Prejudice against older programmers is wrong, but new research suggests it's also inaccurate. A dandy natural experiment to test the technical chops of the old against the young has been conducted—or discovered—by two computer scientists at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. Professor Emerson Murphy-Hill and Ph.D. student Patrick Morrison went to Stack Overflow, a Web site where programmers answer questions and get rated by the audience. It turned out that ratings rose with contributors' age, at least into the 40s (beyond that the data were sparse). The range of topics handled also rose with range (though, strangely, after dipping in the period from 15 to 30). Finally, the old were at least as well versed as the young in the newer technologies.
Of course, such a natural experiment can't account for all possible confounding factors. Because the number of programmers has expanded greatly, a disproportionate number are young, and they may thus be a less select bunch. Also, the older programmers were, presuambly, the survivors of downsizings and other cullings of the herd. What's more, they may strain to keep up with new stuff because they fear showing any signs of weakness.