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In the field of technology, you’re either learning new skills, or you’re falling behind the times. But, what happens to older programmers and technology leaders who are looking for interesting part time work after retirement?

The truth is that an avid programmer typically became a programmer because they love the craft. It isn’t really something you retire from. Others may volunteer at the local hospital or spend time with their buddies each morning at McDonald’s, but a programmer has many other doors open to them in retirement.

The following are a few examples of some of the opportunities you may have when the day to retire from the 9 to 5 grind arrives.

1. Consulting on Legacy Systems

Retiring doesn’t mean that you stop doing what you love; it just means that you no longer have to drag yourself through the daily commute to sit in an office or cubicle all day. One of the coolest things about working over thirty or forty years in a tech field, is that by the time you retire, you’re most likely one of the leading experts in whatever system you’ve been developing or supporting all that time.

Take, for example, the expert Cobol programmers of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Mention Cobol to recent college graduates who’ve just finished mastering things like Java and C++, and they’ll roll their eyes and ask why you’re still using such dinosaur technologies. What those college graduates don’t realize is that once a company invests years of investment and programming effort into such technologies, they become a deeply integrated part of the business.

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When the time comes to upgrade those systems, or integrate them into newer enterprise applications, there’s the desperate need for programmers who understand how the Cobol code works, so that it can be re-written. One article in ComputerWorld titled “Confessions of a Cobol Programmer”, described the situation in 2004 as a dire one — because the number of Cobol programmers in the market decline 5% annually, but businesses still have a need for those skills.

In 2004, the last time Gartner tried to count Cobol programmers, the consultancy estimated that there were about 2 million of them worldwide and that the number was declining at 5% annually.

This creates a ripe situation for any retiree with Cobol skills to market those skills as a consultant, and charge a pretty penny in the process.

While this situation holds true for languages like Cobol, it’ll also be true for the popular programming languages of today Which Programming Language Should You Learn For Software Development? Which Programming Language Should You Learn For Software Development? When starting on the path of programming, it’s important you invest your time wisely in choosing to learn something that will both benefit you in the immediate future with visible results on your platform of... Read More . As technology and programming moves into the next age of tech, the skills of yesterday — your hard-earned skills — will still be needed well into your retirement. Just think how cool it’ll be to keep doing what you love to do from the comfort of your own home, and on your own schedule.

2. Teaching Technology History and Fundamentals

Another benefit of learning the past generation of programming is that in the future, you will understand the fundamental principles upon which all modern programming languages were built. This was true for programmers who learned BCPL (known as B) upon which the C programming language was based.

While many new programmers today might have mastered newer object-oriented programming languages Where Did "Object Oriented" Programming Get Its Name From? Where Did "Object Oriented" Programming Get Its Name From? Object Oriented isn’t just a random buzzword you hear in programming circles. There’s a reason behind the name - but what? Join me as I explore some of the fundamentals of programming concepts and explain... Read More , it’s the older programmers who have a better appreciation of the core principles upon which modern programming was built. These are principles that are taught in college-level programming fundamentals classes, and they’re often taught by older, retired programmers.

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With shrinking school budgets, such teachers with a wealth of knowledge and experience — usually requiring lower pay during retirement years — can become a godsend for many school systems. The growing need for students to become better trained with technology tools at a younger age, will also increase the demand for technology educators in the next few decades.

In addition to this, most states offer alternative teaching preparation programs that make it easier for those who’ve collected knowledge from a lifelong career, to obtain educational certifications. You can find many short-term teaching certification programs at community colleges and universities for people who already have non-educational bachelor’s degree.

You don’t even have to teach computers or technology. If your first love was math or science and your career experience touched upon those areas, there’s no reason why you can’t seek out a teaching job in the field of expertise you love.

3. Keep Learning New Skills

One of the great things about retirement is that you can reinvent yourself. Spent your life as a Microsoft Office VBA programmer in IT? Become a high school teacher. Spent an entire career as a network administrator? Start a day-care center. There are no limits.

Once you’re at a point in  your life when you are done working to support yourself financially, and are looking for something to do that you actually love — you can completely reinvent yourself.

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There are a  lot of wonderful examples of this. Huffington Post recently published a list of 10 people over 50 years old who had completely transformed their lives after retirement.

Some amazing cases included Fontella Buddin, aged 70, who retired from being an executive secretary to practicing massage therapy. Mark Fischer, aged 55, got laid off from a sales job, so went to seminary to become an ordained pastor. Roger McVeigh, aged 53, went from his 80 hour work week career as a wealthy auditor, to retiring and becoming an Ironman competitor (seriously).

“At age 53 and retired, he now beats his triathlon times from when he competed in his 20s. Through a series of positive lifestyle changes, McVeigh lives the Ironman motto: ‘Anything is possible.'”

The whole idea of retirement being a time of “leisure” is being redefined today. Don’t fool yourself that it’s too late to go back to school to learn how to do something you’ve always been passionate about. With people living longer and healthier lives, the possibilities in your retirement are very exciting.

4. Share Your Knowledge With Others

One thing that retirement affords you with is time; time to do the things that you never had time for when you were constantly racing back and forth to your day job. What you do with all that extra time boils down to what’s most important to you.

For some people, helping others is at the top of their list in retirement. It’s a chance to give back.  One way to give back is to share the lifetime of wisdom and knowledge you’ve learned with others. This might be starting a new blog where you provide programming insights and knowledge to younger programmers who are just getting into the industry today.

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There are some folks who never really have to worry about what to do during retirement, because they’re already doing it.  Writers are lucky in this way — they never really retire. Back in 2002, when Stephen King announced he was going to retire, most of us hard-core fans knew better. The infection ran too deep in King. He would be writing up until they pry the keyboard out from under his cold, dead fingers.  That’s exactly what happened. He went on to write six more novels. That’s a busy retirement.

When you look at guys like Bruce Schneier Security Expert Bruce Schneier On Passwords, Privacy and Trust Security Expert Bruce Schneier On Passwords, Privacy and Trust Read More , blogging, authoring and giving seminars on security matters — what’s the need to classify any part of that kind of life as “retirement”?

You don’t have to be a writer to continue doing what you love after retirement. Programmers have similar skills that are in-demand in nearly every industry and in every organization. You could always offer your own courses Start Your Own Peer-To-Peer Online Educational Course For Free Start Your Own Peer-To-Peer Online Educational Course For Free In past articles we have shared a wealth of free online college courses, as well as courses for free download in iTunes U, hosted by popular universities around the country. But if you have the... Read More online, and make a pretty penny in the process. Recently, Matt Hughes offered some great resources for sharing your knowledge and experience online Want to Teach? 4 Ways To Share Your Knowledge & Experience Online Want to Teach? 4 Ways To Share Your Knowledge & Experience Online Teaching is an important process in learning. It is no longer the preserve of academics and schoolteachers. Anyone can become a teacher. Here’s how. Read More . Retirement is the ideal time to start taking those things seriously.

So, as you reach the end of your programming or IT career and are starting to wonder what you’re going to do with all of that free time, try thinking of it in a different way. How much are you going to be able to fit into your limited free time?

What do you think you’ll be doing in your retirement years? Are you nearing retirement? What are your plans? Let’s dream a little in the comments section!

Image Credits: Senior man surfing Internet Via Shutterstock, National Museum of History via Flickr, Michael Coghlan via Flickr, Lisa F. Young via Shutterstock, LoloStock via Shutterstock

  1. Chris
    August 18, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    My career as a z/OS COBOL/CICS programmer hit a brick wall in 2006 when a US parent Payroll/Personnel software (located in Kent) got eaten by US Hewitt Associates, who promptly spat out the old technology.

    I guess I should have been making hay while the sun shone and taught myself Web architecture and Java. But, you know, you work to live not vice versa. (As you'll see it sort of caught up with me in the end anyway).

    Redundant for the first time in my career at the age of 52, realising COBOL programmers were the new miners (around London you have to know Banking not just COBOL), I was lucky enough to be sent on a Dreamweaver course by the Government (new deal for the 50+), bless them.

    I soon progressed onto HTML/CSS, then PHP/MySQL.

    Horribly, this industry is full of young bucks who only seem to like Coca Cola, magazines, and telly; beside the great love of their lives: total obsession with all things webby.

    But I built up 5 years flitting from PHP job to PHP job (each time finding my limited obsession, and love of other things, eventually did for me).

    So I've been a year here, a few months there, at most 18 months somewhere; so that now I'm billed as 'experienced'. Hah - that means I live for WWW - I don't think so!

    This means to prospective employers that you're absolutely full of the stuff: an authority on every stupid little bundle of software these obsessives churn out: Laravel, Gulp, Bower, Git, Gash, Prat, Stupid, JustForTheSakeOfIt... Okay, maybe I made some of the names up...

    And if you're just an average intelligence joe, who doesn't enjoy the 'top your knowledge' schoolboy football trading card mentality - and let's face it, we'll all get sick of the young eventually - then you won't last in the 'impress me' superfluous world of virtual vapour ware that the awe inspired youth worship, then you're out!

    Well, as you've calculated, I'm 62 now. I enjoyed quietly programming at the 'peak' of my career. I couldn't imagine hanging up my keyboard. So they invented web architecture so that you would eventually yearn for release.

    Poetry, Classical Music, Mathematical Logic, Philosophy, History, Tennis, Great Plays: dare I add the meaning of life? I grow tired of a world sinking deeper into virtual insubstantial trivia. I'm for Reality.

    Okay, tirade over. I guess I might be able to eke out a living till retirement. If I hadn't recently received an inheritance I don't know what I would have done.

    Yeats had it right:

    That is no country for old men. The young
    In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
    —Those dying generations—at their song,...

    Only that 'country' has now expanded to be the world, and shrunk to a web.

    Eliot:

    Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
    To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
    First, the cold friction of expiring sense
    Without enchantment, offering no promise
    But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
    As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
    Second, the conscious impotence of rage
    At human folly, and the laceration
    Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
    And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
    Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
    Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
    Of things ill done and done to others' harm
    Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
    Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
    From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
    Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
    Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
    The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
    He left me, with a kind of valediction,
    And faded on the blowing of the horn.

  2. Dennise
    April 17, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Great article Ryan! This one is unique, I love reading blogs, and your blog is one of best and good to read. I love how you brought the content of this article. Programmers are very helpful in improving more of technologies and innovation in this modern world, especially in business. Retired programmers don’t have to stop doing what they love; I believe there are jobs waiting ahead for them. They can join Invisume.com, a platform that can help them find a part-time jobs that will match their skills, and for them to get connected with most of the best companies and salespeople in a hassle-free way, keeping your identity sealed. Thanks again Ryan, Impressive!

  3. KT
    October 25, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Excellent article and spot on. I'm in my early 40's (not young, but not old) and all the years I've been cnc programming (I started on punch tape, then floppy, and finally shop link!) has given me the ability to make quick adjustments on the fly that the CAD only engineers and designers upstairs simply don't know how to do. I'm teaching myself CAD with Librecad (the free open source program). Soon, I'll make the young college designers obsolete! lol.

  4. A41202813GMAIL
    October 24, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    IBM 400 Line, COBOL Programmer Here.

    People Wanting To Learn ?

    Most People Want An Already Fried Fish, Not A Fishing Rod.

    Free Time ?

    Retirement ?

    The Way The Economy Is Going, With Pensioners Having Greater Cuts With Each Passing Recession, The Majority Must Work Until The Day They Simply Are Not Capable Of Doing It Anymore.

    Cheers.

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