How to Feel Confident Starting a New Career in Tech After 40
“Is it too late for me to make a career change into tech if I’m over 40, 50, or even 60?” This is a question we hear at Skillcrush all the time, from people of all ages. The short answer is that no matter what your age, you absolutely still have time to start a fulfilling and lucrative career in tech.
As someone who made the switch into tech in my mid-40s, I totally get it. Worrying about being back at square one career-wise, not knowing how to get started in a new field, coming up with the time and money to learn the skills you need, feeling self-doubt, confronting age discrimation. These are all valid fears that can stop you before you even start.
I still remember how intimidated I was by the idea of breaking into a whole new industry later in life than felt standard in tech. But it was by far the best career decision I’ve ever made. As operations manager here at Skillcrush, I have a job I love and am excited to keep doing for many years to come. And I am absolutely not alone!
Of course, age bias is real. There are anti-ageism laws in place in many countries, including the U.S. (where anti-ageism laws vary by state). Though that doesn’t mean companies always follow them. Ageism is unfair, and it’s high-time that tech was more inclusive to people from all walks of life.
In this article, I’m going to share my advice for navigating a scene that can be perceived as a “young industry.” I’m speaking from my own experiences, my conversations with recruiters who specialize in placing career changers, and from the input of Skillcrush students I spoke with who are going through a career change past 40 as well.
I’m focusing on getting into tech after 40, because that was my experience…but the real secret is that there is NO age that makes it too late for you to start working in tech. Bill Gates may have started programming when he was in middle school, but that’s just one of many many possible paths into the world of tech.
Table of Contents
- How I got started in tech after 40
- The benefits of starting a tech career at 40 and beyond
- The challenges of starting a tech career in your 40s
- Tips for making a career change into tech over 40
How I got started in tech after 40
It took me almost 20 years to realize that tech was the place for me. But, once I did, it only took a few months to go from my first coding class to my first job in tech.
I had undergraduate and graduate degrees in Russian and business, but started my career with no goal except wanting to work abroad. I held an international job in customer support in the field of cargo logistics that wasn’t a fit. After that, I spent over a decade trying to make it work as a freelance corporate language instructor before realizing it wasn’t for me either.
Two careers in and 43, I was beginning to lose hope — until I started to think about some of the things I enjoyed doing in my free time. I loved making online content for my dance groups, constantly trying out new apps and programs, and solving my friends’ computer and phone issues. Maybe tech could be part of the solution for me.
I took an online HTML and CSS course (through Skillcrush!), and in a few days was building my own portfolio site. Weeks after that I was creating a simple website for a kindergarten where my friend worked.
While freelancing, I kept learning tech skills, and also spent a lot of time building relationships. I started following Twitter accounts, listening to podcasts, and going to tech meetups to find out more about the industry. This was key, because through all of that experience, I realized being a developer might not be right for me.
Thankfully, I’d learned that coding wasn’t the only career path in tech. I started talking with people about how I could combine my background in customer support and education with my tech skills, and soon I had an offer to join Skillcrush as Customer Support Manager. After about three years, I moved into my current role as Operations Manager.
Your path might (and likely will) look totally different than mine, but I share to show you that you really can leave a totally unrelated field and end up working in tech in a short amount of time. And, even though I didn’t end up as someone doing code and design all day, it is a valid career option for you.
The benefits of starting a tech career past 40
Before we talk about the challenges of getting into tech in your 40s (or later), let’s take a look at the advantages that the career change can bring you.
A career move into tech gives you options
It might seem like, as you get older, the number of career options is less and less. But, by gaining tech skills, you can open the door at so many companies, in and out of the tech scene.
Skillcrush CEO Adda Birnir says, “There is the formal tech industry and then there is the tech within every industry. There is not a company in the world that couldn’t benefit in some capacity from more digital savvy and digital literacy.” According to the Computing Technology Industry Association, there were 4.6 million tech job openings in 2019 alone.
Getting started in tech doesn’t just mean becoming a designer or developer, either. Tech skills are needed for all kinds of jobs, such as marketing, social media management, project management, product management, content creation, customer support (where I started in tech), and more.
Beyond that, tech is an industry that supports work outside of a traditional office. As Adda said about her own experience as a freelancer in tech:
“There are ways to make money that don’t involve getting a full-time job at a company. There are costs and benefits in every situation, but working freelance can be a great way to navigate around some things that, frankly, you don’t have control over. There’s also great power in learning how to make a living without relying on a single employer.”
Aside from freelancing, many tech jobs are fully remote, and you can find part-time and contract options as well.
You can boost your salary and improve your job security
If you’re in your 40s or older, your financial pressures might be higher than they were in your 20s. In that case, you likely don’t want to spend years working low-paying jobs just to pay your dues in a new industry. Luckily, tech salaries are high across the board, even for many entry-level roles.
Here are a few median salaries to give you context:
|💲 Visual designer||$ 72,000|
|💲 WordPress developer||$ 76,000|
|💲 UX designer||$100,000|
|💲 Front-end developer||$108,000|
|💲 Python developer||$119,000|
(Data sources: Indeed and Glassdoor)
And hundreds of thousands of new tech jobs will become available in the future. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employment in tech growing 12% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. “These occupations are projected to add about 546,200 new jobs” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). And tech roles may still be available even in economic downturns (as they are now, during the COVID-19 crisis).
You can (finally) get job satisfaction
If you’re like me, moving into tech can be the way you finally find career happiness. A big part of why I knew my job at Skillcrush was a fit for me was because I was able to work remotely from day one, so I could keep living in the place I love.
You might be considering switching to tech because you need to get more job security or want to do more interesting and creative work. Or maybe you want to have a job that also lets you serve a greater purpose.
While work like this can be found in other industries, tech really offers a lot of options when it comes to diverse and flexible work, which is why getting a tech job can be a “finally” moment for later-in-life career changers.
Source: Stack Overflow
Statistics show that job satisfaction in the industry is often high. Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Survey reported 83% of developers are happy in their jobs and Glassdoor’s “50 Best Jobs in America for 2020” ranked six tech jobs in the top ten of all jobs when looking at job satisfaction, salary, and number of open jobs.
The challenges of starting a tech career in your 40s
As gratifying as my tech career has been, I’ll admit that there were some bumps upfront. Below are some of the specific challenges I faced when making the switch into tech.
If you’re experiencing any of these, know that they are valid concerns — and also that you can figure them out.
Fear of starting over
When it comes to making a career change at 40, or any time, actually, it can seem like you have to start from the very beginning again. Like you have to throw out all of your education and like the past 20 years or more spent working in other fields was a complete waste of time.
But, you’re not actually starting over. Many of the skills and strengths you built in your past can be used in tech, and they add up to make you a unique candidate. In fact, capturing your background and personal story in your professional online identity can help you stand out from the crowd of job candidates and be memorable to hiring managers.
Figuring out how to get started
Sometimes, it isn’t fear that stops you from moving into a new career. It can be easy to avoid taking action because you simply don’t know what to do.
And that’s no wonder. If you google “career change,” there are over 2 billion results. Not exactly an afternoon’s reading.
I let not knowing what step to take next keep me stuck in the wrong career (or, actually, two wrong careers) for over 20 years, even though I knew from literally day one that I wasn’t happy.
The important thing to remember is that nothing will happen until you start. Even if you don’t know where you want to end up — how can you, if you’re new to the field? — dipping your toe into fundamental skills like HTML and CSS will open the door for you to figure out what your next steps are.
Finding the time and the money to make a career change after 40
A study by the Federal Reserve Board showed that more people in their 40s report having financial stress than any other age group.
It’s not only possible to be caring for children (or grandchildren) from toddlers to adults, but you might also have parents who need financial support. And, while the average full-time salary for women in their early 40s is on the higher end of all age groups, this is an age when anyone can have a lot of expenses, such as: a home mortgage, saving for kids’ college funds, saving for retirement, and rising health care expenses.
Time can be a scarce resource, too, especially if you’re working and taking care of children or adults.
Being short on time and money is a challenge, but it’s not a barrier to making a career change. Many online courses are affordable and can be done on your schedule, plus you can start recouping your investment quickly by doing freelance projects.
Dealing with imposter syndrome
When I asked Skillcrush students in their 40s about their biggest challenge in making a career change, imposter syndrome was at the top of the list. Imposter syndrome is when you doubt that you’re able to do something, even though you have the skills for it. And sometimes it shows up as a voice that tells you no one else will believe you can accomplish something, even though you know that you can.
You can experience imposter syndrome for lots of reasons, but changes in your job can easily cause you to feel inadequate. We base so much of our identity on our work and our success, it makes sense. And a lack of examples or role models that you can relate to can make it especially intimidating to imagine yourself in a new profession.
With posts like this, I hope you can see that there is a path for you in tech if you’re starting after 40. And, if you’re feeling imposter syndrome, know that you’re not alone.
It’s important to note that age discrimination can happen at any point in your career — in your 20s, you could be told you’re too young to get a promotion, while in your 40s you’re told you’re too old for a new role. But there is something especially painful and difficult about being undervalued because you are considered “too old.”
Ageism has historically been a problem in tech, an industry where the average age has skewed younger. According to a 2016 Statista report, most employees at the top tech companies were in their late 20s and early 30s.
But that doesn’t mean you’ve aged out of anything. As Skillcrush CEO Adda Birnir said, “The whole premise of any age being too old is so deeply flawed and problematic.” In every situation, a person should be viewed for who they are as an individual and, when it comes to employment, what skills they have or can learn for the job.
No matter what stereotypes might exist, age does not determine if someone will be good at a job or not. In fact, studies have shown that some skills, like memory, language, decision-making, and social and emotional skill, can become even stronger with age.
Ageism is something we shouldn’t have to navigate, but it’s a reality, and one of many brands of discrimination plaguing the tech industry. Fortunately, there are ways to look out for age bias while job searching (more on that below!)
Tips for making a career change into tech over 40
1. Don’t worry about going back to school for a degree
It’s important to note that you won’t need an expensive 4-year education to be qualified for a job in tech. A computer science degree isn’t a necessity, which makes tech a great field to get started in after 40.
Instead, you can learn via online or in-person classes, and grow your skills and get experience by participating in the tech community. A portfolio and a great interview can land you a tech job — no fancy degrees or decades of experience required.
2. Leverage your past experience (it was not a waste of time!)
When I speak to Skillcrush students in their 40s and up who want to change careers, one concern I hear them repeat is that they’ve “wasted” decades in a former career path that holds no relevance to their current search.
But you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss your past.
Michele Heyward, founder of PositiveHire, notes that even when you’re changing careers, your past experience is valid. “Although a person doesn’t have experience in tech, their previous experience has value,” she says. “This is difficult for many women to understand, especially when it comes to creating their value proposition.” Even women who have been engineers can struggle with valuing their work history, Heyward says.
No matter what you’ve done before or how you identify, you can find ways to show how your work (and life) history is relevant and useful in tech. The important part is learning how to frame your past experience.
We just published a guide to setting up your LinkedIn profile to make a career change, as well as an article on refreshing your professional online presence that can help you figure out how to tell your story and frame your work history.
Though you might be tempted to hide your age in those materials to ward off bias, I don’t recommend it. There’s no need to hide your previous decades of work in your career materials, much less follow what I consider offensive advice and change your appearance, way of speaking, or hobbies to appear younger.
3. Tap into your existing network to find opportunities
Another advantage to being in your 40s is having met plenty of people over the years. While you might only think of past coworkers or supervisors as part of your professional network, since tech is everywhere nowadays, anyone you know could be your link to a new career.
For example, I was only a few weeks into my first Skillcrush class when a friend referred me to my very first client. Your connection could be a family member, a neighbor, an alum from your college, the salesperson at your favorite shop, or someone you’ve been chatting with in an online interest group.
The point is, in your 40s, you can get a lot of benefit from networking with people you already know. Let people know what you’re doing and what you’re hoping to do in your new career. And expand your network by joining tech groups and attending tech events, online and in person, if possible.
4. Seek out companies supportive of all employees
In an ideal world, all companies would be safe and supportive for workers of all ages, genders, ethnicities, etc. But “part of the process of applying for work nowadays is, unfortunately, assessing companies for how inclusive they are,” Adda says.
When looking for a job, seek out companies that treat employees fairly, support diversity, and have a mission you can get on board with. Here are a few ways to do that:
Use inclusive job boards
According to Skillcrush’s Digital Media Specialist Aleia Walker, one way to select for companies with mission, values, and policies you support, is to use a diverse job board, like PowerToFly or Tech Ladies.
Look for red flags & evidence of inclusivity
Beyond that, keep an eye out for warning signs that a company may be suffering from age bias. Look out for terms like: “digital native” and “recent graduate,” both concepts that are used to discriminate against older applicants.
Think twice if an online application requires your date of birth or date of graduation. And, be wary of questions that could be used in age-based discrimination, like asking about your caretaking situation or retirement plans.
Besides the job listing itself, do your research on the company. Look at their website and social media. What do they talk about (or not talk about) on their about page? Are the photos of employees diverse? Are the images of and references to their company culture inclusive? Do they publish a diversity and inclusion report or other content on the subjects?
Look at the company’s existing employees
Another way you can vet a company to see if it supports employees of all ages is to look for info about the people working at the company and their careers. (You can find this information on a company’s website or by searching LinkedIn.) Look for stories of career changers like you, and evidence of development opportunities. If some employees have had multiple past roles or careers, or have held different titles at the company over the years, that’s a good indicator the company supports career changers and internal advancement.
If you have a connection at the company or have a chance to interview, ask about age diversity directly. If you’re comfortable, you can even ask if the people you’re meeting with are representative of the company as a whole.
Think about pay and benefits
Look at pay and benefits through the lens of ageism too. A company might share with candidates specific salaries or general information on salary levels, which should be based on skills, regardless of employees’ ages.
Benefits for different life stages are a good indicator a company is inclusive of all ages too. Things like:
- Dependent care stipends not limited to children
- Leave-time not limited by family circumstances
- Strong retirement-related benefits
- Flexible working hours, times, and locations
5. Start somewhere, and figure it out as you go
It’s easy to fall into decision paralysis figuring out what kind of tech job you’re aspiring to. But keep in mind that it is virtually impossible to know with certainty what kind of work you want to do before you have even gotten your feet wet.
Instead, focus on learning fundamental skills that are applicable in a huge variety of roles — such as HTML and CSS, Git and GitHub, and design principles.
Meanwhile, think broadly about the kind of work you’d like to do in tech, recommends Heather Coll, career coach at PowerToFly and recruiter consultant at health technologies DLH Corp. If you love problem solving, that’s key in development roles. Or, if you have customer support experience or strong people skills, that’s applicable in client-facing fields like user experience or digital marketing.
Some options that can be a good fit if you’re switching into tech later in your career include digital marketing, visual design, front end development, and WordPress development. As you get involved in the world of tech, “Schedule informational interviews with people doing what you hope to be doing soon, learn from them, gain and follow their advice. Even better if this networking leads to an opportunity where you could volunteer to help out with a project.”
If you’re like me, you’ll find the right role through trial and error — by learning skills, taking freelance clients, facing setbacks, and talking with others in tech until you’ve found your sweet spot.
Coll shared the story of someone who started in marketing and PR before leaving the workforce for family reasons for a total of 15 years. But, after making a new plan, learning new skills, and updating her career materials, she was able to land a job as a UX designer for a startup tech company. As Coll says, “She’s still in this role today and very happy with the route she chose at this life stage.”
Whatever you do, don’t let your age stop you from starting a new career in tech. Coll says, “I know ageism is still a thing. However, I’m noticing that tech companies are getting it. They’re telling me that some of their best employees are their older employees. They’re getting the merging of what you’ve done in the past with tech.”
She was both one of the first Skillcrush students and one of the first Skillcrush team members, starting as our Customer Support Manager and now also serving as our Senior Operations Manager.
Kelli grew up in the U.S. but has lived more than half her life in Finland now. She loves listening to podcasts, trying new productivity apps, travelling, Corgis, popcorn, diet Dr. Pepper, and—most of all!—catalan style dancing.