Minding the gap: 7 tips for older programmers joining startups

Developers of all ages weigh in with advice for seasoned vets taking jobs with companies full of young workers

Street sign that says Old Guy Road

In the grand scheme of things, 40-something isn’t considered old. But anything beyond 20-something is often considered old in that stereotypical bastion of fresh-out-of-school youth - the startup. Joining a startup can give seasoned programmers a new jolt of energy and excitement, but can also cause them concern over trying to bridge the generation gap with their new, younger colleagues. A number of programmers, of all ages, recently shared advice on Slashdot for older developers considering joining startups. Here are 7 tips they gave for you more seasoned developers to keep in mind when joining a company full of youngsters.

Picture of 20-somethings partying

Act your age

Just because you’re joining a company full of 20 year-old developers with no family obligations who like to socialize a lot, doesn’t mean you have to try to match their partying ways. Act your age and let your work speak for itself.

“You're there to do a job, not be a frat buddy.” minkie

“... you will be respected for your technical expertise and not for any foolish attempt to ‘fit in’ bar hopping with super-annuated adolescent co-workers.” pigiron

“If the company succeeds, those events will go away, and you'll fit in; if they don't go away, the company will fail, and you won't need to worry about that problem anymore.” Anonymous

Picture of birds on an isolated rock in the middle of the ocean

Dont isolate yourself

While you shouldn’t try too hard to fit in socially with your younger colleagues, you also shouldn’t isolate yourself. Taking part in the occasional group activity can help you make you feel part of the team.

“I definitely don't participate in all the extracurricular activities, but I do join in enough to stay part of the scene. “ dhaines

“Cultural activities can be had that don't have to interfere with your WLB (work-life balance).” Anonymous

“Make time to show up for a few of the more innocuous extracurriculars even though you have a family. You don't have to go to the strip club, but a couple of drinks and a round of pool won't kill you.” Anonymous

Exterior picture of an office building at night, with some of the office windows lit up

Work smarter, not harder

Don’t fall into the stereotypical startup trap of regularly working crazy hours. Use your experience to do your work in a reasonable amount of time so you can still have a life with your family. You’ll be happier and the youngsters just may learn a thing from you about working efficiently and having a life away from work.

“... being more experienced, professional and efficient makes up for long hours.” Anonymous

“Use your maturity to avoid being the 16 hour per day programmer.” Anonymous

“I would rather have a guy who is excited, happy and engaged, outdoing the younger kids and showing how it gets done, all while having that WLB (work-life balance).” Anonymous

Picture of a woman leaving work at 5:00pm

Be upfront about your needs

Before even joining a startup, try to get a sense for the company culture and whether it would be a good fit for you. Be upfront about your family commitments and make sure that the company will be accepting and supportive of your needs.

“Setting office hours clearly helps. IE, I will always be there by nine, and I won't take meetings after 4pm (my personal plan).” Anonymous

“You don't want to be the bottle-neck on a critical release cycle because of family commitments, so sharing your schedule and setting fair expectations on when you can work is important.” Wrexs0ul

“If you feel that the company's culture won't be accepting of your needs, run away.” Sheepless

Picture of a man teaching a classroom of little kids

Share your wisdom

Don’t be afraid to share the wisdom you’ve gained through your years of experience. Use it to provide guidance and to mentor younger developers who will, most likely, appreciate it.

“You will have insight into problems that the 20 somethings will never have. That is nothing to be shy or ashamed of.” crispytwo

“Come in as the voice of wisdom and experience. It's useful!” Lally Singh

“... I took the opportunity to become a mentor for the young guys. It's worked very well.” Anonymous

“They will appreciate the times when someone comes up with a bad idea that looks good, but you can say ‘I've seen this before, here's what happened...’” Strudelkugel

Picture of the word Respect on a fence

Respect your younger coworkers

Don’t shy away from being the voice of experience with younger coworkers, but make sure you do so in a way that won’t alienate them. Remember what it was like when you were their age and how you would have like to been treated.

“Remember that they're young, not stupid (at least most of them)- show them why they're wrong politely and show them why your way is better respectfully.” AuMatar

“Make use of teachable moments while not talking down to them.” Anonymous

“Respect them (the younger employees). Nobody wants to be made to feel stupid. Do not look down your nose at them.” Anonymous

Picture of an older developer looking at his laptop, deep in concentration

Focus on the work

In the end, just remember that you were hired to do a job. Focus on doing that to the best of your abilities and odds are that all will be well.

“... I think as long as you do your job right with the right attitude, you're doing your job and that's what matters most.” Anonymous

“Be excellent. That's why they're going to hire you.” larwe

“... focus on the work, be engaged and open-minded, and you'll be fine.” cbybear

“Be yourself, kick butt, take names.” samantha