[Baypiggies] Baypiggies Digest, Vol 57, Issue 1

Roderick Llewellyn roderick at sanfransystems.com
Thu Jul 1 21:34:08 CEST 2010

Hi R Aubrey! While I've touched on some of these topics before, I'll try to 
answer your questions more specifically. Those who have read my job-related 
postings before can probably skip over this!

It is very difficult to "reboot" your career into programming once you have 
been away from it for a few years. Technologies change so rapidly that I 
found after even 1 or 2 years away from programming that many of the 
acronyms were unfamiliar to me. Virtually all head-hunter types, and many 
principals, judge people first on the "skills matrix". This is a list of 
what skills they seek and how you rank on each one. This process highly 
rewards those who have been using the technologies the employer is using, 
but does not at all reward overall experience, engineering ability, 
creativity, etc. It's like the difference between giving students a 
standardized test with multiple choice questions versus having students 
write an essay or prove a theorem. The matrx approach is the lowest possible 
overhead for the employer or recruiter, so especially in difficult economic 
times during which there are many candidates for each position, that 
approach dominates. So one conclusion is forget head-hunters. If you do work 
with one, ask him or her about how many people at your age have they placed 
in the last 2 years say. If they're honest they will tell you: zero. If they 
are unwilling to give you any clue, you can also assume the number is zero 
lol. I found that some recruiters would finally come clean and say things 
like "we don't know what to do with you" or the like. What that means is 
that they are set up to find jobs for people with zero to 10 years of 
experience (i.e. what I would call a "kid", but these days somebody with 5-8 
years experience is called "a very senior developer"... I find that funny), 
but beyond that is out of their league. They don't really want to waste 
their time with somebody they know perfectly well has no chance of getting 

I found in my search that web services companies would essentially never 
hire anybody over 50, and I finally stopped trying. Same goes for social 
networking, companies building games running on Facebook, etc. These 
companies' development departments are staffed mostly by 20-somethings, with 
maybe a 30-something engineering manager. Said manager doesn't want somebody 
15 or 20 years older than him/herself in the department and may be worried 
about cultural conflicts with the team. If an employment ad mentions stuff 
like "we go on snowboarding trips", forget it; these are carefully designed 
messages to tell Baby Boomers to not even bother applying, while avoiding 
any legal risks which would accompany more explicit discrimination. So I 
would avoid web services companies unless you have deep experience in that 
area. Look for more specialized firms that will be attracted to somebody 
with decades of experience as opposed to just out of college. These are the 
firms, few in number these days, who are not mainly looking for a good 
technician to download a bunch of freeware off the web and wire it together. 
They don't need somebody with 30 years XP to do that and so they will not 
hire you for that kind of job. Look for firms doing more complex development 
where the ratio of new code to downloaded code is high.

As far as the question of "does everyone end up in management" goes, this is 
a good one. I remember way back when I worked for DEC (Digital Equip. Corp, 
if anybody remembers them lol). I was just a typical just-out-of-college 
programmer. They had a policy of not wanting every programmer to aspire to 
management as a way of getting higher pay (programmers were not particularly 
well paid at that time). So they claimed that you could make just as much 
money following the technical track as by following the management track. 
There was, however, an unstated catch: at the top levels where pay got good, 
there were a LOT more management positions than there were technical 
positions. Sure Chief Scientist paid plenty. But they might have had 3 of 
those, but they might have had 50 managers who got paid just as much (I'm 
making up these numbers, illustration only!). Also you're dealing with the 
issue that there is a belief that technology is a young man's game and that 
there might even be something a little wrong with you if you still want to 
develop software at age 50. I myself don't have the proper personality for 
management, but I'm a very good engineer, so I've tried to stay with that.

As I've mentioned in a prior post, you may have much more luck in 
contracting (consulting) than in full time employment. Again the web 
services type firms won't hire you as a contractor either; why should they 
when there is no shortage of 20-somethings looking for that kind of work? 
And who will often work absurdly long hours for small stock grants... about 
which said employees often never inquire as to what percentage of the firm 
those grants represent? As a contractor, your "fitting in socially" (e.g.., 
do you listen to the same music? do you snowboard, skateboard, surfboard? 
are your glasses properly rectangular? lol) just simply won't arise.

I was able, though it took almost 3 years, to find software development 
work. I was continually amazed that most firms did not value my 30+ years XP 
as valuable and in fact regarded it as a negative. But it can be done. Be 
prepared for a lengthy process, sending out many resumes, most of which will 
be completely ignored. Too sum up: Look for contracting opportunities. Don't 
waste your time with recruiters. Don't bother with web services, gaming, or 
social networking firms.

When you find the right firm, it's amazing how easily and rapidly everything 
will go. They won't make you take stupid tests, ask you ridiculous questions 
about rocks and boats and swimming pools, force you to interact with 
machines before any human really talks to you, etc. My current (contracting) 
position required 2 phone interviews totalling less than 90 minutes. The 
third phone call was with the CTO who told me that he had confidence in his 
people, that they liked what they heard from me, and that I was in, and the 
purpose for this call was for him to answer MY questions! They told me that 
they knew perfectly well that a really good programmer can learn a new 
language in 3 weeks, in other words, I was being judged for my abilities not 
whether I had exactly the skill set they needed. We signed a contract 2 days 
later. If they are serious, they will move at light-speed. Look for that 
kind of position. The more barriers and filters they throw in your way, the 
less interested they are in you particularly, and probably the less 
confident they are in their own abilities to judge people; thus they want a 
computer program to pass on you first. You (and I) have >30 years 
experience - and they want you to take a trivial programming test? It's 
almost insulting. I can contrast this to the firm Fortify (I don't mind 
naming names!). I was well-qualified for the position because I had worked 
at Coverity which was in the same general space and I'm strong in compiler 
theory which the job was all about. I found out about it thru a recruiter 
named Debra Rosen (debhunters), who found me on LinkedIn. It took over 1 
month for them to get around to bringing me in for an interview. Said 
interview lasted most of the day. I was told at the start that they would 
cut the interview short at any point if any of their people who were 
interviewing me nixed me. I apparently got thru the entire process without a 
blackball. I was told at the end that it all looked good and I would hear 
back from them in a few days. What was the result? I never heard back from 
them, nor from the recruiter. I emailed the recruiter about this, and she 
never replied (needless to say, I would never work with her again).... 
typical rude American business practices. But this shows you the contrast 
between a firm that's excited about you and hot to trot and confident in 
their ability to pick a winner for the position, and one that's 
dilly-dallying around and waiting for Superman to walk in thru the door.

One other little thing. I can't really judge exactly how helpful it was in 
my case, but I think it's worth pursuing: use LinkedIn, and get plenty 
references already stored in your LinkedIn profile. Many firms and internal 
recruiters scan this site. If you have references already stored, the firms 
don't have to ask you for them and don't have to pester your former 
colleagues. I've gotten many calls from internal recruiters due to it. None 
have led to a job; these recruiters cast a wide net, and typically the next 
stage after talking to them is a very tiny hole (i..e, the recruiters are 
rewarded for coming up with many potential candidates, almost all of which 
will be weeded out in the next stage... so don't get too excited when an 
internal recruiter contacts you... typically they do a very crude keyword 
search to match their requirements against your profile and you have to 
judge whether pursuing said position is likely to be a waste of time - it 
usually is).

For all it's worth, that's my advice.... (of course, since I don't know you 
particularly there may be parts of what I say that are simply not 
applicable, your mileage may vary, etc). Good luck!

- Roderick Llewellyn

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <baypiggies-request at python.org>
To: <baypiggies at python.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2010 3:00 AM
Subject: Baypiggies Digest, Vol 57, Issue 1

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> Today's Topics:
>   1.  career advice? (R Aubrey)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2010 23:21:16 -0700
> From: R Aubrey <r.aubrey.xyzzy at gmail.com>
> To: baypiggies at python.org
> Subject: [Baypiggies] career advice?
> Message-ID:
> <AANLkTimc6UQpDTQVMOZptBntXe9u8bjoNv8MRkgJ2Hdi at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
> Hello, Bay Piggies.
> I could use some career advice: where do people go when they hit middle 
> age?
> I moved on from programming as a day job almost five years ago, into a
> technologist/architect/evangelist/product management/"whatever needs done
> for the business" kind of role reporting to the general manager.  And 
> while
> I am very glad to have learned a great deal about the business side of the
> software business, now I am sort of stuck in not having a clear place to
> advance to. Time to reboot the career, perhaps, but a good part of my
> problem is figuring out where to look for maximum overlap between what 
> I've
> enjoyed doing and what positions are available.
> If you really enjoy python programming and find side projects just to have
> an excuse to "prototype" something, but you also want to stay very close 
> to
> the product management / business side of things because you've become
> convinced the software is just one part of a successful company: where do
> you go?  Does everyone end up in management?
> Oh, and if my current employer has figured out this is me, new account
> notwithstanding, I'm Officially Very Happy and of course will use any 
> advice
> just to better search internal postings, and be of more value here.  :)
> ---
> My husband, in common with a lot of people his age, is fifty.  For how 
> long
> are we to put up with these things?
> -- Monty Python
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