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How To Keep Learning After 50 and Other Ways to Hack Your Brain at any Age

“You can’t teach an old dogs new tricks!” You may have heard this saying. You may also think that it means that older you get, the harder it is to learn new skills. By extension, that means learning after 50 is difficult. That isn’t really what the saying means. It is trying to express that […]

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Interesting. I wrote my first line of code in 1974 in IBM Macro Assembler on a 360 machine. I wrote my last line of code about 15 minutes ago in Swift. I’ve learned so many languages over the years (IBM and Microsoft varieties) that learning a new language, pattern, construct, DB, et al, is second nature to me. I’m not sure how I’d fare learning something like auto mechanics or becoming a millwright, but I’d give it a shot, given the chance. Good article.

I think the article title is misleading and somewhat condescending.

There really isn’t much here that relates to age and, as the article indicates, learning at any age is pretty much the same: you study and you practice.

Rinse and repeat.

Great article and something I’ve thought about in my mid-40s. At my day job I’m a development manager of a large dev team and really don’t get any time to help with coding. Away from work, I’ve been diving back into mobile development, I did it full time for several years, a few years ago and I’m super excited to be back. A lot has changed both in iOS and Android and while I’m not letting it slow me down, I wonder if someone younger than me would pick things up faster. Maybe, but I think I’m more determined. :smiley:

I think to be successful as a software developer and really for anyone in IT, you just have to be good at learning, the technologies and languages change so fast now, so the skill of learning and adapting is a necessary one in this field.

To bring it back to my day job and my team, one of my developers is 71 and really one of the better Developers/DevOps guys I have. He has no intention of retiring anytime soon and I have no intention of letting him, lol. I consider him a role model and I hope in 30 years I’m still banging out good code everyday!


It may be true. The assignment was about how one learns after 50, which seems to imply that it’s challenge to learn new things at such an “advanced” age. I’ve never found that to be the case, and I may have have also bought into the stigma. In the course of researching the topic, I found out about neuroplasticity and how the brain actually does learn - not matter what the age. So, that’s where I decided to steer the article. Understanding how we learn can in turn inform how you go about studying, practicing and playing.

At the time of this writing, I am 57 years old. For the record I have been learning and writing iOS code for “only” 10 years.

‘Go grey beards, go!’

I can get away with saying that as I’m 53 myself and so occupy the title demographic of this article. :slight_smile:

Personally, as a newbie to coding and in particular to Swift and iOS development, I’ve struggled to fully understand the concepts of learning a new subject such as this and to master the logical steps required in programming having not come from a computer science background.

Perhaps more accurately though, I think getting back into the habit of studying has been one of the biggest challenges. My last formal education and any form of dedicated study was way back in my early 20’s when smartphones were but a distant concept and portable computing was fine if you had arms like Arnie.

I’m slowly getting better and this is partly due to repetition but also very much down to an engaging tutor. Being part of a forum also really helps as you can bounce ideas off each other and even eavesdropping in on Podcasts (such as the RayWenderlich one - no plug intended) can help. You may not understand everything being said but you pick up on words you may have already come across in your studies and these heard in a slightly different context can reinforce understanding (and memory).

As an older member of this forum the one thing I think I can single out as a difference between learning now as opposed to say 30 years ago is my memory appears to be less adept at storing away important key words and ideas. Less sponge-like than when I was a young graduate and it’s not do with how interested I am in the subject matter - I wish I had studied s/ware dev or coding back then rather than the somewhat dry concepts of Earth Sciences all those years ago.

Last but not least, the motivation to fire up the PC after a full days completely unrelated work has also got to be in place otherwise you ain’t going nowhere.

Another sign of ageing is the ability to ramble on so I’ll stop here!

Thanks and great work Ray and Team - you’ve kept me interested in this fascinating world of bits and bites so I still do turn on that PC after work!

Another grey beard here, trying to re-start on learning programming. Focusing on getting a solid understanding of Swift first, then I’ll see where that takes me; server side with vapor interests me. Maybe some simple iOS utilities to help me with little tasks.

It’s always good to hear that there are other over-50 folks out there! Thanks for the article Tim!

There are quite a number of grey beards around and on the RW team.

The main take away is how to form new structures in your brain. Learn and practice in small chunks. Try the Swift Apprentice, do the tutorials. Over time you will grok what needs to get done. Pace yourself and have fun.

Lol - I’m a young “gray beard” at 39, but only because I hate to shave so it’s starting to peak through …

College & grad school ~20yrs ago were in Asian studies & “fuzzy” humanities topics.
I was “bad at math”, and had heard “comp sci is hard.” It didn’t interest me because I didn’t really know anything about it.

At some point I started using Macromedia (yes) Flash MX to make cartoons and animated greeting cards and corporate training slides and terrible websites stapled together in Frontpage & Dreamweaver. I was inspired by Homestar Runner, not by ActionScript. Learning HTML & CSS was incidental to creating artsy-fartsy content.

Fast forward a decade or 2, and today I’m a full-stack web & mobile app developer who never uses anything I went to college for, but I have to keep learning new stuff constantly just to attempt to keep up … You can’t ever stop learning, or else what do you DO with yourself all day (besides become unemployable)?

I’ve gone from “bad at math” to “reads a linear algebra book for fun.” … I also have a mile-high stack of RW tutorials and books to wade through! :slight_smile:

"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
~ Muhammad Ali

I’d like to offer some words of encouragement to the 50ish youngsters here. I’m 75 and still learning.

I took my first programming class 59 years ago. We coded in Assembler for the IBM 1620 which was a predecessor to the IBM 360 mainframe series. Next was Fortran for the IBM 1130 and then Assembly Language for the IBM 360.

In college, we learned the languages of the time, Cobol, Fortran, RPG, APL, and Assembler Language.

After years of assembler coding, I discovered the C Programming Language and have been coding in it and its successors ever since. So I worked through C++, Java, C#, and now Swift.

I had a brief look at Objective-C, but was busy with my career and only wrote one work-related iPhone app with it.

I retired from my paying job a year and a half ago. I was writing C# .Net applications. Since then, I wrote an Android app in Java that is available on Amazon and Google Play.

Now, I’m happily learning Swift. If you love learning and coding, why stop?


I am really proud of the fact that I have just released my 7th iPhone app. I also have 1 Android and one Mac app published as well. All this since being made redundant 4 years ago at the age of 63 - I am almost 67. Don’t count old folks out. We still have something to offer.

I had just turned 50 when I released my 1st of 30 or so iOS apps. I was 54 when I joined the RayWenderlich team. (Ray never asked)

My youngest sister used to say “One day I’ll be older than you guys!” That was a long, long time ago. She’s still trying to best us.

I turn 55 in a couple of weeks, which is one of those threshold ages. Some people retire at that age!

I’ve been programming for over 35 years, haven’t done much else since jumping off the ladder of IT management at 25.

One of my inspirations is my Sifu in Chow Gar Kung Fu and CMC Tai Chi, who is 73. I aim to be as dynamic at that age.

I have a couple of slightly contrary points.

It’s hard to learn sometimes when the new stuff runs counter to your experience. I’m a continual learner and have been fascinated by languages, tools and frameworks since I was introduced to Smalltalk 80 as a contrast to the punchcard Fortran we were using in Engineering studies.

Where my resistance to new stuff comes in sometimes is not because I’m inflexible, it’s because often the people propounding it don’t understand the background and they don’t get that the weaknesses I identify are real. I’ve gotten a lot better at shutting up and letting them learn the hard way, in the last 10 years.

One problem I have now is the analogies I draw are often too old to be useful for anyone under 30. I realised that was making my arguing the counter point even more obscure :frowning:

So I have a somewhat-indifferent attitude now of how bad could it be if I’m right and they are doing the wrong thing?

(winces, realising how arrogant the above phrase sounds)

I think you need to help neuroplasticity by doing things which are well out of your experience range. That may mean, instead of new programming languages, you study graphic design, or something physical.

I am a big fan of martial arts, dance or other complex whole body exercises that also require a significant mental input - they are a great contrast to sitting in front of XCode. Don’t just seek out exercise which is mindlessly repetitive or which leaves you too much time to think, because then you’re not using your brain differently.