Embarking on a career as a programmer can see you contributing to a wide range of projects. It also happens to offer competitive pay and a good employment outlook. But is it a career path that supports longevity? Recent studies have found the majority of programmers are aged in the 25-35 bracket with a significant drop-off after the age of 40.
There could be a variety of factors contributing to this demographic spread. But many believe it suggests 40 is the likely retirement age for those in programming. This certainly isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. But it also opens up some interesting and vital questions about how programmers should be dealing with the prospect of their post-40 lives.
Let’s review some of the key elements of this issue. What should you be taking into account when looking at retirement from a programming career?
Is Early Retirement Feasible?
The drop-off in programmers over the age of 40 certainly makes a tantalizing case that you can retire by the end of your 30s. But just how feasible is it? There are certainly distinct advantages to taking early retirement; you get to spend more time with your family and engage with your hobbies. But these are tempered by some significant financial risks. Money can be tight without your regular income from programming and social security benefits can shrink with time.
The median salary for programmers in the U.S. is currently $89,190. Though, the earning potential can be significantly higher when working for larger corporations. Depending on where you live in the country, this does leave some scope to apply some funding toward retirement plans, savings, and investments.
However, it’s also worth noting programming is ripe for freelancing. This means there is potential to build further savings by engaging with side projects. It also supplements income if you choose to retire from full-time programming at 40 but still want to keep in the game occasionally.
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Where Are the Post-40 Opportunities?
Just because programmers choose to move away from full-time software engineering work, does this necessarily equate to full retirement? Programmers have built valuable and continually in-demand skillsets. As such, you can find your opportunities post-40 to be as rich and rewarding as those before.
One option is you could make a transition to entrepreneurism rather than fully retiring. A career spent creating software for others is likely to have given you knowledge beyond the practical applications of coding. You understand the gaps in the market and have insights into what makes a functional programming team. Indeed, moving into this area after 40 tracks with the fact that the majority of successful tech entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged.
Even if you don’t want to run your own business, there are opportunities to consult on software projects if you’ve built a reputation during your years as a full-time programmer. This allows you to continue innovating using your skills but also gives you the free time to spend with your family and hobbies. Perhaps most importantly, it gives you space to step back from the crunch workflow that can lead programmers toward burnout as they get older.
What Second Act Challenges Do You Face?
As a programmer, you’ll have spent much of your life striving toward goals and pushing for innovation. If you want to retire at the start of your second act, one of your biggest challenges will be handling the drop-off in activity. Boredom, isolation from your peers, and feeling directionless can impact your mental wellbeing. Before you make a decision, you need to bear in mind you may still have a further 40 or more years to spend away from programming. This can be an overwhelming prospect for people used to being very busy.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to make a shift in your programming career after 40, there are other challenges. Whether you’re moving into management, becoming a consultant, or starting your own business, you’ll be faced with new tasks and responsibilities. Your programming skills will certainly help to an extent, but you may need to upskill if you want to succeed. Returning to education can be a challenging prospect if you’ve been out of school for a while.
How Can You Best Prepare?
Whether you’re set on retirement at 40 or still considering alternative options, you need to plan ahead. The sooner you can start formulating your route, the better able you are to recognize the hurdles in front of you and overcome them. It’s never too early to put measures in place.
There are some key milestones to hit before you’re 30, one of which is to create a solid financial plan. This begins with a commitment to basic monthly budgeting but should take into account where you want your finances to be in the coming years. If you’re considering retirement from programming, you need to establish how much money you’ll need to meet your lifestyle needs for the time you’ll no longer be employed. Working with a financial advisor here can be helpful and they can guide you through making savings and investments to hit your goals.
Another focus for planning is actually thinking ahead about what you want to do with those years post-40. It may be the case that you want to just take a break and go traveling for a couple of years, before taking on occasional freelance programming work. You might have some projects in mind you don’t currently have time for with your workload. Having some sense of how you want your life to look can stave off some elements that make retirement difficult.
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Programming can make for a rich and varied career, but you may find you have other priorities after the age of 40. Retirement can certainly be a feasible option, particularly if you start saving and investing early on. However, this is not your only choice; you can transition to software entrepreneurism or consultancy if those appeal to you. Whichever decision you make, a commitment to planning can make your path less stressful.