I know some people move over to management and some die... but where do the rest go and why?

One reason people change to management is that in some companies the "Programmer" career path is very short - you can get to be a senior programmer within a few years. Leaving no way to get more money but to become a manager.

In other companies project managers and programmers are parallel career paths so your project manager can be your junior.

+4  A: 

I'm still here...

No fair! 41 Doesn't count as old :-)
William Brendel
That's just the prime of our career (or was it just a prime?) ...
Paul W Homer
I've done my best coding in the last 3 years without a doubt. And in the new-fangled languages on weird platforms for all sorts of deeply modern applications too. I don't think programmers age.
"Old" is relative, but if you haven't hit age prejudice yet, you will. The defense is, don't just be a coder. Be a person who can be relied on to solve problems, and you will stay in demand.
Mike Dunlavey
Get off my lawn!
Don Roby
+4  A: 

Glue Factory?

Most leave to management or other white collar jobs. I know one who started running a camp site, another who is a photographer now, and another that went off to writing.


Paul W Homer
+45  A: 

The successful ones retire early and move to warmer climates.

The passionate ones never stop.

William Brendel
Good answer; it's not like we're pro-football quarterbacks who're too beat up (at 40) to keep going. Keep working, keep the fresh ideas coming in, keep dabbling.
+2  A: 

Does 46 count as old? I'm still here and have no plans to become a manager any time soon.

Otávio Décio

They become consultants, or end up stuck maintaining some legacy system they helped build 10 years ago that the business thinks would cost too much to completely renovate.

Joel Coehoorn
+31  A: 

Don't they decompile?

+1 for silly Tron-like reference.
+4  A: 

They are turned into Soylent Green -- remember, Tuesday is Soylent Green day!

Henrik Gustafsson

maybe some of them are teaching in Schools, but who knows?

Oscar Cabrero
+10  A: 

See also

Kristopher Johnson
I just looked at that question, and you hit the nail on the head. I function at a senior level because I can do the math and system design, but I need to keep my fingers in the code, for sanity.
Mike Dunlavey

I've seen several "retire early" from the company, only to be rehired by the company as a consultant to help maintain systems that they helped build.

+1  A: 

Old programmers don't burn out, they just fade away...

Outlaw Programmer

I'm still around at 38, if that fits your definition of "old". I went freelance a few years ago and have no intention of ever willingly moving into management.

Dave Sherohman
when I was 38 I would of agreed that I was old now I'm 45 your a mere youngster....
Tony Lambert
+24  A: 

If they're in a Managed world, the GC takes care of that. Don't worry about it.

+3  A: 

Ignoring those 'programmers' who are simply in it as a step towards management and who decamps asap, I see several options.

  1. They stay in large corporates as 'Guru' senior coders. Some corporations do offer a 'twin track' approach so that people who do not want to go into management can act as senior consultants.

  2. They leave and found their own software development companies.

  3. They leave and work as freelance consultants. Lots of people do this and it's what I do myself. Never going to make a million but the work is interesting, I get to play with new toys when I want, my kit is first rate, and the office politics is a whole lot easier.

+4  A: 

Old programmers never die, they just kick the bit bucket.

Of course, all programmers go to data heaven!

(Atheist ones get piped to /dev/null.)

P Daddy
+2  A: 

They go and live on a big server farm in the country, where they are very happy.

After that we must make no more reference to them.

+4  A: 

There is a question about programmers' age distribution, and some are a good bit older than I.

To answer the question "where do they go":

  • Well, I'm still here and enjoying tackling problems.

  • Another person I know sold his company and retired to a life of sailing in Florida.

  • My mentor, Marvin Minsky, is still creative in his 80's.

Personally, I have never wanted to manage, because the minute I get away from code I start deluding myself with conventional wisdom.

As a message to anyone younger than I am, if you enjoy handling new challenges, you will never think of yourself as "old". I don't.

Mike Dunlavey
+1. Couldn't agree more.
Brian Clapper
Your teacher was Marvin Minsky??? =|
Mike Dunlavey

In my last company, there were 12 programmers. Only 2 were under 30. Half were in their mid 40s or older. Half of those were over 50.

I was in a similar situation. And it was far from amusing, I can tell you :(
Dmitri Nesteruk
"it was far from amusing" That's a shame. I had a wonderful time and loved my coworkers. One of my favorites there was in the over 50 group.
+2  A: 

Based on my interviewing experience, they go to work on insurance company web projects.

I kid, I kid.

I work on insurance company web projects you insensitive clod.To your point, however, I'm 40 and I'm one of the younger ones.
Christopher Mahan

Where I work, only recently have we had more than half the developers under 30. All of our DBAs are closer to 50 than to 30.

All of the staff are working on new projects involving .NET regardless of age.

+1  A: 

The bit bucket? /dev/null? /dev/phb?

+1  A: 

They go sub and don't return :)

+2  A: 

Get a cushy government job maintaining systems in a language no one uses/has ever heard of anymore?

+9  A: 

Old programmers never die, they just branch off to a new address.
Old programmers never die. They just decompile.
Old programmers never die. They just lose their memory.
Old programmers never die. They just get bugged with life.
Old programmers never die. They just go to bits.
Old programmers never die. They just can’t C as well
Old programmers never die, they just recurse.
Old programmers never die. They just terminate and stay resident.

Seriously though, most of the programmers I work with are over 40. I've also heard that Microsoft is set up in such a way that programmers get promoted, but without having to go into management.

I heard that they cast into void.

I've been a programmer since 1979 - when I first encountered a computer that I could access.

I've been programming ever since.

The joy is that something that I absolutely loved was both my hobby and a career. Everything I have been able to do in my life has been financed by programming.

AND - I still love programming. I plan on programming until I'm dead.

For some of us, programming (and the love of programming and LEARNING) is what keeps us young.

I also teach. At some point, you really have to start giving back.



I started in 1978... and don't don't teach (yet?!) otherwise I'm yr clone.... MaxiMe.
Tony Lambert
+3  A: 

Consider the very large increase in CS graduates in the late 90s. I'd imagine a significant chunk of the workforce comes from the dot-com boom era. So your perceptions on programming being a younger field may be valid, but by no means implies that the more seasoned programmers "go" anywhere.

Also, consider that the jobs that appeal to younger workers may not appeal to older workers. There are different priorities in play. YMMV, but when you get older you are less likely to care to stake everything on a start up and more likely to go into a stable job with stable hours and benefits so you can see your kids, pay for their college and have a reasonable chance of retiring. So your perceptions about programming being a young field are also going to be biased by this.

Doug T.
+10  A: 

Nice try. If we told you, then everyone would know and this place would start getting crowded.

We're all wondering when all the younger programmers will grow up. :D

le dorfier
upvote for the LOL
+3  A: 

I was just at WWDC08 last year (my first time at a WWDC) and honestly, I think if they aren't already there they go to Apple. They really should rename it "The land of gray pony tails and juggling clubs"

so true..... I'm too bald for a pony tail, but then so are they!
Tony Lambert
+1  A: 
  1. They Die
  2. They don't really love programming and jump off in the first opportunity
  3. They think that be a programmer too many years means to be Stuck
  4. They are here in stackoverflow teaching us
+2  A: 

To me "Old" programmers are the ones who are not interested in learning. Be it new technologies or just improving their programming skills in the same language they've used for years (even COBOL). They are more interested in "Job Security".

I really can't see myself retiring from programming. Maybe I will retire one day, but still code.


Okey...simple...The rest goes back to LIFE (or some type of movement against what they did before)...