web developer & system programmer

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programming at fifty

published: 28-10-2012 / updated: 28-10-2012
posted in: development, programming, projects, rants, tips
by Daniel Molina Wegener

There are three very objective posts about programming at fifty, probably with controversial opinions about being a programmer at fifty. Each post with some truth behind it, but in my opinion the solution to keep working as a programmer at fifty in a safe environment is to be more selective in the type of job that you choose. In the first post, I get the idea that you will be working — if you are working on the consumer applications market — in an ocean of APIs, and the fact that you can’t ever lose the hunger to know more, and almost every task as programmer depend on the involved market. Job filtering is an option, a real option. I currently do not handle any kind of project, and I use very consistent filters.

James Hauge uses the phrase oceans of APIs that’s true. Most architectures are very different, and you need to keep learning about them, and their changes to keep working on them. Mainly on the consumer applications market, even if they are web applications or desktop applications, you need to learn different frameworks, design techniques and the proper architectural patterns to reach a good design. Almost all programming interfaces are subject of changes, except those with a traditional approach, like system level calls and standard libraries, but the problem is not entirely the set of changes, the problem is how each company handles the set of changes.

It’s about skimming great oceans of APIs that you could spend years studying and learning, but the market will have moved on by then and that’s no fun anyway, so you cut and paste from examples and manage to get by without a full picture of the architecture supporting your app. [James Hauge, “Do You Really Want to be Doing This When You're 50?”, Programming in the
Twenty-First Century

If you will be working with a set of interfaces which are new for you and your company, you must be sure that the company will bring you enough time to study that API, otherwise the company should send you to any good course covering that set of interfaces. If not, if you will be working with a tight schedule, I can guess that you will be using your own time to reach a good performance and meet the schedule. I think that it is the main problem of the consumer application market. Each company must face competitive rates and schedules to gain customers.

If you want to be a programmer at 55 still you can’t ever lose the hunger to know more, know better and know simpler. Once you lose that edge the technology steamroller keeps on coming closer and closer until you wind up flat doing something else for a living. [Andrew Wulf, “Yes I Still Want To Be Doing This at 56”, The Codist Programmer Think]

You are continuously learning. You have a bunch of interfaces to learn, but also you must learn new programming techniques and algorithms, like Map Reduce, with functional basis, or work with Big Data approaches, NoSQL databases, and you must keep learning and reading. So, programming for me is the continuous process of learning and applying your theoretical and practical knowledge.

Ravi Mohan describes two types of programmers. The programmer type A who seeks solutions for difficult problems, and the programmer type B who seeks solutions for not so hard but stick in a bunch of APIs that must learn. Where programming at fifty usually means that you will be on the group A, solving hard problems with longer schedules, but the market is reduced, and you must have some expertise to work on it. That expertise is not gained with previous job positions on you have several options to reach those job positions, like creating your own side projects or delivering some FOSS product.

The programming language really matters. Mainly because almost every programming language is currently being focused in a multi-paradigm approach and using mixed programming techniques from some programming language paradigms to solve programming problems, like how is faced the parallel programming using higher order functions, now called asynchronous I/O. That is why I have learnt programming languages which have a traditional scope, like C, C Plus Plus, Lisp, Haskell, Python and Java, because they are grouping almost every programming style and paradigm, and they help me to understand deep aspects of any other programming language and framework.

Further reading:

  1. James Hauge, “Do You Really Want to be Doing This When You’re 50?”.
  2. Andrew Wulf, “Yes I Still Want To Be Doing This at 56”.
  3. Ravi Mohan, “On the “Do you want to be a programmer at fifty?” thing.”.

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