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Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] old coders
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Old Coders: When Programming Is a Second Career
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"Sometimes writing software can be great fun -- like solving a
super-complicated puzzle. Other times it is horrible," Tim Regan, a
programmer and researcher at Microsoft's Cambridge lab, writes on his
Image: Flickr, Tim Regan
By Todd Wasserman1 day ago
Liz Beigle-Bryant took her first programming class, BASIC, in 1973. At
the time, computers were part of the math departments instead of the
engineering departments, she recalls. And because she had a background
in family art, everyone at her high school discouraged her from doing so.
Beigle-Bryant, now 57, didn't revisit coding again until a couple of
years ago, when she signed up for Codecademy
's free online tutorials.
Though there was no immediate payoff, she found learning the skill
helped ease the inevitable discouragement that comes during a job hunt.
"I felt like I was accomplishing something instead of wasting time on
Facebook or [playing] phone games," she says. "It helped me feel better
about myself so I could project a better image."
See also: The 8 Hottest Tech Jobs of 2014
In 2011, Beigle-Bryant was part of a round of layoffs at Microsoft
, where she had worked as an
administrative assistant. That career path was, by her estimate, her
fourth one. Others included a job as a costume designer on the
short-lived series /Hypernauts/ in 1996, which at least got her a
mention on IMBD .
In her mid-50s, Beigle-Bryant decided on a fifth career. During her
unemployed period, she spent up to eight hours a day on Codecademy
learning HTML and, later, Python. Eventually, she accrued the skills to
land a job at the University of Washington (where she has held various
roles, including migrating data), though she wound up falling back on
her business administration background. Though it wasn't exactly what
she had in mind, Beigle-Bryant says she's thankful. "As you get older,
you're an expensive commodity [to an employer]."
Image: Liz Beigle-Bryant
Faced with similar situations of unemployment, many bemoan their fates
and even give up looking for work. Others, like Beigle-Bryant, learn new
skills such as programming to make themselves more attractive job
Consider the stats:
The U.S. unemployment rate in July was 6.2%
, according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate for programmers, meanwhile, is
The U.S. unemployment rate in July was 6.2%
, according to the Bureau of
Labor Statistics. The rate for programmers, meanwhile, is 1.3%
, and the segment is
projected to grow 8%
over the next decade or so. Some recruiters believe there are as many as
five jobs open for every applicant. As a result, the median salary for a
programmer is $76,140, versus a median of $46,440
for all jobs.
The shortage of qualified applicants has led employers to lower their
standards. A computer science degree is now a bonus rather than a
requirement. Oftentimes, successful hires aren't even college graduates.
"I would say [we're looking for] anybody that can program," says Nicole
Tucker, a recruiter for iCIMS, a New Jersey-based SaaS provider. "It's
definitely the ability to be a problem solver. They have to be
intellectually curious." Tucker adds that iCIMS has hired people who
have learned to program via Codecademy or Coursera, another tech company
that offers open online courses.
Stephen Babineau opted for something a bit more rigorous. Earlier this
year, Babineau, who is a comparatively young 27, was accepted into Code
Fellows , a Seattle-based company that
provides intense boot camp-like courses that promise programming
proficiency — even if you've never coded in your life.
Babineau, a former production assistant on /Breaking Bad/, among other
projects, grew tired of 14-hour workdays. He also envisioned himself
having a hard time with the physical demands of the job as he got older,
which led him to try out for Code Fellows. Despite a lack of any
programming knowledge, he was accepted and moved to Seattle for an
eight-week program in the spring.
It was hard work. Babineau says he studied at Code Fellows 12 hours a
day, five days a week — and then did homework on nights and weekends. "
In about the sixth week of the program, I got horrific eye strain
In about the sixth week of the program, I got horrific eye strain," he
says. "I talked to the teacher and he said take a night off, your sanity
will much improve." Babineau took the advice and made it through the
final leg of the program.
But it wasn't all drudgery. "I actually found that I enjoyed
programming," he says.
Tucker says she looks for that passion in potential hires. The problem
is, mid-career switchers aren't necessarily motivated — at least at
first — by a love of coding. Inevitably, the lure of a higher salary and
job stability have trumped their initial passion. That's why people are
switching in the first place.
A recent study shows that switching careers solely for money and
stability is a bad choice. Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of
organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry
Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, who led the
study, looked at 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United
States Military Academy at West Point. They found that those with strong
internal motives for success did better than those who were highly
internally motivated but also strongly influenced by "instrumental"
motives like the ability to secure a job later in life.
"Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives
for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those
with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less
likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less
committed to staying in the military," the professors wrote in the /New
In other words, if you like fixing things and solving puzzles, you'll
probably be a better coder and enjoy work more than someone who is
merely doing it for the paycheck. But that goes for many lines of work.
The programming life isn't for everyone, but for those who have a
passion for it, there are jobs galore — even if you're not as young as
Image: Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
It's not always clear, however, if you'll enjoy coding. So you might try
Ryan Hanna's method.
Hanna, now 30, spent his first seven years in the workforce in IT. He
had a very limited knowledge of coding, so he started teaching himself
via Codecademy in 2012. Starting with HTML, he moved on to CSS and
Eventually, he was putting in 16 hours a week. "Sometimes I forced
myself to do 30 minutes. Other times, I picked my head up and three
hours had gone by." After five months of this, Hanna began working on
building an app called Sworkit, which generates random exercise routines
to meet your schedule.
Hanna thought 100 downloads sounded like an exciting number. But after
the website /Lifehacker/ ran a story on Sworkit
he got 10,000 downloads in the first month. This year, Hanna sold
Sworkit to Nexercise , which hired him as
well. He now has a whole new career.
It doesn't always turn out that way. Zach Sims, cofounder of Codecademy,
says a minority of students finish Codecademy course — which is what you
might expect since /anyone/ can start one. Either way, since the courses
are free, it can't hurt to try. "
There is this common misconception that programming involves deep
There is this common misconception that programming involves deep math
knowledge," Sims says. "But it's gotten easy and abstract enough for
At the very least, spending a few hours on Codecademy will offer a
better understanding of some of the technologies that largely pervade
our lives in 2014. "It's never going to hurt to understand or demystify
the technology," Tucker, the iCIMS recruiter, says. "Even if you don't
ever land a programmer job."
/Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments./
Topics: Apps and Software ,
Business , Codecademy
, Dev & Design