Too late to start a programming career?

Should an accountant of eight years pursue his interest in computer programming and embark on a new career path?

Looking for IT career advice? Post your question here, and we'll get our experts to answer.

Q. I have been working as an accountant in a food manufacturing company for eight years now. I have an interest in programming, though I don't have any experience. Last year, I decided to take up courses in C++ and Visual Basic.

What are my chances of having a career in IT? Does age matter to recruiters nowadays? What type of programming should I pursue in order to use both my accounting and IT skills?

Career advice from Roger Olofsson, associate director of executive recruitment agency Robert Walters:
A. I would say it is definitely not impossible to shift to an IT career after eight years in accounting, however, it is important that you realize that it will require hard work, a lot of commitment and potentially sacrifice in terms of career and salary regression in the short term. I wish I could say age doesn't matter but unfortunately often it does. Nevertheless, skills, capabilities and attitude accounts for a lot and can definitely swing the pendulum in your favor. I am not so sure about your choice being C++ as that is a very technical form of programming with very little relevance to your field of expertise, accounting. I would strongly recommend you to have a look at gaining technical expertise in financial modules of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software such as SAP and Oracle as you then could combine your technical interest in programming with your functional expertise in accounting.

John Brand, director of IT analyst house Hydrasight:
A. Hydrasight observes that there are some regional differences when it comes to workers' ages in IT. In Australia, for example, age tends to go against people quite significantly in the more technical side of IT. Recruiters of more business-centric IT roles (project managers, business analysts, IT executive management) have a fairly ambivalent view. They certainly don't seem to disadvantage the older workers but don't seem to favor them either. In Malaysia and Singapore, and in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, age tends to be associated more with wisdom and experience, and is quite often highly valued. It doesn't seem to matter quite as much in these regions whether you're an IT executive or technical specialist, it's your skills that matter foremost.

However, the biggest impact to programmer roles generally is the affect cheaper labor is having on the market. China and India are now having a much greater impact at all levels of the IT industry--not just the "top end of town" with major outsourcing or help-desk deals. You now regularly hear of stories of small and medium-sized businesses using online sites where you can source very cheap programming skills from overseas simply by uploading your specifications to them to bid on. The total cost of ownership, however, still isn't clear as the life-cycle management of applications over the longer term is likely to less favor this very tactical approach.

Regardless, programming skills are still desired in the domestic market but more often for maintenance and integration tasks rather than full application development as in days gone by. The real hot jobs though are in the business of running IT, such as executive management, project management, architects (though becoming less so) and business analysts. As far as the type of programming you should be going for, it's not really the type so much as the field. Without having seem your resume, my guess is a supply chain focus is most likely to make the best use of your skills.

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