When I tell people about my job running Coder Foundry—a bootcamp that specializes in teaching novices how to code—they often tell me, “I wish I’d learned to code when I was younger. I’m too old now. No one would ever hire me.”
If you’ve been using your age as an excuse, I have some bad news for you: you’re out of excuses. In software development, there simply is no such thing as “too old.”
In fact, according to the American Economic Review, the average age of a tech startup founder is not 20 or even 30. It’s 43. That’s just an average. Plenty of those now-successful entrepreneurs are in their fifties and sixties. Some are even older.
Just because the media gives the impression that every tech success story involves a brilliant, young individual camped out in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean that’s the truth. No matter your age, if you are a hardworking, creative problem-solver, coding is for you. All you need is the skills and the know-how to navigate the industry.
Getting the Skills
Software development is a skills-based industry, which means as long as you have the skills, you can get a job.
This can be a double-edged sword for older coders. On one hand, it means you won’t be judged too harshly for your age, but on the other, it might mean you have some catching up to do to build the needed skills. Fortunately, getting the skills is not as difficult or time-consuming as most people expect.
There are three main ways to learn to code: a university degree, online bootcamps, and in-person bootcamps.
If you’re looking to switch careers, you probably want to do so as quickly—and cheaply—as possible, so a four-year, or even a two-year, degree is likely not for you.
I also advise against online bootcamps, because they are often very DIY and assume a base knowledge that some novices simply don’t have. Especially if you’re already feeling uncertain about your skills, you can quickly get discouraged with an online bootcamp. In fact, only about 6 percent of students finish these programs.
Especially for older individuals and those with a limited base knowledge, I highly recommend the third option: in-person bootcamps.
The biggest benefit of an in-person bootcamp is access to an industry mentor. If you’re new and uncertain about coding, you absolutely need an in-person instructor, to answer any questions you have and to keep you motivated.
As another plus, these bootcamps tend to focus on practical skills that translate to the real world, resulting in a high success rate. At Coder Foundry, for instance, 85 percent of our students go on to get software development jobs.
In-person bootcamps are also, by far, the fastest way to get into the industry. With an in-person bootcamp, in just three months, you could get the skills you need and be on your way to a new career in coding.
Getting the Job
Getting the skills is only the first hurdle. The second—and arguably more important—hurdle is getting the job.
Real-talk time: Age will not prevent you from being a coder, but it can make it more difficult to get your first job.
When 52-year-old Tom Harrison, a financial planner, came to Coder Foundry, he had real anxiety that it was too late for him to start over in a new field. He wanted a change, but he worried it was no longer possible. He asked me directly, “Can I really do this at my age?”
My answer was a resounding yes, but it was tricky getting him that first job. Every software developer, regardless of age, needs a recruiter in order to secure interviews and increase their chances of a job offer. Tom’s problem was that top recruiting agencies weren’t initially interested in him.
Recruiters often have an ideal software developer they want to work with in mind. They want someone young, already experienced, and eager to take the biggest paycheck they can get. Recruiters will work with coders who don’t match that description, but the coder has to convince the recruiter to do so.
To do that, you need a portfolio—a collection of the apps and websites you have created that demonstrate your skill. A portfolio can be a game changer, as Tom found out.
As soon as Tom mentioned his portfolio, he was able to get his foot in the door with a recruiter at Teksystems, one of the biggest national recruiting firms for software developers.
The recruiter took Tom on as a candidate, and within two weeks, Tom had been placed in his first position. He’s never looked back since. He’s now designing the financial services software that he would have used as a financial planner, except now, he’s making a lot more money.
It’s Never Too Late to Start a Coding Career
Software development can offer you stability, mobility, and some of the best wages for any career in America. With this job, you can have it all. And I do mean you.
There’s room in this industry for the brilliant and the competent, the entrepreneur and the steady nine-to-fiver, the young and the old, and people of every background.
It’s never too late to start a coding career, but you do have to start. Each day, you’re only getting older, so take the plunge now. Start learning to code today, and in three months, you could have a brand-new career!
For more advice on learning to code, you can find Breaking the Code on Amazon.
Bobby Davis Jr. is a tech entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience building successful software companies. Bobby founded his first company, the custom software consultancy Core Techs, in 2002 with just $500 in his account. He has since grown it into a multimillion-dollar business. His second effort, Advanced Fraud Solutions, now runs in almost 1,000 financial institutions across forty-eight states. Inc. has labeled it one of the fastest-growing private businesses in the country four years running. Bobby also runs the Coder Foundry bootcamp, where he has successfully placed hundreds of his software development students in high-paying jobs across the industry.