There’s a very active discussion on Quora, a great Q&A site, about whether computer programmers lose their mojo as they age. In a world where young coders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg succeed at launching disruptive companies, it’s easy to assume this is a younger person’s game.
This debate could really apply to just about any industry with multiple generations in the workplace. The young, hungering for a chance to succeed or even a job, look at their older counter-parts and think they can do whatever better and faster. The older generation notices it’s doing things differently than when it was younger. They’re not as quick but maybe more strategic.
What’s great about the comments is that it gives you insight into how older programmers feel. It’s rare to get this kind of insight. What may have looked fast and decisive in their younger years, now looks sloppy and inaccurate. What used to be energetic, now looks unfocused and frenetic. and certainly not worth the effort with their limited time left on the planet. More meaning is what they want in their work lives:
“I’d say as programmers age, they become less Luke Skywalker and more Yoda. Does Yoda code? No, not a lot. He gets in a fight with R2D2 and tells Luke he’s an impatient pissant. Then he lifts his freakin’ X-Wing out of the swamp. Yeah, he did that. Yeah, he’s 900 years old, too. Jealous?” Steven Hugg, HeyTell guy
“I do find that my endurance has diminished. I used to be able to code for >8 hours per day. Now, I’m done after about 6. On the other hand, I get a lot more done in those 6 hours than I used to get done in >8.
About 8 years ago, a buddy of mine and I were at a conference. Kent Beck gave a talk in which he showed Langton’s ant. At the airport, waiting for our flight back to Chicago, we noted that a batch of ThoughtWorkers (young 20-something programmers full of spit and vinegar) were racing each other to write the Lanton’s ant algorithm. My buddy and I looked at each other, opened a laptop, paired for a few minutes using TDD, got it working, and closed the laptop. The TWers were all still bangin’ on their keyboards. We smiled and sipped our gin & tonics.”Robert Martin, 59
“The world is much, much, much bigger than the world of Software Engineering. Other fields are interesting and people in other fields aren’t idiots. Once you cover enough of the software engineering landscape, it’s natural to want to expand and grow into other domains. At some point you get old enough to recognize that learning Quantum Mechanics, or Short Story construction, or Painting can be significantly more interesting than writing a Lisp interpreter for the twenty-fifth time.” Slava Akhmechet, Founder at RethinkDB
For now, that bleary-eyed young engineer is the toast of the town in Silicon Valley, just waiting for the next disruptive great idea. But, is this only a young person’s game? What do you think?
Click here to see a full-length video preview of Please Respect My Generation on how to manage five generations in the workplace.