Stack Overflow An Old Programmers Home
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 05 July 2017

Some new research suggests that old, sorry, senior programmers should find happiness and fulfillment by building rep on Stack Overflow.

Programming is generally thought to be a young person's game. and to an extent it is. If you want someone to keep hundreds of variable names in their head. as well as the program structure; to work long hours; fuel up on pizza and pop and never take holidays then you don't want even a slightly older person with family responsibilities - even though you might value their and experience.

As you work on in programming you eventually learn to recognize things you have done before in a slightly different light, you invent ways to not have to remember everything, or even anything, and you work less and smarter. 

Thing is, despite their obvious superiority, the market is biased against them. It isn't just Silicon Valley that is ageist - the whole technical world is. 

So what do old programmers do when they are not wanted?

New research suggest that community sites like Stack Overflow might provide the comfort in their twilight years that programmers would otherwise be denied. Grzegorz Kowalik and Radoslaw Nielek looked carefully at the state of Stack Overflow in old age. 

"The very first question that appears is whether older adults use the Stack Overflow at all."

After some careful filtering and data prep the results can be seen below:



The first thing you notice is that not only is programming a young person's game, so is Stack Overflow. The majority are in the 20 to 30 age range. The second thing is that oldies really don't figure. You have to blow up the tail of the distribution to see the few over 60s still playing. 

The next question is really interesting - are they there to teach or to learn?

One way to answer is to look at the percentage questions and answers each age group posts:


PostTypeId Juniors Seniors
Question 25.04% 13.54%
Answer 74.61% 86.26%


I shouldn't have to tell you that this is a significant (in the stats sense) difference. But notice it appears that over all ages answering questions is way more popular than asking them. Of course. a single question will often attract multiple answers so answers will naturally outnumber questions.

Even so, the conclusion is that oldies answer more than they ask compared to the younger group.

But are oldies committed to the activity or do they just drop in out of boredom?

The statistics of their profile texts indicate that oldies work at it, as they create profiles that are twice as long as the juniors. But maybe they just have more to say after all those years in the job?

Next what is their motivation?

A survey question was used to find out why people answer questions -


 It seems helping each other is a big drive in both age groups but the oldies seem to have a sense of responsibility and the juniors need to self promote and prove their expertise. Neither conclusion seems unlikely, but it does make you wonder what "responsibility" means in this context. 

But are the oldies valued?

This is a question that might be answered by looking at reputation:


Age Mean St. Dev
Juniors 645 5630.17
Seniors 938 11165.99


Well this does suggest that oldies are better thought of than juniors, but the problem is the high standard deviation. This is because the majority of users have a very low reputation because they don't post much at all. 

But are the oldies proud of their status, or do they pretend to be young, not only at heart. After all, on the Internet no one knows that you are a dog. 

An examination of the profile comments revealed that the oldies used a lot of age related words and weren't afraid to admit to what they must see as a badge of honour. 

"We clearly see, that their age in profiles is not fake, as they identify with old age in their profile texts. They use words like ”old”, ”ancient”, ”grandfather”, etc."

 The absolutely final investigation was into IDE habits. I simply present you the table from the paper showing the preferred IDE:


Seniors Juniors
Dark 9.23% 52.65%
Light 64.62% 7.61%
don’t use IDE 26.15% 39.76%


Now that is some cultural difference! 

Is it just the young rebelling against the established?

It certainly puts the Dylan Thomas lines:

"do not go gentle into that dark IDE"

into a new perspective.  And more oldies use an IDE! Again, perhaps it is the bravado of youth doing things the way that is perceived as difficult. More likely it is the increasing inability to remember sets of variable names, or even keywords and syntax, with age.

The final words should go to the authors of the paper:

"As computers, mobile technology and internet are becoming more and more popular, the next generations of older adults will be more willing to be a part of such online communities. It might be a great way of keeping the elderly people active."


More Information

Senior Programmers: Characteristics of Elderly Users from Stack Overflow

Related Articles

What Makes A Programmer

Is Programming Skill Related To Age?

Older programmers ARE better!


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 July 2017 )