Entrepreneur
Article

Learning to Code after 40: If You Think It’s Too Late, Read This

By Joshua Kraus

Keeping up with technology feels a lot like getting lost in a field (repeatedly).

It was fishkeeping, of all things, that lured Ken Hart, then age 43, to the world of web design. After years of caring for aquatic life in his own home, Hart started a fishkeeping blog using free website builders like Wix. The blog struck a chord with other fishkeepers, and it soon began seeing steady traffic. The newfound popularity caused Hart to take a hard look at his website, and reevaluate his design choices.

“I almost felt embarrassed that I was still using a free website template rather than having a proper website,” Hart said. “So I took the plunge and decided to learn how to build one.”

Whether it’s fishkeeping, beekeeping, or some other type of animal-oriented hobby that ultimately tips the scales, plenty of people learn to code after they hit 40, an age when many begin to feel out of touch with new technology.

“For us older folks, the web can be a mysterious and often confusing place,” Hart said. “But rather than cowering behind my newspaper and angrily shaking my fist at the internet savvy kids, I decided to embrace the web and learn how to design websites.”

After considering paying for a tutor, Hart decided to teach himself, and dove down the YouTube rabbit hole. He eventually found a video series by Tyler Moore, which focused on building websites using WordPress. The videos were comprehensive and easy to follow, and to reinforce what he’d learned, Hart would watch each video a second time on the train to work. The series gave him the confidence to purchase a new domain, upload a free WordPress template, and start digging into the code. Soon he had something considerably more attractive than the free website he’d used before. And he was hooked.

“I started building websites for friends and family, even if they didn’t really need them!” Hart said. “I was just desperate to hone my skills.”

After building a website for a local dog walker, Hart caught the attention of the walker’s father, who was looking for a web design intern for his digital agency Aims Media Glasgow. Hart decided to give the internship a chance.

“I felt like my online reading had only taken me so far, and if I really wanted to improve my skills as a web designer, I knew that I’d be better off working in a team, even if it was only part time.”

Bill Barnett, another coder who took up the craft as a quadragenarian, also benefited from team collaboration.

After 17 years as an aircraft mechanic, Barnett injured himself and was put behind a desk. Bored and restless, he began using his IBM 386 to sort tools and figure out how to track and log them. From there, he started reading about relational databases, and began playing around with programming to generate inventory reports.

“I was fascinated by the ability to organize information in useful ways,” Barnett said, who was soon automating data in seconds and generating up-to-date calibration schedules for precision measuring equipment. He’d hoped his work would lead to a promotion, but while it caught the attention of management, nothing more came from it.

“It really bummed me out for about six months,” Barnett said. “Then I realized that I was the one holding myself back, and decided to head back to school.”

At the age of 40, Barnett enrolled in the University of Cincinnati to study Computer Science. Being the oldest student in class, he made it a point to hang out with the brightest classmates, and encouraged them to form study groups and collaborate. To his surprise, his classmates were more than willing to do this, and accepted him into their fold. Aside from some occasional ‘old man’ razing, Barnett experienced no ageism, and credits much of his success to this positive collaboration process.

“There’s no one method for learning,” Barnett said. “It’s more of an ethic, which is work hard and be persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get involved in the developer community. Go to user groups. Talk to people. Especially as an older developer, don’t be afraid to approach younger developers who might be senior in experience. Don’t fall into the mindset that, ‘Because I’m older, I know better.’”

Barnett is now a partner at Gaslight, a 27-person software development shop in Cincinnati. He started the company with five others from the tech community, who he met through meetups and other community involvement.

Hart, meanwhile, is still with the same agency, four years after joining. He works from home, visiting the office every two weeks to meet with the team and share ideas. His core strength is still design, but he is adamant about improving his development skills. In fact, his agency saw enough potential in Hart that they paid for him to take a six-week development course.

“It’s been a crazy journey, but I’ve loved every minute,” Hart said. “I still work full-time on top of my web design, but hope that one day I’ll be able to focus on it full-time.”

Learning to code can be daunting to those of any age, but after three decades of technological absence, it’s easy to doubt your abilities entirely. Fortunately, people like Hart and Barnett are here to tell you that learning to code after 40 is not only possible, one can even make a new career out of it.

  • M S i N Lund

    Older people are less prone to jump on crap-trends that break things in the name of perpetual change.

    like low-contrast-design, hiding navigation for no reason, and piling a meelion annoying animations on every page, etc etc…

    Whenever something new comes along, we don’t automatically squeak with joy close our eyes and bend over to take it, but rather ask:
    “OK what does it do? Does it actually work? What do you mean you don’t know?!”

    So… WELCOME!

  • Werner Laude

    I started WebDesign (DreamWeaver) at the age of 53, coding (php, later Ruby on Rails) with 55..still enjoy and live from it with 65 and will keep on. Age is not the point.

  • Craig Buckler

    The best age to start coding is: now. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Your experience and results are more important.

    • KABALI RAJANI

      hi sir… this is rakesh.

      i have completed my gradution in 2014…i’m in confuse what to do….i’m interested in web development php… but i don’t no anything about maths, maths is important for php….i can do static(html,css).. can i learn now maths with age 25…everyone say’s i don’t no anything….

      some times i go depression…i dont no anything….everytime my mind say’s you have one option “sucide”… plz give reply sir….

      • johnnyblablabla

        of course you can learn maths. don’t even bother going to college to do it. set yourself up somewhere with some books and a computer and study and practice and keep at your craft. all anything takes is perseverance. but if you want to kill yourself about something else, then maybe you’re depressed. st johns wort might help. or turmeric tea with a little black pepper. exercise, etc…

    • KABALI RAJANI

      hi sir… this is rakesh.
      i have completed my gradution in 2014…i’m in confuse what to do….i’m interested in web development php… but i don’t no anything about maths, maths is important for php….i can do static(html,css).. can i learn now maths with age 25…everyone say’s i don’t no anything….
      some times i go depression…i dont no anything….everytime my mind say’s you have one option “sucide”… plz give reply sir….

      • TechPress Collin

        Hey man, math is NOT important for PHP. Maybe if you are getting into something really really technical, but you do not need to be a math wizard.
        Don’t kill yourself. Things WILL get better. Meditate. Watch Eckhart Tolle or something. You’ll be fine. I wanted to kill myself at your age, too. It gets better!

      • TechPress Collin

        Math is more important for making physics engines in video games, but not for database driven websites. Most of the things you will need for math are already out on the web for you to base your work off of. Once you understand how things work, you can try to implement your own math into things if you really feel it’s necessary. Math seems more important for JavaScript over PHP for what you will be trying to do with it. You can do about anything with PHP but mainly people use it for databases.

  • http://www.irwinassociates.eu/ Graham

    A rather patronising article

    • http://twitter.com/jfalconer Joel Falconer

      I imagine it might come across that way if you’re well aware that age isn’t a barrier to getting involved with development, but you’d be surprised how many otherwise interested people believe it’s just too late in life to start something new like this. This article is intended to inspire those who think too much has happened in coding over the past ten years to get a decent foothold as a beginner without spending years earning a degree, or perhaps think that there’s too much ageism in the industry to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

      • George

        There IS too much ageism in the industry to make it a viable pursuit. I wish it was not so.

  • http://boblucore.me Robert E Lucore

    I always chuckle when when people ask if 40-something is too old. I learned BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL in my late teens. Then I got distracted for nearly 40 years. I am in my 60s and learning to code all over again. It’s never too late.

    • jimlongo

      If you were born in the 50’s (that’s right, “black and white time” as the kids say), you were near 40 when the internet really took off.

      I’m sure I’m not that uncommon. Started as a hobby, html/css in the beginning, then php and databases, javascript . . . eventually decided to go to night school at the local university for some formal training, then in my 50’s decided to change careers. Best thing I ever did . . . I love it, it’s so exciting, I feel like a kid again . . . worked for a few years as a contractor and just started my first full time job when a lot of other people my age are burned out and counting the days till retirement.

      What are you waiting for?

  • Chris Perry

    Quite why 40, or any other age, should be selected as an arbitrary barrier to learning is an odd one. The key attributes to learning any new subject are curiosity and enthusiasm, code is no different. I’m due to start a coding boot camp later this year and have an absolute faith in my ability to not only succeed at that, but also to secure a role in the web development industry afterwards, as part of a career change I wish to make. Is it going to be a challenge? Of course it is. Anything worth doing usually is. That’s not going to stop me though. How old am I? Well, by the time I start the course, I’ll be 55. Bring it on. NDY.

    • M S i N Lund

      Probably the writer is young enough so that 40 seems like very very far off.

      Kinda like when you see Science-fiction from the 50’s taking place in the distant silver-jumpsuit clad space-future of 1975.

    • Person Person

      At 30, we still look young, but at 40 … eh, not so much! I notice a lot of youth-oriented endeavors are populated by 35-and-under. It seems when we get to 35, we move into management, drop out to raise families, etc. It is harder to start over at 40, unless you really want to (or have to). But it can be done! Good luck with your boot camp!

    • jeaves

      Hi, Chris.
      I am also considering applying to a bootcamp and am trying to decide. Which one did you decide on attending, and was there a particular reason for choosing it over others?

  • dr john

    40? A mere child. I went back to university at 51 to get a computing degree just for fun. I dream of being as young as 40. Now at 65 I know I am falling behind all the latest buzz words and trendy stuff, but I still do web work and a little programming.

  • George

    Age discrimination is beyond previlent in the tech industry. A lot of companies will not even talk to you if you are over 30. To pretend otherwise is to missinform people. Yes, older people can and do learn. Colleges for working adults are filled with people proving it every day. Yes, we can learn. Getting hired is a whole different issue. Lots of success stories posted here, and I am happy for all of you. But with 15 years experience as a web applications developer, followed by 5 years with no interviews and endless applications submitted, at 60 yo I have gone back to work as a dishwasher. I am sure to hear a lot of talk about my attitude, but the facts are that the cost of health care rises with the average age of a companies employees. There are many financially sound reasons for tech companies to hire young.

  • Croydon Hall

    I built my 1st website for fun late last century (1998) as a young 48-year-old.
    This lead over time to working for a multinational company and moving overseas.
    Now I have morphed into owning my own company which develops online training courses for a variety of companies and I could not be happier! So as Craig Buckler so correctly says “The best age to start coding is: now”.

  • Gene Ricky Shaw

    What a cool article. As an over-40 learning to code, it was really encouraging!

  • adaivanoff

    Age is just a number, they say. It’s more other factors than age that make or break learning to code. For instance, for some former colleagues and other people I know even the early 30s turn out to be too late – young kids to raise, sick parents to take care of, mortgages to pay. Not a free minute for anything else, not to mention exhaustion to the limit. On the other hand, I can think of other guys I know in their 40s and even 50s, who either don’t have kids or whose kids are already adults, have paid off their mortgages, might have a parent or two to take care of, but in general have more free time and energy than many 20 and 30 year olds. If they want, they have the energy and time to learn programming even better than a college kid.

    It also depends on what you need to learn to code for. It’s different if it’s for a job, for freelancing/business ownership, or just for fun. If it is for a job, then your hopes might not be realistic. But I do believe in maybe almost any other industry a 40 or 50 year old newbie is facing the same. If you plan to be a freelancer or a business owner, then age doesn’t matter that much and if you like coding, there is no reason not to delve into it.

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/seankabanuk Sean Kabanuk

    I think 40 is the wrong age to use a case point. Many of us 40 somethings grew up using PCs, playing video games and studying technology in school–and a lot of us have been working professionally in these fields for 20 years.

  • TechPress Collin

    Like Bob Proctor says, if you’re in your 60’s or 70’s, ask yourself what you would want to do if you were in your 20’s again. That’s what you should be doing!

  • Person Person

    I’m wondering how good these guys’ typing skills were. Most guys I know who are over 40 hunt and peck, and they’re all very resistant to learning keyboarding skills. Moreover, it can take years to build your speed to something reasonable, maybe 45-50 wpm. Younger people tend to type like demons nowadays; 100 wpm is no longer rare, and it really can make a difference in productivity.

  • ShadowRising

    “I was fascinated by the ability to organize information in useful ways,” Barnett said, who was soon automating data in seconds and generating up-to-date calibration schedules for precision measuring equipment.”

    This segment jumped out at me. I’m not interested in doing design much these days, I’ve done that in the past. What this guy says really intrigues me, the idea of using technology to organize information in useful ways. Can someone tell me what specific fields you would look into if you wanted to go in this direction? And what type of study would be required? I’d be grateful if anyone had any suggestions. I’m at a crossroad in life and trying to figure out what direction to go next. And I just turned 40 a couple months ago.

  • mike

    I started at the tender age of 42 and now 16 years later I still love it.
    I love the continual evolvement, nothing set in stone, today’s best practice becomes tomorrow’s antiquity.
    All anyone ever needs is drive; just do it and do it now.

Recommended

Learn Coding Online
Learn Web Development

Start learning web development and design for free with SitePoint Premium!

Instant Website Review

Use Woorank to analyze and optimize your website to improve your website to improve your ranking!

Run a review to see how your site can improve across 70+ metrics!

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.