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Midlife Career Change Possible? How?

Ranch Hand

Joined: May 13, 2000
Posts: 56
I've asked a couple questions here before but I'm looking for some more input/assurance/advice.
I'm currently a self-employed economist making decent money but I don't want to be doing this in ten years so I'm looking to make a career change now. Basically I want to transition into a programmer/developer career (which is probably where I should have started...doh!)
I have been a "hobbyist" and "utility" programming since high school, have been fooling around with Java for the past couple years and have been studying to take the SCJP2 exam (on July 5th). I can make Excel do things it probably shouldn't and over the years I've dabbled with BASIC, Lisp, C, and C++.
My "only" other education is a terminal Masters in Economics (My dissertation fell victim to department politics--never get a Ph.D. at a small university). Nevertheless, as a result, I have a strong background in mathematics, statistics and logic. If pushed I can prove that a function describes a cup in n-dimensions (Separating hyperplane theorem).
That's the background.
The questions are multifold and I would appreciate any feedback:
1. I haven't had a job interview in 13 years and I'm not even sure how qualified I might be for any particular programming job. Some have suggested going to an IT fair to get a feel and ask questions. What questions should I ask besides if I were looking for a job today would you hire me? One advantage I have is that I don't need work _today_.
2. How should I market myself given my only credential per se will be (hopefully) my SCJP2 certificate?
3. I have been subtly told that at 36, I may be "over the hill" to be starting out in programming...that employers are going to looking for younger employees to train. Is this so and if so, what can I do to tip the scales in my favor? Self-employment might be one alternative but I've done that for the last three years and I really don't like the isolation and irregular income. (I realize that given the laws in our country no one is going to flat out say they won't hire a older person but...)
4. Given the above, what kinds of employers, area, geography should I target? I live in DC but would be interested in moving back to my home state of California (I'm from Santa Cruz).
5. How did I get to mid-life? I must be the oldest Gen-Xer. (You don't have to answer this one )
Any suggestions would be appreciated, I just don't want to look daft wandering around saying I'm 36, have no demonstrated skills and want to be a programmer. They keep saying we'll change careers many times in our lives but the culture hasn't quite adjusted to it yet.
Steve Butcher

Eric Barnhill

Joined: Feb 25, 2000
Posts: 233

I can't help you with all your questions since I'm in the midst of my first Java job hunt myself. But I have noticed that places with openings for junior developers, seem content to pick you up on the basis of your certification alone. I have a friend who simply posted his resume and was placed fulltime with the SCJP immediately. This was also the advice I got from another friend who is in the CTA program at Columbia doing Java. Among other things, he told me that junior programmers aren't expected to be have a lot of specialized knowledge, and the Certification shows you know what you need to.
I have certainly heard of prejudice against older employees (although I think that means older than 36) but this is an awfully hot market right now. A (third) friend of mine successfully made a midlife career change last year switching to doing XML work, from something non-computer related (publishing I think). He was at least 36. XML and Java strike me as two of the hottest fields in the market right now so I think it's a comparable experience.
Finally, it seems to me there's plenty of Java opportunity in California, even Southern California (my favorite part of California too ). According to Dice LA is the fourth biggest Java market (check here).
Hope this helps.
Eric B.
Ray Marsh
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 12, 2000
Posts: 458
I'm 37 I made a career change to programming 6 years ago, best career move I've ever made!
Go for it Steve! I work with many 20years+ programmers. Not a brag, but I've advanced faster than them. Most of them haven't learned anything new in the last 6 years.
I was in the same position you are 10 years ago. I went to night school for two years and then it took two more to finally break into programming.
Employers are looking for talented programmers. There are many that are mediocre, few that are talented. Your age shouldn't be a problem.
All the best!

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength. – Charles Spurgeon
Milind Kulkarni
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 01, 2000
Posts: 146
Hi Steve,
I would like also to share my experience. I am basically a Chemical Engineer, worked in a cement company for about 2 years. Got fed up of that life and left that job which earned good salary during those days.
I decided to do management with specialization in Finanace. Spent 2 years in management school learning finance and there after joined a software company as a Business Analyst to work on an integrated banking package. About 18 months back, I fancied my chances with Java and started on the Java voyage. And going is great these days...

paul wheaton

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20968

Your "maturity" works into "team player"
For many companies, being a guy that the team can get along with is more important than having a lot of professional programming experience.
The certificate will get your foot in the door so you can start building experience.

permaculture Wood Burning Stoves 2.0 - 4-DVD set
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 13, 2000
Posts: 56
Thank you everyone for your encouraging and well thought out replies. I feel much better about the steps I am taking and more jazzed about taking the SCJP exam (30 days and counting...).
Is it too premature to go to a tech fair even for information gathering purposes. We're having a big one here in DC on June 27 (before my exam).
Steve Butcher
AJ Dussault
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 17, 2000
Posts: 53
I made the transition into programming two years ago. I spent ten years working as a Piping Designer (yep, pipe big enough to drive a truck through) and found that women are not respected at all in that industry! Anyway, during that ten years, I took programming classes at a local junior college just because I enjoyed it. One day, my husband said to me "Do something with all of these classes, ok?" OK - I started my master's degree and got an entry level programming/consultant job. After 8 months, got a big fat raise and a promotion to Senior Consultant. This was absolutly the best decision I made. If you work hard and prove to your employer that you are willing to do a good job, you will be rewarded.
my $.02
Christopher Acosta

Joined: Apr 21, 2000
Posts: 4
Well as they say "Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!"
Hey just had my 49th birthday and made the decision that what I want to do is be a Java Programmer. Never worked in the computer industry but I've been studying now for 7 months and plan to take the Sun test in another month or so. I can still ride my bicycle over 100 miles a day, run the stairs in my 13 story building 12 times 2 nights a week, and am taking a 35 mile hike in the White Mountains this weekend. I can put another 30+ years at least in this life easy. My philosophy if someone won't hire me because of age I'll start a company to make it work. At any rate by the end of this year Java programming will be my thing fulltime that's the goal. I don't have time for employers or women who worry about age!
Tony Alicea

Joined: Jan 30, 2000
Posts: 3226
That is the correct attitude.
I turned 50 last April and two+ months ago I got a great job as a Java programmer with ZERO professional experience in OO or Java. I did pass Certification with 98% and have been programming for a total of somewhat over 20 years in FORTRAN, assembly language and then C. Never C++.
"I don't have time for employers... who worry about age!"
Don't worry; they can't afford to do that. Unless they are idiots. But you didn't want to work for those in the first place, right?
Be sure you write some non-trivial code while studying and put it up in a Web site for other students but more importantly, for prospective employers to see.
You can get an idea from my site. I did all that modest work before even taking the Certification exam:

Tony Alicea
Senior Java Web Application Developer, SCPJ2, SCWCD
I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
subject: Midlife Career Change Possible? How?
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