To be honest, one of the things I found most interesting about the students at the Galvanize Data Science Immersive was that there was a pretty big range of ages represented. I had never consciously thought to myself, “only young people would attend a coding bootcamp”, but I was nevertheless surprised to see older men and women in my cohort and in the cohorts I’ve seen pass through since, perhaps training to gain access to the highest-paying jobs for people over 50.
Upon reflection, I would now say this is one of the great advantages of coding bootcamps. While a 25-year-old might be able to take four years to go back to school to retrain for a new career the old-fashioned way, a 45-year-old probably can’t — they’re more likely to have a mortgage to pay and a child in college. Three months, however, is something almost anyone can afford to invest in a new skill set, even when attending coding bootcamp while working.
With this having been said, let’s explore what attending a bootcamp as an older adult means.
When Is It Too Late to Learn to Code?
To set the stage, let’s step back and ask a broader question about when it’s too late to learn a new technical skill. Math, for example, is notoriously a game for the young. But it’s crucially important that we distinguish between what it takes to innovate in a field and what it takes to learn about a field.
Sure, it may be true that you’re unlikely to do any original research in homotopy theory if you’re in your 40s, but it doesn’t follow that you can’t learn to understand the major results in the field.
The same basic line of thought applies to data science, software engineering, or web development. The older you are when you get started, the less likely it is that you’re going to become a titan in the field. But in no way does this imply that you can’t get good enough to start a new career in tech at 50, 60, or even 70 years of age.
This is even more the case if you have a background in a different technical field. Some of the better students in my cohort at the DSI were software engineers with no data science expertise. Because they already had a foundation in coding, they learned quickly and well.
Are There Age Restrictions for Coding Bootcamps?
To the best of my knowledge, there are no official age restrictions for any bootcamp. I’m sure if you’re 70 years old the admissions personnel might hesitate to give you a spot, but even then I can’t say for certain they would turn you down. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen people come through the DSI that might legitimately qualify for social security.
Advantages to Attending a Bootcamp as an Older Student
I think we can go beyond merely acknowledging that older adults aren’t at a disadvantage by asking whether there are actually good reasons to tackle a bootcamp after you’ve come to the stage at which you yell at hooligans to get off your lawn.
First, as alluded to earlier, some of the older students in the cohort had technical backgrounds that helped them learn data science. The older you are, the more likely it is that you’ve done something relevant to a given task, and that experience gives you an invaluable resource to draw upon.
Second, it often takes a really long time to learn how you best acquire new skills. If we can assume that the average younger student has more energy and free time than the average older student, I think it’s also safe to assume that the older student has a better grasp on their preferred learning style and which strategies are more likely to make them successful.
I’ll take that over youth, any day.
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