I’m in my 30’s and I would say that this is one of those questions that has a yes and no answer to it. Though, not for the reasons you might expect.
NOTE: This answer first appeared on Quora. I’ve since edited it for clarity…
Believe it or not there are many very successful developers past the age of 35. Many are doing the best work of their careers.
A Few Examples…
For example, Rob Pike and Ken Thompson are past the age of 60 and they created the Go programming language. They are very senior engineers at Google and I’m sure are quite well compensated for what they do.
Other examples like Robert Martin, Kent Beck, Steve Wozniak continue to make significant impacts on the industry.
You can keep going with your career in software until the day you die.
However, there is a story worth telling that does point to an age-related career ending change.
Do You Remember Factories?
Recently millions of people worked in industrial jobs. They were building cars, parts for cars, and so on. The automobile industry was booming and there were thousands of factories across the country.
Assembly line jobs were the norm. You know, like pick up a battery and install it into the car as it goes by.
Not too technical, but valuable enough to get paid $25 per hour and get a good pension. These were good jobs and many people benefitted from them.
Then over time two things happened that the average auto worker couldn’t do much about.
Cheap China vs. Robot Invasion!!
First, robotics and automation became cheap. Actually, cheap enough that even a $100,000 robot was worth the investment.
The incremental cost to run a robot 24/7 is maintenance and electricity. Both are far lower than $25/hr.
Second, when total cost of production and shipping was low enough, entire factories shut down. Production moved to China, Mexico, and other countries.
Those two forces continue to render millions of jobs in the United States nonexistent. There is no replacement jobs for them. If your skill was stitching a seat cover or bolting on a set of tires, those $25/hr jobs don’t exist anymore.
They will likely never exist again.
Computer Jobs Always Get Automated
Many jobs in computers right now won’t exist in a decade or two.
There are many people who design and create websites for a living. With templates and DIY website builders, only a small fraction of those jobs might exist.
There used to be people who fed punchcards into a mainframe. Others translated hand written programs into punchcards and neither of those jobs exist.
Heck, there used to be phone switchboard operators and those jobs don’t exist.
It’s A Question Of R.O.I.
Over time, most any high value job gets replaced by some form of automation or cheaper labor. It’s game over once the cost of automation, transportation, and communication drop below the operating cost of that job.
If software development can be automated and jobs eliminated, they will be. I guarantee you that corporations will invest in that if it is profitable.
The long view is not that your job will disappear at a certain age. Rather, it happens when there is a more cost effective way of creating software.
When that happens, many jobs will change or disappear altogether.
This Will Solve Everything (But Not For Everyone)
The way to avoid the same fate as the previous generation’s industrial workers is to continue to learn. You must grow, and gain skills that are valuable beyond the very particular skill you have now.
That can mean learning new technologies. It also means learning people skills, management, public speaking, sales, operations, accounting, finance, or any other thing that would make you more valuable.
We all work in the job market and the market doesn’t care what skills we have, it cares what skills are in demand. As long as your skill is in demand, you can find work.
I guarantee you that in every generation there will be shifts in labor demand. Required skills change. Like in any evolutionary system, you must adapt to survive.
It’s Survival Of The Fittest
As long as you are willing to adapt, software development isn’t a dead end career at any age.
But, if you sit on your hands the software world will pass you by regardless of your age.
Which approach are you going to choose?