If there’s one existential fear I have in my career, it’s my age. And maybe “fear” is a strong word here, but it’s something my inner voice chatters about every so often.
The first line of code I ever wrote might have been 1999 as I was graduating high school. It was probably some HTML that was part of some senior project, and I was probably goofing around because it was all very new and non-serious. I never thought I’d still be writing HTML — or any code at all for that matter — 23 years later. Heck, I wound up majoring in international political economy for crying out loud.
There were no mentors back then. Many of the folks I know who cut their teeth in web development those days affectionately refer to this as the “View Source” era, as in, that’s how we learned to code: we right-clicked on a page and opened up the source code to see what was going on. An education in web development was really an exercise in curiosity and self-motivation.
I always wished I had someone to look up to as I was getting started. I guess that’s why I was so drawn to what Chris Coyier was doing when he started CSS-Tricks way back in 2007. We’re the same age, but I was learning vicariously through his very public (and generous) trials and errors. I learned a lot from him then and a whole lot more later when we started working together. That’s about the most mentorship I’ve had in my web development career — albeit, an amazing one.
But where do
we I go from here? I’ve learned code. I’ve worked for small, large, non-profit, and all sorts of companies. I’ve spent eight years as an independent contractor. I wish I had advice or some good example to follow when it comes to my twilight years as a web developer.
(And, yes, I do believe I am well in the second half of my career.)
Honestly, I lost my best bet for that when my dad passed in 2010. He worked for himself as a family therapist in a rural town where he ran a practice of social workers and psychologists. He pulled himself up from the bootstraps of an unlikely upbringing and found success through an entrepreneurial spirit that nicely complemented his ability to help people deal with mental health problems. His work was way more important than anything I do, but the parallels of building a stable independent career are what I crave. He passed a couple of years before I went out on my own and I’ve always wished he was around (naturally, I miss my dad, of course) so I could bounce a question or two off him.
How are you planning for retirement?
How do decide when you’re done?
What comes after this?
But he’s not here and there are precious few people who I know who have done web development through their forties. I have no clear picture of what it looks like to wind down a career in this field. And it scares me if I’m being honest. I can stop anytime, for sure! But I want to know what it looks like to do that gracefully and I’m sure there are some considerations specific to the work we do that would be nice to know.
My current plan is to retire in stages because that seems like the most appropriate thing to do in this ever-changing field where the macroeconomics of remote work and diminishing Social Security paychecks come into play. That’s why I started teaching a few years ago. I can teach part-time and ramp that up as I’m winding down my “day” job. Then I can ease out of that if and when I feel like calling it a day. That’s an idea I brazenly stole years ago when Noah Stokes blogged it after turning 38. I’m 41 and that sounds like a damn fine plan to me.
That’s what I have to go on. It’s as much (if not more) of a plan than anyone else I know has. Maybe you plan on writing code until your pruney fingers give up. Maybe you plan on managing a team of folks who are earlier in their careers. Me, I plan on helping usher in the next waves of web development talent feeding that pipeline. I guess we could all be Walmart greeters in our golden years instead.
What other options do we have?