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.
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. 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, 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.
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.
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.
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, 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 online, and make a pretty penny in the process. Recently, Matt Hughes offered some great resources for sharing your knowledge and experience online. 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!