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Old people are out of touch with technology. That’s the stereotype, anyway. With adages like “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and “He can’t change, he’s already set in his ways”, many of us assume that certain pursuits are for young people only — and programming is no exception.

It’s easy to see why this mentality is so pervasive. As a relative youngster myself, the programming world evolves so quickly that even I find it difficult to keep up. Most of what I learned in school was obsolete by graduation. So if youngsters like me have trouble, is there any hope for the older generation?

Yes! If you — or someone you know — have ever wondered if you’re “too old” to start learning how to program How To Learn Programming Without All The Stress How To Learn Programming Without All The Stress Maybe you've decided to pursue programming, whether for a career or just as a hobby. Great! But maybe you're starting to feel overwhelmed. Not so great. Here's help to ease your journey. Read More , the simple answer is that anyone can pick it up as long as they have determination, persistence, and an open mind. The real question is, should you give it a shot?

I think you should, and here’s why.

Developing Your Mental Acuity

I started coding at the age of nine back when Gateway, Pentium, and America Online were big household brands. Again, I admit that I’m a relative youngster in the grand scheme of things, but I only bring this up to illustrate how deeply entwined I am with programming and how it has impacted me.

Over the past two decades, I’ve gone through periods of heavy coding (at my worst, I spent fourteen hours a day on my projects) and periods of no coding at all (a wonderful respite from my workaholic tendencies 5 Signs That You're Working Too Hard (And How to Fix Them) 5 Signs That You're Working Too Hard (And How to Fix Them) Do you suffer from an insatiable desire to work? Here are some of the signs to recognize this ailment and how you can overcome it. Read More ). In that time, I’ve noticed something peculiar.

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My mind is at its sharpest when I’m working on code. Conversely, the longer I go without programming, the softer my mind gets. None of this is a real surprise.

too-old-to-program-brain

Programming is a beautiful combination of logic and creativity. Logical in the sense that there are a strict set of rules and instructions that define the behavior of a computer program. Creative in the sense that these rules and instructions can be configured to produce an infinite number of behaviors.

Of all creative pursuits, programming is unique in that it forces you into a simultaneous process of creative synthesis and analytical diagnostics. It forces you to dream up innovative solutions and then express those solutions in a logical, step-by-step fashion. It helps structure the way you think, and this way of thinking will bleed into every area of your life.

In fact, the logical nature of programming shares a lot in common with another profession, one that happens to be dominated by older folks:

Legal work is a good example of an area with, at first glance, little in common with coding but in which coding knowledge could be surprisingly helpful, argues Eben Upton, CEO and co-founder of Raspberry Pi, an organisation that developed a revolutionary compact computer to help children learn about coding and computers in general.

“There’s a lot of similarity between the problem-solving techniques you need to be a good lawyer and those you need to be a good engineer, and the carefully crafted, (nominally) unambiguous form of English used in drafting contracts bears a lot of resemblance to computer code,” he says.

HT: The Independent

In other words, programming is good for the aging mind. As we get older, it becomes easier and easier to fall into the humdrum routine of everyday life. Outside of returning to school, there aren’t many day-to-day activities that challenge us to think like programming does.

Even if you never actually create a program worth using, the very act of learning how to program will strengthen your mental faculties. And really, that’s as good a reason as any to pick up the skill.

Expanding Your Career Opportunities

Are you stuck in a career rut Stranded In A Career Rut? 10 Ways To Reboot Your Work Focus Today Stranded In A Career Rut? 10 Ways To Reboot Your Work Focus Today The longer you feel like you're stuck in a career rut, the harder it can be to escape. Here are a few methods to bring focus, excitement and purpose back to your work-life. Read More ? If so, learning how to program can open thousands of new doors for you, especially if you have what it takes to succeed in a tech-based career Do You Have What It Takes for a Career in Technology? Do You Have What It Takes for a Career in Technology? The digital world may tempt you to jump on the information technology wagon. But is it the right choice for you? You have to make a decision. Ask yourself these seven questions. Read More . After all, most people who learn programming are doing it so they can pursue a career in programming.

“But I’m too old for that. Nobody in IT wants to hire an oldie like me.”

too-old-to-program-careers

While ageism is certainly an issue in our modern day workforce, it’s not as bad as some people make it out to be. While cutting-edge companies may lean towards the younger end of the spectrum, there are many other companies who emphasize experience and knowledge over sheer age. Consider Gary Huckabone:

Back on the job market, Huckabone was upbeat — he saw a thriving software sector and plenty of opportunities. But he found it took longer than expected to land his next gig. “I probably did twice as many interviews — this is a guess, of course — than I would have done if I was 32 instead of 56, ” Huckabone said.

[But] ageism is by no means an industry standard, and plenty of employers want the experience. Huckabone had multiple offers before accepting his current position.

“There’s definitely a lot of people that want the old guy, appreciate the old guy,” Huckabone said. “I’m just saying I’ve seen both sides of that coin.”
HT: Information Week

And then there are those who believe that older may even be better:

A common belief, at least in Silicon Valley, is that it is only the young who can innovate, and that therefore, we need to encourage more students to start companies. A better strategy may be to motivate and empower the old — the parents of these students, and maybe even grandma and grandpa.

To solve the big and complex problems of humanity, entrepreneurs need to have a world view and to be able to see the big picture. They need industry experience, knowledge of diverse social and scientific disciplines, and people-management skills. They need the abilities to go beyond wishful thinking, to step into others’ shoes, and to weigh likely outcomes of the options before them.

Older, experienced workers usually have many of these skills. Yes, they may lack an understanding of mobile technologies and app development, but these can be learnt in the same way that the kids learned them.

HT: PBS Newshour

Still think you’re too old to start programming? Then I urge you to look at the story of Jens Skou, the Nobel Prize winner who picked up programming at the age of 70:

In 1988, I retired, kept my office, gave up systematic experimental work and started to work on kinetic models for the overall reaction of the pump on computer. For this I had to learn how to programme, quite interesting, and amazing what you can do with a computer from the point of view of handling even complicated models. And even if my working hours are fewer, being free of all obligations, the time I spent on scientific problems are about the same as before my retirement.

HT: Nobel Prize

Not only does Jens Skou prove that it’s never too late to start anything, it’s never too late to change the world.

Understanding New Technologies

Programming has a few practical benefits that you can reap even if you don’t intend on a career path change. The simplest example is that it can help you connect with the ever-changing world of technology.

I realize that this sort of plays off of the stereotype that older folks are out of touch with technology, and I certainly don’t mean to perpetuate that myth. Plenty of younger folks are just as oblivious, if not more so, than those who are approaching retirement. However, the truth stands: learning how to code can help you understand and appreciate technology.

too-old-to-program-technology

I say all of this as the son of immigrant parents who never had the same privilege of education that I have. To them, everything from VCRs to computers to digital cameras are nothing more than magic boxes. They have no idea how devices and gadgets work, so they have no idea how to use them.

I’m not saying that programming is necessary if, for example, you want to operate an Android tablet Which Android Tablet Should I Buy? 7 Things to Consider Which Android Tablet Should I Buy? 7 Things to Consider If you're thinking about getting an Android tablet, these are the things that you need to take into consideration. Read More . What I am saying is that programming knowledge can help you to better operate that tablet.

After comparing a small sample of [senior computer training] students with a control group, researchers at the University of Miami found that after completing introductory courses, older adults were significantly more comfortable with and knowledgeable about computers and the Internet, and more likely to use them.

HT: The New Old Age

And being more adept with tablets, smartphones, and laptops means being one step closer towards improved quality of life. After all, there are so many helpful mobile apps The Best Android Apps The Best Android Apps Looking for the best apps for your Android phone or tablet? This is our comprehensive, hand-picked list of the best apps for Android. Read More out there begging to be installed, aren’t there?

It’s Never Too Late to Start Coding

Thinking about picking it up? Start off with these free programming books 9 Free Programming Books That Will Make You A Pro 9 Free Programming Books That Will Make You A Pro Calling all programmers, whether new, old, or aspiring: we've found a great selection of free (as in beer) books to boost your coding skills to the next level. Hop in and enjoy. Read More which cover topics like Java, JavaScript, Python, as well as a few language-agnostic topics like design patterns. Bolster your education with these tips for learning how to code 8 Tried & True Tips For Learning How To Code 8 Tried & True Tips For Learning How To Code Skilled programmers have been in high demand for years now, and it doesn’t look like that demand is about to go down anytime soon. But even if you don’t intend to make a living as... Read More and these programming project ideas 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster There are a few ways to ease the learning curve for programming. Get your hands dirty and learn faster with side projects you can start anytime. Play around with these five. Read More .

Just be aware that programming is hard and will require some effort. Even if you aren’t meant to be a programmer 6 Signs That You Are Not Meant To Be A Programmer 6 Signs That You Are Not Meant To Be A Programmer Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer. If you aren't completely sure that you're meant to be a programmer, here are some signs that may point you in the right direction. Read More , I still recommend giving it a shot. In the end, trying is more important than success 6 Lessons From Pixar That Will Set You Up For Success 6 Lessons From Pixar That Will Set You Up For Success The secrets of storytelling tend to reflect the secrets of success in real life. You owe it to yourself to take one minute and consider how Pixar might make you more successful. Read More .

Do you think one can be too old to start learning how to code? At what age did you start? If you’ve never programmed before, what’s keeping you from giving it a try? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Old Hands on Laptop Via Shutterstock, Left Brain Right Brain Via Shutterstock, Couple On Tablet Via Shutterstock, Elder Man On Macbook Via Shutterstock

  1. Kathy
    September 16, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    I'm 59 years old and about to start a coding class tomorrow! I'm scared to death and a nervous wreck, but reading this article has definitely helped calm my nerves. I hope you're right!

    • Joel Lee
      September 20, 2016 at 12:55 am

      That's awesome, Kathy! I know it will seem overwhelmingly difficult at first, but it will take a bit of time to click -- and once it does, you'll love it. Glad you found the article helpful. Good luck!

    • Sharon Augustyn
      October 5, 2016 at 8:23 am

      good luck Kathy. I am a 68-year-old female flirting with the idea of coding.
      Sharon

  2. Denis Kharin
    July 30, 2016 at 5:37 am

    Well, Im 25 years old and Im an immigrant from another country(Russia). I came to USA when I was 18. When I turned 21 I took a college loan and went to college. My English skills was poor, however, what I've learned in college,- is that you can learn anything, like me learning English from 0 when I was 18. They key here, is you need only a WISH, with a wish you can learn anything, even find they way how to fly...
    Before coding, learn basic computer operations, derectories, cmd commands or unix terminal, learn how to store files, where, be organized, push youself to the limits, love what you do. I love programming, because this is the way I can express my fillings, my wishes, ideas, and I can also test them, fix them, and improve them. All you need, you already have, just add a wish and spend some time at the monitor. Advise, dont start with C++ or Ruby, Ruby on Rails, JS, or Java. Start with a python scripting.

  3. Claudia
    April 4, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Joel, I just wanted to say thanks. I am 47 years old, and reading your article gave me hope.

  4. Rob Hindle
    June 17, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Coding is like maths or english, a core life-skill everyone can benefit from. People are easily put off in the early stages when they get errors for simple slip-ups like omitting a semi colon at the end of a statement or "trying to run before you can walk". I often write a small PHP program as the fastest way to perform a simple task. Often I code something "just for fun" to see if I can or to experiment with some new idea.

    There are supermodels saying they "learnt to code in a day". No they didn't and nor can you. Like them you can learn a few basics and write some simple code in a matter of minutes but creating serious applications calls for continuous learning, teamwork and experience.

    Problems include that at some point many teaching materials have an annoying habit of switching from being almost insultingly detailed to jumping into something poorly explained and hard to understand. The "english" used within programming circles is full of abbreviations, acronyms and technical terms. As a practitioner it's easy to forget that others don't understand and sometimes its quite difficult to translate into laymans terms.

    I see a danger here - coding is being portrayed as something "even a supermodel can learn" being twisted to "it's easy, lets teach everyone to code and look forward to them getting highly paid jobs, writing the next Facebook or making millions off their mobile phone app".

    I don't want to put people off, quite the opposite, I'd like everyone to do a "learn to code in a day" exercise (it doesn't need an expensive course) but that name is misleading. Try some Google searches like "Learn PHP in 5 minutes" or "Learn PHP in 6 months" . Both searches give some results but there's a big difference in what you'll learn.

    I'd like to tell those supermodels that I too can model clothes. I wear clothes every day, I can walk without falling over, I'm tall, I can look aloof. Doesn't that cover the job specification? (OK, I might need to do something about the beer belly.)

    • Abdul Hannan Ali
      June 20, 2015 at 1:35 am

      Your comment really nailed the most important points. +1 to you

    • Joel Lee
      July 10, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Thanks Rob, your points are great. As with a lot of things, programming is a learned skill that takes a lot of experience to master. Maybe there's a conflation of terms going on? "Learning the basics" and "learning to be fluent" are different, but people have shortened both to just "learning" and that's what's confusing.

  5. hildyblog
    June 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    First, it's not like learning a foreign language, it's much easier. There's no conversational requirement or other time-critical aspect. You only have to read and type, not listen and speak. Essentially, you are writing an instruction manual but you have to get it past very strict (but infinitely patient) grammar and spell checkers.

    Second, don't do it for the money. The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community is not only a resource for helping you code but a vast resource of existing code you can learn from, use, and modify (as long as you credit authors and keep your product FOSS). Write something small that you would find useful and give it away.

  6. Daniel Escasa
    June 16, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    We don't need no steekeen' jobs. Write something useful, if only for yourself, and let others know about it. Who knows, they may find it useful as well, and suggest improvements.

    Then the money can come rolling in.

  7. fcd76218
    June 16, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Learning to code is like learning a new foreign language. If you can start learning Swahili after you retire, you can learn Java, Ruby, Ajax or whatever.

    • Joel Lee
      July 10, 2015 at 12:10 am

      Agreed! No matter how hard it is, anyone can learn programming given enough effort. Some just have more aptitude.

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