Is 40 too old to start a new career? Is starting a tech career at 40 (or 50 or 60+) even crazier?
We’re here to assure you that the answers to those questions are no and absolutely not!
Transitioning into tech is one of the best midlife career changes you can make. Tech careers frequently offer flexibility like remote work options, stability, growth, and creative challenge—plus a great starting salary and salary growth outlook. Tech careers are also booming. CompTia’s Cyberstates report finds there were 307,000 tech jobs added in 2019 and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
So, what does the journey look like to land an exciting new job in tech? This guide covers what you need to know, including the key steps to start a programming career at 40+ (or a tech career in another exciting field like cyber security) and some words of wisdom from those who have been in your shoes and successfully made the transition.
Decide to make the investment in yourself
The first step can be the hardest: making the decision to take the leap and invest in yourself.
Joshua Gillen, an Eleven Fifty Cyber Security graduate, served 21 years of active duty in the Army, but more stability and more time with his family led him to make a change. After retiring he took a supervisor position in an auto parts manufacturing facility but he craved more fulfilling work with better hours. Friends who worked in IT and Computer Science led him to consider a tech career.
“I had a feeling that this was the path that I wanted to follow, but I was so scared of making the change. It was a huge leap of faith,” he says.
Joshua knew that if he worked hard, the investment of his time and energy would have a big payoff at the end. “I dove in with both feet.”
Whether forging a path into a cyber security career or becoming a software developer after 40, a midlife career change can feel like diving off a high board. But like Joshua and many others, taking that initial leap is often the scariest. Make a promise to yourself that once you commit, you’re in it, ready to show up and do the work.
Pick your tech path
There are countless career paths in tech, meaning there’s one that’s going to be right for you!
“My best advice would be to do the research,” says Denyse Palmer, an Eleven Fifty Academy Cyber Security graduate. “The tech industry has become so vast that someone looking into a transition can find an interesting new start or another person could enhance their previous experience to discover a much-needed career boost.”
Denyse recommends using LinkedIn as a research tool, visiting forums and reading through job descriptions to learn more about what tech employers are seeking and what jobs might be a great fit for your skill sets and interests.
Coding jobs are what people primarily think of when it comes to tech jobs. Web Development and Software Development are two popular paths that are hands-on with coding to build applications and websites. But you don’t have to be a coder or programmer to work in tech!
UX/UI Design pros might do a little coding (primarily HTML & CSS), but their jobs primarily combine design, research, and human psychology.
Cyber Security jobs are in abundance and have a critical demand for pros who can monitor, act on and prevent attacks and security events, find vulnerabilities in networks, and more. While they require special skills, you don’t have to know how to code.
Outside of research, one of the best ways to learn more about which path is right for you is to try it out. Experiment with free online coding platforms, or, better yet, take a free class. Eleven Fifty currently offers four different free intro classes to give individuals a crash course in tech and the coding bootcamp experience.
No matter which direction you go, all are possible for making a career change at 40+, sometimes within just 90 days.
Once you pick your path, it’s time to get the skills!
Get new professional skills through a coding bootcamp
Tech is frequently a skills over degree sector. If you prove you have solid foundational skills in your chosen path, are passionate, and are driven to continue learning and growing, you’ll be in a great position to launch a new career.
Don’t worry about getting a four-year degree, after high school or otherwise. Instead, explore other learning alternatives and focus on building a solid portfolio to prove you have the know-how to get a job.
A full-time coding bootcamp is one of the fastest options to propel yourself toward your tech career goals. They’re designed to give you the ultimate crash course in programming and tech with curriculums focused on how to become a web developer, how to become a software engineer, how to get into cyber security, and more. They also average around three months in length (sometimes longer), meaning they’re designed to get you out into the world and making a significant salary in no time.
Traditionally coding bootcamps have been online, but more and more it’s easy to find a hybrid or a fully online coding bootcamp, which allows you to get the same skills foundation from the comfort of your home.
When picking the right bootcamp for you, be sure to ask the right questions! These should include:
- What’s the placement rate?
- What’s the average starting salary for graduates?
- Do they have a track record of helping individuals make a mid-to-late career change?
- What do their financial aid opportunities look like?
- Do students commonly rely on income share agreements?
- Do they have a dedicated Career Services to provide support, including resume reviews, interview prep, and helping to connect you with job opportunities?
And, of course, you should bring plenty of your own questions to the table, especially about their training for the path that interests you the most. If they dodge questions or flat out refuse to answer them, consider it a red flag!
Build your support system
Transitioning into a new career can be stressful and time-consuming—especially when you’re attending coding bootcamp. Be sure to build a solid support system early to lean on throughout your journey!
Family and friends are great to cheer you on from the sidelines, but it’s important to have a support system of people going through the same experience. They’re the ones who understand what you’re going through, from the challenges, questions, and wins. Connect with classmates and start building relationships with those you meet at networking events. These individuals will not only keep you sane and levelheaded, they could be the ticket to your next or a future career move.
The other key support system? Your instructors!
Denyse found the support she needed to conquer one of her biggest fears in the program: test-taking and the certification process. Being open to asking for help gave her the tools she needed to thrive. “The instructors helped me to develop the best way for me to learn the material and pass the exams,” she said.
Joshua recommends coming prepared to ask questions and to ask for assistance when needed.
“The help, support, and training that I got at Eleven Fifty was an amazing jumping-off point. They gave me the tools and training to ‘speak the language’ of cyber security,” says Joshua.
Create your new personal brand
Any major career transition requires devoting time to shape a new personal brand for yourself.
First, craft a professional, focused social media presence that includes engaging with people you professionally admire, companies you might want to work with, and local organizations and networking groups that can help you on your journey.
Twitter is one of the best platforms for building and interacting with connections, while LinkedIn is an absolute must for networking and looking for a new job. Be sure your plan includes creating an outstanding
LinkedIn profile, complete with new headshot and tech keywords.
Not sure where to start? Get more tips and branding advice in our in-depth guide, How to Build a Personal Brand in Tech.
Use your experience and soft skills to your advantage
Even if you don’t have experience as a programmer, UX/UI designer, or cyber security pro, don’t discount your existing background! First, every sector has tech jobs within them. This means you might be able to transition into a tech role within an industry you already have experience.
Looking for something completely new or want to work specifically for a tech company? No matter where you worked you still have skills that can help you stand out. As a more seasoned professional, you bring extensive soft skills to the table. Employers value communication skills (a huge part of working in tech!), time management, ability to work under pressure, and more. You’re also likely far better at them than younger professionals.
As you build your LinkedIn profile and rewrite your resume, don’t be afraid to spin what you have. Your work experiences DO have value. Not so sure? Talk to a career services pro to help shape your experience into something resume-ready that stands out against the competition.
Find your company fit
No matter your age or what tech path you’re on, not every company is a great fit. That’s why it’s important to do your homework and find companies that do work that excites and interests you while also being a great cultural fit.
While it’s true that ageism does exist, it’s important to remember it’s the exception and not the rule. Plenty of amazing tech companies want to hire outstanding professionals no matter their age. If you’re concerned about a company, consider these questions when looking for potential red flags:
- Check out who works at the company on LinkedIn. Does it only include young people? All one gender? Or is there diversity across the board?
- Does the imagery on their website and marketing materials support diversity of age, race, and gender (and look like the actual company, not just stock photos)?
- Do they have official diversity policies?
But don’t just leave it to your own research. Networking is incredibly important for all going through the job search process regardless of age or place in their career. Talk to people from different companies that interest you to not only get your name out there but to learn about the company culture and find workplaces that could be the perfect fit for you.
The journey to a new career is always tough, but as the saying goes, nothing worth having is easy. Whether you’re just hitting your 40s, well into your 50s, or welcoming your 60s and beyond, if you’re willing to show up for yourself, working in tech is 100% possible for you. Plus, the rewards can be pretty amazing.
“This is the first time since I left the Army that I’ve had a job that I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning and going to work,” Joshua says. “Every day is something different and new, it’s an ever-evolving field, and one I’m excited to be in.”
Want more resources to get started on your path? We have you covered!
- Can anyone learn to code?
- Learn the lingo with Coding Terms 101 and Cyber Terms 101
- Get the 5 reasons you should go into web development
- Explore the key characteristics of a cyber security professional
- Get the scoop on 7 careers you can launch with a UX/UI certification
Explore coding bootcamp:
- Review the FAQs of coding bootcamp
- Find out how much you can make after coding bootcamp
- Ask these 12 questions before you commit to an income share agreement
- See how women thrive at Eleven Fifty Academy
- Learn the tips for success for an online bootcamp experience