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Are decades worth of experience worth anything these days?

 
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Hi folks. I started my software development career many years ago (1989). Since then many things have changed, some technologies have come and gone.
I tend to think that there's about a 5 year sliding window of relevant knowledge in this industry. I mean, who cares that I know all about CORBA? Nobody that's who.

So for all my years of experience, I'm on a par, knowledge-wise, with people who graduated just a few years ago. Now, this can lead to potential bad feelings with discrepancies in salary. I personally think that everyone doing a similar job, should get paid roughly the same rate, but that's not how things tend to work. I get hired at a senior level because of my years of experience and age. Do I know more than the younger devs? Probably not, if you discount all that old useless tech. We are effectively equal when it comes to that 5 year sliding window of knowledge.

Don't know what my point is here really, or whether I'm just making an observation. I like my job as a software dev, and wouldn't want to do anything else. But I do feel like a lot of my knowledge/experience is wasted.
 
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Andrew Fielden wrote:. . . . Do I know more than the younger devs? Probably not . . .

You will doubtless have more knowledge about the sort of thing that will work and that won't work.

We tried this on the Nova 5.
Did it work?
No, but...

 
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:You will doubtless have more knowledge about the sort of thing that will work and that won't work


Yes, that's true.
 
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You should be supervising young coders. It's true that they have just as much technical expertise as you do on the latest technologies, but technical expertise is not the measure of a good programmer. Good programmers have been burnt by stupid problems so many times that they have a well-developed sense of how to plan things to avoid those problems.

Here's another way of thinking about it: a young programmer plunges into coding immediately and gets the code written in an hour, then spends twenty hours debugging it. The old pro spends five hours thinking and planning, then writes the code in two hours, and it works perfectly the first time.

Let the young whippersnappers stay on top of the latest developments, while you concentrate on teaching them good project habits.

By the way, did you know that the 6502 opcode for loading a fixed byte into the accumulator is $A9? 😛
 
Monica Shiralkar
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Chris Crawford wrote:Here's another way of thinking about it: a young programmer plunges into coding immediately and gets the code written in an hour, then spends twenty hours debugging it. The old pro spends five hours thinking and planning, then writes the code in two hours, and it works perfectly the first time.



Absolutely, agree.

However, when the old pro spends 5 hours thinking and planning and 2 hours coding whereas the new pro always look busy, the managers think that old pro has laid back attitude and is not doing that much hard work as rest of the team. This should ideally not happen but practically it happens often.
 
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Monica Shiralkar wrote:However, when the old pro spends 5 hours thinking and planning and 2 hours coding whereas the new pro always look busy, the managers think that old pro has laid back attitude and is not doing that much hard work as rest of the team. This should ideally not happen but practically it happens often.


If you are working remotely, manager can't see you anyway.

But even in the office, thinking/planning look like work. Unless your manager counts keystrokes.

Chris Crawford wrote:You should be supervising young coders.


Or mentoring. Or doing code review. Or anticipating problems when they occur.
 
Monica Shiralkar
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
But even in the office, thinking/planning look like work. Unless your manager counts keystrokes.


Yes , if the manager is sane (as is expected to be ), he will understand. If he is crazy one (which happens a few times too), then he will not understand that.
 
Andrew Fielden
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Chris Crawford wrote:
By the way, did you know that the 6502 opcode for loading a fixed byte into the accumulator is $A9? 😛



Haha. Vaguely, yes. My old Oric home computer had a 6502 processor. I think the BBC Micro did too.
 
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Ageism.

I first faced static about my age in 1989. Then again, that was the worst employer I've ever had, bar none.

I actually missed the CORBA fad, although ironically I worked on a CORBA project for someone several years after CORBA had died out. Poor guy.

The point that HR departments (well, one of many points, ) miss is that while you might not have been taught the latest shiny technology in school - and actually, I don't recall specific technological platforms being class studies anyhow - what you have learned over time is often more valuable. Unlike the so-called "real world", computer people do learn from history, and while that doesn't mean that each new technology is inevitably closer to perfection (I present the warts in Java for example), it does mean that you have examples from the older stuff that you can leverage. Including having learned what actually works and what doesn't.

The trick, of course, is to recognize what's special about the new platform and not blindly try to force it to behave just like what you're used to. I knew someone who got frustrated trying to write Pascal like it was COBOL, Python has a different mindset than Java, and you wouldn't believe the number of people who check into the JavaServer Faces forum with "solutions" that attempt to program JSF like they're used to programming raw servlets - JSF is an Inversion of Control architecture and many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that the framework automatically delivers stuff to you rather than making you write code to go out and get it. Or that JSF is based on POJOs and that very little well-written JSF code is actually JSF-specific.

Anyone who wants the good old days where you were the person who was responsible for the COBOL payroll program on the mainframe and that's all you did until the day you retired on a pension is out of luck. I figure I'm likely to end up sucking up a new technology no less often than every 24 months, if that. Fortunately I enjoy that sort of thing.

The real problem isn't in old dogs learning new tricks, it's that Hiring looks for cheaper people who won't object to being forced to work insane hours. And most people who aren't young anymore have had enough of that.
 
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Monica Shiralkar wrote:. . . , the managers think that old pro . . . is not doing that much hard work . . .

The rest of the team should be preparing their rota . . .































. . . about whose turn it is to shoot such a manager
 
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Monica Shiralkar wrote:
However, when the old pro spends 5 hours thinking and planning and 2 hours coding whereas the new pro always look busy, the managers think that old pro has laid back attitude and is not doing that much hard work as rest of the team. This should ideally not happen but practically it happens often.



One of the biggest flaws in the human brain is its tendency to equate motion with productivity.

Given the world a choice between paying Brazil to let the Amazon forest basin sit undisturbed and operating as a global biological cleansing mechanism versus not paying and having Brazil clear-cut it down to another Sahara, it's very, very hard to get people to pay to "do nothing". To say nothing of in a more realistic model, too many people in Brazil wouldn't sit for leaving a resource unexploited where there are jobs and business it could generate in the short term as opposed to many generations.

So it is with software. Just about all of us have solved some of our stickiest problems not when we were "at work", but rather in bed at 3AM or in the shower. Sitting staring out the window isn't "working" and - my own biggest pet peeve - hours in chair is not productivity. Software isn't like hamburger where the more hours in the day you grind, the more software you get. Useful software, anyway. And even a hamburger grinder run overspeed outputs cooked meat, not actual hamburger.

COVID has done us a favor in that regard. It has demonstrated concretely that fighting your way through traffic to park in a chair at a desk for 8 hours or more a day isn't more essential to the economy than work-from-home in many cases.
 
Andrew Fielden
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Tim Holloway wrote:Ageism.

I first faced static about my age in 1989. Then again, that was the worst employer I've ever had, bar none.

I actually missed the CORBA fad, although ironically I worked on a CORBA project for someone several years after CORBA had died out. Poor guy.

The point that HR departments (well, one of many points, ) miss is that while you might not have been taught the latest shiny technology in school - and actually, I don't recall specific technological platforms being class studies anyhow - what you have learned over time is often more valuable. Unlike the so-called "real world", computer people do learn from history, and while that doesn't mean that each new technology is inevitably closer to perfection (I present the warts in Java for example), it does mean that you have examples from the older stuff that you can leverage. Including having learned what actually works and what doesn't.

The trick, of course, is to recognize what's special about the new platform and not blindly try to force it to behave just like what you're used to. I knew someone who got frustrated trying to write Pascal like it was COBOL, Python has a different mindset than Java, and you wouldn't believe the number of people who check into the JavaServer Faces forum with "solutions" that attempt to program JSF like they're used to programming raw servlets - JSF is an Inversion of Control architecture and many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that the framework automatically delivers stuff to you rather than making you write code to go out and get it. Or that JSF is based on POJOs and that very little well-written JSF code is actually JSF-specific.

Anyone who wants the good old days where you were the person who was responsible for the COBOL payroll program on the mainframe and that's all you did until the day you retired on a pension is out of luck. I figure I'm likely to end up sucking up a new technology no less often than every 24 months, if that. Fortunately I enjoy that sort of thing.

The real problem isn't in old dogs learning new tricks, it's that Hiring looks for cheaper people who won't object to being forced to work insane hours. And most people who aren't young anymore have had enough of that.



Exactly. I like doing my job, but I also have a life outside it, and a family I want to spend time with.

Anyone who thinks that a culture of ageism doesn't exist in this industry, is deluded.

Btw, does anyone actually write bare metal servlets any more?! The choice of web frameworks these is absolutely bewildering.

And I take the points about experience being worth something. However, the hotshot kids these days think they know it all.

 
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Tim Holloway wrote:

Monica Shiralkar wrote:
However, when the old pro spends 5 hours thinking and planning and 2 hours coding whereas the new pro always look busy, the managers think that old pro has laid back attitude and is not doing that much hard work as rest of the team. This should ideally not happen but practically it happens often.



One of the biggest flaws in the human brain is its tendency to equate motion with productivity.

Given the world a choice between paying Brazil to let the Amazon forest basin sit undisturbed and operating as a global biological cleansing mechanism versus not paying and having Brazil clear-cut it down to another Sahara, it's very, very hard to get people to pay to "do nothing". To say nothing of in a more realistic model, too many people in Brazil wouldn't sit for leaving a resource unexploited where there are jobs and business it could generate in the short term as opposed to many generations.

So it is with software. Just about all of us have solved some of our stickiest problems not when we were "at work", but rather in bed at 3AM or in the shower. Sitting staring out the window isn't "working" and - my own biggest pet peeve - hours in chair is not productivity. Software isn't like hamburger where the more hours in the day you grind, the more software you get. Useful software, anyway. And even a hamburger grinder run overspeed outputs cooked meat, not actual hamburger.

COVID has done us a favor in that regard. It has demonstrated concretely that fighting your way through traffic to park in a chair at a desk for 8 hours or more a day isn't more essential to the economy than work-from-home in many cases.



You are the voice of reason Tim. I'd like to work with you. Any vacancies?

 
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my thoughts on the original question is that like many things, some people value it more than others.  Cars, wine, art, time...everyone puts a different value on things.  The trick (in this case) is to find a company/manager who values your experience as much as you do.  That is by no means a trivial task, but i don't think it an impossible one.
 
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Andrew Fielden wrote:
Btw, does anyone actually write bare metal servlets any more?! The choice of web frameworks these is absolutely bewildering.

And I take the points about experience being worth something. However, the hotshot kids these days think they know it all.



I'm a big JSF fan, but JSF isn't appropriate for generating non-form documents like PDFs and spreadsheets, so it's easiest to write servlets for that. For structured text (such as YAML) and XML, I'm likely to call on JSPs.

I kew it all when I was a hot-shot kid. Now I know even more!
 
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Andrew Fielden wrote:You are the voice of reason Tim. I'd like to work with you. Any vacancies?



Alas, as you can see by recent headlines, reason is not what gets you lots of support and capital. So I'm afraid that my only employee is my cat. Or is it vice versa?
 
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Andrew Fielden wrote:. . . . a life outside it, and a family I want to spend time with. . . .

You need to remind your bosses that a tired programmer gets the company on the front page of the newspapers:-

Fatal accident blamed on computer error,

or,

1,234,567 card numbers and email addresses lost to hacker attack.

  * * * * * * *

. . . the hotshot kids these days think they know it all.

So did I when I was that age. And a bit more besides.
 
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
But even in the office, thinking/planning look like work.



Yes, true. Thanks.
 
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As we age (myself included), our edge is less in the current issues of the world, and more in the observations through time.  Only so much information can be garnished through print.

My training is math, engineering, and physics.  I code.  Those disciplines have evolved tremendously since I started.  I was in senior management furthering the technology and processes, and then opted out entirely.  

Experience is always worth something, to those whom haven't yet learned the lesson.
 
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Welcome to the Ranch
 
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M Winters wrote:our edge is less in the current issues of the world, and more in the observations through time.



What does this mean?
 
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In my opinion, some of the things on which more experienced employees tend to be better than new ones are :
1) They have an overall better approach of working.
2) They keep the manager updated.Managers do not have to run after them for updates.
3) They estimate more realistically rather than assuming that they would do 50 things in the week and ending up doing 20.
4) They keep their thinking clear instead of keeping doing something throughout without having any idea of what it is.Also,  Instead of jumping directly into code they spend time thinking about it which ultimately improves the productivity and minimises rework.
5) If they encounter roadblocks they known it better how to come out of them rather than sitting on the issue alone for days and then giving a surprise that I was stuck on this since days and now I am telling.
6) They are more mature in not getting into or dealing with any conflicts.
 
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Satyaprakash Joshii wrote:. . .  They estimate more realistically rather than assuming that they would do 50 things in the week and ending up doing 20. . .

When I had to estimate, I always tried to estimate pessimistically rather than realistically. If you say it will take a week and it actually takes five days, you will look better. Learning to suck through your teeth is a useful extra (ask any builder or car mechanic): “Pffffffffffffffffffffft! If nothing goes wrong, we might just manage that within the week.”
 
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Also, the more experienced developers keep themselves more calm and composed while comminicating which helps them commincate more clearly and precisely.
 
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:When I had to estimate, I always tried to estimate pessimistically rather than realistically.



My practice was to take my original estimate and multiply it by two. My boss had a similar practice for dealing with my estimates. The combination of the two worked quite well.
 
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Andrew:

Let me weigh in on this...  I've been in the industry now for over 3 decades, all in all, and got my Comp Sci degree almost 3 decades ago... well actually 3 decades ago this year.  The route I have chosen and I have told all my employers is this: "I'm a programmer, give me a problem and I will solve that for you using a 3GL style and fitting your Enterprise platform."  That is my promise to them.  I do not want to mentor young programmer, I do not want to manage their teams, I want to solve the hard problems.  I have the experience to do that.  My current project is in the 4th iteration that I have developed as the business rules have changed.  I dare say that I am senior in my age and my experience, like yourself.  I am also senior in my pay--that is my employer's promise to me: they will pay me commensurate with what I think my worth, what my years of experience demand, and the fact that I have a college degree. (3 decades down the road since I graduated--that degree still makes a difference)

The first version of this project, some 15 years ago, I sat in an interview and after a few questions the director came in and looked over my resume while my soon to be boss continued the interview.  The director stopped the interview and interjected and queried the following: "You're a real programmer; aren't you?"

My answer to her was direct: "Yes ma'am.  I am a classically trained 3GL programmer, and I can and will automate your needs on whatever scale you need, local project, your enterprise, or the industry."

I was hired and have been there ever since.  They treat me very well: I do not mentor the younger programmers, I am not a manager of a specific team, and I am paid well--what I think I am worth to them (definitely as a senior level programmer--I make more than many of the managers that run the teams I work with).  That first version, I gave them what they considered almost a miracle.  Admittedly, it was a good piece of programming that revolutionized their Enterprise.  All along the way, I programmed what I knew and gave them automation after automation to make their Enterprise more agile and valuable in their industry.

This version, or phase, we are on now.  I was asked to redevelop for their new direction.  I told the the project supervisor the following: "If you don't mind running into a dead end from time to time and just scrapping that effort and chalking it up to that is not the way we should go, then I can do this for you."  You see it is a direction that nobody had gone, here at least and very few other places, before.  In reality it is a direction many portions of the industry are just now starting to adopt, so there wasn't many options to choose from 5 years ago when we started the new endeavor.  Proof of concept pieces lay strewn across our drives like litter on the parade ground after the parade, but we are there, it works, and we did it first.

What I bring to the table is this: I know I can get there from here.  I can see the path from here to there and know if it can be done.  I also absolutely know that I can eat this elephant 1 bite at a time, one plate at a time, one roast at a time, until that elephant is eaten.  The younger guys look at what is being done or required, and say--I'm glad it's not me or hide.

Do not suppose that I do this all by myself or that I am boasting that "I did it." (well, a little bit I guess)  Because I work with several DBA's, Programmers, and a host of other support staff to get the things done that need to be done--I very much direct the work, but I choose not to have to do the managerial overhead that would be required if I where a "manager".

Do I know everything?  No!  I study, study, study all the time, so I can use current technology to get to where my employers want to go.  Quite often that means asking some of the younger and less experienced developers how to do stuff.  It's not a weakness to admit that you don't know all things.

I feel I have rambled about enough--I don't know if I've answered your question or given you insight or not, but the question you ask has been a question that I've contemplated many times over these few decades of my career.  I enjoy the challenge of doing what has never been done before, what others deem as workably impossible, or just basically scares the other too much to do it.  I step up and say--I can do it.  They look at my experience and they say: "I believe you can."  Then they give me what I want and the adventure begins anew again!

Les
 
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Paul Clapham wrote:. . . . My boss had a similar practice for dealing with my estimates. . . . .

You mean he halved it back to where you started?
 
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Les Morgan wrote:. . . the adventure begins anew again!

Les

Now, if that isn't a description of what programming should be like, I don't know what is!
 
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Andrew Fielden wrote:I get hired at a senior level because of my years of experience and age.


Think of it, that companies don't just hire at a senior level for nothing, and rest assured, don't pay money just for nothing. Their primary goal is business and what is best for them.

While the seniority level is not necessarily something what can be consumed immediately when the person is hired, but most companies at some point (and not singular) in their lifespan have situations, where seniors are the reasons those companies aren't gone already. And I presume it is worth paying the premium only for such an insurance.

Other, more quickly observable things, that work just goes smoother when there is someone senior you can feel near by, not necessarily there is a new tech on offer to learn from, but rather valuable discussions you can have about, whether it be just a chat about the principles one may want to follow or acquire the points you may slip on.

 
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A rather naïve viewpoint, I fear.

Liutauras Vilda wrote:Their primary goal is business and what is best for them.



Companies can have a lot of primary goals, and not all corporations are businesses, in fact, but as I frequently remind my wife, You don't avoid getting laid off because you're intelligent, knowledgeable, and/or a hard worker. You avoid getting laid off because you please the people in charge. Whole departments can find themselves on the street because someone at the top was in danger of not making quarterly numbers and thus losing the bonus that would allow him to buy a new Porsche. Your job security is just as good, if not better, if you're related to someone important, can spin bullshit, or just plain suck up to the right people.

You get hired at a senior level because the hiring people think/hope you can do a senior person's job. Someone who's 55 years old and previously worked as an accountant is probably not going to come in at a senior position. Or, alas, considering the industry and its approach to age, get in at all. Someone who gets hired at a senior position who proves to be incompetent will likely get fired. At least unless they have the right connections, relatives, or photographic evidence.

Also, of course, if you're such a pain to work with that you're of no use in helping/mentoring junior personnel, your job security may be reduced.
 
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Campbell,

Ya, it really is!  It's what I wanted when I talked to the Comp Sci Department Chair at the college I got my BS from and asked him if I could shape my own course work more than outlined in the degree programs--he agreed.  I was heavy in programming and Math for the problem solving and implementation--I also took pre-engineering (first 2 years of the engineering curriculum at  a local community college before I went to the University). Admittedly when I got out of college, I had no idea how to get the career I wanted, but was tenacious enough to find that first job and then work like crazy or build a reputation and references.  I left that first job after 7 months, actually bumped out by cutbacks, and was hired into the next job as the corporate Sr Programmer on the strength of my first 7 months in the industry.  I've consulted for some of the best consulting firms in our area and have always gotten paid the money I've asked for, and received raises appropriate to my career path all along the way.

I consider myself a general programmer--most people call me a Software Engineer, fancy title for a person that just sees the path and implements it--all along my career other programmers have told me: "The general programmer is dead, you have to specialize."  Well, I guess I do specialize, but it's in general programming--problem solving.

Very much I meet each new task, and most new days, as the start of a new adventure.  I am doing what I want, where I want, and basically how I want.

I just had an evaluation interview this last week, and I was asked: what can we do for you?  my answer was: I enjoy working for you; you have always taken care of me, that's why I figure you need to have everything you ask for.  That's pretty much how it has been through my entire career and I enjoy it!

Les

Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Les Morgan wrote:. . . the adventure begins anew again!

Les

Now, if that isn't a description of what programming should be like, I don't know what is!

 
Campbell Ritchie
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Yes, you have been blessed to have such a career I remember you told us about tailoring your undergraduate course some time ago. Did you ever consider going for a higher degree?
 
Les Morgan
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Campbell,

As a Senior in college, I waS asked by a Software Engineering instructor to be hi research assistant the next year.  At that time I had a wife, 2 kids, was over $40K in debt for my education, and was working 35+ hours a week managing a grocery store at night; I looked at him and told him my situation, then added: "I'm going into the real world and take it easy!" he told me that a statement like that would normally bring on a lecture about ethics and motivation, but instead he told me: "I believe you will be taking it easy in the real world."  He was a good instructor and a good guy too.  Since then, from time to time, I get the urge to get a Masters so I can teach at a community college when I retire, give back after having fun for 35+ years, but it's always been: wife, family, job--and putting in 13 hour days with my commute, I just never got around to it.  Maybe when I retire in a few more years, then I'll have time for the Masters, but now there are grandkids spread out across the Western US to give time to also.  So who knows?

If I remember correctly--I ran into you back in the day over at Sun.com in their forums too.

Les


Campbell Ritchie wrote:Yes, you have been blessed to have such a career I remember you told us about tailoring your undergraduate course some time ago. Did you ever consider going for a higher degree?

 
Campbell Ritchie
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Les Morgan wrote:. . . when I retire in a few more years, then I'll have time for the Masters, but now there are grandkids spread out across the Western US . . .

We had on chap called Richard who came back to work for a PhD; his topic was about entrepreneurial startups; he found that most people had given up their startups within five years and become somebody else's employees

If I remember correctly--I ran into you back in the day over at Sun.com in their forums too. . . .

Now, that was a long time ago. Summer 2005 if I remember correctly.
I have it far worse than you with grandkids; the more widely‑spread of them are 1¼ miles from here. Rarely see them now because of Covid, but that won't last for ever.
 
Satyaprakash Joshii
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If you are calm and composed while working and communicating instead of being nervous, you do significantly better at work. More experienced employees know this fact well and it helps them in work.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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For having a question mentioned in the January 2021 CodeRanch Journal, congratulations: this question earns you a cow
 
Monica Shiralkar
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Chris Crawford wrote: a young programmer plunges into coding immediately and gets the code written in an hour, then spends twenty hours debugging it. The old pro spends five hours thinking and planning, then writes the code in two hours, and it works perfectly the first time.



Invaluable advice for anyone. I would have given a cow for this had I been having that privelage.
 
With a little knowledge, a cast iron skillet is non-stick and lasts a lifetime.
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