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Is there a software developer age limit? Apparently, it's 45

Software development is a young person's purview, according to a Harvey Nash Technology Survey. Expert David Savage explains how over-45s can stay in the game.

Do you worry about finding a job? Surely you don't, if you can code. It turns out that even developers have something to worry about if you're 45 or older. In fact, the 2018 Harvey Nash Technology Survey showed 61% of all technologists over the age of 45 are worried age is limiting their career options.

So, what can you do to overcome the idea of a software developer age limit and remain a compelling job candidate?

Innovate or die

To beat the negative connotations of age, the over-45s aren't just sitting around waiting to not get hired, the survey showed.

To beat the negative connotations of age, the over-45s aren't just sitting around waiting to not get hired, the survey showed. A full 55% pay for external courses to keep skills relevant, though that's so common it's unlikely to help you stand out in a crowded field. And 54% say you should be a woman -- though, since 85% of people employed in technology aren't, it's not practical advice.

However, 55% of survey respondents say that working in a "very innovative organization" helps soften the effects of a cultural software developer age limit. In the past, recruiters have looked at a CV with an eye for household names. Those companies were always seen as a stamp of credibility, even if that was a rather crude means of assessing candidates. Today, talent professionals want to find out if a person has worked somewhere innovative. Innovate or be stuck with the age bias, apparently.

Ageism in technology

How do you spot an innovative business? Size isn't everything. Aviva employs 30,000 staff globally, but its Digital Garage proves larger businesses can be agile and transformative. The Harvey Nash Technology Survey suggests that age (of a company this time) is a better indicator of innovation than size. Typically speaking, respondents from organizations that were founded less than 10 years ago were significantly more likely to describe their company as "very innovative." The argument is that older organizations have more legacy technology tying software developers up in "spaghetti," a messy mass of interwoven systems that are difficult to unpick.

Bespoke software holds the key?

Business leaders often have a few common questions: How much technology should I offshore? What should be on premises and bespoke? Getting the balance right is tricky. Technologists from "very innovative organizations" place increased importance on bespoke software: 68% believe it drives innovation, versus 57% when measured across all respondents. That's a significant difference. The Digital Garage wasn't actually about great software; it was about being unafraid to fail. A company that invests in bespoke systems and software will incur higher initial costs and implementation will be longer, but they're not afraid to back something. And places with this mentality are less likely to cultivate a software developer age limit.

If you're a technology professional looking for a company that will help you feel superhuman, ask what it's building. Join a business that takes risks and is willing to invest. I sat with a business that was trying to build a product, and it was told that it couldn't happen. But it did it, and it's growing fast. That's an exciting journey and bound to make software developers feel young, regardless of their birth certificates.

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