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Keen as Cranberries with Ted Stark!

January 23, 2020

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Today Ted Stark joins us to discuss ageism (affecting both older and younger!), getting older, keeping skills sharp and approaching how to sell your age.

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hey folks, welcome to Getting Apps Done. A mostly nontechnical podcast about building software. I'm your host Joshua.

  • 00:12 Kel

    And I'm the co-host, Kel.

  • 00:13 Joshua

    And on this podcast, instead of talking about technical things like frameworks and architectures and all kinds of syntax, things like that, we talk about other skills that are related to building software and development. Today we have a special guest with us. Ted stark has been on my list to have on the podcast for quite a while. We promised that we would have them on, it's probably been several months ago and things have gone right and wrong and everything in between. But as you know, we are making a call out now to start to bring more guests on because everybody wants to hear more guests and Ted has been on the list so long that he had be the first. So welcome to the show Ted.

  • 00:47 Ted

    Thanks very much Joshua. It's great to be here.

  • 00:49 Joshua

    So you did not start your career as a software developer. As a lot of our guests and listeners, you started in a completely different career and at some stage decided the software development was it for you. What on earth made you think software development was the thing that you wanted to get into?

  • 01:05 Ted

    Well, I would guess probably so similar to other folks who kind of find themselves in a software developer or web developer role is as I was laid off in my previous job. For the prior to this role as web developer, I was a technical project manager for primarily it projects for the better part of a decade. And before that I was a voice engineer for over a decade. So, I've kind of skirted around being around tech and understanding tech and I'm a techie and my own time as well. but falling into the development or software development, arena has, partly out of necessity and partly out of an opportunity that just kind of landed in my lap at the time. So, it's kind of a mixture of, the bad luck, good luck and, and just being prepared to pick up that, that opportunity.

  • 02:04 Joshua

    Now I have to admit, I, prior to being a full time software developer, I was also a technical project manager. I've actually found that has really helped me a lot in my career and I suspect it probably will for you as well because as we've mentioned before, it's not always about the syntax and writing software as much as it is those other skills. And project management is definitely one of those that plays in a lot. When you're building software. Do you feel that that's going to help you as you're going forward?

  • 02:29 Ted

    Oh, absolutely. I've already seen that being the case because, as you alluded to, it's usually more than just the syntax and the code itself. It's, it's kind of understanding the problem or the situation or the user stories or kind of figuring out what needs to be done in order to do it. And that's, you know, that's a third or half more of the, of the project manager, you know, definition and the other half being communication. So, I totally think that being a project manager for as long as I was is definitely going to be nothing but valuable for me, as my career moves forward.

  • 03:10 Joshua

    Absolutely. I will personally vouch for that one. I'm sure Kel will as well.

  • 03:14 Kel

    Yeah, definitely came from very similar backgrounds for so through the IT, through the IT route first and then into software development.

  • 03:21 Ted

    So now a few months back you wrote an article on that I was very interested in, and it was one of the reasons that I really wanted to talk to you because you wrote about something that I don't hear a lot of people talking about. In particular, I have a personal interest in this because every morning I wake up and I have a little bit less hair and most of it's white. And what you were writing about was basically ageism in tech. You are a firm gen X'r. You're a little bit beyond us. I'm right on the, I teeter on the border. I think at one stage I was considered a gen X'r, but I think they've now moved it back to 1980 so I don't quite match, but I'm close enough that I started to feel and wonder what that's going to be like. And you had some really great points. I'd like you to share a little bit about why this is important to you and what you've seen so far in your career and development.

  • 04:09 Ted

    Yeah, absolutely. The post is, just a quick summary, was basically just, I was kind of kind of putting out some questions and not trying to necessarily answer them but just some interesting aspects, because when I, when I kind of became moved into the web developer role and I kind of learned that that being active on Twitter and social media was a part of, a big part of, of being a developer in terms of keeping your network active and understanding, you know, what the, not just social issues but other issues, technical issues and around the frameworks and the languages and whatnot. But just being active on Twitter and social media was something that I kind of got a little bit more into versus being a project manager. And as over time, over the course of the months and over a year being a developer, I kinda really noticed that there was definitely a lot of talk about you know, all of our, all of the current categories of race and gender and sex and experience at old versus new and, but I wasn't seeing a lot of older, uh, representation, older worker representation.

  • 05:22 Ted

    And so I kind of looked a little bit into it and, and kind of started reading a little bit more about it, some articles from different interviews. Then, as you mentioned, it is a topic kind of near to my heart because I am, I'll be 50 next year, I'm sorry, 50 this year. And, it's a, it's, you know, there's always that, that I would, I would guess that the same thing would go apply for, for you as well. You don't, you don't seem to feel your age, you feel like you're, you know, back in your early twenties or you're 18. Obviously wait a minute, where'd the hair go? Where, where'd my, where's this white stuff coming from? And you know, just those are just the minor physical things of, of getting older. But now starting to, as being both new to the developer role as well as the older workers, so to speak. Getting to that point, whatever that fuzzy line is kind of what do I have in store for me ahead of, ahead of me in my career as I, you know, moved to different roles or different companies because in my current experience I really haven't had any kind of experience with ageism to date. It's more of why I wonder what will happen down the road will. If I'm eliminated from a job, is it because of my perceived age in terms of, Oh, he's an older worker, can't, you know, he's not gonna be able to learn what we're doing right now or you know, he's too set in his ways. Whatever those stereotypes there are for, for older workers. Or is it just because I wasn't the best candidate? You know, there's always that good that going to be that question about that.

  • 06:55 Ted

    The number of articles I read about ageism, you know, those so many of those myths and stereotypes about the, as you get older, you're not, as, you're not able to learn as much or learn as fast or you're not open to learning in the first place or anything those kinds of myths and you know, generally speaking, those, the articles seem to kind of disprove that, you know, as we get older, if you have the desire to learn and, and grow, and continue to grow as you physically age, your mental age is still young. You know, your brain is still going to have that capacity to learn and to develop and to expand. And so the problem is, you know, we don't necessarily see that hiring managers, don't necessarily see that positive aspect when you see someone's, when it's evident from a resume or the a phone call or even our face to face. You know, that bias about ageism, you know, I think it's easy to both dismiss and to make it not about age necessarily. So, yeah, it'll be interesting to see how it goes and, and the concern will be probably as I move, as they look forward to my next role, what do I have to consider? How do I make myself more valuable as an older worker than just as a web developer? Let's say.

  • 08:17 Kel

    Yeah. We've talked about, like hiring and like interviewing as a, as a numbers game, right? Where it's what can you do to increase your odds to get hired and unfortunately like age, like you mentioned, age is something that has this bias towards it. And so it's a the opposite of that. It's just that one little thing like one more, one more notch down, that lowers your odds of getting a job and that makes it a lot more difficult.

  • 08:41 Joshua

    Absolutely. On the other hand, it actually can be played the other way as well. I certainly find that people respect me a little bit more when I show up to the interview. I remember a couple of times showing up at 18, 19 and I actually had somebody tell me once, literally I have socks older than you kid.

  • 08:59 Kel

    Yeah. When I first started in my career, we were both really young. Like I was 19 years old when I got my first real job and I used to dress up when I had to go to, you know, I had to go to like a meeting or something, make sure I was, you know, nice and fancy. Everything was ironed because otherwise no one would listen to me. So you definitely have like both halves of that.

  • 09:17 Ted

    Absolutely. Yeah.

  • 09:19 Joshua

    Now that said certainly and already, and I think this might be one of the sources of this myth of learning slowing down as you get older is I find that I don't want to learn a new framework every time a new one comes, I don't think, Oh, not another one. And you find that as people get older, they don't want to learn these things. Not because they're getting older. Because when it's something that I'm interested in or I'm keen on and new to me, I'm right on top of it, just like I was 22 but I've been in tech for a long time. I've been in development for quite awhile. So it's actually less about my age and more about my experience. At some stage there's diminishing returns for anything that you do. Whether you're pumping iron or your learning something new or whatever it is. At some stage you kind of hit plateau and that's it. It's not that you stopped growing entirely, but you start to see less and less return for it and you're itching for that return. So I think a lot of us, and that's exactly what I see as a hiring manager when I'm looking at somebody who's 50 or so, I'm actually much more likely to be interested in somebody like you who's a second career to have because I'm thinking, Oh, they're still keen is cranberries, but if they've been doing this for the past 30 years, I'm thinking they're going to be like me.

  • 10:33 Kel

    We see that a lot with, I mean that's the, the joke, right? Of every 20 or so years, we go through a cycle on a development and IT in general and it's like, Oh wait, we're back to mainframes. They get everything centralized. Oh, we're centralizing everything again. We're back to the PC. And that's a pretty common and normal thing. And, yeah, at some point you're, you've done this, you've explored all of those mazes, you found solutions to those particular problems and they're not the exact same solutions, but they're awfully similar.

  • 11:01 Joshua

    Yeah. And you can certainly see how people could start to see that and think, okay, well as we get older, we just don't want to do these things as much because with experience you do slow down with those things, but it's not actually about age best I can tell. Certainly I hope not. Because I want to be keen as cranberries as I get older.

  • 11:18 Ted

    Yeah, that's an interesting perspective, perspective, Joshua. That's not, thinking back, you know, towards the end of being a project manager or formal project manager, I was, it was, you know, I was probably looking back, I was probably ready to you know, start looking around and seeing what else was out there, what else I could apply my skills toward.

  • 11:39 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. Now obviously we can't change what other people think. Have you found or have you been working on finding any different ways to promote yourself? That kind of, I won't say evade that because I'm all about telling you the whole truth and being yourself. You are who you are and I think that makes you valuable. But obviously you need to get past these gatekeepers. You need to get yourself in front of people so that you can prove to them my age doesn't matter. I'm actually a really good developer either way.

  • 12:08 Ted

    Yeah. Then that is something that I've been kind of thinking about and how would I position myself or how would I brand myself? What am I going to push to the forefront of what I can offer a company and kind of falls back to, you know, I've got a kind of a fairly significant career of, and I'm not just a web developer, you know, I'm not going to lose what I retained from project management. Even my interest in voice engineering and telephony. You know, I still, the other day I saw someone carrying around a butt set and I was like, Oh, I remember using that thing. You know, it's like, it's all there. You know, it's still sitting in the back waiting to be used. So really what I've been kind of thinking about is in terms of is what I would say and say in an interview or position myself on my resume is, you know, it's going to be a what I can offer. I can I, am I going to be able to offer as a project manager or a, previous, let's see, what's the word? A former project manager who's now into web development.

  • 13:13 Joshua


  • 13:14 Ted

    Yeah. Reformed. Excellent. Yeah. Um, be more of a, you know, I can offer that. I'm going to be highly organized. I'm going to understand, what to say maybe the end customer. I'm going to be, I'd want, I'm going to, and this has already been happening in my current current job, current role, is understanding what the, the end user or what the customer is going to use the product that I'm working on when I'm developing and not just developing the code for the sake of developing the code. That I'm always keeping in mind. That there's a problem to be solved, a challenge to be solved for the customer, for the end user. And so how does that, how is my understanding of that going to be valuable for developing and improving my code and the project and the product? So being able to sell that kind of awareness I think will be important for me because, you know, granted, you know, not even, let's see, it's not even two years on the job at this point. I'm certainly not going to have the code experience that you know, even younger, younger workers might have, but I'm going to have the mix and the blend of project manager and technical awareness and stakeholder and customer requirements and being able to put all that together with the syntax with the languages and being able to say, look, I can offer you more than just banging on the keys. I'm going to offer you someone who's going to be interested in understanding your company, your industry, your, your, users, your customers and helping develop for all three of those to make your project and your company successful.

  • 14:58 Joshua

    Yeah, and I don't think that's a hard sell. I mean we talk about this all the time on the podcast that skills like those are one of the big differentiators between a junior developer and a much more senior developer. I think you'll find that actually in your career if you pitch it that way, you are going to leap frog through those hoops there because the code, as we've said before, and you've said just now, it's important. It is absolutely important and learning the syntax and learning the paradigms and patterns are all very important things, but they're things that you can learn. They are things that you can open up a book, read and understand and move on with. Whereas project management, I mean, yes, you can learn it from my book, but a lot of it takes a lot of practice to get really good at. Communication, takes a lot of practice to get really good at and you've done those things already. You've already done the hard. In fact, people call them soft skills all the time. I call them the hard skills. Those are the hard ones to get because you have to practice them.

  • 15:52 Ted


  • 15:52 Joshua

    Syntax. You can pick up a book and start to read it. I learned Java syntax in a couple of weeks reading a book, but it took me years to get anywhere with project management and be halfway decent at it. I'm still struggling to communicate effectively without making an ass of myself half the time.

  • 16:11 Ted

    Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

  • 16:13 Kel

    I would argue that programming does actually have some, practice skills there too. I remember your early Java, it was pretty rough. But, yeah, they're all skills. They're all useful things that you need and a development career, like being able to maintain your own time, do project management, these are all really important things. And just being able to code is kind of a specialty of, you know, that's more along the lines of what I specialized in was more a little bit more on the architecture and you know, making pretty code and the patterns and all of that type of stuff. And that took time and experience and that took time and experience. Yeah. So yeah.

  • 16:51 Joshua

    And actually that is a very good point. That kind of shapes the sort of developer you can be as well, or not that you can be, but you most likely will be. Kel was not a huge fan of project management and that's where the thing where I initially was quite interested in that, but Kel was very interested in the code and the syntax and I never really was. I still to this day, the code and the syntax is a tool I use to achieve a result. And that is exactly how I view it. And I can see the beauty of it. It's like a lot of tools. Some of them are very pretty, but I still use them as a tool. And that's what it comes down to. And you may find that, and this doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be the case, but you may find that you're a little bit more like me with that. And actually the code is a tool that you use along with your huge set of skills that you've already built up to really empower yourself and fuel a really great career in development.

  • 17:46 Ted

    I would agree with that. And that, that kind of, I was, I came to, came to this realization a while ago. I'm not sure when, but in the last couple of months of, you know, just thinking about my current job and what I was, why I was so satisfied in it and what, it wasn't so much that it was, I was happy being a developer or happy writing code. I was happy being, I'm happy being a contributing member of a team that involves several people that, and you know, we all have different pieces of the work and the project and in the applications we're developing. And it wasn't so much that I know I'm being valued not just as a developer, but as a team member who's bringing something worthwhile to the project. And that is immensely satisfying. More so than I can say at pretty much any point in the last 10 years of being a project manager.

  • 18:45 Ted

    You know, I was leading projects. I did not always feel that I was bringing the best I could to the project because I was, you know, I wasn't necessarily working on the project. I was working the project. Right. So, coming to that realization has really helped me focus on, being confident in what I will be looking for in the next role and the next company. And to be able to position myself and say, I'm interested in being a valued team member and being valued skills, whatever those skills are are, to help a project be successful.

  • 19:21 Joshua

    Absolutely. So if you are talking to another gen X'er who's thinking about dropping their career that they've had potentially for decades and thinking about getting into tech, what would you tell them some pitfalls or hurdles that you've overcome that you'd like to warn them about in advance?

  • 19:40 Ted

    I would, I would probably say that, the being patient with yourself, I kind of preach this on Twitter quite a bit, is being able to be patient with yourself, among all other aspects of patience around you, because learning programming, learning the logic around it is, can be immensely frustrating. And it's not, it's not always second nature. And while I had, um, I won't say easy time, but I will say a less difficult time than some of my fellow students in the boot camp that I attended. You know, there were, there's some of the students really struggled with understanding the, you know, like what the meaning of 'this' is different here than it is here or, or scope or where to, where the loop logic is or how to make the data coming from the back end and show it on the front end on the browser.

  • 20:41 Ted

    You know, that's, that's not necessarily the code or the syntax. It's the logic and understanding how to identify and solve the problems. I don't think that's necessarily second nature except for a select few of us who are, you know, coming into it old or new. It's a challenge. So I would say basically it's, it's having that patience and understanding your learning style is going to be hugely important for being successful. Because if you, if you're not patient, you're just going to get frustrated with yourself, with your teachers, your peers and that's going to go nowhere. And then if you are, if you're not able to be patient enough to figure out the problems and work through them, then you're, you're kind of missing half the battle there I think.

  • 21:32 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. I'll be completely honest. I probably spent the better part of at least a decade, probably more just getting to the stage that I was actually comfortable enough applying for a software development role. I was probably drastically overqualified for that first one and I skipped a couple steps there. But it is, it's really difficult and this is why we say all the time that that step between not knowing how to program and even just knowing the basics and having a good understanding is huge. It's like magic to anybody who doesn't understand it because there is just so much going on there. There's so much to learn, so many little things that you have to pay attention to and there's a lot of tiny little details that can really trip you up and cause all kinds of chaos and they're not always that obvious what they are.

  • 22:16 Ted

    Yeah. Yeah.

  • 22:17 Joshua

    It's really frustrating. Even today, it's really frustrating for me sometimes.

  • 22:21 Kel

    I do like to remind people about the magic part though of like while you're learning, like look back a few months and go, is this magic compared to where you were? And it's that nice little of boost of, I can do magic now. It's still early, but I can do it.

  • 22:35 Joshua

    Oh yeah. I remember the first time I built something that I thought, this is actually something I can use. It was just, it was amazing to me. I was one of the first things that I thought, okay, yeah, this is really what I want to do. Because I went from having no clue how to do anything, to suddenly building something that I thought was really cool and that's, it was, it was magic. And looking back over that time period, moving from one position to the other was extremely impressive when I looked back, no matter how frustrating it was inbetween when I got to the end there, it was just, wow, that was well worth it. And every step has been like that. It's hugely and wildly frustrating getting from a to B. But when you get to B and you look back at where you were with a is just amazing.

  • 23:18 Ted

    It is. And I think it's some of the challenge we have is we don't look back enough, right? We don't, we don't acknowledge those successes, those wins. And I think you have to really pay, have that special awareness of where you're at and where you were and not keep looking forward to ignore what you just did. You know, it is, it's not easy. It's not second nature of us, I think as humans to look back and pat ourselves on the back and say, that was great. You did a great job. Now what else can you do? And I think it's more just now, what else can we do? Versus that momentary, pat on the back from ourselves.

  • 23:57 Joshua

    Oh, I'm absolutely guilty of that in everything. It's always I get to that step and okay, what's the next? What's next? What am I doing next? Where do I need to go from here? And you're absolutely right. You have to take a moment just to look back and celebrate a little bit. I did that. I really fricking did that.

  • 24:12 Kel

    It's also a challenge when you're in a like educational environment, like the projects you're working on don't have as much, you know, pay off there. Ooh, I finished, I'm done. Thank. But once you get into the actual career, things that you build actually get deployed and in use and it's a lot easier to kind of get that momentum going. So even beyond that, just starting that job and getting into the position can help build momentum to become even more of a developer.

  • 24:38 Joshua

    Again it's another reason why I really love personal projects and I don't usually tell people to go do any work for free, but I think you get a lot of value out of personal projects as well because I will have to say some of my biggest moves forward technically and in my career have actually been due to personal projects. Just doing something I really loved doing and then getting to the end and looking back thinking, Oh yeah, I did it.

  • 24:59 Kel

    Prior to boot camps, that was like the, the go to advice. How do you learn to program? Well, find a project, something you want to build and then learn whatever you have to to build it and you will somewhere along the line figure out how to program.

  • 25:13 Joshua

    It was a bit like asking Stephen King how to write and he tells you go, write. That was pretty much the advice I got when I asked somebody how to program. Go program.

  • 25:22 Joshua

    All right, well thank you Ted for joining us today. It's been really great to talk to you and I will put some transcripts up at Please be sure to check out my website and Kel's website at a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Ted, do you have a website you want to share with us or github account or anything?

  • 25:39 Ted

    I certainly should at this point, especially with, in terms of looking ahead to my next role, but as all my sites right now are kind of in works in progress and nothing I have, uh, out there. I am on Twitter as a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@tedstark, that's just the eight letters and you can certainly follow me on there.

  • 25:58 Joshua

    And we'll put a link to that in the transcripts as well so it's easy for everybody to get to. All right. Uh, obviously we met Ted as he's a listener and joined us on our community in Slack. We would love for you to join us as well and chat with Ted and the rest of our community at We post every Thursday, so we'll be back next week. It'll probably just be Kel and I next week, but we'll be lining up some more guests soon. So, uh, thanks for listening.

  • 26:25 Kel

    And thanks for coming onto the podcast.

  • 26:27 Ted

    Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Take care.

  • 26:29 Joshua


  • 26:30 Kel