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Future as a programmer, job prospects?

  1. Nov 12, 2014 #1

    I would like to get your opinion on moving in to programming. Basically, I want job security and the ability to work just about anywhere there are jobs. I've considered taking a job as a programmer, but I would like to know what you suspect the job prospects are for such position? From what I understand, software engineers might be "unemployable" by the time they're 35 as technology will pass them by (else they move to management). What about programmers? Do languages change so significantly now that 20 years from now they might have to seek other employment in a different industry?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2014 #2


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    Like every other profession, you have to keep up to date with the tools of your trade (in this case programming) in order to keep up with advances in knowledge and technology, otherwise you won't be an attractive candidate for future positions or employers. No one living now knows what programming languages will be in demand in 20 years, nor even what devices will require the services of a programmer. Twenty years ago, who thought you would be carrying your phone around in your pocket, you could take pictures and video with it, you could surf on the internet (which really was mostly for academics then), and you could use it as a computer?

    That software engineers might be 'unemployable' when they reach 35 could be due to factors other than their technical skills or lack thereof. Software companies are run by people, and people don't always play fair when hiring and firing employees.
  4. Nov 12, 2014 #3
    In the USA, at least in the companies I've worked at, the terms programmer and software engineer are basically synonyms (along with software developer). So I'm not sure of the distinction you're making.

    In any case, technology won't just pass you by, you can alway choose to keep up with it. I know a lot of developers/engineers that are well over 35, in fact I'd say by a decent margin most of them are over 35. Also, I've conducted a fair number of in-person interview, probably somewhere in the 70-90 range and although I haven't paid much attention I'd guess over 80 percent or so of the people are at least 30.

    I don't think there's much to worry about with technology passing you by. The biggest danger, and even that isn't too big, I can see is if you're really good at doing something that just uses obsolete technology and the company is afraid to move you to something else since your position would be difficult to fill. In this case you can either just get a new job or use your leverage withing your current company to force a transition.

    Languages change, but you just adapt. In fact almost every job I've had required some programming skills in multiple languages

    I'm fairly sure there is some age discrimination, but I'd guess not fitting in culturally with a lot of younger people at a startup or something like that (eg a few years ago I saw an employment ad saying they want candidates that like Shakira) would be more of an issue than being left behind. Still skilled people aren't that easy to come by. I've personally never seen a skilled person thrown on the scrap heap because of age.

    On the whole I think the job prospects are pretty good, I've been continually employed for quite awhile. Always hard to say what will happen in the future. Speaking for myself, I'm more worried about getting burned out, i.e. bored, than technology passing me by. Of course I could get hit with something unexpected.
  5. Nov 18, 2014 #4
    I'm a software engineer/programmer/developer who started programming in the 1980's (got my first home computer in the 1980's, did a BSc,MSc,PhD) and have been working ever since (presently between contracts just now - anyone hiring? :)

    The industry is fun, so long as you keep learning new skills. Sometimes that can only be achieved by changing jobs every couple of years, working as a contractor or software consultant (this avoids a couple of problems). Generally, you need to learn a bundle of skills not just a single programming language. If you want to use C++, you'll need to learn STL and Boost as well. To become an applications developer, you'll need to learn OpenGL/DirectX, Qt, MFC, Android, IOS and all the other API's. With Java, you'll need to learn SQL, Hadoop and R to become a data engineer. The industry career paths are constantly forking and specializing. In the past, a Computer Science degree was enough to work as a games programmer, then there are now specialized game development degrees, now that too is specializing into "serious games" for medical, military and commercial training and the classic "fun games".

    On the downside, as others have stated, the main hazards are (1) being "pigeon-holed" and not allowed to learn new skills for fear you may leave and can't be replaced or (2) when they can't find people, they resort to bait-and-switch where they advertise for someone with X skills and actually move you onto a project requiring Y skills. Both can be justified by wanting the "most-qualified/brightest/whoever-knows-the-most" in a particular area.
  6. Nov 18, 2014 #5
    there is always the independent way of working as well. if you have a revolutionary way of solving a need. IE: Facebook/Google/SSL/Data Security/ better mouse trap...etc... and feel confident enough to write up the programs needed to implement the idea you can write your own ticket and be independent but you need sales skills to go with the product or hire/partner someone in that capacity.

    this route is risky since the likelihood of "revolutionary" is small compared to slightly better version of what exists.
  7. Nov 18, 2014 #6
    The independent way is the most fun - being a startup. That's the best way of gaining new skills that are considered "commercial". There's always the chance that a large company will buy you out.

    Just about every vacancy I have seen has always been with a startup that has just been bought up, the directors have taken early retirement, and the company is looking for "maintenance engineers".
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