Uncharted Waters

Mar 22 2017   11:32AM GMT

Retiring From Tech

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

"tech careers"
Software retirement

According to this post on ITKE, I have nine years before I start retiring from technology.

The fact that software is dominated by people just out of college is not a secret. Walk into any software company and you will see that. Developers are in their 20s for the most part. The more grey hair a person has, the more likely they are to be in a non-technical role. There is a lot to unpack in this scenario. Large companies are enacting policy that actively discourage people with families from working there. And much of the software being developed today is just simple. You don’t need a team of senior architects to develop a marketing website or a new plugin for WordPress.

What do you do when you only have 9 years left?

Technology jobs seem to have a natural progression. When I started I was heavily reliant on people that had been in the game for a while. Leads and other people in senior roles would give me bite sized pieces of work. Not too easy, and not too complicated. It was just enough that junior me could learn a new lesson, and actually produce what the company needed. As my colleagues and I developed our skill set, we needed less care and feeding. Instead of needing constant coaching for every task, we just needed help with hard problems.


Back then there was a relationship between how senior a person was and how much hands on technical work they were doing. A junior to staff level person was doing a lot of the technical work and asking a lot of questions. Beyond that, more senior people were doing a lot more question answering than question asking and product delivery. There was an invisible hand that gradually pulled people away from the keyboard and more in the direction of guidance and leadership. People that wanted to stay technical had to make an effort to do so, and there weren’t many of them.

That was in the early 2000s. We weren’t building software as a service, we couldn’t deliver new software everyday, and there wasn’t a big open source framework community like we have today. Many modern programming libraries abstract away the hard stuff that senior developers used to build. So instead of needing lots of experienced people on the team, companies get away with one or two.

At this point in my career I am still technical and need to plan for the future. An average day for me at this point is still about 80% technical work developing a UI automation framework. The remaining 20% percent is sales work developing a pipeline of future clients, account management, and personal development.

The shift is already starting for me. 2 years ago, everyday was dominated by technical work. I was a full time contributor. About 6 months in to being independent, emails started showing up. Companies had read an article and were interested in what we were doing. Instead of shifting into a leadership role, I am shifting slowly into sales and business development.

Modern technical jobs seem to have shorter and shorter life spans. I’m not sure if 45 is really the new 65, but I definitely don’t see many programmers over the age of 50. Are you planning to stay in technical roles for your entire career? Do you have an exit plan?

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  • ghj1957
    If that is what Big Business is up to, then more fools them and good luck to them.
    I say this for a number of reasons, all borne out by personal experience and let me state for the record that I am 59.
    • Young technicians have all of the solutions, but no diagnostic skills to get to that solution.
    • Older technicians have great diagnostic skills because they have worked with and understand the underlying technologies.
    • Young technicians consider their current job as a stepping stone to their next career move, so have little or no loyalty.
    • An older employee invariably has more loyalty and is likely to be more of a team player.
    • An older technicians ability to string together and write down two coherent and lucid sentences is the product of a superior and more stringent education which had a its roots in literacy and numeracy.
    • Most young technicians have a reading and writing age of a 10 year old.
    Sorry to be so blunt, but when my generation has gone, the world is doomed to hyperbole, ignorance and mediocrity.
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  • marlene1020
    I am 6 years away from retiring and while I agree with your view in development jobs and other positions with large companies that are very specialized, I disagree that theory. In the smaller companies, they want actual working experience with many areas. For my current position, I am the network admin, hardware and software support, project manager, Exchange admin, part-time SQL programmer and Oracle database admin. Oh I forgot to mention Unix admin. No recent grad or a ten-year grad is going to have all of that.
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  • Bhupz
    I have been in the IT industry in various most Tech roles at various levels and somewhat agree with ghj1957. The Devops revolution is sweeping the IT worked and i can see more abstaction so leaning toward the new generation. I question myself every day as to the purpose of IT ["Knowledge Indstry"].
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  • JPgman
    I am 58 and stopped writing commercial code in my 30s. Since then it has been design, marketing, and management of teams. But since becoming a research analyst a year ago I have starting to code again I am starting a local meeting at the YMCA teaching high school kids to program in IOS, as programming is one of those things you can do without spending $250,000 on a college education. Great article on the age of techies but I still consider myself a programmer first.
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  • jcs1963
    I am now 74 and still working as a Network Architect (but from my choice) normally only two days a week. I have "retired" twice but then returned as a contractor. I was last offered a senior full time role at the age of 62 (I approached the company for a contractor position).

    I have covered almost all aspects of computing over my (almost) 54 years in the industry. I started out from university designing a computer (1963 using new integrated circuits) and then being the technical lead for a mini computer Operating system written in assembler (1971). I networked Windows 1 beta in the 1980s to supply real time time critical financial for a to be integrated into a real time dealing/trading room system I designed. I now concentrate mainly on networking and particularly in system security.

    My skills and knowledge are appreciated by the project I am working on (which Is why I continue to work) as my wide ranging experience is valuable as it enables me to be creative in understanding issues and proposing solutions. 

    Many of the younger people seem to overspecialise and hence cannot take a wider view of the complex issues that we face when designing a new system or problem solving on an existing one. 
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  • Ed Tittel

    As somebody who's been in tech since the early 1980s and who's turning 65 this year, this is a particularly interesting question for me, too. Let me share some observations about "being technical:"

    1. You don't have to write code to be/remain technical, nor do you have to write code full-time to stay that way, either. There are lots of opportunities to trade on your experience in the form of writing, teaching, leading or managing.
    2. It's a natural transition to work into not just "sales and business development" as you mention in your blog post, but also to move into specialized aspects of those roles (pre-sales technical support, technical evangelism, developer support, developer evangelism, and so on and so forth). There are lots of opportunities for technically savvy people to transition into marketing and training as well (both internal and customer focused).
    3. Those gray hairs hopefully come with a bit of added wisdom, maturity, and insight. Those things have value in high-tech too, particularly those that enable technically savvy people to develop an increased understanding of and appreciation for "monetizing technology" and the relationship between what technology can do or enable, and how those things translate into competitive business advantage and profits.

    Your exit plan is not so much about exiting the workforce as it is exiting one set of roles and entering another set instead. With that in mind, I'd suggest you can start trading on what you know about processes, business suitability, paths to success, and more to carve out a series of new niches for yourself going forward.

    And although I'm going to be eligible for retirement later this year, I plan to keep writing, consulting and teaching for at least another six or seven years, health and circumstances permitting. I know lots of other baby boomers who have similar plans, and suggest you give yourself a long time horizon when planning beyond a work life of full-time software development into other, hopefully equally productive and valuable roles.



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  • Justin Rohrman

    I suspect there is some truth in what you are saying :) There is also harder things to deal with like the fact that there are just fewer hiher paying position. I think of the job pool as a pyramid where the base is young cheap people and the top is more experienced / expensive people. 
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  • Justin Rohrman

    I had a similar experience working for a healthcare startup here. The development team was 5 people strong (including me) when I started. Actually, that was the entire technical team. We all had to fill several different roles. I had a few midnight trips to the server colo. That company was probably split 50/50 between experienced people and very green people.
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  • Justin Rohrman
    @Ed Tittel 

    Thanks for that insight Ed. I think you are probably right that people don't necessarily leave tech jobs, but migrate into different roles where their expertise is used in different ways. I like how broadly you define technical jobs, too. That is something to think about for planning the next couple of years for me.
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