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Listener Question: Alex Asks About Getting Back Into The Game

Published 12/14/2016

In today's episode, Alex asks about getting back into development after a long hiatus. We discuss age discrimination and whether or not to put old experience on a brand new resumé.

Today's episode is sponsored by imgix! Billions of images are served through imgix every day. With a simple URL-based API, you can resize, filter, crop, and even detect faces in your photos with incredible ease. Check out what imgix has to offer to you today at https://spec.fm/imgix!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm answering Alex Nielsen's question about how to get back into the development field. Alex wrote me an email at Developer Tea at gmail.com. Of course you can write me an email there. You can also contact me on the spec Slack community spec.fm slash Slack. Alex chose to write me an email directly and we're going to jump into that email and just a second. I'm excited about it because Alex is one of many people who listen to this podcast who are looking to get back into development. At some point they were interested in it. Maybe they worked in the field and then they left the field for one reason or another and they're looking to reintroduce themselves to the field. So I'm really excited to talk about this subject. First I want to talk about some upcoming things that are happening with Developer Tea next month. We're going to have a general focus on JavaScript. We don't like to talk about specific technology a ton on Developer Tea because so many ideas can be shared and the actual technology you're using is really a tool and so many other parts of your job are, I believe, more important for us to talk about on a day-to-day basis. But I do want to focus on JavaScript for the month of January. I think there's a lot of interesting stuff happening in the JavaScript community. So JavaScript January, that's what we're doing this coming January. I also want to remind you, if you haven't listened to the developer career roadmap, this is a series of episodes that we did on developert. You can find them all, of course, at spec.fm. But if you have questions about your career, if you are looking to firm up your plan, let's say you are just now starting out as a developer or maybe you are like Alex and you're getting back into being a developer, go and check out the developer career roadmap. If you haven't listened to it, listen to a few episodes. See if you think that it's going to be helpful to you. I'm really interested to hear your feedback on it. And it was built for you to help you decide what steps to take next. That's the entire purpose of the developer career roadmap. I'm really excited that more and more people are going to be listening to that through this next upcoming year. And I'm going to keep on pointing you back to that for questions about your career. Of course, you can also send me questions directly. And I'd love to discuss them on the show. Like today's question from Alex, I'm going to go ahead and read Alex's email. Alex wrote on it and said, Jonathan, I have recently discovered Developer Tea and have been listening to a lot of episodes. Thank you. I'm really enjoying them. Of course, Alex, I'm very happy to do this. I don't currently have a job as a developer. I'm a 46 year old stay at home dad. I'm homeschooling my two children ages five and seven. But I do want to get back into tech. And my wife is actually a public school teacher. So we're going to have her come back home and homeschool our children. I was attending Rutgers University in the fall of 94, studying music. And I saw a posting for an independent study class on HTML for the worldwide web. There was no formal web classes at this time as the public internet was still very new. We had Unix accounts and wrote our HTML live using something like EMAX. I chose a project creating a site for the Drum and Bugle Corps. I was a member of at the time and I continued to maintain that website up through about 2007 when I retired from the group. I also worked as a web designer from 2001 through 2004. Now all this time we spent mostly in HTML and some basic CSS. I did find, modify and implement other people's pearl scripts and JavaScript. But I didn't write any of those myself. I got laid off in 2004 and because at the time I couldn't afford to not be working, I took the first job that came my way and it was not a technology job. I've not worked in technology in development since other than of course maintaining the Drum Corps website. I've experimented with WordPress a bit and just recently started my coding blog on WordPress by recently I mean I have one post. Now I've known for a long time that not finding another web design job back in 2004 was a big mistake for me. So not too long ago I decided to figure out what I need to do to get back into it. For the past six months or so I've been going through a lot of tutorials from Coursera, Codecademy etc and I've been working my way through free codecamp. Finally onto my real question. Can I list any of that as experience on my resume or should I just list what I've been working on more recently? I'm afraid my employers will be wondering if I really care about technology. Maybe asking why did he take so long to come back to it and I'm also worried about age discrimination. I know you've mentioned that building lots of small projects should be my main focus but I can't decide if I should just leave that older stuff off of my resume altogether. Thanks in advance for your advice Alex. Well Alex first of all let me say congratulations on coming to a realization and then acting on it. This is a huge step for you to actually decide that you want to get back into tech and also to take that first couple of steps of learning. What this really shows is that you are aware that learning is kind of the fundamental basic foundation for what you need in this industry. You are walking the right path by picking up learning and making it a priority in your life of course to get you back into development. Now I want to address both of your main questions here. We have two really important questions that I want to talk about. The first one is whether or not you should include all of this experience that you have previous and really this is about 10 years of exposure to HTML and CSS on some level. That's really what we're talking about. The internet was very young and of course the practical nature of what you were doing with HTML and CSS in those days was very different than what it will be today. But all in all we're still talking about some level of experience with similar technologies. So I want to talk about whether or not that is relevant to today. I'm sure you can kind of see which way I'm leaning on that. But then I want to talk about your question about age discrimination or really it's just to concern that you expressed. You're worried about age discrimination and just a reminder for our listeners Alex mentioned that he is 46 years old and that he is currently a stay at home dad. So we're going to discuss both of these big questions in today's episode. Before we talk about these, I want to go ahead and talk about today's sponsor, Imagix. If you're not aware of what Imagix does, I think your mind is going to be blown. No matter what language you write in, you can integrate with Imagix in just a few minutes because they have a super simple URL based API. This is probably one of the fastest integrations that you will ever have with any external service and it's going to provide a ton of value. So here's what Imagix does. Take a minute and imagine any kind of image manipulation that you would want to do. Whether it's cropping that image or maybe adding some kind of filter or enhancing that image, all of these things, they take some kind of software. And if you've ever tried to install something like Image Magic on your own server, you know, it can be a pretty big pain. And this is what Imagix does for you. All you do is pass Imagix some URL parameters and Imagix is going to take your photo and apply those filters, apply those changes, those cropping measurements. On demand, Imagix is going to apply all of that stuff to your image and then respond with the processed image. It's a genius idea, not only is it a genius idea, but it works incredibly well for hundreds of very high profile clients. They serve over 2 billion images a day. That's billion with a B. Go and check out what Imagix has to offer. Another thing that I use recently, I mentioned this on the last episode, but I think it's such a cool feature. Imagix also does face detection and you can get that back in a JSON format. They do multiple formats for your images. And tons of incredible features. Go and check out what Imagix has to offer to you by going to spec.fm slash Imagix. That's spelled I-M-G-I-X Imagix. Thank you again to Imagix for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we're talking about Alex's concerns, specifically regarding bringing up his old experience in early internet history back in the 90s and the early 2000s. Alex wrote HTML and he wrote CSS back before the internet was really a big deal. This is when the internet was still very young and HTML and the CSS spec were still very young. And so Alex has asked this question of whether or not it's relevant for him to put this experience on his resume. This short answer, Alex, is absolutely this is relevant. And there's a lot of context that I want to provide around this. But let me start by saying yes, absolutely put this on your resume. The reason why you want to put something like this on your resume, there's a couple of reasons. The first reason is by being exposed to HTML for this long, right? By actually having some understanding of what HTML is for this long, you've already gained an automatic sense of authority over the subject. This doesn't mean that you have some expert level credentials, right? That's not what we're saying here. And we're not saying that you're going to have to lay out your entire portfolio of HTML. But simply by saying that you have been writing HTML or you wrote HTML in the very early days of the internet history, right? Of the internet's inception point is about when you were writing HTML from the perspective of your potential future employer, right? I'm going to play the employer. From my perspective as an outsider looking in, that means that you have a plethora of interesting insights into the early days of the internet, right? You have a plethora of interesting stories. You have a lot of interesting experience that most of the other people on my team probably don't have. Here's the other thing. Just likely what you're concerned about here and what other people who are in similar positions may be concerned about is that this early work, you probably don't view it as your best work. And it's likely that so many things have changed in the field that you don't think it's actually relevant. In other words, it's not really HTML anymore, right? And it's not really CSS anymore. All of the practices have changed significantly enough that the practical nature of what you did with HTML and CSS back then isn't really as applicable today. But let me encourage you by saying this is going to be true each and every time technology changes significantly. And technology is going to continue changing, right? We're not seeing that slowed down anytime soon. All of our tools are constantly being refreshed and updated. All of the things that we use are constantly changing to newer, better versions of what they were before. So this early version of HTML or this early version of CSS, those technologies are perfectly relevant enough to put on your resume, not to show how good you are at HTML, not to show how good you are at CSS. Even if you could pull up a relatively good quote unquote project from the 90s or from the early 2000s, the style, the cultural style and the technology available during that time is totally not applicable to today, right? But so why am I saying to put this on your resume? It's not because you are developing skill, but rather, and this is the important part, this is the word that is going to be the theme of the rest of today's episode, you were developing experience, you were developing experience. Let me break this down a little bit further for you. Even with sufficient experience with an object, or in language, let's say Java, right? Someone who has 20 years working with Java is going to be, generally speaking, a much higher level programmer than someone who has one year of working with, let's say, Swift. And we aren't talking about Java versus Swift. And in fact, the person who has been working for 20 years with Java, they're going to have some change over time to learn the syntax and the particulars and the ins and outs of the Swift language. But the body of experience that they have, right? The body of experience that they have with Java, the different problems they've encountered, the different types of personalities that they've had to work with, the points in history that they've encountered, the cultural aspects of what they've done, all of those things go into that person's career, right? And I'm looking at a person that I'm hiring. I'm not looking at simply a set of skills, but rather a person that has a set of skills. And a person carries with them the experience that they have gone through. So Alex, for your case, you went through the experience of working on the web in its earliest days. This is a story. This is not something to be ashamed of. This is an interesting story, an interesting, experiential thing that you can carry with you that you learned a lot from. So what you don't need to be doing is looking at all of this stuff that you did in the early days of the internet, right? No matter how irrelevant those sites may be to today's internet, no matter how different the world is, those experiences are still yours to carry. And I don't want you to discount the experiences. This is why it's important to also include things that are not related to tech. For example, the fact that you studied music, this is something that makes you who you are. If you're ever asking whether or not something should be on your resume, I want you to ask the question of what is the reason you would choose to hide it, right? What is the reason you would choose to hide it? Now aside from the fact that you want your resume to be clean and clear and punchy and to the point and easily digestible by the person that you're sending it to, really what we're saying here is, should I reveal this part of my past or my history or my experience, my education? Should I reveal this part of my professional history to my employer? Because the resume is not the only thing that matters here, right? You could send a very slim resume and you still have a remaining question, right? But I tell my employer this in an interview, if they ask about my work history, should I leave this out? What I want you to do when you ask yourself that question is ask why you would leave it out? Usually the answer to this is because we are afraid. We're somehow concerned, we're scared that this piece of our history makes us less, that somehow because you took a break, Alex, that somehow that has caused your employers to believe that you aren't going to care about your job. If you operate your career based on fear, you're going to constantly be in a bad situation. What I want you to do, Alex, is be proud of the things that you've experienced, be proud of the decisions that you have made, and more importantly, be proud of the fact that you're looking to the future rather than lamenting over the past. So that basically covers that first part, whether or not you should share this experience that you've had with the internet and the early days. By the way, there are a ton of people who worked in those early days of the internet that left and came back or they left the tech world and they went into the design world, for example. So you're not alone, Alex, in having moved on to something different and returning. You're not the only person who has done this. It doesn't invalidate your experience. It doesn't invalidate you as a developer going into the future. I want to address this topic of ageism because I think it's incredibly important in our industry to recognize the existence of age discrimination, ageism, whatever you want to call it, to recognize and hopefully encourage companies, those of us who have influence in a company, encourage our companies to avoid ageism. And secondly, Alex, I want to give you a tip or two about looking for a company, the type of company that isn't going to be likely to participate in ageism. Most of the time, these companies that are discriminating based on age are not doing so actively. They're not doing so because they have something against people of a particular age. And let me be clear, I'm not excusing this kind of inequality that's not the point here. Instead, I'm trying to kind of dissect the situation. So most of the time in the minds of those who are hiring, there's two things at play. First, someone at your age, Alex, is typically going to need more money to support their family than a younger, let's say, an introductory junior developer may need coming out of college. And that's simply an economic issue, right? If I'm hiring and I have one person who has the same skill set as another person and one is asking for a higher salary, then for me as the employer, economically, it makes more sense to go with the cheaper salary. So that's part one of this equation. Part two of the equation is the cultural side of things, right? So if you have a large number of people in your company are in there, let's say, mid to late 20s. Well, when you bring someone in who is a few decades older than them, generally there's going to be some level of cultural boundary. So finding common grounds when you have a large age gap between the average worker on your team and a new hire, finding that common ground is going to take a little bit more energy. So again, from an economic standpoint, that cultural gap is going to take a little bit more out of your team than if everyone was kind of at a homogenous level, right? So what you want to do, Alex, from a practical standpoint, again, I'm not encouraging companies to continue down the path of inequality. But I am encouraging you, Alex, to look for a company that you are more likely to not experience the bad effects of age discrimination. There are two particular job types that generally speaking are going to be more open than other jobs. In other words, they're going to be less likely to discriminate than other jobs. Again, this is just like a statistics thing, not a value driven statement, but two types of jobs. One is a remote job, right? A remote job. This eliminates a lot of those cultural boundary problems that you would have in the space with another person. Simply speaking, companies who hire remote workers who are investing in remote workers are going to be less likely to participate in age discrimination. Secondly, of course, if you look for a company that is well established, rather than an entrepreneurial company, generally speaking, higher risk companies, and by higher risk, I mean startups, right? startups that are very young and therefore higher risk because they are not established, those companies are going to be made up of largely younger workers. This is not always true. It's not across the board as simply a statistics evaluation. On the flip side, the more established companies are more likely to have people who are less willing to accept risk. Alex, an example of this for you, you have two children and so introducing extra risk into your life may put their welfare in danger, whereas someone who doesn't have a family who doesn't have children, for example, introducing risk into their life, they are the ones who carry that risk solely. A company that is likely to be made up of a more homogenous age range is going to be more established on average. Now again, I want to be very clear here that I'm not talking about this in terms of how things should be, but rather evaluating the likely scenarios. The more established companies are going to have more homogenous age ranges working for them. Alex, I highly recommend that you take a look and consider doing remote work, especially if you are interested in helping out in that homeschooling process with your two children. remote work is a huge opportunity for people exactly like you. Secondly, I would recommend that you start by looking at established companies. They are also going to appreciate your long-running history, your earlier career experience. More established companies are going to appreciate your experience a little bit more and more likely. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Alex. Thank you specifically for sending in a question. Also, I hope that this has been valuable and provide some insight, maybe some direction for you. If you are like Alex and you have questions about your career, I would love to hear them. Send them to me at developert.gmail.com. Don't forget January is going to be focused at least in large part on JavaScript. We're going to try to get some interesting figures from the JavaScript community. We're going to do some interviews with those folks. We highlight a few tools or perhaps a few best practices in the JavaScript world. We won't be 100% on JavaScript. We're going to pack every single episode full of JavaScript related stuff. We do want to have a general focus on JavaScript in January. Make sure you tune into that. Subscribe to this podcast if you haven't yet and you won't miss out on future episodes. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to Imagix for sponsoring today's episode. If you are using images at all on your websites, pretty much every single site that I build, now we actually integrate Imagix with. Go and check out Imagix. They're going to make your life easier. Spec.fm slash Imagix. That's IMGIX. Thank you again to Imagix for sponsoring today's episode of developert. Once again, thank you for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.