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The first is that I don't understand why you all seem to worry about your future in Hi-Tech industry when you grow old. In this industry, the more experience you have, the more competitive you will become. The reason you don't see many programmers older than 40 is that at the age of 40, most programmers have become architects, consultants or even running their own business. In North America, the highest paid employees are architects instead of programmers. I am 29 and now I seldom do programming myself, I devote most of my time in design product architecture, liason to IETF, and hopefuly in the future contribute to the RFCs. In hi-tech industry, you don't do programming forever, protocols and architectures are much more interesting and challenging. I know lots of outstanding guys in their 40s who are active in IETF.
The second thing that I don't understand is that it seems most of people here prefer large companies to small startups. People working in those huge corporations all their life are leading a pathetic life in my eyes, except for those who are in executive positions, of course.
Large companies usually divide work force in a very fine granularity, you will very likely find yourself stuck with a specific area for many years. Furthermore, large companies tend to make people use their own proprietary platform and development tools, according to my experience working in those giant companies. For instance, lucent even enforced to use their own C++ compiler in its chicago branch, Nortel has it's famous "ProTel" language on their DMS switches.
As a consequence, it becomes extremely hard for those who have worked in big companies for decades to pick up their career in another company. We have some people from Nortel in our company, when asked about the feeling toward Nortel, they generally deplored their previous life in Nortel and consider working in a startup is a chance to start a new life. On the contrary, in small companies, you have to be multi-talented in order to handle different projects. The life is tough, but you are forced to improve yourself. And after a couple of years, you will have all the valuable skill sets and become invincible!
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