Paid not to leave

Yesterday, Extreme Programming creator and Facebook engineer, Kent Beck published some thoughts on agism in tech. Having now spent more than 20 years in software development, I’m starting seriously consider how age effects both my capability and employability in the field.

Previously I discussed what I consider a career misstep. Basically, as Chuck McManis put it in the following up conversation on Hacker News, I was ‘paid not to leave’ a long term employer.

During my tenure, I had multiple opportunities to make lateral moves, and I turned them down. It is impossible to say if making a move sooner would have put me on a better life trajectory, but in retrospect I would have made a different decision.

Almost none of today’s major technology companies existed when I started in the industry, and countless companies have come and gone. Longevity requires flexibility.

Flexibility is obviously required when it comes to technology itself. While I could still make a living writing C++ — which I did after I graduated from college, contemporary C++ code has little in common with C++ code from 1995. Plus the application domain would likely be drastically different.

What is less obvious is organizational flexibility is also vital. If you ‘grow up’ in an organization, again borrowing words from McManis, you might not only have learned to live within the organization’s culture, you may have played a hand in creating it. It is reasonable for a hiring manager question if you will be able effect positive change in or adapt to a new organization structure if it is unproven.

While there are no absolutes, and there is value in committing to a project for the long haul, you should also be open to questioning what constitutes your current value and if that value can be translated to another position, and to make lateral changes even if in the short term requires a cut in compensation.

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