Is Programming Knowledge Related To Age?
This is an interesting study I saw today. The argument that older programmers have "stale" knowledge (a point challenged in the study) doesn't seem to make sense, with respect to programmers still active in the field. It stands to reason that active programmers must adapt to new technologies, even if it's just to maintain employment, and as such do not have the luxury of stagnation.Abstract - Becoming an expert at programming is thought to take an estimated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. But what happens after that? Do programming experts continue to develop, do they plateau, or is there a decline at some point? A diversity of opinion exists on this matter, but many seem to think that aging brings a decline in adoption and absorption of new programming knowledge.
I'm not entirely comfortable with the approach of this study, though, and the data analyzed is not the best metric for evaluating the questions at hand. For instance: "For the purposes of our analysis, we treat SO reputation as a proxy for programming knowledge." I also approach cluster sampling with a healthy dose of skepticism, as clustering may make general abnormalities seem more normal than they really are.
To be fair, the authors are forthcoming with the weakness in their analysis:
I also found it interesting to see the correlation that the median age of programmers (around 30) express knowledge of fewer technologies than the younger and older groups. Of course, the method of obtaining the data for this correlation (going by "tags") is weak, in my opinion."High SO question and reputation scores may indicate a talent for explanation and for clever writing more than an ability to translate knowledge in to code"
"We are not convinced that our means for answering RQ3 is fair, although we do not yet have a better procedure."
"This also has implications for the age data; perhaps younger programmers join as a matter of course, while the older developers that join may only do so if they know themselves to be especially knowledgeable."
"It is possible that the causation between age and programming knowledge exhibited in the data is because higher-knowledge individuals choose to stay active and engaged later in life, rather than because individuals gain knowledge over time"
I do have one theory about those results though. People in their early 30's grew up with the internet back when it was largely "new" (during the teenage stage of intellectual development), and likely have a preference for anonymity, unlike younger people (who are used to providing more personal information on the internet thanks to "social networking" and the like) and older people (who might not be as cautious with personal information, as the instantaneous global access to their data is not something they grew up with). Therefore, a bulk of users in the median demographic might not have provided their age, ensuring they would not be included in the study. Of course, these are gross generalizations based on my own observations, so I could very well be way off base here.