanding what high quality looks like
  • Experience collaborating with a lot of other people
  • An interest in a long-term position where you can build a career, instead of looking for the next raise or promotion. There is nothing wrong with that, but it tends to be a greater focus on the younger employee.
It's no coincidence that this closely maps to the principles in the Agile Manifesto!

I’m not saying that some young people don’t have this, but someone that’s a little more experienced WITH PEOPLE, not code, tend to have the 10,000 hours of experience in these skills that are still being learned by younger, newer developers.
So, don’t sell yourself short, your age is an asset. There area lot of smart people in the SW industry, and the competition is fierce, but you do have a few things in your corner, and you can exploit them to help equalize the conditions of employment.
Good luck!
Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software leader!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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