Liz Beigle-Bryant knew she had to make a career change. When she was laid off in 2012 from her job doing administrative work in finance and sales, she was earning $15 an hour, the exact same wage she made 30 years earlier as a technical illustrator.
So at the age of 55, the Seattle resident decided to reinvent herself by learning the computer languages that create websites and software programs, a skill known as coding. After just one month of taking free online courses, Beigle-Bryant started getting temporary coding positions.
Five years later, after a steady stream of contract jobs and continued online studies, she nabbed her dream job: as a web developer for Seattle’s Sound Transit transportation system. “It’s great to get the skills, and this feeling of empowerment is fantastic,” says Beigle-Bryant. “Learning to code helped me take control and be proactive. It’s important to keep learning.”
For older workers who are looking to add skills to their résumés or jump into new careers altogether, learning how to code can be a pathway. Most people who learn how to code pursue jobs helping businesses and organizations build and maintain websites, from the creative aspects of shaping how they look to the more technical side of making sure they work.
“It’s not just about coding as a career field that you enter, but how these coding skills might work in a field that you’re already in,” says Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy. “Technology is a skill that is applicable in every field, so learning more about new technologies will make you more marketable no matter what field you’re in.”
Coding skills are in demand: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15 percent increase in the number of web developer jobs available between 2016 and 2026.
There are several ways to learn how to code. Some websites such as Codecademy — the one Beigle-Bryant used—offer free courses that you can try out at your pace, as well as paid courses. Another route is an immersive boot camp that requires 40 to 80 hours per week of in-person courses that can last up to 15 weeks.
Approximately 10 percent of boot camp graduates are over the age of 40, according to data from Course Report, a website that offers research and reviews of coding education options.
“We talk to people who were working for 20 years but had to take off for health or family,” says Liz Eggleston, cofounder of Course Report. “When they come back in they want to try something different. Other people don’t take any time off. They’ve been in book publishing or music or retail and then decide that they want to change careers. So, everyone kind of has a different motivation.”
More than 45 million people worldwide have completed a course on Codecademy, with nearly a million of them over the age of 55. “It’s never too late to get started,” Sims says. “There’s a bit of popular thought that you have to be an expert in math or computers. There really is no prerequisite.”
Other free schooling includes Dash, Khan Academy and Learn Enough. The coding tutorials on these websites are typically modular, breaking each course into smaller segments that you complete at your own pace. Many students study for an hour or two each night.
There also are approximately 100 in-person, immersive coding boot camps nationwide that charge tuition of upwards of $12,000. Among the more prominent are General Assembly, Flatiron School and Fullstack Academy. Course Report can be helpful for exploring the differences among the schools. These boot camps generally are not eligible for federal student loans. Some boot camps do partner with finance companies to offer their students loans for tuition.
Some community colleges and universities — including Northwestern, Rutgers, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin — have recently introduced boot camps. You can apply to enroll in the boot camp without being a student at the university. These collegiate-run boot camps tend to be slightly more affordable than the privately operated boot camps.
“If you want to code as a hobby or build your blog or website, then you should start with something free,” Eggleston says. “If your goal is to do a few contract jobs a year, then I would suggest a part-time program. But if your goal is a full-time job, then a coding boot camp might be the best fit. You just have to calculate your [return on investment], which is something we tell everyone.”
While it does take time and commitment to learn to code, the investment can pay off in many ways.
“As an older worker transitioning from one job to another, it’s hard to stay positive because you have to continually prove yourself,” says Beigle-Bryant. “Learning to code was a way to stay positive and productive.”