You don't need to be 24 and drink Red Bull to land a job as a software programmer or web developer, but you do need to know how to code.
Programmer jobs in tech havens like Silicon Valley may be dominated by younger employees, but there's plenty of work to go around, and plenty of training opportunities -- if you know where to look.
Federal government economists forecast that software programmers, web developers and similar jobs will be among the fastest-growing occupations in the country through 2020, presenting ample opportunity for the technology-inclined of all ages. The number of software developers, for example, is projected to grow 30 percent by 2020, more than twice the average, according to the 2012-2013 Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in late March.
In its annual Best Jobs listing, U.S. News & World Report ranks software developer as the hottest tech career of 2012, with a current median salary of $87,790. Web developer came in third, with a median salary of $75,660 and computer programmer fifth, with a median salary of $71,380.
Many software or web developer jobs require four-year degrees. But the academic standards for some positions aren't as stringent. The Occupational Outlook Handbook and the Labor Department's extensive O.Net careers database are good starting places to research specific tech jobs, and the education or training that's required.
Once you've decided on a direction, here are some possibilities for getting the training you need, online or in person, including a few options especially suited to midlife workers and career changers:
1. Online degree programs. Tech trade schools, such as ITT Technical Institute and DeVry University, offer online associate and bachelor's degrees in subjects such as web design, information systems, and network systems administration.
2. Certificate programs. Some community colleges and technology trade schools offer certificates of mastery in subjects such as web page development or programming. Students who attend the Computer Institute at Miami Dade College, for example, can earn a Microsoft Office specialist certification or take courses in web page development, digital imaging and programming with .net.
3. Boot camps. Private training companies, such as NetCom Learning, offer single- and multi-day training for individuals or groups on popular programming languages and other subjects at locations throughout the country. NetCom's Ready to Run schedule lists open classes beginning in May and June.
5. Plus 50. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) created the "Ageless Learning" initiative to make it easier for people 50 and older to train or retrain for new careers or volunteer work. Check this page on the AACC website for a list of participating U.S. community colleges, and then use the links to the schools' respective websites to find information on course offerings. For example, Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Wash., offers classes in website design and computer skills.
6. MIT Opencourseware. Massachusetts Institute of Technology uses the website to share syllabi from courses offered in the past few years with the general public. Available tech courses include introduction to computer programming and practical programming in C. Depending on the class, you could have access to lecture notes, assignments (and solutions), online textbooks, projects and examples, exams, and study groups. Everything is free, but you can make a donation. Starting this fall, MIT and Harvard will offer interactive classes on multiple subjects free to anyone in the world through a nonprofit venture called edX. Listen to this recent NPR interview with MIT President Susan Hockfield for details.
7. Other online classes. A handful of internet startups also offer college-level courses, some for credit. As you'd expect from web-based learning ventures, a lot of what's offered is tech-related. Udacity, co-founded by a Stanford professor, has university-level classes on computer programming, web application engineering and programming languages. Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan are working with a startup named Coursera to offer more than 40 free, graded classes in a range of subjects, including game theory, natural language processing, and coming soon, software engineering for web-based services. Another website, Udemy, lets anyone take or build free or paid online courses. The site's computer courses include programming in Ajax, Python and Ruby on Rails, as well as more basic courses on web design and building mobile apps.
Read more: Browse the SecondAct Career Center