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Sorry, Peter Pan: Developers Can Grow Up
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caracarn
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caracarn,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2014 | 8:48:16 AM
Re: Age at start?
I agree with Doug's comment.  For years as I have hired developers I have always held the belief that the skills I look for are the ability to "program", which to me means to dissect a problem into it's logical segments and develop and set of instructions to work through those segments.  Which language they use is irrelevant.  I have always felt it is easier to teach someone a new programming langiuage than it is to teach them to program in the first place.  Find a good developer and they can pick up the latest language very quickly.  I liken it to learning grammar versus learning a language.  Getting the basic structure of how to form sentences, what sentences are and how they form into paragraphs and then into entire stories give you the buildng blocks on which to hang English, then French, then Swahili.  Development builds the same way.
Doug Neumann
IW Pick
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Doug Neumann,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/19/2014 | 2:16:06 PM
Re: Age at start?
That's an interesting question.  In thinking about it, I'm not sure the same limitations apply.

First, natural languages (what you're referring to here) are way more complicated than programming languages.  It takes months or years for people, even young people, to learn a second language.  A competent developer can learn a second programming language in days or weeks.

Second, I'm not an expert, but I understand the reason that young people can learn languages more quickly is that their neural pathways are still developing.  Different natural languages require different pathways, and when you're an adult those pathways may compete with other entrenched pathways. Software development, however, is basically a process of expressing logic in a programming language. So if you've previously developed the pathways that support logic, you've developed the pathways that support programming.
triptyx
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triptyx,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/19/2014 | 12:27:14 PM
Re: "Sprint sabbaticals"
Another similar method I've seen used is management or the scrum master will allow their team to spend x% a week on a personal project.  Google does 20%, a recent job I worked at did 10%, so for 4 hours on a particular day, you'd shut down your IM, go offline, and work on a personal project.

It can be an excellent way to allow your devs to work on new skills and methodologies.
james.igoe
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james.igoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/19/2014 | 6:39:15 AM
Absurd Characterization
Rather than focus on the employees of a few major coporations, one might consider the average programmer, who is male, 37 years old, married with two (2) children. Yes, some companies agressively pursue the young, but they hire very few people. The problem has more to do with the pace of change and how companies hire, in that you are hired and used for your recent experience, and even if you learn new things, it is hard to put them to use with management's approval. Often, workers are simply repurposed to the same technologies they used before, and you can get paid mroe for your deep experience, but that often puts you into a career hole, where you are paid well for an outdated technology, and then often replaced with newer technology.
I give
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I give,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/17/2014 | 1:10:06 PM
What's old is new again
Not only applies to software developers, but all "workers".  Eventually you will be displaced and you may be replaced if on a whim, necessity, or competition.  Given the low birth rates in the "developed" (pun intended) nations, you are likely to be replaced by someone born in another country.  And as technology progresses there will be even less demand for human resources anyway. This is nature and nurture at work, disguised as bias and economics.  Tech is the new natural.

Technature, to coin a term, Old Peter.  
hughbarnard
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hughbarnard,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/17/2014 | 2:10:58 AM
Old, how old? Sprint Sabbaticals
I'm 63 and I still write code [mainly Perl, it's what I like] on contract as well as contributing to my own and other open source projects. I was more senior in my 30s, but I like the flexibility that this gives me, I can work for a few months and then stop work. It's pretty easy to learn new things as I still enjoy the industry, in general. I'm probably slower than 20 years ago but more measured, which brings me on the the next point.

I'm horrified by the amount of 'directionless agile' that I see, mainly as a result of ideology. Oh, there's a sprint so we have to add code/features, no thought of user-story, architectural integrity, documentation or maintenance. Also, it's a hamster wheel for the coders who live inside it. I've seen a lot of methodology trends in the past 40-odd years, this is probably one of the most misused.

 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/16/2014 | 10:46:48 AM
Re: "Sprint sabbaticals"
We also have to dispense with this cliche that the only clever code written in the world comes out of Silicon Valley after midnight. I started my morning riding my bike through a midwestern city and chatted away with a fellow rider who's a 40-ish year old software developer working on a high-priority, customer-facing software project for a Fortune 500 company. And yes, he talked about working late into the night on a particularly meddlesome problem -- that's dedication, even if you're drinking green tea and eating carrots rather than scarfing pizza and Rockstar.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2014 | 6:00:34 PM
Re: "Sprint sabbaticals"
I don't see age bias against programmers as a reflection of ability. Rather, it seems to me that it comes from the same place that the tech company no-poaching conspiracy came from -- a desire to control labor costs. Older programmers presumably have more experience and will be less likely to accept low salaries or work 12 hour days for years on end the way a 20-year-old might.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2014 | 12:30:07 PM
Age at start?
Nice column. Question: Do you feel that to be a really good developer one must start very young? In other words, is it like speaking a second language, where someone who starts learning in his 20s or later might get competent but will rarely be fluent? 

If so, then I wonder about the idea of spending on retraining programs versus investing in getting kids excited about coding at a young age.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2014 | 11:46:59 AM
"Sprint sabbaticals"
"Sprint sabbaticals" idea makes sense to me. Thanks for the practical advice. Anyone have similar strategies to share?


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