Tell me about it! :-)
I am about to be 46. Remaining pure programmers in my peer group are in a single digit. Wiser ones have climbed the management ladder.
Whatever company PR or manager-speak says, older programmers — even when good— are not looked favorably in general. There is always a lingering suspicion: what is wrong with him.
For women, it is far worse. My wife, around the same age, is a programmer too. She is more hardworking and sincere than I am, yet work-life is harder for her.
It is a complex situation, with no clear wrong or right, and definitely no simple solution.
It is true that as we age learning the shinest technology does not remain the top priority. We need to balance family, other life pursuits with professional pursuits. And you rightly said that it is harder to keep pace with rapidly changing tech stack.
It is also true that management does not always know how to use the wisdom that comes with becoming battle-hardened. Part of the problem is that many see skills in buzzwords. Think of it, yes Kafka is at internet scale, and yes that — the scale — is what has changed, but the message queue distributed system fundamentals underpinning it are the same as these were at the time of IBM MQSeries. If you do not understand that, your kafka consumers are likely to be inefficient (if not outright incorrect). But it is too hard to explain to many upper managers.
It is also partially due to changing the nature of our industry. When compute cost is dropping, being efficient is no more a priority. Things have become simpler such that we are moving from the “engineer” to the “technician” phase. You not more need to be a distributed system expert to write a reasonable scalable service. I bet, in 10 years, you would not need to be an ML expert to be able to experiment with data, design reasonably working model and deploying them. That is what ultimately counts for business.
Yes, you will need experts who understand something (be it distributed system, or data science or math) when things go haywire, or when you want to hyper-optimize. But those will be a very small percentage of the overall industry.
So what should aged (female) programmers do? Shall we move to be a manager too? That probably will stretch a career longer, but I am not sure if that will bring happiness. With age, happiness starts counting more, but we still need income. So there is no easy choice, or advice for the younger lot.
In India, there is another dimension of complexity. There is societal pressure to be a manger than being a craftsman or code-smith. Climbing management ladder is synonymous to being successful.
I remember a relative with a son about 8 years younger than me (at that time with 2–3 years of experience), looking down at me saying (in Hindi), “mera beta ab code-wode nahi likhta, manager hai wo ab” (translation: my son does not code anymore; it is so down-market; he is now a manager).
I guess there is a price for pursuing true love; happiness does not come cheap :-)