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Are older people better programmers?

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Peter Knego states something interesting: “It's official: developers get better with age. And scarcer.”. He uses reputation and other metrics from StackOverflow to corroborate his point.

His summary is:

  • Number of coders drops significantly with age. Top developer numbers, at age 27, drop by half every 6-7 years.
  • Developers in their 40s answer roughly twice as much and ask half the questions compared to colleagues in their 20s. It seems younger generation learns and older generation teaches.
  • Quality of posts, i.e. upvotes earned by post, only slightly increases with age.
  • Seniors earn their high reputation by being more active than younger developers.
As I’ll turn 40 next year, I qualify as “older” in many development-related circles. My experience is as follows:
  • Each year, I’m getting better at seeing the “big picture”. I don’t think that process will ever stop. The decisions I make now are better and calmer than the decisions I made 10 years ago. This is due to me being more relaxed and me having more experience.
  • I learn more things on demand instead of “just in case”. Often, new things are already familiar, because they are only a remix of something that has come before. Examples: JavaScript is easy to understand if you are familiar with Scheme, Self, and Java. Objective C is easy to understand if you are familiar with C, C++, and Smalltalk.
  • Increased experience and clearer thinking have made my code better, but I still need to invest time to make it really good (several iterations, etc.).
  • I have learned to take more breaks [1] and am nicer to my body, but it’s still not nearly enough.
Pertinent comment from Frank Silbermann on DZone:
  • Fast programmers who produce disorganized code rely on their superior short term memory to get things done. These programmers get worse with age as their short-term memory weakens. They tend to drop out of the field.
  • Slow programmers who produce well-organized and readable code avoid relying on short-term memory. They tend to get faster and better with age as they accumulate in their long-term memory an ever increasing portfolio of strategies, patterns and techniques.
There are some very smart programmers out there who fall into the “fast” category. They finish their tasks quickly, but long-term, their code isn’t worth much.

Related post:

  1. Programming: the benefits of taking a break