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9 key career issues software developers face

Peter Wayner | Sept. 18, 2012
The path from birth to death is filled with choices about where to work and what kind of work to do.

One of the great, often unspoken, rules of the programming world is that managers have very narrow ideas of the right age for a job. It's not that managers want to discriminate, and it's not that humans want to change as they get older -- but they do. So everyone clings to stereotypes even if they're against the law.

This is often most obvious in the hypercompetitive world of tech startups, where the attitude is like the NBA. If you got stuck finishing your degree, you're obviously not special enough. This world prizes people who spend long hours doing obsessive things. They like youth, and it's not uncommon to hear venture capitalists toss aside anyone who's not a younger 20-something.

The good news for programmers is that some employers favor older, more mature people who've learned a thing or two about working well with others. These aren't the slick jobs in the startup world that get all the press, but they are often well-paying and satisfying.

The savviest programmers learn to size themselves up against the competition. Some jobs are targeted at insanely dedicated people who will stay up all night coding, and older programmers with new families shouldn't bother to compete for them. Others require experienced creatures, and young "rock star" developers shouldn't try to talk their way into jobs with bosses who want stable, not blazing and amazing.

How much does location matter?

If you're young and willing to pack everything you own into the back of your car and move on, the only thing that's important about the location of a job is whether you like the burrito place next door. Good food and pleasant surroundings is all that matters.

But where to seek your next job becomes a trickier question when you can't pack up your car in 10 minutes. If you have a family or another reason that makes a nomadic coding life difficult to impossible, you have to think about the long-term stability of a region before committing to a new employer.

Many programmers in Silicon Valley move successfully from startup to startup. If one doesn't work out, there's another being formed this minute. There's plenty of work in different firms, and that makes it easy to find new challenges, as we're taught to say.

This may be the major reason that some firms have trouble attracting talent to regions where there's only one dominant player. If you move to Oregon or Washington and the job doesn't work out, you could be moving again.

Can you choose a niche to avoid the offshoring ax?

Lately many programmers have begun to specialize in particular layers. Some are user interface geniuses who specialize in making the user experience simultaneously simple and powerful. Others understand sharding and big data.


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