Every once in awhile, I get a note from someone wanting to make a career change and move into the tech market. Often, they've seen some TV show about how successful they can become after attending one tech class or another and want my advice on which class to take. Most recently, this seems to be happening as baby boomers, reaching retirement age, "suddenly discover" they have nothing put aside for that retirement and the career they have chosen will require them to work until death. It is clear that they generally don't enjoy what they are doing very much so the "work until death" part isn't very attractive. I do have advice for these folks.
The Mature Tech Worker Myth
It is amazing how many of these "tech schools" say stuff like hiring managers want "mature" workers. This is just plain BS. The only reason hiring managers may want someone who is "mature" is because of who or what they know, not because they will be substantially more "mature." It would be nice (and beneficial to many companies) if that weren't the case.
Older workers are believed to come with health baggage. They are also seen as potentially inflexible and unwilling to learn. The fact is, most managers really don't like to have a bunch of employees who are substantially older than they are. If you find, or have, the rare one that doesn't mind, you are very lucky, but expecting the world to be like that is wishful thinking.
Inside or outside of the tech market, the world is awash with seemingly well-educated kids looking for their first job. You aren't going to be able to compete with them with a degree from a degree mill or certificate from an online institution. However, that doesn't mean you can't compete.
Where Age Can Be an Advantage
You get a couple of things with age that you don't have with youth. The two that stand out are contacts and patience. With youth comes a certain impatience, which often results in job hopping and an inability to actually research the job, the hiring manager, and a good strategy to deal with both. If you're older, you likely know you can't get all you need to know from the Web. You can take the time to do your homework before submitting a resume that likely won't be read or attending an interview only designed to avoid Equal Employment Opportunity challenges. In addition, you probably know one hell of a lot more people, and the best way I know to get a job is to have someone the hiring manager trusts pitch you into it. By the way, even CEOs have issues with making good contacts, so you aren't alone.
So, with the proper approach, you can probably find the job you want. The real question should be "do I actually want it?"
Making Sure You Aren't Making Another Mistake
The reason you are in this position is that you didn't do a good job planning your career at the outset. Here is a clue: Today truly is the first day of the rest of your life. Don't repeat that mistake. Do a little planning first. A lot of tech jobs really suck, and I do mean chew off your arm and run for the door, suck. You sit in horrid little cubicles, you don't see sun except on weekends, the air is dry and smells, and your manager likely will be the biggest complete idiot you have ever met in your entire life.
And if you think cubicles are bad, wait until you get a windowless office. At least jail cells get windows. Having been in this place in the past, and becoming convinced I was in some kind of tech hell, you can trust me when I tell you that you don't want to end up worse than where you are. If I've learned one thing with regard to jobs, it's that there is always a "worse." Entry-level jobs tend to suck everyplace.
Step back and take inventory on what it is you like to do and find something close that pays. That way, if you have to work until you die, you have a ball. Remember, retirement for many isn't a bed of roses either. The number of people I've seen become absolutely miserable when they retire is huge. Many of them die within months of retirement, suggesting that they have literally lost, along with their work, the desire to live.
Once you find something you love, develop a strategy on how to get that job. You may have to start by volunteering where folks who do similar things volunteer. You may have to go back to school. You'll probably have to meet and get to know some folks who can help. But with a plan, you have a chance to go where your dreams are. I've seen more people find their dreams in their ideal career than I've ever seen finding them in retirement. That said, there is a right way to retire as well and the two don't have to be directly related.
Wrapping up and Talking About Life Plans
You know, this doesn't just apply to us old farts. It is never too late to stop, take a little time out, and think about what it is you love so that you can make the rest of your life better. If you look around, you'll see a lot of people in jobs that they hate who punish their families for the choices they've made until they don't have families anymore. Don't be one of those people. Discover your dream and then go out and live it.