Dear Lifehacker, I'm currently 36, and I started a programming degree back in 1995. I didn't finish that course and have since worked in mainly retail and B2B sales (which I have never enjoyed and never want to do again if I can help it). I'm at a crossroads in my life and keep thinking it would be a good idea to restart and finish that programming degree. By the time I finished however, I'd be around 40 years old — how employable will a 40 year old university graduate be in this field? Thanks, Retrainee
Student picture from Shutterstock
Good programmers can always find work so, if that's what you want to do, I'd say go for it. But you'll need a plan.
You can learn programming languages without doing a degree through specific training institutes, short courses and online tutorials. My suggestion is to start upskilling as fast as you can.
If there's a piece of open source software you like, get involved in its development and contribute. Your familiarity as a user will hold you in good stead.
I assume you'll need to keep working so I'd be looking for options that let you study part time. While you may not like what you're doing, perhaps it won’t be so bad if you can see a way out.
As you gain expertise and practice through your study, look for opportunities to use the skills. Keep an ear out in your professional and personal networks for potential opportunities to ply your skills and give your CV a boost.
And those years working in retail and B2B aren't wasted. You've built up a lot of business experience and knowledge that would be a huge plus to many employers. When I've hired developers in the past, I've always found the best work comes from those who have great technical skills and lots of real-world experience who can see how a line of code will function at the coal face. I'd be talking up your experience as a positive.
Your age is not as much of a problem as you might think. Given the recent changes where the government is raising the retirement age to 70, you've still got a long work life ahead of you so 40 will be the new 30. And that extra life experience you have over the 20-something year olds means that you'll probably be calmer in a crisis and less flustered when under pressure.
Initially, you might start at an entry-level job but by applying your life experience with the new technical skills you've gained as a developer, you'll be in a good position to climb the corporate ladder faster than developers coming straight from high school to university.
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