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The Short Lifecycle of Tech Careers

It is no secret that when you turn 40, finding a new tech job or avoiding layoffs, becomes a challenge. In this article, I discuss how to prepare for this, and what to do when you get older. Somehow, a tech career has some similarities to professional football players: a few select become millionaire at a young age, many will never make money in tech despite their education, and with few exceptions, you are deemed unfit to play in the field when you turn 40.

This is particularly true in pure tech (working for a tech company creating new technology) as opposed to applied tech (working for brick and mortar to help solve business problems with technology). In most pure tech companies, the average age for employees is below 30. Even VCs are reluctant to invest in older founders. I think this mindset will change in the future. Afterall, it comes with a drawback: there is no unicorn under 30. By unicorn, I mean a visionary who masters computer science, statistics, machine learning, AI, product design, engineering. Someone familiar with all aspects of business operations who can design much better products a lot faster.

Hiring managers believe these unicorns don’t exist, because themselves are under 30 and would be unable to recognize one, or don’t want employees who know too much. Eventually, investors and board members will look for them. But let’s pretend that this situation will not change for at least 10 years. In other words, the idea that in the corporate world, you are a dinosaur at 40. If your only experience in generating significant income for yourself is via a tech job, what strategy should you adapt? I now discuss action plans to address this issue.

The Big Picture

If your job involves many repetitive coding tasks, it will be eliminated in the next 10 years. For instance, manual SQL queries, A/B testing, or routine analyses. Automate your job as much as you can to save as much time as possible. Use the saved time for projects not linked to your employer: more on this in the next section. You could even pay someone outside your organization to help with the mundane tasks in your job. Or use efficient tools. I hired many overseas contractors to help with various projects. In my next article, I will discuss how to find great ones.

Should you learn new skills? Which ones? Get a new degree? Attend a bootcamp? At my age, none of them matters. It started to become irrelevant when I turned 45, about 15 years ago. Doing it when you are 40 — just to increase your odds of landing an interview — could be a waste of time and money. But there are other reasons to do it. What about building a large portfolio? See mine here. It is of no use to land a job interview; I created it for other purposes. Likewise, my large network, though useful to bring revenue, is of no use on the job market. Being in better health in your sixties than many in their twenties does not help either.

When you are 25, networking, portfolio, upgrading your skills are very important. So is learning job interview skills, resume building, and mastering LeetCode. But you must prepare for the fact that when you turn 40, it stops working. No matter how relevant the jobs you are apply for, and how modest your salary requirements. In the next section, I discuss what to do to get prepared.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

It helps to think with the mindset of a CEO. Most of them will do whatever they can to minimize hiring and automate, if anything to better compete. Some may claim that they are more “humane”, but it’s just empty words. In the end, they are subject to considerable market pressures, even if self-funded. Some employers are concerned that employees over 40 are a liability: dangerous to lay off due to discrimination laws. The solution is not to hire people approaching 40. If you are doing a PhD, keep in mind that you may earn income from a job for only 12 years: between 28 and 40. In my case it ended up at 45. But I did not end up poor, quite the contrary; I will share my experience later in a future article.

Below are some steps to take when you are fully employed:

  • Build a strong presence on LinkedIn. Post material that shows the depth and breadth of your knowledge. But keep the reader in mind: is my content useful and original? How would you react to it if you were the reader rather than the writer? The more you post, the faster your network grows.
  • Write articles in respected outlets. Eventually, you will be invited to write paid articles. Same with writing books; Packt Publishing is more accessible to beginners. You want to build credibility more so than revenue, at least initially.
  • Carefully choose potential consulting opportunities when you have a full-time job. Once your network is large enough, clients will come to you. Don’t say yes to everyone; do your due diligence before accepting a gig. I don’t recommend moving to a full-time consulting career though. It is not an easy path.
  • Reduce expenses, save money: I live in a place where heating or cooling is rarely needed. I barely travel but watch many traveling videos on YouTube. Telecommuting jobs can help you save a lot of money — I gave my car to my son. Working remotely in Washington State for a company in California gets you a California salary, but no state or local taxes. Living in a boat could be less expensive than renting. If you are homeowner, you could rent out a room.
  • If you produce a lot of content and build a large network as suggested, eventually you can monetize it via influencer marketing. A niche tech audience with 100k followers on LinkedIn easily brings $100k yearly revenue in advertising. Participate in conferences to talk to potential advertising sponsors.
  • Plant seeds. Identify and seize the chance at every turn. My first modest home doubled in value just before the 2008 crash. I sold in time and moved on to buy and sell many in the following 20 years, becoming a landlord in the process. Back in 2006, many homeowners in the same Titanic boat did not sell and lost the opportunity. Real estate has little potential these days. Ten years ago, buying Nvidia stocks was the right thing to do, assuming you sell now. You just don’t know what is going to work, but if you plant enough random seeds, one is bound to become a sequoia. Make sure the seeds you plant are not totally random but backed by common sense.
  • Get your degree abroad to reduce debt linked to education. You may learn a foreign language in the process. I earned my PhD in Belgium, where you get paid about the same as a teacher during these 5-6 years. A potential path is to do your undergrad in India, then get a graduate degree in US. Likewise, look for remote work opportunities overseas, not just in US. Right now, all my consulting clients are outside US. If anything, because US represents only 3% of the world population.
  • Consider moving out of tech. It may sound awkward for a PhD in computer science to turn plumber at 40, but it could mean owning your plumbing company over time and bringing in $1 million in revenue each year, without chasing clients.

About the Author

Towards Better GenAI: 5 Major Issues, and How to Fix Them

Vincent Granville is a pioneering GenAI scientist and machine learning expert, co-founder of Data Science Central (acquired by a publicly traded company in 2020), Chief AI Scientist at MLTechniques.com and GenAItechLab.com, former VC-funded executive, author (Elsevier) and patent owner — one related to LLM. Vincent’s past corporate experience includes Visa, Wells Fargo, eBay, NBC, Microsoft, and CNET. Follow Vincent on LinkedIn.

5 thoughts on “The Short Lifecycle of Tech Careers”

  1. An excellent article. My story is bonkers, having incepted a lot of the tech you are using or take for granted. Yet you (probably) do not know of me. I am owed a million bitcoin by CSW for example, but cannot find anyone to help me recover it. All above board too, at least from my end, not from his.
    I am currently in my 60’s and can outdo folks a third my age in the gym, and this after coming back from some very significant health challenges.
    All to no avail, I cannot find a job, and LinkedIn seems to be more hindrance than help. Which is ironic. I am currently doing a Masters of Teaching, for which I received a scholarship. Quite the shock to do an ‘artsy’ subject after all my years of tech, but I know I operate well in a classroom or teaching lab, and I bring a founders seminal knowledge of AI to the fray. Sadly, the fray, foolishly, is shunning the advent of AI and what I can offer. We shall see how this pans out, but I now know why kids are really rebelling in the classroom and elsewhere, and good for them sez I.
    I am glad I stumbled across your works, you really do grok deeply what I incepted over 10 years ago, and have really novel and creative approaches to a lot of thorny problems, that I am going to enjoy feasting upon immensely.
    Q …

  2. I bet that the old saying around the stubbornness to learn from others’ mistakes (or successes) is still popular today,.. Your article is, undoubtedly, a very useful piece of advice (if followed!)

  3. Great article, Vincent.

    As a long-time practitioner and now semi-retired as a college professor, I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying about increasing your profile and network. But I do think that the role of data scientists like other disciplines will need to leverage their skills more as generalists tham specialists. In other words, use AI to help speed up the execution of data science tasks but use our human skills to both identify the business problem and to then lay out a plan to solve that problem which again could be guided by AI. In this brave new world, the emphasis is on problem solving and our ability to solve more problems with more business significance. You are right, though, emphasis for the practitioner will be less on tech and more on the softer type business skills.
    I too wrote a book on data mining in 2014 “Data Mining for Managers” which emphasized less tech and more emphasis on the applied use of the discipline. This approach will simply accelerate in the future.

    Always appreciate your articles both of the technical and non technical bent.


    Richard Boire

  4. Wow – from a 59-year-old PhD physicist. I will share your advice to my younger peers, usually Air Force and Space Force tech savvy company grade officers or young civilians getting ready to separate from the service. Me – I’m a GS-15 loving my job at the Air Force Research Laboratory (and adding years to my pension), but as a mentor, wow! Thank you!!!

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